Africa is continuing. But is there a thread connecting classic and contemporary African art? That’s the question ‘Africa Reborn’ at the musee du quai Branly aims to answer. Showcasing over 150 works of contemporary art made by 34 artists, ‘Africa Reborn’ reveals the ways in which classic art references are incorporated into contemporary creations.
Philippe Dagen, critic, art historian, and curator of the exhibition, was “struck over the past two decades by the appearance of works that increasingly take up the forms of ancient African arts from perspectives that are contrary to all "primitivism". The only thing left to do was to make the link between the two: the past and the present.”
The show aims to shatter the notion of a disconnect between the classic and contemporary. Through large scale installations, paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings and videos, ‘Africa Reborn’ evokes the “many ways in which these ancient references are revived,” according to the press kit.
However, there is indeed a gaping hole in that revival and it’s the role of modern artists in that continuity. Are we to conclude that modern artists worked in a vacuum, sidestepping the dialogue between old and new?
With Paris once again in lockdown, we share a preview of ‘Africa Reborn’ and let you decide if there is indeed continuity. We share text from the exhibition’s press kit to guide you through the various sections of the show.
‘Africa Reborn’ opens by comparing the works of A.R. Penck, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Antoni Clavé and James Brown with those of Chéri Samba, in order to challenge the very idea itself of “primitivism” and its subtexts.
This first section presents works that demonstrate both the omnipresence of African references in art and their transformation into consumer products.
The installations of Dinos and Jake Chapman and of Jean-Michel Alberola, the African chrome-plated statues by Bertrand Lavier and the carved wood bas-reliefs in Cameroon by Hervé Di Rosa with comic-book motifs, take us to the “sacrilegious manipulations” of David Hammons and Jean-Jacques Lebel and to Franck Scurti’s white thermoformed masks.
The second section, ‘Metamorphoses’, endeavours to show how the African forms that were previously transformed into objets d’art and consumer products have gradually been revived and, one might say, “re-humanised” by artists.
Forms that were thought to be fixed once and for all come alive and become less immediately identifiable as they embrace “what is living”, a life that inhabits and transforms them. In its constant variations of styles, formats, dimensions, materials and techniques, the exhibition presents the two forms regarded as emblematic of ancient African art.
The third and final section shows how the visual elements originating from African art have been reactivated and given new meanings by artists who introduce contemporary subjects.
They take on major current issues: the drama of refugees with Romuald Hazoumé, the overexploitation of resources with Pascale Marthine Tayou, democracy with Alun Be and Pathy Tshindele, the force of power with Myriam Mihindou and the restitution of heritage pillaged from its country of origin with Kader Attia.
'Africa Reborn. African Aesthetics in Contemporary Art' runs at the musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, Paris, until 27 June 2021.
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