2016 has been a tumultuous year, to say the least. Over the course of the year the arts have proved, yet again, to be an important channel through which society can grapple with the complexities of the world. As the title of this particular (What Really Matters?) issue suggests, this edition takes its cue from the Black Lives Matter movement, and the various spin-off conversations that have happened as a result.
In order to introduce some of the themes explored throughout, we begin with a series of introductory notes, interviews, and written features surrounding ‘In Context’, an ongoing programme of exhibitions, lectures, and artistic interventions that began in Johannesburg in 2010 under the guidance of Goodman Gallery director Liza Essers. “One of the many ideas that circulated as the project began to take shape, was the dynamics of place and geography (political, social, as well as physical) in reference to the African context – with its many and varied iterations,” explains Essers. In order to further unpack these ideas, we spoke to artist and co-curator for Africans in America’, Hank Willis Thomas, as well as participating artists Julie Mehretu and Alfredo Jaar.
Another important dynamic to ‘In Context’ is the inclusion of ‘African Portraiture(s) III’ a robust conference with a multitude of noteworthy speakers. Here we decided to focus our attention on two papers in particular (originally issued as talks) by Weléla Kindred (Body Politics: From L.A., Paris to Soweto: 40 Years Later) and Chrislyn Laurie Laurore (Re-Imagining South Africa), which highlight the universal nature of protest culture under the obstinate hand of power, and the tendency to oversimplify varied narratives. “The production of official narratives, by their very nature, involve the silencing of multiple subaltern histories” explains Laurore.
It’s a topic that reappears consistently, most notably in a panel discussion at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe, an interview with Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi, Curator of African Art at the Hood Museum, Dartmouth College, and in conversations with Cape Town-based photographer Ashley Walters, whose series ‘Uitsig’ provides a portrait of a place on the outskirts of Cape Town, where Walters grew up.
Photographer Andrew Tshabangu’s upcoming exhibition at the Standard Bank Gallery also tells a particularly beautiful story. Titled ‘Footprints’, the exhibitions attempts to look at Thsabangu’s work as a series of impressions, encounters, traces, and moments in time, rather than attempting to place the work within any specific dichotomy. It’s a sentiment which is shared by Zimbabwean painter Misheck Masamvu, who sat down with ART AFRICA following his exhibition ‘Still Still’ at the Goodman Gallery, Cape Town: “At the end of the day my work is just a space, a flat surface. Within it, however, are multiple rooms which you will open when you’re ready. You are not forced to stay in that room. When you enjoy it it’s good, but when you want to ignore it it’s also quite ok.”
Turning our heads further afield, Siobhan Keam visits the British Museum in light of their current exhibition ‘South Africa: The Art of a Nation’; Martha Kazungu talks about the work of Ugandan sculptor Lilian Mary Nabulime; Margaretta wa Gacheru paints a picture of Kenyan art scene; and Jonelle Twum provides further insights into Accra art scene, through the eyes of Nana Offoriata-Ayim, director of ANO.
In this issue, we also learn about the histories of the Deo Gratias Studio in Accra, the oldest photographic studio in Ghana, and Jean-Sylvain Tshilumba Mukendi explores the workings of comparatively new spaces, the Kin ArtStudio in DRC, who support the development of young artists through access to documentation, dialogue, exhibitions, workshops, residency opportunities, and networks. Similarly, Addis Foto Fest, under the guidance of founder Aida Muluneh, aims “to serve as an international pedestal for a broad spectrum of underrepresented artistic perspectives”.