Magazine article New African

Is There an Overarching African Aesthetic? an Ambitious Exhibition and Book, Both Appropriately Titled the Global Africa Project, Explore the Vast, Rich Spectrum of Contemporary Art, Design, Architecture and Crafts by People of African Ancestry around the World. Juliet Highet Has Been out to See It

Magazine article New African

Is There an Overarching African Aesthetic? an Ambitious Exhibition and Book, Both Appropriately Titled the Global Africa Project, Explore the Vast, Rich Spectrum of Contemporary Art, Design, Architecture and Crafts by People of African Ancestry around the World. Juliet Highet Has Been out to See It

Article excerpt

The Global Africa Project features the work of over 60 creators, many in Africa, but also in the United States, Caribbean, Europe and Asia. Working in a wide array of media, including fashion, non-traditional crafts and photography, their work challenges conventional assumptions of a single African aesthetic or style. They dynamically blur the distinction between art and craft, "professional" and "artisan".

Such art also challenges the "impoverished basket-case" stereotype held about the African continent. As Mesana Chitaka, manager of the design unit in South Africa's Department of Arts & Culture, says: "African designers offer the world uniqueness in terms of products ... creativity is still one of our greatest assets that we can use to gain competitive advantage ... (It is) one of the most misunderstood sectors of the economy."

Artists such as Yinka Shonibare (MBE) and architects like David Adjaye, working in the diaspora, are famous and successful. Less well-known are the African

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The Gahaya Links Weaving Association is a collaborative of Hutu and Tutsi women in Rwanda, now numbering over 4,000 basket-weavers in 40 co-operatives. Many of them are survivors of genocide or refugees from years of civil war. They have helped establish a Path to Peace initiative, whose mission is to assist rural Rwandan women to achieve economic stability, and by instilling self-confidence, contribute to making positive changes in their lives.

One of the many challenges faced by African creators is lack of government support, resulting in poor educational resources for training in design, especially industrial design, technical and enterprise skills. This leads to difficulties in maintaining consistent production standards and lack of commercial savvy; though in Ghana, Jamaica and Barbados, government initiatives do promote crafts as a national expression and a transnational commodity.

In Africa, a number of NGOs including AIDS for Artisans, have provided economic resources and export opportunities to creative groups for decades. As a result, women are excelling in craftwork, acting as an inspiring catalyst for social change, both for their communities and personally.

In Nairobi, Jane Ngoiri has propelled herself out of the Mathana Valley slum by transforming second-hand clothing into wedding and other festive garments. Under the brand name Bamboo Magic, Lek-uama Ketuafor of Cameroon leaps into the 21st century, creating bamboo and mosaic patterned laptop cases and mobile phone covers. Artists across the global African diaspora address potent political, economic and social issues. In his series Black Gold, London-based Yinka Shonibare, of Nigerian descent, alludes to positive and detrimental results of exploiting African resources such as oil. He comments: "'Ihis depiction reveals the conflicts, war and tragedy that are a direct result of our consumption and desire for this natural resource."

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In his films, masks and installations, Romuald Hazoume, form the Republic of Benin, exposes the issue of pollution by petroleum companies in the Niger Delta; and the precarious lives of motorcyclists who convey petrol from Nigeria to Benin in clusters of plastic cans. These cans have been expanded over flame so that they contain as much petrol as possible, frequently exploding with fatal consequences for the cyclists.

Hazoume created a huge installation for the British Museum, a shocking and profoundly moving symbolic representation of a slave ship called Brookes. The African-American artist, Hank Willis Thomas, also refers to Brookes in his contribution to an Absolut vodka campaign. He wades into the commoditisation of the black body in sports, with his glorious black male torso branded with the Nike "swoosh". He says: "By employing the language of popular culture and advertising in my work, I talk explicitly about race, class and history in a way that is accessible and easy to decode . …

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