As part of its ongoing programming to promote artists and art spaces from the continent, the African Art Galleries Association (AAGA) has launched the second edition of African Galleries Now, an online-only showcase of emerging, mid-career, and established artists whose expansive practices include a range of mediums and materials.
As the art world emerges from a year that saw some programming and initiatives go online but many other events cancelled, African Galleries Now provides a space that allows galleries to showcase works by artists they represent. As such, the initiative marries elements of a traditional physical art fair with digital features.
This selection of works that are part of this edition was, I must admit, informed by my own bias toward abstract imagery and artworks that are made of found materials. The selection ranges from drawing and painting to embroidery and mixed media.
With works produced within the last eight years, and most in the last two or three, this selection represents a slice of what contemporary art from the continent is concerned with at this time.
Pebofatso Mokoena, Magic City (2021)
Pebofatso Mokoena’s painting “Magic City”, is being shown by First Floor Gallery Harare. In Mokoena’s work, we imagine what sound might look like, dotted and lined, in spirals and circles — a city’s soundscape reimagined in space, full of color and shapes.
In his practice, Mokoena considers space, politics, and the environment, and as such, the work he produces transports viewers from the cosmic realm to busy streets and highways. His work spans drawing, paper constructions, and printmaking; in 2020, he was a winner of the Wits Young Artist Award.
António Ole, Tríptico molhado (2013)
Born in Luanda, Angola, in 1951, António Ole lived through the country’s colonial rule under Portugal.
His multidisciplinary practice, which includes painting, sculpture, photography, and film, speaks to colonialism, civil war, and Angolan society more broadly by highlighting resistance. An internationally renowned artist, Ole has exhibited his work at biennials around the world, including in Venice, Havana, and Johannesburg.
His work “Tríptico molhado”, currently showing at the gallery Movart in his hometown, includes a set of three photographs of liquid (maybe poured, maybe spilled) on a terrazzo floor.
Unbroken but fractured, the pools are reminiscent of the map of the world, continents connected but separated. In Ole’s images, the liquid’s reflective surface becomes a mirror.
Tuli Mekondjo, Your spirits lingers amidst the trees (2021)
Silk, embroidered thread, bamboo, cotton, yarn, and archival images make up Tuli Mekondjo’s tapestries of history.
Her work “Omhepo yeni oili pokati ko miti/ Your spirits lingers amidst the trees”, on view through Johannesburg gallery Guns & Rain, includes two archival images. One is of a group of people standing and sitting in front of a home, while the second shows three women carrying loads on their heads. Sewn thread runs between the feet and legs of the people in both images to three embroidered bodies rendered below the archival images that resemble foetuses, suggesting the many ways that the past finds its way into the future.
The work is emblematic of Mekondjo’s multidisciplinary practice, which draws on themes of identity and displacement in relation to her home country of Namibia.
Patrick Bongoy, Unravelling III (2019)
Recycled rubber is a recurring material in the work of sculptor Patrick Bongoy.
In his piece “Unravelling III”, on view with South African gallery Ebony/Curated, letters hang from a wall-mounted webbing of rubber. The effect evokes lost voices or words.
Rubber has a particularly horrific history in Bongoy’s birth country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where King Leopold of Belgium assumed the position of ruler over what was then the Congo Free State, and instituted devastating practices and punishments onto Congolese workers in the forced labour of rubber extraction.
By using discarded material, Bongoy’s work speaks to environmental pollution and its effects on communities in both rural and urban settings.
Turiya Magadlela, Untitled (2020)
Hosiery, tights, and undergarments in all their yellows, greens, pinks, and oranges—items of clothing that are usually hidden — are revealed in their full splendour in South African artist Turiya Magadlela’s work.
The accessories appear stretched out onto a canvas, no longer clinging to the curves of the bodies for which they were designed.
A past winner, in 2015, of the FNB Art Prize, Magadlela describes her work as a reflection of her personal life experiences, but the political cannot be overlooked with the use of such material.
In viewing works from her series Umjuluko (isiZulu for “sweat”) such as “Untitled”, being shown by Johannesburg’s Kalashnikovv Gallery, these undergarments can serve as signs of femininity, and the dangers that can be associated with embodying that femininity.
On the other hand, there is the joyous self-expression these materials can enable. They can denote freedom for those whose femininity might not be recognised by wider society.
Isabel Tueumuna Katjavivi, Missing narratives (2021)
In Namibian artist Isabel Tueumuna Katjavivi’s work “Swapo Office, London, 1977. Missing narratives”, showing with Windhoek-based StArt Art Gallery, the faces of subjects in a photograph have been carved out.
Immediately, viewers’ eyes are drawn to the space where their faces once were, a space that is now filled by gravel and stones beneath the original, cut photograph. In an attempt to complete the story, we might look elsewhere in the frame. The SWAPO (South West Africa People’s Organisation) posters on the wall might offer some clue as to whose faces have been removed from the photograph. Were they political freedom fighters? Exiles? Friends? Lovers?
Katjavivi uses a number of different media to explore themes of healing and memory related to her Namibian heritage.
Mauro Pinto, Ventre (2019)
The images in Mozambican photographer Mauro Pinto’s series Blackmoney, being shown by Maputo-based Arte de Gema, are undoubtedly charged, despite their quietness.
Coal fills the frame in Ventre (belly), forming the ground and walls in a mine. One imagines choked coughs and swirling puffs of coal dust settling in the air. Coal mining is part of Mozambique’s fast-growing extractive industry, and the process’s environmental toxicity makes it one of the country’s most dangerous. In another work from the series, Target (2017), we see two men looking into a pit, with no clear way in or out, contemplating the belly of the beast.
Pinto’s journey into photography began in the 1990s. Over the last 20 years he has become one of Mozambique’s most widely known photographers, and this series showcases the power of his images. – ART SY
Abridged from the full article available at https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-12-must-see-works-leading-african-galleries