Eight African Expats Dispel Western Conceptions of Their Continent’s Art
Gathering together the works of eight African expatriates now living in the United States, a new exhibition at New York’s Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art LLC offers an overview of a new global conversation. Titled “NO SUCH PLACE: Contemporary African Artists in America,” and curated by Larry Ossei-Mensah and Dexter Wimberly, the show dismisses the monocultural myth that has persisted around the African continent.
Featuring a varied group of artists working in a range of mediums, Ossei-Mensah and Wimberly’s show seeks to dispelling the often reductive view that the West has traditionally taken on Africa, in fact, one of the most heterogeneous regions on the planet. “We think it’s fair to say that all the artists in the exhibition draw equally from contemporary and traditional art history,” Wimberly recently told Artsy. “One of the exhibition’s goals is to make the point that these artists, and their work, share a history with artists from other places and other times. Although they are categorized as ‘African,’ they are influenced by a global culture that can be seen in their choice of materials and subject matter.”
The work of Adejoke Tugbiyele is exemplary in this respect. Her figurative sculptures made from found materials allude to traditions of craft and the history of sculpture from Egypt to Greece, China to the United States. But Tugbiyele also explores contemporary representations of the body by LGBTQ individuals, whose voice has long been denied, throughout the world. In Past/Future (2015), Tugbiyele uses palm stems, bathing nets, building materials, and other gathered goods to depict a person bending over. Through layers of material, the subtleties of the figure’s gestures and postures, alluring and lithe, are carefully realized.
Similarly, Derek Fordjour composes his sculptures with unusual materials loaded with symbolic associations. Folding (2014) is a clay bust of a male athlete covered with black coal and iron, set on a folded burlap sack. “The work references labor,” says Wimberly, “specifically Black labor as it pertains to questions of value. It is also a commentary on the importance of coal as a source of fuel, and a key part of the development of human history.” The work points to the increasing problems that the growing, worldwide use of coal will cause, both for producers and consumers.
The politics of social justice are also visible in Brendan Fernandes’s Devil’s Noise III (2011), a work comprised of hand-bound books, each with a line of text embossed in gold along the spine, representing a stanza of poetry. As Wimberly describes, “The work investigates the student protests of 1976 in South Africa in which student groups opposed the imposition of the Afrikaans language within the school system, which effectively barred much of the population from participation.” And Vivienne Koorland’s Angola (2013), a heavily worked painting on burlap, connects the synonymous Louisiana State Penitentiary, the Central African nation, and the death of Nelson Mandela in 2013.
“NO SUCH PLACE: Contemporary African Artists in America” is on view at Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art LLC, New York, Feb. 26–Apr. 3, 2015.