When artist Cheick Diallo completed his design studies in France,
his dearest wish was to return home to Mali to put his new skills to
work. But he soon understood this would be a bad career move. In
Mali, as in much of Africa, there is virtually no market for artists
"After I had finished studying, I wanted to go back to Mali,"
explained Mr. Diallo in his workshop cluttered with objects and
furniture whose elegant designs hint at subtle African inspirations.
"But I knew I would be isolated. In Africa, people don't know what
design is, so I first had to create a market myself."
Today, Diallo splits his time between France and Mali, regularly
returning to his homeland to work with local craftsmen. He has now
carved a niche both in Europe and Africa. But he is one of only a
few. While contemporary art is flourishing all over Africa, the
continent doesn't have the money to support it.
"In Africa, contemporary art is still something new. People don't
really know what to think about [it]," says Simon Njami, arts
curator and founder of the renowned arts journal Revue Noire. "In
the West, the role of the state is fundamental in the development of
this sort of art. Over there, governments don't have this sort of
money, or they don't give themselves the means to support it. But
outside Africa, the market is growing because buyers, collectors,
and institutions are discovering the variety and richness coming out
of the continent."
An exhibition of contemporary African art currently showing at
the Pompidou Center in Paris is a startling reminder of the
creativity flowing from the African continent. Anyone who still
thinks African art consists of the traditional masks and sculptures
that so inspired the Modernists such as Picasso or Matisse, is in
for a big surprise.
"Africa Remix" is the largest collection of contemporary African
art ever shown in Europe. For the first time, works by artists from
the entire African continent and the diaspora are brought together
in a vast, sometimes daunting space, filled with sound, color, and
powerful, often disturbing, images. These works, which include
painting, sculpture, photography, and video and music installations,
would cause their Western counterparts envy.
Visitors are greeted by a monumental installation made up of
obstacles displayed in awkward positions across theroom. The work,
which is physically taxing to walk through, reflects the difficulty
of entering the unknown world of contemporary African art.
Humor peppers the work of Paris-based Zoulikha Bouabdellah from
Algeria, as she evokes the fusion of Western and African cultures
with "Blue, White and Red," a work for which she has filmed herself
belly-dancing to a slow rendition of the French national anthem.
Around the corner, a commanding totemic tower made from plastic
jerry cans by Romuald Hazoume from Benin reveals an impressive skill
at recycling mundane objects into a work of powerful beauty.
In the poetic and evocative installation "Onomatopoeia," South
African artist Wim Botha explores the legacy of apartheid by using
elegant furniture from a typical Afrikaner household - which he
hangs from the ceiling.
"We have seen the contradictory currents that ripple across
contemporary Africa," says Simon Njami, curator of the exhibition.
"From the end of apartheid in South Africa to the land disputes in
Zimbabwe ... from the upsurge of religious fundamentalism in the
north to the [beginnings] of democracy. It is these aesthetic and
intellectual shifts of identity that the artists in 'Africa Remix'