Focusing on Africa, Ethan Cohen Fine Arts presents BATIK d’AFRIQUE, a survey exhibition of continental artists at its New York gallery till January 10th , and GOLDEN JUBILEE, a selection of Zambian contemporary and tribal art at Kube, Beacon till January 24th.
Batik d’Afrique draws on a distinct group of artists whose depth and diversity challenges interpretation and classification. Exposing infinite variations in the human experience the work of these artists is emblematic of a continent’s coming of age. While addressing themes of bleak hardship these artist nevertheless defy limitation through the transmutation of subject and medium, leaving the viewer with an impression of hope and transcendence.
The theme of transformation is evident in both the work of Goncalo Mabunda and Moffat Takadiwa. Mozambiquan artist Goncalo Mabunda repurposes weapons of war as art. Drawing on the nation’s collective memory, his pieces are created from bullets and machinery commenting on the formation of power through violence. Mabunda, however, invests his artwork with new life and meaning recreating the discarded weaponry into lively masks steeped in African custom. In doing so he transcends the inherent themes of violence and conflict, reinventing objects evoking ancestral ritual and spirituality. Similarly Zimbabwean artist Moffat Takadiwa appropriates discarded objects such as spray paints and plastic bottle parts to create multimedia projects infused with magic. Calling into question excessive consumption, he endows the refuse of society with an element of the sacred. Both Takadiwa and Mabunda relieve the raw materials used to create their pieces of their original associations and elevate them to the divine as artwork in the tradition of African mysticism.
Aboudia and Malik Sidibe’s explorations stem from the respective youth cultures of their countries. Aboudia’s inspiration is drawn from the street children in his home city of Abidjan, Ivory Coast. While his powerful nouchi style reveals an ominous and often threatening inner world, the vibrancy of his work speaks to the energy and potential of his subjects. Expressing this dichotomy, his deliberately layered landscapes capture the turbulence of the present with undeniable vitality tempered by compassion. This humanistic sensibility is equally apparent in the work of Malick Sidebe who proclaims “I don’t like sadness.” Focusing on Bamako Mali’s youth culture, his portraits capture scenes of celebration and elation. Yet through the medium of photography Sidebe conveys a deep awareness of his own subjectivity and how reality and experience are filtered through perception. His powerful collection of photographs express a deeply personal insight on a society’s coming of age through the dynamic interaction of its people.
The work speaks of a culture capable of recreating and itself, transforming the violence and refuse of its past to weave a new fabric of human experience through the strength of its beliefs and traditions. It conveys a vibrant youth, alive and potent, symbolic of the continent’s own emerging identity. Questioning the viewer’s initial judgment the diverse aesthetics produced today by contemporary African artists invite us to reflect on our own consciousness and perception, as reality is often beyond the apparent and transcends ordinary existence.
Images curtesy of Ethan Cohen Fine Arts.
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