Ever Gold [Projects] is pleased to present Defying the Narrative: Contemporary Art from West and Southern Africa, a group exhibition featuring work by 14 African artists. This exhibition’s intent is to begin to present the varied directions of contemporary African art to the Bay Area. Defying the Narrative includes artists working in a wide variety of media from diverse backgrounds. Collectively, their work defies the reductive Western conception of Africa as a monoculture and of African artists as working in isolation without access to art history and technology, among other falsities. We believe that resisting this impulse to apply familiar or conventional understandings of contemporary and historical African art gives the viewer an opportunity to experience this work in a more dynamic and holistic way.
Some of the artists featured in Defying the Narrative have exhibited widely, and some are emerging artists. Frédéric Bruly Bouabré and Paa Joe were both featured in the groundbreaking 1989 exhibition Magiciens de la Terre at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Many of the artists are interested in making commentary on the state of the environment and the impacts of pollution. For example, despite very different practices, one could say that Serge Attukwei Clottey, Julio Rizhi, and Moffat Takadiwa are similarly concerned with ideas around migration of materials and the politics that underlie these movements. Some of the work references traditional African forms and techniques by reconfiguring historic structures with new materials. This combination of new and old is visible in the work of Paa Joe, who builds fantasy coffins using traditional woodworking techniques, and Troy Makaza, who uses silicone-infused paint to create works that read like woven textile. Many of the artists work in formats that emphasize the idea of hybridity and act to defy many material and formal expectations about African art.
A common thread in the exhibition is an interest in history and mythology, along with the distortions and supplements that can be applied to these narratives. Cameron Platter is a South African artist who engages with the political and artistic histories of the country, creating representations that mimic the hybridity of the cultural landscape. Simphiwe Ndzube’s work reframes activities of daily life by applying surreal reconfigurations through painting and sculpture. Nicola Roos’s ongoing sculptural project stems from her discovery of historical accounts of the first black samurai, whose history she expands toward myth or fantasy.
While organizing exhibitions by grouping artists by geographical origins is often a convenient device to simplify the unfamiliar, it is not necessarily the most accurate way to represent a group of artists or their work. Frequently, geographically-themed exhibitions create opportunities for misunderstandings, as the structure of these types of presentations can lead the viewer to draw connections that are not accurate; favoring connections and assumptions that stem from the focus on geography rather than the artist’s particular voice or position. While we have used loose geographic terms in the title for our exhibition, it is simply to illustrate just that: the loose and multi-interpretational areas which are only part of a much larger non-hegemonic whole.
As humans, we are programmed to recognize similarities first and are almost gravitationally drawn to categorize what we see along lines of what is familiar and comfortable to us. If the artists in the exhibition have anything notable in common, it is, perhaps, an interest in the narrative properties of materials and the idea of figuration as a symbolic device. While all of the artists in Defying the Narrative are African, they represent a broad spectrum of perspectives, ideologies, and geographic origins, and the lack of a unifying narrative among them is both the premise and the conceit of this exhibition.