Sunday Jack Akpan: Contemporanea Arti E Culture. (Milan)
Meneguzzo, Marco, Artforum International
Sunday Jack Akpan's business card bears the following words: "Undertakes Construction of Images, Statues, Tombstones of all kinds, Pottery Products, Marble Tombstones, Decoration of House Furniture, Drawing and General Arts." This first exhibition in Italy by the sixty-one-year-old Nigerian artist consisted of a group of eighteen statues (one of which had previously been exhibited at the Venice Biennale) portraying the upper echelons of traditional tribal society: chieftains, matriarchs, sorcerers, shamans, and dignitaries. But they are joined by a soldier in camouflage overalls with a submachine gun, a figure who has apparently been inserted into the social structure and has taken root there, almost like a sorcerer who plays an essentially malignant role in society.
Made from cement, the statues are slightly taller than life-size and are brightly colored, like garden gnomes, those ubiquitous exemplars of European kitsch. But these are not kitsch, for the concept is foreign to a culture like Akpan's, despite any outside influences on his work, which was seen in certain European exhibitions, including the much noted "Les Magiciens de la terre" at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, in 1989. In fact, Akpan is still what his business card states--that is, the contemporary African equivalent of the medieval artisan, equally capable of decorating a cathedral and creating more humble works. To point out something specifically African in Akpan's art is not to say that it is merely of anthropological or ethnographic interest, however. What calls for analysis is not so much Akpan (who is comfortable in his culture), but rather our interest in him and our investigation of other artists like him. …