I first begun writing this post, setting out to highlight upcoming African Art Fairs Exhibitions and events around the world in 2015. However I thought that it would be more interesting to discuss the issue about the direction that we may be heading.

It’s About Time: Explosions of African Art Exhibitions

The hunger for contemporary, digital and new forms of art from Africa can now be seen across publications, news highlights and blogs. Spaces online like some of my favorites Contemporary And,  Another Africa,  Art South Africa and Aadart have begun this critical trend in providing a discussion around the practices and ideologies often limited to academic and artistic audiences. I believe that their presences have helped propell the interest for African contemporary art as well as discussions around it.

Already in 2015 there are incredible events that will highlight African artistry. This demand for contemporary and digital African art forms not only gives prominence to the significance of African art globally but exemplifies the hard work that curators, artists and exhibitors around the world have put in to finally give African creativity the attention it deserves.

Here are a list of exhibitions of some of the global events in the upcoming months of 2015.

For more check out these links.

AADAT! | The Art Exhibition List: 9 International Art Exhibitions To See In January

Art South Africa | Calendar Highlights 2015: First Quarter

Dezeen | 10 architecture and design exhibitions we’re looking forward to in 2015

So Why does it Still feel Uncomfortable?

Yes! there is finally good work that is being done, (an example of this is a film series, African Masters, that highlights African creative voices across the globe that we recently featured). But that there is something that still bugs many art audiences.

African exhibitions are being exhibited in ‘global white cubes’ mostly outside of Africa.
The Global White Cube is an essay featured on the blog On Curating that explores the historical and contemporary ‘white cubes’ where most of the world’s art resides. If you are an art lover you are no stranger to these spaces. White blank rooms where in hushed tones audiences muse over diverse range of art pieces from across Africa.

Photo Credit: LagosPhoto 2012 Indoor Exhibition
Photo Credit: LagosPhoto 2012 Indoor Exhibition

“No one seems to want to speak about it, but no matter how fervently biennials and large-scale exhibitions insist on their radical distinction from the idea of the museum, they overwhelmingly show artworks in specially constructed settings that replicate the rigid geometries, white partitions, and windowless spaces of the museum’s classical exhibitions, that is, when biennials are not simply bringing artworks into existing museums without altering their white cubes. Timeless, hermetic, and always the same despite its location or context, this globally replicated white cube has become almost categorically fixed, a private “non-place” for the world of contemporary art biennials, one of those uncannily familiar sites, like the department stores, airports, and freeways of our period of supermodernity ”

Photo Credit
Photo Credit: LagosPhoto 2012 Indoor Exhibition

International Exhibitions: Hotspots in Cultural Tourism

These spaces perpetuate cultural tourism where successful collections often integrate artists from all throughout Africa and the diaspora. Whether it be 20, 50, 100 African artists, there is a drive to amass as many African artists as possible.

What is concerning is that often these exhibitions, art fairs and events often remove us from the context in which these art forms were created,  diffusing artistic works into the brand “AFRICA”. A post that may be worthwhile reading is Art Criticism: Is the prefix ‘Afro-‘ arresting our imagination and manifesto salesmanship.  In the post Phetogo Tshepo Mahasha critics the prevelant use of the word ‘Afro-” in collections and movements in artistic and creative practices.  A habit often abused in global international exhibitions, we too have been guilty of it.

“The prefix ‘afro-’ has acquired a parasitic character, leeching off manifestos: Afro-Surrealism, Afro-Punk, Afro-Futurism and Afro-etc. I think it has the capacity to arrest African imagination, so that the African imagination only follows other manifestos, only to attach itself to them and never coming up with an original of its own. “

To be fair African exhibitors and curators, especially globally, are caught between a rock and a hard place. They have the difficult task to first bring awareness to projects and artists that are often ignored in larger museums and institutions and then they are entrusted to convince the global audience the value and importance of African art forms. Despite all of their best intentions they set up  cultural hotspots where the audience is restricted to generally peruse and celebrate ‘African creativity.’

Photo Credit: 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair © Sébastien Gracco de Lay
Photo Credit: 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair © Sébastien Gracco de Lay

 

Set up against this monumental obligation to legitimize African art these global events end up catering to a specific audience, often foreign, with discretionary income to attend these events. There is an underlying assumption that if we can show the value of African cultural objects the larger global audience will recognize their importance. This push to ‘sell Africa’ not only limits where these events take place but also further divorces the audience from the artists original intent.

A post also worthwile reading is an interview with renowed South African artists Sam Nhlengethwa and David Kolone in which they discuss the impact of global and international exhibitions and biennials.

the indiscriminate classification of black practitioners’ work has evolved over the years to a mutual comprehension of past prejudices, [the global phenomenon has introduced a breed of artists who ] have become airport artists who criss-cross the globe in search of sanity away from home.””

David KoloneThe Controversy Issue (13.2): Same Mdluli in Conversation with Sam Nhlengethwa & David Koloane

Africa Now:

Take a look at this recent exhibition, Africa Now: Political Patterns featuring over 20 artists including Yinka Shonibare, Chris Ofili and Kehinde Wiley at the Seoul Museum of Art.

Here is the description for the exhibition

Africa Now features over 20 artists whose practices serve as a meeting point for Africa’s political situation and the semantics and aesthetics of traditional patterns. Being the first in Korea to introduce contemporary African art, it also sets out to represent post-colonial, diaspora, and non-Western art by presenting the current states of African art.The exhibition aims to examine the basis of post-colonialism, and also contemplate on the meaning of African diaspora art, which can be traced back to Western colonialism and slavery. This would allow us to explore the critical viewpoints on Western-centrism and the racial and multicultural issues that occur on a global level. Ultimately, considering Korea’s situation in which multiculturalism has become an issue of increasing seriousness, the exhibition will provide an opportunity to assess the social awareness and attitude toward a multicultural setting.

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The exhibition aims to examine the basis of post-colonialism, and also contemplate on the meaning of African diaspora art, which can be traced back to Western colonialism and slavery. This would allow us to explore the critical viewpoints on Western-centrism and the racial and multicultural issues that occur on a global level. Ultimately, considering Korea’s situation in which multiculturalism has become an issue of increasing seriousness, the exhibition will provide an opportunity to assess the social awareness and attitude toward a multicultural setting.”

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Despite the description, I wonder if the audience invited to these exhibition understand the context of the artistic pieces. Like so many African exhibitions around the world you are drawn in like a  tourist to  explore a varied range of artists with varying political and social intention under the visual tapestry of “Africaness”.

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Moving Past Cultural Tourism into Digital Communities. 

As African contemporary art continues to take prominence in the global art scene, I am curious to see what alternative spaces can be created outside these global white cubes and conglomerations of “Africaness”.  I wonder if digital communities can support artistic expressions and engage in dialogue past these exhibitions. Can the online space provide  new places to critically examine creativity and engage with original artistic intent? What do you all think?  I am curious to know if you have made these observations or have different opinions.  If you know any global exhibition featuring African art that offer an alternative reach out to us with the title of this post contact@africandigitalart.com or give us your feedback on Facebook, or the comment section below.