African Perspectives Take Center Stage At The 2016 Armory Show

These two history-making curators are giving young African Diaspora artists starring roles at this year's Armory Show in New York City.

Contemporary And co-founders Yvette Mutumba and Julia Grosse (Photo: Benjamin Renter. Courtesy of the Armory Show)
Are you familiar with Contemporary And?

If not, we’ll give you a moment to Google it, peruse it and then promptly scold your in-the-know art friends for not putting you on to it sooner. Launched in 2013, the online art magazine provides a dynamic platform where discussions and information on works from varying African Diaspora perspectives are reflected and connected. Germany-based co-founders Julia Grosse, Yvette Mutumba and Elke aus dem Moore have since introduced countless established and emerging artists, curators art critics and other cultural producers from the Diaspora to an international audience, expanding their influence and network from London to Lagos to Luanda.

“We focus on the fact that an artist working today is first of all ‘contemporary and’ maybe born in Accra, educated in London, based in Nairobi, and so on,” Grosse and Mutumba tell Okayafrica via email. “It is too simple to reduce artists and their work to where they were born, because place, history, and heritage all together define and at the same differentiate what we call international art from African perspectives.”

So, it should come as no surprise that Armory Focus—New York’s premier international art fair—tapped Grosse and Mutumba to curate this year’s Focus section: African Perspectives – Spotlighting Artistic Practices of Global Contemporaries. The invitational section consists of about 15 galleries and examine the artistic developments and manifold narratives arising from African and African Diasporic artists, emphasizing geographic fluidity and global connections, according to The Armory Show team. As Grosse and Mutumba note, they carefully chose positions of a younger generation, “as they incorporate many of the ideas we have just referred to.” However, the Focus will also “‘look back’ on the art practices of artists of an older generation.”

“There are, of course, long-standing parallel art histories on the African continent and in the Diaspora that are seminal for today’s artistic positions and their readings within a critical context,” the Focus curators add.

This intentional approach to spotlighting contemporary artistic productions from this community through a kaleidoscopic lens in lieu of the conventional Western gaze is as ambitious as the appointment of Grosse and Mutumba. Why? Because they are, in fact, the first women to curate an edition of Armory Focus in its seven-year history.

“We agreed to curate the Focus section as we saw it as a great opportunity to be able to put young artists and cultural producers from African Perspectives on a huge platform and to present their work to a broad audience, which widely is not aware of their practices,” they say. “And that is our main mission: to spotlight the extremely multilayered voices from Africa and the Diaspora.”

With an estimated 60,000 visitors set to attend the show, the Focus section is certainly poised to beam a much-needed spotlight on the vast and diverse African diaspora art community. On second thought, spotlight might not be the best word to describe the impact for which Grosse and Mutumba strive. A spotlight is fleeting, momentary, reserved for a grand, isolated number, whereas the curators are aiming for something much more enduring and inclusive.

“In recent years there has clearly been a growing hype around contemporary art from Africa and the Diaspora,” they tell Okayafrica. “While this is no doubt interesting, it also shows the still inherent conventional hierarchies between ‘the West’ and ‘the Rest.’ Why else would it be called a ‘hype?’ Whereas the fact of artistic positions from African Perspectives being included in international exhibitions, collections etcetera should actually be a normal event in the global situation that people so often talk about.”

“It is still too often expected or taken for granted that art produced by an artist with some kind of affiliation to Africa should have certain aesthetics or deal with specific ‘African’ topics,” they continued. “While it is, of course, absolutely right and important for artists to work on topics or aesthetics related to a certain context, our aim is to contribute to an understanding that art from Africa and the Diaspora can look, sound, and feel beyond that in many different ways.”

The Armory Show takes place March 3 through 6 at Piers 92 & 94 in New York City. For more information, check out visit the show’s website. The global galleries and solo artist presentations slated to show work at the 2016 Armory Focus: African Perspective include:

Addis Fine Art, Addis Ababa: Emanuel Tegene

blank, Cape Town: Turiya Magadlela

Circle Art Gallery, Nairobi: Ato Malinda

Echo Art, Lagos: Namsa Leuba

Galerie Cécile Fakhoury, Abidjan: François-Xavier Gbré

Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, Seattle: ruby onyinyechi amanze

October Gallery, London: Aubrey Williams, Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga

Omenka Gallery, Lagos: Nengi Omuku

Galerie Jérôme Poggi, Paris: Kapwani Kiwanga

SMAC Gallery, Cape Town: Cyrus Kabiru

Tiwani Contemporary, London: Francisco Vidal

Vigo Gallery, London: Ibrahim El-Salahi

Galerie Tanja Wagner, Berlin: Kapwani Kiwanga

WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town: Dan Halter

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