Africa Remix Confounds the Critics: Beverly Andrews on the Exciting Exhibition of Contemporary African Art Held First in Dusseldorf, Then London and Now Paris, at the Centre Pompidou. Whatever the Critics Say, She Writes, the Fact Remains That There Is Always Something New and Exciting out of Africa

Article excerpt

Africa is traditionally seen as the continent that is spoken of rather than spoken with. International commentators will often express their opinions on its political strife, its historical relevance and its economic plight but go on to ignore the voices of those who live there. This is even more apparent when it comes to the continent's contemporary artists, who are largely ignored by the world's most famous critics.

Ten years ago, the British organisers of Africa 95 tried to rectify this oversight by exhibiting the work of many of the continent's best-known contemporary artists. Ten years on from that historic event, London's Hayward Gallery has repeated this experiment and mounted one of the largest exhibitions of contemporary African art ever held in Europe. Featuring over 70 artists who come from countries as far afield as Algeria and South Africa, Africa Remix hopes to continue the work of its predecessor by giving an opportunity to many of the continent's artists to shine.

Creating an exhibition which sums up an entire continent is a daunting task but that is exactly what Africa Remix attempts to do as well as challenge Western preconceived conceptions of what constitutes African art.

This exhibit includes the work of painters, sculptors as well as multi-media artists, and attempts to reflect the continent's cultural diversity. Although credited to the Roman writer, Pliny the Elder, it is recorded that a Malian musician, who lived during that kingdom's golden age, said that there was always something new and exciting coming out of Africa. That innovation is very much on display in this extraordinary exhibition.

In the first gallery, the illustrious Ghanaian-born artist El Anatsui's cloth of gold dominates. An enormous shimmering tapestry made from recycled bottle tops, the piece is a testament to both the ingenuity of the artist as well as a tribute to the continent's population who have had to take what has been discarded from elsewhere and re-cycled it into useful objects.

Al Anatsui's "Cloth of Gold" hangs majestically from the wall and it is only on close inspection that you become aware of what the material is actually made of. The Nigerian artist, Dilomprizulike, works in a similar vein as Anatsui and sculpts using discarded objects. Known in Lagos as "the Junk Man of Africa", Dilomprizulike actually goes one step further than Anatsui and takes discarded materials and then turns them into lifelike representations of people.

In "Waiting for the Bus", he creates recognisable figures from all walks of Nigerian life--from the dustman to the politician, from the chief to the secretary. All are queuing patiently for the bus--the bus that they believe will take them to the promised land.

In front of the sculpture, there is a plaque where the artist voices his frustration with his countrymen's apparent political apathy. "When the African is asked how he feels, he answers fine. The fact is he is worse than he was yesterday. The curious thing is if he is filthy ... he does not care that much because he believes it will get better. We have henceforth resolved to wait for the bus that will take us to the promised land."

The Egyptian artist, Moatez Nasr, also explores the legacy of colonalisation in his installation inspired by the saying "empty vessels make the most sound". …


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