Continental inventiveness

In The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon explains that improvement of the human condition demands true inventions. In this he advises not to imitate Europe; let us combine our brains in a new direction.

While the African Renaissance often remains rhetorical, a new series of exhibitions in Cape Town actually explores the “frontier” of a rare inter-continental exchange, appropriately opening with Nigerian-born Okey Nwafor’s Experimental Frontiers: South Africa through the Eyes of South African and Nigerian Artists at the Cape Africa Platform.

Nwafor is part of a group of curators from across the continent completing the African programme in museum and heritage studies, run jointly by the University of the Western Cape, the Robben Island Museum and the University of Cape Town. Part of this consists of a curatorship studies course run by Andrew Lamprecht and Nasan Pather at the Michaelis School of Fine Art.

With so few local academic curatorial programmes it made sense to collaborate with Cape Africa Platform, the producers of last year’s Cape ’07, in running their young curators’ programme and providing an exciting environment for critical and practical engagement. This exhibition is part of a series of exhibitions by aspiring curators from Africa.

Nwafor’s Experimental Frontiers brings together South African and Nigerian conceptual artists, adapting the colonial metaphor of exploration to the idea of “avantgarde spirit”. Trained at the University of Lagos, under El Anatsui, Nwafor explains that in a conservative Nigerian art world it is “radical” to make conceptual artwork and one of the artists, Bright Eke, a student of Anatsui, had his work consistently rejected by the academy.

Eke’s work forms the centrepiece of the show, a series of raincoats fashioned from the plastic packaging of a product called Pure Water, suspended from the ceiling. It is both an example of the transformation of found materials and a reflection on Nigerian environmental issues, with the irony of “pure” water being that it is far from pure — mostly packaged on the black market, it is a major carrier of disease.

The work on the show is united by a sense of materiality and a critical social awareness. South African Stuart Bird’s Traditional Weapons comments on masculinity in his phallic sjamboks, while MTN nominee Dan Halter’s work makes ambivalent reference to Zimbabwe, along with experimental painting from Ndidi Dike and Chike Obeagu. Nigerian-born sculptor Ozioma Onuzulike uses clay to explore violence in the action of crumpling, rupturing, burning and roasting his material. Amarachi Okafor transforms the familiar and the everyday to reflect on gender. In Abreast with Responsibilities and Shame she sews a series of letters home to explore issues around prostitution.

Tuesday August 19 sees the opening of Roman Yiseni’s exhibition at Cape Africa Platform, Local Rhetorics: Art about HIV/Aids from Addis Ababa and Cape Town, which brings together eight artists from diverse backgrounds and media. The curator explains that her intention is to display comparative perspectives on HIV and Aids, “mulling over the disease as a game that society plays despite devastating losses globally”. Art responds with truly continental inventiveness.

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