Wrestling with Emotions

Africade

Opening Reception at 20:00, 29 July 2017

Since ancient times, art has maintained complex interrelations with both society and technology.

Nowadays, when people spend most of their time attached to the virtual world, it is only natural for the arts to move along, to be state of the art.
As the video games in Africade demonstrate, the digital-art medium embodies all traditional art forms: sketching, painting, sculpturing, music and even narrative. But whereas in the past, the total sense of experience could be captured only by two-dimensional images, our rapidly changing world, allows viwers to float away, weightlessly, into imaginary worlds, as the digital-virtual medium promises to emerge as the most powerfully expressive and engaging art form.
In Africa, a growing number of game developers have been pioneering the use of video games as an artistic medium. For Africade, we selected seven games from Nigeria, Cameroon, Algeria, Morocco and South Africa, in order to give a taste of this flourishing scene. The games on display operate in various media – board, mobile, and computer games. They encapsulate a diversity of inspirations and influences and include elements from local African aesthetics and pan-African myths, as well as Occidental and Oriental design traditions.
Will the digital art medium emerge as the most iconic of our time? Time will tell, but in the meanwhile, the African Studies Gallery is joining many other contemporary art museums worldwide in presenting this technology, with a particular focus on Africa. Thus, while Africade is designed to demonstrate the artistic potential of the gaming world, it nonetheless invites the viewers to give in to the technological temptation and satisfy our desire to escape to another dimension.

White House

This is the first exhibition of the Moroccan artist Aicha El Beloui in Israel. In a subtle, minimalist and pointed approach, with poignant and critical humor, she sketches the relations formed between the civilian and the urban space she occupies. Her feminist gaze poses a political, social and cultural perspective on Islamic society in Morocco, with emphasis on her hometown Casablanca.
El Beloui draws just like writing. Her drawings represent an interpretation of a moment, of a statement or an emotion, without any extra aesthetic weight. Her pencil touches are intimately personal and identified with her work. In her hands, cityscape becomes human figures who express pieces of information that she plants as in a sophisticated caricature.

Les choses d’avant le grand nord 2/3, (Think Tanger Series)
Aïn Sebaâ K-ybd3
Ink on paper, 2016, 65X50 cm.
Ink on paper, 2016, 65X50 cm.

engulf

In My Shade She is Engulfed

3 November

Joint exhibition opening :

In My Shade She is Engulfed – a hundred years of photomontage, African inspiration Opening at 19:30
Portable Identity – Opening at Inga Gallery 20:00

On the evening of the opening free transportation will be provided between the two galleries

otot

OTOT: Daring to defy Cultural Constructions

May 2016

In the cultural practices of both the Mende and Jewish peoples…

…the artifacts presented in this exhibition are associated with the process of transforming young girls into women capable of assuming their religious responsibility as adults. Moreover, by adopting objects which are traditionally associated with men, women assume equality and expand their power and control in the community. Conversely, according to the Western feminist approach religious ideology plays an important role in reproducing oppressive social norms. Therefore, assuming objects associated with the patriarchy also means affirming gender inequality.

This exhibition offers a different take on this dilemma by displaying objects as lacking in agency, as detached from the sociopolitical context of their origin. This process of objectifying the object, so to speak, and negating its subjectivity, permits the juxtaposition of ritual artifacts from two distinct cultures. Moreover, this arrangement, so fundamentally alien to our western way of knowledge classification, is an opportunity to change our perception. It could serve as an exercise in reexamining our dichotomization of exotic objects produced by “primitive” people as opposed to spiritual artifacts produced for “sophisticated” believers.

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Back to Earth

October 2015

The Back to Earth exhibition is a fusion between the African Studies Gallery and Benyamini Contemporary Ceramics Center to create an installation which is a site-specific gallery space for African Studies.

This is a unique collaboration between Israeli artist Roy Mayan, and the Senegalese artist Daouda N’Diaye:
Both artists will deal with the research and identity of materials and ideas retreated from both their ancient civilisations, out of a desire to create a hybrid connection between the visual traditions, initiating a contemporary and universal artistic creation.

Exhibition opening: Friday 23rd of October!

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The Kinshasa Times

September 2015

This exhibition is of urban art, produced by self-taught artists, mainly from Kinshasa.

During the past decade both museums and art markets have shown a growing interest in contemporary African art. But what does ‘contemporary African art’ mean in this context? Does it mean art produced by Africans who live in the big urban centres of the continent, creating works in terms of Western taxonomies and sensibilities? Or is there room in this definition for a different kind of art, one that neither seeks nor meets the approval of Western establishments?

The works shown in this exhibition suggest that there is more to contemporary African art than mere alignment with Western preferences. Produced by self-taught artists mainly from Kinshasa, the works can be seen as a bridge between two of our recent exhibitions: The Congo River and Lava Almas. The first of these gave an insight into the traditional art of the region, while the second explored a different notion of contemporary African art through the work of the Luandan artist Toy Boy. Much like the traditional art, the paintings in The Kinshasa Times function as repositories of vital social and cultural information. At the same time, they are critical commentaries on contemporary life and culture in Congo (DRC), confronting troubling realities and treating their subjects with a diverting mixture of humour and compassion. All in all, the works do not fit comfortably into the normative Western understanding of art and its function in society.

Moreover, until recently art historians generally considered painting to be a Western implant, and therefore not original African art. As a result, little research has been done on modern and contemporary art in Africa; museums, art dealers and collectors considered these works as inauthentic, or as tourist ephemera, and consequently showed no interest.

Ever since its establishment, the African Studies Gallery has aimed to present the various expressions of the arts and cultures of the African continent. For this reason an exhibition dedicated to the popular urban art of Kinshasa is especially important to us. The inspiration for these works comes from the various social changes caused by urbanization, literacy and capitalism. Moreover, in a country that has spent more than 30 years under the authoritarian regime of Mobutu Sese Seko, who established a state monopoly on the press, and where the masses still perceive the newspapers, radio, and television as a magnified image of the ruling class, these popular paintings function as social chronicles. The painters share their daily lives with the subjects of their paintings and as such their point of view is firmly rooted in the life of the streets – even while their role as observers also detaches them from it. Their paintings speak as loudly as a pavement radio – broadcasting rumours, unofficial news and scandalous stories about local and national events.

Expressing social and political consciousness, the paintings’ artistic means are simple and direct; they are valued mainly for their ability to ‘tell a story’ and not as objects of aesthetic contemplation.

The exhibition is above all a cultural document, so excerpts from the 2010 novel Broken Glass by the Congolese author Alain Mabanckou have been interlaced with the paintings. The narrator, ‘Broken Glass’, is a regular customer at the bar ‘Credit Gone West’ and uses rhythmic language to tell the stories of the marginalized people who visit the bar. His stories paint a less familiar picture of contemporary urban Africa. The paintings are set against black and white photographs of Kinshasa that mimic the graininess of newsprint. Together, these three elements weave an animated and vibrant portrait of a reality that is in equal part amusing and distressing.

This exhibition was made possible due to the generosity of Mr Meir Levy. Mr Levy is resident of Congo and a passionate collector of Congolese popular art, about which he is very knowledgeable. After many years of collecting and personal acquaintance with the artists, he has assembled one of the richest and most intriguing collections of Congolese popular art in the entire world. We owe him special thanks.

Idit Toledano
Tel Aviv, 2015

3_2144 (Paths)noback

Lava Almas

December 2014

‘If you really want to live your life, to be part of the cultural happening, you must live in the big city, in Luanda’

Adalberto Ferreira, more widely known by his alias, Toy Boy, lives and works in Luanda, Angola.

Toy Boy was born in 1976, two years after the bloody independence war that liberated Angola from Portuguese colonial rule, and his life story is emblematic of his homeland’s recent history. He grew up in the shadow of the protracted civil war (1976-2002) that transformed Angola and among other things led to an intensified urbanization process. Like many of the capital’s inhabitants, he is displaced in his own country, coping with life in a city lacking basic infrastructure, with rampant poverty and crime, combined with the fabulous opulence of a tiny minority. Since the age of twelve, Toy Boy has been living in Luanda’s slums, whose streets inspire his creativity and providing the materials for his work.

Toy Boy defines his artistic style as photographic documentation of his country’s urbanization: ‘If you really want to live your life, to be part of the cultural happening, you must live in the big city, in Luanda’. However, he is not oblivious to its faults: ‘The city causes the family and community to disintegrate – each one to himself’.

Although the contents of his work are deeply grounded in Angola’s past and presence, his artistic style owes little to local traditions. He borrows from Western styles and techniques to do with them as he pleases. Sometimes he opts for pop art or comics, and sometimes collages or readymades. His economically motivated use of recycled materials such as jute, linoleum or cotton is also not typical of local artists, but it definitely connects his work to the here-and-now. 

Those who are familiar with contemporary Angolan society recognise a clear and well-articulated message from Toy Boy’s work. Other audiences would also benefit from the opportunity of giving these works their own relevant interpretations.

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Congo River: The Beating Heart of Africa

April 2014

From the collection of the Shoher Family

The Congo River flows through ten African countries. It is Africa’s most powerful river and the second most voluminous river in the world. Situated in the second-largest tropical forest in the world, it nurtures a landscape of rivers, forests, savannas and swamps which are home to hundreds and thousands of mammal, bird and fish species and over 10,000 types of plants. For thousands of years people have depended almost entirely on the forests for food, fresh water and shelter. The soils of the Congo Basin also contain significant mineral resources, including oil, copper, manganese, uranium, cobalt as well as diamonds and gold. Regrettably, these tremendous riches are also the cause of much of the region’s history of bloody conflicts.

The river has been made famous in the global North by the adventures of Livingstone and Stanley and through book titles such as The Heart of Darkness or more recently, Blood River. The river and surrounding rainforest have long been known as a land of brutality and violence; from the days of the Arab slave trade, through the long history of tribal warfare, to its brutal colonization, harsh dictatorship / kleptocracy and the present reality, in some regions, of ethnic violence, rape, child soldiers, famine and epidemics.

The river is less known for its important role in the history of Central Africa. The art presented in this exhibition tells us a different (hi)story of people establishing powerful and enlightened kingdoms. Each kingdom or group had its own notable identity, but despite their differences, they had cultural ties that bound them, articulated in a common language. In spite of being spread over a vast area and separated by great swathes of thick forest, they shared similar social structures and worldviews, using similar ways to worship natural spirits and their ancestors and practicing initiation and healing rituals.

Heaven or hell, beating heart or bleeding heart, this immense waterway serves as a thread tying together countries and cultures, and a glorious past to, hopefully, a better future.

See the video clip of the opening event of the Congo River Exhibition, featuring five Angolan Musicians from the ‘Ponte Cultural’ Project, here.

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Change / Exchange: a view on African art today

A variety of trends and influences shape the cultural and artistic practices of Africans today.

One such trend is the adaptation of traditional artefacts to reflect elements of contemporary life. Ritual objects such as the headdresses of the Baga of Guinea Conakry are re-imagined to mirror present-day realities, resulting in a surprising blend of old customs and new social influences. Contemporary art is another important trend evident mainly in the African metropolis. Artists mostly educated in Western schools under Western patronage aim their work towards Western art markets and a small emerging African middle class. These contemporary artists are reacting to the socio-political realities around them using modern media such as photography, video and collage. Many of these artists use art a a form of protest against social, political or religious injustices. Another exciting arena of artistic activity in Africa is the souvenir market. This is a recent development with a thriving economy of its own. Most souvenirs are inspired by a traditional artistic or cultural practice and many are a combination of different sources and cultures. They are created for foreign visitors and as such are eye-catching and very innovative. Lastly, also exhibited in the gallery are works created by Angolan artists who have recently visited Israel. Some of the works are the fruit of a joint workshop with students of the multidisciplinary art department of Shenkar College. The photography for this catalogue was done against the backdrop of the streets of central Tel Aviv, as viewed from the gallery’s large windows, located on the 22nd floor. The photos try to take the underlying idea of this exhibition – to show how different cultures can interact with each other – one step further. The variety of media and the eclecticism of the displayed works invites visitors to appreciate the complex realities of contemporary life in Africa.

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Glocal: Global Localization

April 2013

Both Global and Local. The contemporary global paradox: is what seems as a clear local identity actually a fraction of a larger whole?

Is it a part of a “Global Village”, where designs, vibrant colours and rhythms migrate from one continent to another, reappearing in different variations in different places around the world? Is there such a thing as a universal aesthetic common denominator? Wax printed cloth and cheaper machine-printed imitations have become one of the most widely distributed form of textiles today.

They are produced and worn in almost every country in sub-Saharan Africa, and even entwined with local social and political life, to the extent that they became one of the most familiar symbols of the continent. But a closer examination of their history of design and manufacturing can reveal a global story of trade relations. European textiles served as a major trade item in West Africa since at least the 15th century, throughout the following centuries they were exchanged with mainly gold and slaves. Moreover, European textile producers and entrepreneurs took special interest in satisfying the aesthetic and practical demands of their West African market.

The development of wax cloth in Africa began with an attempt by Dutch factories to undercut the local textile industries in their Indonesian colony. Towards the end of the 19th century factories based in the Dutch town of Haarlem produced machine- made imitations of Javanese batik, but the Indonesian consumers with their old tradition of batik production rejected these imitations. Soon after, merchants discovered there was a ready market in the Dutch trading post of the Gold Coast (now Ghana). Within a few years factories in England, Switzerland, France, and even Japan at the beginning of the 20th century were producing printed cloths specifically for sale in West Africa. Merchants and producers invested enormous time and effort in understanding the concerns and design preference in order to fit the local taste. Immediately upon their independence, often as a symbolic act, many African countries have set up their own textile industries, succeeding to undercut their overseas competitors.

Lady Julia, the wife of King Osei Tutu II, visited the gallery and the exhibition, see here.

Articles on the exhibition can be seen here.

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The Mask Between Us

September 2012 - March 2013

Throughout history every culture has, in one form or another, engaged with masks, but none so remarkably as the African continent

Throughout history every culture has, in one form or another, engaged with masks. In the African continent the prevalence of masks and the spectacles surrounding them is remarkable. Though each mask in this exhibition has its unique history and forms part of a larger cultural ethos, one will notice that there is no attempt to offer a comprehensive account of historical and cultural backgrounds. Instead, our aim was to create an overall impression that strives to depict the power that masks can have on an audience and to demonstrate how they have became such a widespread tool in societal communication. In this exhibition, we created a unique experience by hanging the masks from the ceiling. This allowed each visitor to view the mask and to experience the feeling of watching and being watched through masks. Masks allow us to hide, but also to reveal unseen traits and to enact different identities. The experience of walking around the masks, seeing them from all sides and looking through them, not only at them, is reminiscent of the ceremonial masquerades from whence these masks originate.

Further articles on this exhibition can be seen here and here.

A video of the exhibition can be seen here.

 

mask from African Studies Gallery on Vimeo.

 

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Between Art and Artefact

28 January - 15 September 2012

The African Studies Gallery is breaking away from the customary way of presenting African art with its first exhibition

Breaking away from the customary way of presenting African art, the first exhibition of The African Studies Gallery: Between Art and Artefacts  presented artefacts that challenged the audience’s concept of art and assembled the pieces according to the continent’s socio-political diversity, rather than geography.

The exhibition focused on indigenous African artefacts, with an emphasis on objects that do not conform with Western expectations of ‘art’ and, moreover, African art.The exhibition set out to challenge the way we view such objects.

Sourced from different parts of Africa, including the Kuba kingdom, the Chokwe chiefdoms and Senufo, the objects exhibited were in the main, utilitarian: textiles, currency tokens, traditional weapons, chairs, cups and combs. By choosing these specific pieces and by presenting them in the context of a modern Western gallery, we sought to entice the viewer to question the conventional boundaries of ‘art’.

In July 2012 Osei Tutu II, the King Asantehene of the Ghanian Kingdom of Ashanti attended the exhibition.