Arts + Culture

Inside The Armory Show’s Game-Changing African Focus

The Armory Show’s African Focus section is the way of the future.

Yvette Mutumba and Julia Grosse, the curators behind the Armory Show's African Perspectives Focus. (Photo: Ginny Suss)
African artists were the heart of New York’s premier art event last week. The Focus section of the 2016 Armory Show, African Perspectives, brought the continent and the diaspora to the center stage of Pier 94. Its curators, Contemporary And co-founders Julia Grosse and Yvette Mutumba, were also the only women to curate an Armory Focus in the section’s seven-year history.

“To be in a space where we’re finally at the epicenter of the conversation, and not in the fringes or in the nooks and the crannies, is really great,” Shariffa Ali, a Kenyan-Ethiopian theater-maker in New York City, tells Okayafrica. “I love being able to walk into a space and see work by my peers and African contemporaries from my left, on my right, in front of me, behind me,” she says. “To be fully immersed is truly an amazing experience.”


Okayafrica went inside the Armory Show’s African Focus last Sunday. Below, we ask several participating artists and gallerists to talk about one body of their work at the show.

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Nengi Omuku at the Omenka Gallery booth of the Armory Focus. (Photo: Ginny Suss)
Nengi Omuku

Painter

Port Harcourt, Nigeria

Omenka Gallery (Lagos)

On ‘Boys Follow Me’:

“I was thinking of how women are sometimes seen as objects by men. This is based on part of my experience in Nigeria. They think that it’s important for you to have a good bum and also a good weave, especially as a black woman. So if you don’t have a weave, it’s a bit like ‘what are you doing?’ So that’s what inspired the piece. I combined a bum and a weave together. There are no other body parts. It’s called ‘Boys Follow Me.’”

Nengi Omuku, Boys Follow Me, 2016. Omenka Gallery.
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Namsa Leuba at the Art Twenty One booth of the Armory Focus. (Photo: Ginny Suss)
Namsa Leuba

Photographer

Switzerland and Guinée

Art Twenty One (Lagos)

On ‘Zulu Kids’:

“For the last few years I’ve been working on African identity through the western eyes. I like to work with clothes we use for ceremonies and different artifacts from African cosmogony. I do an intervention on the clothes as well as the people. Most of the time I do all the props and the accessories. And I show another perception, another look.

For the Zulu Kids series I was inspired by statuettes. In my country, in Guinea, we use statuettes like tools for returning ceremonies. So I deconstructed the body to decontextualize Zulu sacred tools to put them in another context. For that series I received some violent reaction in my country because they perceived that like a sacrilege. In South Africa the statuettes and masks aren’t from the same culture. So it was really welcomed in South Africa. In Guinée it wasn’t welcomed because it’s a tool we use for rituals, so it’s kind of sacred.”

Namsa Leuba, Zulu Kids, 2014. Courtesy of Art Twenty One.
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Emanuel Tegene at the Addis Fine Art booth of the Armory Focus. (Photo: Ginny Suss)
Emanuel Tegene

Painter

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Fine Art (Addis Ababa)

On ‘Black Passport’ (As told by Addis Fine Art co-founder, Rakeb Sile):

“He uses strong symbolism to talk about some of the things that he has experienced. A lot of these paintings are rooted in his own personal experiences. Black Passport is about his experience traveling as a person with an African passport. He’s talking about things like racism, denoted by the banana. And also using the razor as a metaphor for hypocrisy in the system. So you see the little passport photo. Most of his paintings are really about his own personal experiences.”

Emanuel Tegene, Black Passport, 2015 (Photo: Ginny Suss)
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Ayana V Jackson at the Gallery MOMO booth at the Armory Show. (Photo: Ginny Suss)
Ayana V Jackson

Photographer

Originally New Jersey / Currently Johannesburg, Paris & New York

Gallery MOMO (Johannesburg / Cape Town)

On ‘To Kill or Allow to Live’:

“I work a lot with the history of photography and the relationship between the medium and political landscapes. Most of my work has to do with how photography is implicated in the construction of racial stereotypes. So these works are more about inserting characters that I think are forgotten in history.

This one here is called To Kill or Allow to Live. It’s taken from an article called Necropolitics by Cameroonian theorist Achille Mbembe, who is based in Johannesburg, South Africa at Wits University. In this article he talks about how one of the things that makes a state sovereign is its ability to decide who lives and who’s allowed to die. I was making it in response to some news that had come out last year around the Black Lives Matter movement. And just thinking about the idea that essentially we’re finding ourselves dodging the bullet of justice, so as opposed to justice working in our favor, it actually is what’s harming us… So this is our historical relationship that we have with the state as black bodies, that go back to politics that were happening especially during the Reconstruction era, which a lot of this clothing is taken from that time.”

Ayana V Jackson, To Kill or Allow to Live, 2016. Courtesy of Gallery MOMO.
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Mariane Ibrahim and ruby onyinyechi amanze's '10 Litres of Air [The Divers II]' at the Armory Focus (Photo: Ginny Suss)
Mariane Ibrahim

Gallerist

Born in New Caledonia / Grew up in Somalia / Raised in France / Currently in Seattle, USA

Mariane Ibrahim Gallery (Seattle)

On ruby onyinyechi amanze’s ‘10 Litres of Air [The Divers II]’, 2016:

“The artists that I work with are artists who are of course of my personal, subjective aesthetic. And artists that are working in Africa, from Africa, as much as photography. So these are the two focuses of the gallery.

The gallery in the past two years has been expanding and developing in attracting voices from other continents–from South America, from the Middle East, from Asia. And I think it’s very important for me to fuse all of these artists in the context of international artists and contemporary artists. And of course people associate me with African art, because I am African and I’m also fighting to reduce the under-representation of artists from Africa. And I’d really really really like to make sure the attention is shared and equal among the different artists.

10 Litres of Air [The Divers II] actually translates very much to Ruby’s practice dealing with themes very dear to her, [such as] displacement. Her way of occupying different spaces, of having lived in different places. This work has a lot of depth and multi-dimensional aspects… It’s related to all this conversation that we have on your background, and who you are, and what kind of an artist you define yourself as. And so the astronaut, and all this kind of levitation that you can see, to me represents the artist on expansion who wants to discover new territories, and fabricating all of these new territories in her drawings. She is willing to get out of her comfort zone and to focus on all the unexplored territory, rather than, ‘oh you’re the artist from this place,’ or ‘you’re an artist from Brooklyn,’ or ‘you’re an artist from Nigeria.’

She also portrays herself in most of the drawings. You can see her with the leopard for example. She’s always present. But this is her alter ego. I find her work extremely light and delicate. I really really connect to her work in its most personal way. We always have to justify where we’re from, when in fact it’s one of the toughest questions. I find myself pretty global.”

ruby onyinyechi amanze, 10 Litres of Air [The Divers II]. Courtesy of the Mariane Ibrahim Gallery.
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Francisco Vidal at the Tiwani Contemporary booth at the Armory Focus. (Photo: Ginny Suss)
Francisco Vidal

Painter

Luanda, Angola

Tiwani Contemporary (London)

On ‘Name Dropping for the African Industrial Revolution’:

“I like to do portraits of people and flowers... This series is called Name Dropping for the African Industrial Revolution. It’s a series of drawings [I started] two years or so ago when I was teaching in Luanda. I started to do them because I didn’t have documents for class, like magazines, wood and stuff. The library was really poor. So to program class, I thought ‘well maybe I could do these portraits of other painters from the city [Luanda]’. And that would be interesting for the students to see and relate the faces with the name of the painters and the artists who are in the city. And then I did some painters, and then I started to do architects, musicians, poets, filmmakers. And then after a while I started to do people that were not from Luanda, Angola. People that I found it would be interesting to know their work. Most of them are other artists. But then I started making politicians that were important in the independence movement of the 60s and the 50s and the 70s.

The last drawing I did was 596. I wish to get into one-thousand soon. It’s an ongoing project.”

Francisco Vidal, detail from Name Dropping for the African Industrial Revolution, at the Tiwani Contemporary booth. (Photo: Ginny Suss)
Francisco Vidal, Name Dropping for the African Industrial Revolution, at the Tiwani Contemporary booth. (Photo: Ginny Suss)
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Ibrahim El-Salahi, In The Present II, 1994. Courtesy of Vigo Gallery.
Ibrahim El-Salahi

Modernist painter

Sudan

Vigo Gallery (London)

On why he considers his black and white works to be his most important (Quote provided by Vigo Gallery from a February 2016 interview conducted by Reya El-Salahi for SUITED):

“I think it is something to do with a study of the color black in itself. This came out after I had been in jail for a number of months in Sudan. I concentrated on a study of

black as a color in itself. It took me seventeen years, from the late 70s up to the mid 90s. I concentrated only on black and not on any of the range of the rainbow, any at all. I realized it was a color itself. And it has the potential to represent other colors as well, within it.

Apart from the fact that I felt very much at ease, creating a picture of black and white. And the black of course has the opposite, which is the white. And the in-between, the hybrid which is produced, is the link of the black and the white, to create a grey tone. So the grey tone, which is a baby, is a link of the white with the black. So it is such a long time. I find that I did a large number of works in black and white which have been quite significant to me, at least.”

Words and interviews by Alyssa Klein

Photos by Ginny Suss

**Correction–March 12, 2016: An earlier version of this article stated Gallery MOMO was part of the Armory Focus.

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Photo (c) John Liebenberg

'Stolen Moments' Uncovers the Namibian Music That Apartheid Tried to Erase

The photo exhibition, showing at the Brunei Gallery in London, highlights artists from Namibia's underground scene between 1950-1980, a time of immense musical suppression prior to its independence.

Before its independence in 1990, a whole generation of Namibians were made to believe that their county had no real musical legacy. Popular productions by Namibian artists from previous eras were systematically concealed from the masses for nearly 30 years, under the apartheid regime—which extended to the country from South Africa following German colonization—depriving many Namibians of the opportunity to connect with their own musical heritage.

"Stolen Moments: Namibian Music Untold," a new exhibit currently showing at London's Brunei Museum at SOAS University of London, seeks to revive the musical Namibian musical traditions that the apartheid regime attempted to erase.

"Imagine you had never known about the musical riches of your country," said the exhibit's curator Aino Moongo in a statement of purpose on SOAS' site. "Your ears had been used to nothing but the dull sounds of country's former occupants and the blaring church and propaganda songs that were sold to you as your country's musical legacy. Until all at once, a magnitude of unknown sounds, melodies and songs appear. This sound, that roots your culture to the musical influences of jazz, blues and pop from around the world, is unique, yet familiar. It revives memories of bygone days, recites the history of your homeland and enables you for the first time to experience the emotions, joys and pains of your ancestors."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs

The 'Stolen Moments" project began in 2010 in an effort to champion Namibia's unsung musical innovators. For the collection, Moongo and Assistant Curator, Siegrun Salmanian—along with a group of international scholars, artists, photographers and filmmakers—curated a large-scale photo exhibit that also features a 120-minute video projection, focusing on the dance styles of the era, along with listening stations, a sound installation that features "100-hours of interviews with musicians and contemporary witnesses," and displays of record covers and memorabilia from the period between 1950-1980.

The musicians highlighted, produced work that spanned a number of genres—a marker of the country's vast and eclectic underground scene. Artists like the saxophonist Leyden Naftali who led a band inspired by the sounds of ragtime, and the psychedelic rock and funk of the Ugly Creatures are explored through the exhibition, which also centers bands and artists such as The Dead Wood, The Rocking Kwela Boys, Children of Pluto and more.

"There are many reasons why you've never heard this music before," Moongo continues. "It was censored, suppressed, prohibited and made almost impossible to listen to. Its creators are either long gone or have given up on music making, by reasons of adversity, death and despair. And yet this beautiful music exists with a liveliness, as if it had never stopped playing. It is still in the minds of the few who can remember, with the ones who played it, and on those rare recordings that have survived in archives and record collections scattered around the globe. Allow me to share these stolen moments with you."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs


Photo (c) John Liebenberg

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"Stolen Moments" is now showing at the Brunei Gallery in London and runs through Sept 21.

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Foul Language and Depictions of Rape Spur a Book Recall Campaign in Kenya

Kenya's Top Book seller pulls a South African book for youth due to foul language.

A main book supplier in Kenya, Text Book Centre, has announced that they would not stock a book due to its "vulgar and foul language." The book, Blood Ties, was written by South African author Zimkhitha Mlanzeli. The banning comes just after a video went viral in Kenya of a school child having a verbal outburst peppered with strong language. As reported by BBC, the removal was sparked by parents showing outrage after excerpts from the book were shared on twitter. These excerpts contained use of the f-word as well as a description of a rape scene.

As per their statement, the Text Book Centre claims they believe in "upholding high moral standards and raising generations of responsible citizens who are not only educated but ethical." The Kenyan publisher, StoryMoja, has defended the book in a statement of their own. They argue that the book is part of a new series showcasing books that deal with "contemporary societal issues" and that this particular book is a fictional story that grapples with the negative repercussions of peer pressure. "In actual fact, the book guides readers on the steps to take should they find themselves in a similar situation and underscores the sensitivity with which victims of sexual abuse should be treated." The statement also highlights the fact that the publishers had listed Blood Ties for readers in high school or above.


The discrepancy is that some schools have recommended the book as a reader – meaning for younger children aged 12 or 13 – though it has not been approved by the Kenyan Institute of Curricular Development (KICD), the entity in charge of managing texts used in schools. In a tweet, the KICD claimed that the book was not approved and that some teachers may be recommending texts without ensuring they were endorsed by the KICD. The dispute is sparking debate as to what should be taught in Kenyan schools.

As of late this morning, StoryMoja is in the process of recalling all copies of the book from stores and schools across Kenya. In a tweet they claim that it is because they have determined the language used in the book is the issue and not the subject matter.

Censorship is always a contested topic, just last month we reported on Nigerian authorities censoring a music video for "threatening security." Also, Kenya's censorship tactics have been in the global eye since a refusal to screen the film Rafiki for its homosexual heroines despite being lauded at international film festivals.

Here are some reactions from Kenyans on Twitter:





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mage courtesy of TIFF

Senegalese Filmmaker Mati Diop Tells a Haunted Story of Migration

We caught up with the celebrated director at the Toronto International Film Festival to talk about her new film, Atlantics

It's been a good year for French-Senegalese director Mati Diop and her film Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story.

The movie got its North American premier at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this month after wowing critics and audiences at Cannes, where it won the prestigious Grand Prix. Diop was the first Black woman to successfully submit a film in the Cannes competition, and naturally the first to win any award at the iconic festival.

In Toronto, the Paris-born director was also honored with the inaugural Mary Pickford Award for Outstanding Female Talent, presented at the TIFF Tribute Gala on September 9. The award is named after Mary Pickford, a Toronto native who went on to conquer Hollywood in the early days of the industry as an actor and producer. Co-founder of United Artists, she was the highest paid woman in Hollywood in her day.

Mati Diop, actor and director, was born in Paris into a prominent Senegalese family, the daughter of noted musician Wasis Diop, and niece of well known filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty. As a director, she has several short films under her belt, including Atlantiques in 2009. Her short films Big in Vietnam and A Thousand Suns screened at TIFF in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story is Diop's first feature, which she directed as well as co-writing the screenplay with Olivier Demangel.

It's in the story of the first Atlantiques – the short – that the new film came to be. "The two films are both connected and not connected," Diop tells OkayAfrica. The short Atlantiques was self produced, and shot on video on a shoestring budget, she explains. Diop was moved by the constant stream of reports, between 2000 and 2010, of young Senegalese taking to small wooden boats and braving the ocean waters in a bid to reach Spain and better opportunities. As she notes, the media tended to treat the phenomenon as largely an abstract issue, one that had to do with economic forces. Diop wanted to tell the story of the real people in that situation.

"I felt that my cinema should be put at the service of their voices," she says. "I wanted to understand." It's part of what motivated Diop to get into film in the first place. While the short was shot documentary-style, she worked the story as fiction. The actor featured in the short had actually made an Atlantic crossing, but was subsequently turned back by Spanish authorities. The way he spoke about the experience connected with Diop; in particular, his determination to try the perilous journey once more. "I am here, but not here," he told her. "Serigne felt it was here [in Senegal] he would lose his life," Diop says. She wanted to understand what drove so many young men to risk their lives. "He felt that his life was vulnerable in Senegal." The actor's words took on even more resonance when he died, while still in Senegal, before he could try again. Diop says he had gone to a hospital after falling ill, but the staff were on strike. After his death, it left her with mixed feelings. "I wondered if I had the right to continue."

TIFF Tribute Gala Mati Diop | TIFF 2019 www.youtube.com

Diop was left with the poignant memory, and a haunting impression. "When you leave, it means you are already dead," she says. After filming the short, she attended Serigne's funeral, and filmed his mother and sister—the women left behind who would become the focus of the feature film treatment. Diop says that the character of Ada, the protagonist of the new movie, is based in large part on the sister, who, in the short film, does not speak any lines.

In Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story, Ada is 17 years old, in love with Souleiman, but her parents have already arranged a very practical marriage with another—and much wealthier—man. On the eve of her wedding, odd things begin to happen, and Ada learn that Souleiman and his friends have left Dakar in a boat, hoping to reach Spain. Ada and her BFFs anxiously await any word from them, as the mysterious happenings keep piling up.

"The beauty of women comes through marriage," a cleric tells one mother. Ada's story embodies the life of a young West African woman—torn between traditional forces in both her family and society, and the friends who wear Western dress and don't bother with the old ways. The wealthy family she has married into owns a large construction company, the one that didn't pay its workers for months, leading the young workers to try their luck in Spain. She loves Souleiman, but she also needs to find her own path.

Mama Sané plays Ada, the solid heart of the film, as a tangle of emotions and repressed desires. She veers from defiant when dealing with the police detective sent to investigate the strange occurrences, to a wordless expression of longing with the kind of intensity only a teenager can muster.

Diop's directorial vision turns Dakar into a place of both surreal magic and harsh reality. The film immerses the audience in the city's sounds, from the goats bleating outside a window while Ada and her friends talk, to voices in the next room, with the eternal heaving of waves against the shore as a recurring refrain. The original music by Fatima Al Qadiri adds to the effect.

Cinematographer Claire Mathon has shot the film with a poetic eye. There are many images of the shifting surface of the sea, with the open sky and sun above it, each different from the last. The streets of Dakar at night take on an otherworldly edge, framed in palm trees against the artificial lights. The building the young men have been working on is futuristic in design, all glass and steel, and the company owner's neutral modern mansion contrasts with the broken rubble on the streets, from slick sports cars to horse drawn carts. It adds to the sense of the surreal.

Atlantics: A Ghost Love Story was acquired by Netflix after Cannes, and is intended for worldwide release by the streaming service, (with the exception of China, Russia, Benelux, Switzerland, and France.) As part of its new policy, Netflix, which became an official member of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America,) earlier this year, will be giving the flick a "theater-first" release, opening in selected theaters on November 15, with streaming available from November 29 in North America.

The film also stars Amadou Mbow, Ibrahima Traoré, Nicole Sougou, Amina Kane, Mariama Gassama, Coumba Dieng, Ibrahima Mbaye, and Diankou Sembene. Dialog in the France-Senegal-Belgium co-production is in Wolof with subtitles.

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(Photo by Francois LOCHON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images )

Exiled Tunisian President Ben Ali Has Died

The former president had been living in Saudi exile since 2011.

Tunisia's former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, 83, has been declared dead while in exile in Saudi Arabia. Ben Ali became interim Prime Minister in 1987. He ran unopposed and was elected Prime Minister in 1998 and served for 23 years – from 1988 to 2011. He was known for using autocratic techniques, eradicating presidential term limits and altering age caps in order to stay in power. In the beginning, Ben Ali was considered a "people's head of state" and garnered the nickname "Benavie" which loosely translates to "Ben Ali for life." By the 2000s, however, he had become deeply unpopular and prompted protests and unrest against his oppressive rule.

His reign ended when he fled Tunisia on January 14, 2011 amid protests that ultimately led to a string of revolutions dubbed the Arab Spring. He had been living in exile in Saudi Arabia ever since. As France 24 reports, in 2018 Ben Ali was sentenced in absentia by Tunisian courts to "more than 200 years in prison on charges including murder, corruption and torture."

Though there is no cause of death just yet, Ben Ali had been in intensive hospital care for lung cancer for three months. According to Al Jazeera, lawyer Mounir Ben Salha announced Ben Ali's death to news agencies via phone and the claim was confirmed by Tunisia's foreign minister.

There is footage of a Tunisian lawyer taking to the street at dawn celebrating the news of Ben Ali's death.


This past Sunday, Tunisia held free elections advancing Kas Saied and Nabil Karoui (who is currently jailed) as presidential candidates with neither receiving a majority vote. A run-off election between the two will be held September 29.

Tunisians and others are sharing their reactions to the news across social media. Here are some reactions:





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