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This publication is dedicated to

Chinwe Chukwuogo-Roy MBE

An inspiration to many, a gentle soul and a wonderful Artist. 2 May 1952 -17 December 2012

All rights reserved. A Grunge Studios Publication 2012 No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the copyright holders and the publisher. Printed in London, United Kingdom


Contemporary Art:

From the Inside Out


~In associa


tion with~


PROLOGUE Over 50 years after many African nations gained Independence, African States are gathered in London for the Cultural Olympiad (in association with the London 2012 Games). In 2012, London hosts the emergence of Africa Village for the first time in the history of the Olympic Games. We welcome you to the Wazobia Lounge – The Federal Republic of Nigeria’s contribution to the Africa Village where you will be blown away by the art, theatre, music, and gastronomical delights. During this epochal two weeks we are hosting a cultural Bacchanalia, the likes of which London has never experienced before with respect to Africa. This initiative is supported by the National Gallery of Art, Nigeria.

Goke Dokun C.E.O IMPC Limited

Damilola Oshilaja Artistic Director Wazobia Lounge


Contemporary Art at Africa Village London 2012 Wazobia Lounge, ANOCA Africa Village, Kensington Gardens 27 July - 12 August 2012

T

aking an imaginary bird’s eye view of London during the 2012 Olympics, a great patchwork of human activity from around the world spreads below us, in support of the international festival. Homing in on Kensington Gardens, we see ‘Africa Village’, a showcase of modern African culture organised by ANOCA, the African National Olympic Committees Association. The site occupies a large patch of ‘Albertopolis’, next to the gleaming gold statue of the Prince Consort himself in Kensington Gardens. Zooming in to the Nigerian Olympic Committee pavilion, we find our quarry – an exhibition of work by artists, Damilola Oshilaja, Nkechi Ebubedike and Chinwe Chukwuogo-Roy MBE, created for ‘Africa Village’ 2012. The exhibition highlights some important issues in contemporary African art. The work of Oshilaja, Ebubedike and Chukwuogo-Roy is very different, yet each piece shows ‘hallmarks’ of their Nigerian identity – and their African cultural identity in a wider context. I am fascinated by these cultural references and the significance they bear for each artist, none of whom live or work in Africa.


Landscape Redux/1: When Sunshine Gets Blue (Park Life) 2005


D

amilola Oshilaja was born in London in 1981. As a teenager he began to work, exhibit his art and later went on to study painting. Oshilaja is a recent MA graduate in Fine Art at Central St Martins. The selection of paintings featured here spans several series of the artist’s work. Playful references to street art and the work of Jackson Pollock and Jean Michel Basquiat are clearly definable in Oshilaja’s paintings, as are allusions to international traditions in landscape painting in the Landscape Redux series. Tangible accents of an African childhood are evident in the artist’s treatment of light and space in the Landscape Redux paintings. Oshilaja employs a variety of signs and symbols in his work, some relating to his own culture, others derived from international and historic visual languages which hold personal interest. “My work embodies gestural principles of painting in synthesis with iconography. My main impetus is the liberation of the imagination from a sedentary existence – painting is an art form that centres on the observation of and interaction between form, the void and the landscape. My art embraces a trust in the flow of paint, intuitive lines, spontaneous and directed gesture and raw symbols and materials.” Damilola Oshilaja


[Untitled] 2012 Video Still from Video Installation


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kechi Ebubedike, born in 1984, is a Nigerian American artist living in London and Washington. She is a recent MA graduate in Fine Art from Central St Martins. Working across painting, sculpture and installation, Ebubedike makes material assemblages and moving image work, experimenting with the distortion and suspension of meaningful, culturally significant images. Influenced by James Turrell and Yinka Shonibare, Ebubedike has a strong interest in the misappropriation of heritage and memory and makes work which is particularly relevant to her generation. The piece displayed in this exhibition is dedicated to the memory of the artist’s late grandfather, who passed away from lymphoma in May this year.


Judgment Day III 2005


C

hinwe Chukwuogo-Roy MBE was born in Nigeria and has lived in the UK since 1975. She has exhibited at venues around the world including the Sainsbury Centre UEA and the Mall Galleries, London and her work is widely collected. In 2002 Chukwuogo-Roy was the first black artist to paint a portrait of the Queen to commemorate the Golden Jubilee, when she was awarded the MBE for her services to art. Chukwuogo-Roy is a versatile artist who works in oils, pastels, monotype print, traditional print media and sculpture. Her subjects range from portraiture, still life and landscape, to images which capture the traditions and cultures of the African continent. In 2003, Chukwuogo-Roy addressed the European Council Committee in Paris, representing Britain, with a paper on ‘Contemporary African Art and Artists’. Her practice centres on her interest and pride in representing contemporary African art and culture and teaching people about it.


Consideration of the work of these artists prompts big questions about contemporary art descendant from Africa and its place in the art market. Today in 2012, what are the factors which bring some African artists success over others? Ultimately an artist’s success should be about the work and its execution, but as with all artists, it is also largely about the choices made in the development of artists’ career and their work, as well as who they expose their work to and when. With a little serendipity thrown in. In this country for example, Anglo-Nigerian artists Chris Ofili and Yinka Shonibare MBE are now part of the UK ‘establishment’ having followed well-trodden paths in their choice of London art schools, their art world allegiances and the international exhibition opportunities they have pursued. Other prominent African artists, like Chinwe Chukwuogo-Roy for example, work with international institutions and arts organisations, collaborating with them on education projects and cultural events. Why aren’t there many well known African artists on the international art scene? In brief, the number of well known African names and their share of international media coverage reflect the international market position for contemporary African art. The African artists we have heard most about in the media in recent years live in Europe and America where their work is easily exposed and accessible to international collectors, art dealers, auction houses, and museums and galleries and their activity is picked up by the Western media which plays a large part in constructing artists’ reputations. The media profile of African artists and the art world’s focus on African art is adapting rapidly with shifts in international markets however. To put things in perspective, until 2007 there had never been an African pavilion at the Venice Biennale, a highlight of the international art calendar. The festival by that time had been going for 112 years.


How did African art arrive at its current status quo in the contemporary art market? It’s important to see the bigger picture. Historically the international market for African art centred on decorative arts. African art first came to the attention of European and American collectors on any kind of scale in the first years of the 20th century, positioned by the taste-makers of that era – the critics and dealers of ‘Fauve’ and ‘Expressionist’ art. Old photographs of grand American and European interiors depict African sculptures and craft objects nestled among the velvet swags and cabinets of wealthy art collectors. Aside from the references which European artists’ made to African art in their work, a market developed for copies of historic primitive masks and statues made by African artists as decorative art for the Western market. Demand for African decorative art, textiles and jewellery continued in the US and Europe throughout the 20th century, according to rhythmically changing cycles of fashion and taste. Until recent years however, there simply were not many routes available to African artists in bringing other forms of art, such as painting, to the international market. In the US, African American artists began to obtain critical recognition as the beat of African American music gathered pace throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s. African American art has been firmly on the cultural agenda in the US since the 1980s, the most well known artist being Jean Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), whose work continues to do extremely well in international markets. It was several years however before African art took root on the agenda in international museums, despite a growing trend for exhibitions of the work of social and ethnic minority artists in the 1990s. What parameters are set by the term ‘contemporary African art’ – can the size of the beast ever truly be represented? In 2005, a large exhibition of contemporary African art entitled ‘Africa Remix’ was put on at the Hayward Gallery, London and toured subsequently to the Pompidou Centre, Paris and the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. The remit of the exhibition was overwhelming – to represent the contemporary art of a continent. The exhibition of 85 artists’ work received mixed reviews, though it was


perhaps an insight in to the demographic of practicing professional artists working in Africa, or who considered themselves African. Frieze Magazine carried an intelligent article by Roland Kapferer expressing concern about the aims of the curator, Simon Njami in putting on the show: “The ideological premise of the exhibition is suffocating, and particularly so when Njami calls for a post-ideological art, ‘plugged into world movements’, which rethinks history and remakes human beings as protean, multiple identities.” The critic Edward Lucie Smith summed up the curatorial problem with the exhibition succinctly in the wider context: “As the world of contemporary art has inexorably expanded into the non-European sphere, curators and critics have struggled to find a solution that would enable them to deal with current African production within the existing Western system. … In general the exhibition seeks rather than finds. It looks for art that is genuinely African, but often demonstrates how much and how often this art is compromised by both cultural and economic dependency on the West.” While Imani Roach published the following somewhat controversial but thought provoking comment on her blog site, www.haa196.blogspot.com: “… That ‘Africa Remix’ did not make more apologies for its inclusion of white African artists, or of black artists of trans-continental locality, was seen by some as a failure to acknowledge the relative privilege of these individuals when compared to most artists working on the ground in Africa.” Roach’s comment raises big issues about the identity of African artists and indeed the definition of the term ‘contemporary African art’. I would argue that the remit which Simon Njami set himself in attempting to collate a snap-shot of the contemporary artistic output of an entire continent was ultimately not useful, because it lacked contemporary relevance. The exhibition was therefore not worth the scale of work involved. As with many grandiose personal schemes, I question Njami’s reasons for doing such a large show. Many critics called for ‘quality policing’. In my view, the idea behind ‘Africa Remix’ which toured for four years


from 2004-2008, was as outmoded as Frank Willett’s remit for his book ‘African Art’ of 1971, last updated in 2004. Willet’s book was an attempt to trace the entire history of African artistic output up to the present day in a single volume. Say no more. What else is happening in contemporary African art in the UK in 2012? Around the turn of the millennium, UK arts institutions including the Arts Council began a big push to promote cultural diversity in arts programming in the UK in museums and arts organisations. A decade or so on and we have begun to see the legacy of that work for contemporary African art. This summer, Manchester plays host to a large multi-site exhibition of work by contemporary West African artists, entitled ‘We Face Forward’ (2 June – 16 September 2012), which has received glowing reviews. The remit of the exhibition is intelligent and relevant to the artists involved and the museums’ audiences. The scale of the project sets the bar for other cities and international museums. The name of the exhibition, taken from the speech by Ghana’s first president in 1960 is progressive and symbolic and the scope of the project is impressive. “We Face Forward is an exhibition of contemporary art from West Africa, shown across three venues: Manchester Art Gallery,Whitworth Art Gallery and the Gallery of Costume, Platt Hall. It features painting, photography, textiles, sculpture, video and sound work from 32 artists from 9 countries in West Africa. Recent art, much of which has never been shown in the UK before, is shown alongside new commissions made especially for Manchester.” www.wefaceforward.org Established African artists are being commissioned for ever more prominent work, such as Chris Ofili’s latest project, ‘Metamorphosis: Titian 2012’ (11 July – 23 September 2012) with artists Mark Wallinger and Conrad Shawcross for the National Gallery in conjunction with the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera House. In April this year, over £260,000 was raised by the public in addition to institutional funds to bring Yinka Shonibare’s commission for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, ‘Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle’ of 2010 to a permanent home at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. At the end of this month, Shonibare launches ‘Africa Weekend’, a festival programme


which he has curated for ‘Deloitte Ignite 2012’ across several London venues, combining traditional African and avant-garde arts and culture and expressing Africa’s global contribution to the contemporary arts world. UK based African artists are being called for international line ups, touring shows and biennales with the support of galleries, organisations and funding bodies. There are several independent galleries and organisations in the UK working with African artists, including the October Gallery, which opened in 1979. Larger organisations include INIVA, the Institute of International Visual Arts, which works extensively to raise the profile of contemporary African artists under its general remit to produce work which reflects the diversity of contemporary society. African artists such as Chinwe Chukwuogo-Roy are being commissioned for public projects and exhibitions with institutions. Emerging artists and young graduates, such as Nkechi Ebubedike and Damilola Oshilaja, are receiving commissions to make new work and curate exhibitions, such as this one for ANOCA’s ‘Africa Village’, and more African students are applying for art school places. What will the current changes in the international art market mean for African art? Collectors in the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – are making waves across the art world as some of the biggest spenders put pressure on dealers to find the next big international art stars. Dealers and collectors are screening emerging international talent through new filters. I anticipate that a new picture of contemporary African art will soon transpire, centred on certain African countries. This last point prompts me to offer a couple of questions to the ether: Given the breadth of the term and its somewhat anchorless reference points, how useful now is the label ‘contemporary African art’? And can we ever eschew Western art-historical discourse in our encounters with contemporary African art? I have one last consciously controversial question. There is clearly still a huge appetite for post-colonialist discourse on the part of contemporary


African artists such as Yinka Shonibare and critics such as Ekow Eshun for example – but should commissioning and funding bodies leash African and other black artists to historic cultural reference points which are increasingly irrelevant to their practice? And I emphasise their practice, rather than their lives. I think it’s time to change the record. Surely there has been too much generalisation and type-casting in African and non-Western art already. In 2004, the Guardian journalist Jonathan Jones questioned his own position as critic in a review of ‘Africa Remix’ at the Hayward, asking “… but who am I to comment?” I know what he means. I think any consideration of contemporary African art raises huge questions for discussion – and who am I to comment? Art world interest in African art has undergone something of a seismic shift in the last decade, so it is no wonder that curators and critics are still prone to mislead. I cant help feeling that any major new attempt at representing developments in contemporary African art should be made not by one or two individuals from the outside in, but by a spread of internationally based African artists, critics and curators – from the inside out.

Katharine Cockshaw www.kathcockshaw.com


INSTALLATION VIEW AT

Chinwe Chukwuogo-Roy MBE www.chinwegallery.com

Nkechi Ebubedike

www.cargocollective.com/ artistnchaos


THE WAZOBIA LOUNGE

Damilola Oshilaja www.grungestudios.com


A Grunge Studios Publication 2012

Contemporary Art: From the Inside Out  

Special publication supporting activities for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, London, United Kingdom

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