Chance Encounters: Seven Contemporary Artists from Africa

17 April – 14 June 2009

The Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos (CCA,Lagos) in collaboration with Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai is pleased to present to a Mumbai audience its special projects initiative. “Chance Encounters, Seven Contemporary Artists from Africa” is an exhibition organised by Nigerian curator, Bisi Silva consisting of works by acclaimed artists; Berry Bickle (Zimbabwe), Safaa Erraus (Morocco), J.D. Okhai Ojeikere (Nigeria), Myriam Mihindou (Gabon), Nnenna Okore (Nigeria), El Anatsui (Ghana) and Uche Iroha (Nigeria).

Whilst exhibitions of contemporary art in Africa have proliferated in Europe and America few, if any have been presented in India. Initiated by Sakshi Gallery, this project will hopefully engender a continuous journey of interaction and collaboration. “Chance Encounters” plays on the idea of discovering, meeting, interacting and exchange within a loosely prescribed curatorial framework. It highlights the way in which individual concerns, medium and interests coalesce into a fluid but coherent articulation of some of the important issues that affect and reflect our contemporary societies. Through different media including sculpture, painting, photography and mixed media, the artists touch on subjects of the body, memory, culture, history, colonialism, mobility, consumerism and the environment in diverse and captivating ways.

Safa Erraus reduces space to its simplest form of expression through her monochromatic wall drawings, paintings, installations. Her beautiful, silent presentations are powerful artistic vehicles that use seemingly everyday objects such as needles, pins, razor, thread and silk. However, their deceptive simplicity invoke complex emotions such as pain and pleasure, injury and healing and reference issues of history, tradition and gender. As Erraus states, ‘White is not as neutral as it appears. Every colour conceals a message.’ For example the use of gauze in her work is deeply symbolic material in her work – this thin, light almost transparent material is an important tool used in healing and in protecting from wounds and infection which Erraus uses it effectively as a metaphor for the positive, the pure against the blood red of a wound.

The methodological use of white combines the emotions of purity, pain and seduction. What the artist calls ‘Le faux doux’ (false softness), in the perennial search for an equilibrum between good and bad, right and wrong which sometimes results in missing or avoiding the possibilities in-between. Erraus was born in 1976 in Tetouan, Morrocco. She studied at the National Institute of Fine Arts, Tetouan.

Uche Iroha fuses the documentation of everyday reality as witnessed in his critically acclaimed work ‘Fire, Blood and Flesh’, producing images that reflect the dynamic forces of urban Nigeria verve in all its diversity. The series captures the reality of an abattoir, bringing to the fore the ‘hidden’ aspect of the city whilst also symbolically, posing a mental inquiry on our society today. Iroha was born in 1972 in Enugu, Nigeria. He graduated with a B.A, Sculpture from the University of Port Harcourt. He is a founding member of the internationally acclaimed photographic collective, Depth of Field (DoF). In 2008, he was a Prince Claus Fund laureate.

Nnenna Okore twists, weaves, flattens, ropes and braids mostly found newspapers, jute material, burlap and clay to create intricate sculptural installations which reference everyday Nigerian practices and cultural objects. She attempts to change the function, meaning, and historical or social context of the materials. By transforming ordinary materials from their original state through repetitive processes and varying textures, by employing deconstructive and reconstructive techniques, the materials inevitably assume new purposes and cultural significance . Okore was born in 1975 in Australia. She graduated with a B.A (1st Class) from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and an MFA from the University of Iowa, USA.

Berry Bickle belongs to a generation of African artists who emerged in the early 1990s when theoretical discourses about post-colonialism, cross-cultural identities and globalizations began to question the western artistic monopoly. In her work, Bickle dissects the memory of mobility and how it impacts societies. Her work often incorporates script of different kinds, recollected fragments from the colonizers written documentations. She is most fascinated by the insignificant remains that she finds among old official documents as well as personal everyday notes such as scrapbooks, cookbooks, almanacs and diary’s from life under colonial rule. The question implicit in Bickle’s work is whether human beings are a community of nomadic aliens who gather personal stories to build history. Bickle was born in 1959 in Zimbabwe. She studied at the Durban Institute of Technology and Rhodes University, South Africa.

Myriam Mihindou places the body, mobility and history at the centre of her diverse artistic practice in photography, video, sculpture and performance. Her photographic series Dechoucaj explores the link between the social and political situation in Haiti and the African continent, what the artists calls, ‘the transfer of a reality between history spectre and the index’. By presenting her images in negative black and white Mihindou wants to establish a connection between the African continent’s ties with contemporary history and the future of this chaotic territory which is Haiti. Mihindou was born in 1964 in Libreville, Gabon. She graduated in Fine Art from the School of Fine Art in Bordeaux, France.

J.D. Okhai Ojeikere can be likened to a griot, a harbinger of history, culture and tradition. A self-taught photographer who began his career in the 1950s, the broad spectrum of Ojeikere’s work represents the richness and diversity of Nigerian and African cultural life. With a career spanning over fifty years he has documented the changing realities of a young nation from the pre-independence period throughout the early euphoric post-independence period until the present.

Ojeikere is, however, known internationally for his extensive photographic repository of collective hairstyle memory. (shown at Documenta XII 2007) The central premise of his work involves documenting an eroding inherited tradition and transmitting them into the present. Ojeikere’s works orchestrate the cultural signification of the African hairstyle which is marked by its outstanding sculptural form. Ojeikere was born in Ovbiomu-Emai, South-Western Nigeria in 1933. He started his career in 1953 as a darkroom assistant with the British Colonial Goverment. In the early 1970s, he opened his own studio foto ojeikere in Lagos.

El Anatsui presents three sculptural works specially created for “Chance Encounters”. Internationally acclaimed for his luxuriant, monumental sculptural installations, the works reference on the one hand a rich tradition of weaving, whilst also dovetailing into a contemporaneous consciousness about our relentless consumer society and the way in which it impacts on our environment. Through his works, the object of our desire, the beauty that is so captivating, becomes on closer inspection, remnants of thousands of bottle tops of local drinks. A powerful symbolic reminder not only of the historical effects of global commerce and conquest, but also of the indelible characteristic of the 21st consumer society. Anatsui was born in 1944 in Ghana. He is professor of Sculpture at the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

Curated by Bisi Silva, independent curator and director/founder of the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos.

Images: Installation views Chance Encounters, Sakshi Gallery Mumbai. All images Courtesy Sakshi Gallery.

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