WE CALL IT "AFRICA"

by Silvia Cirelli

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AFRICA or "AFRICA"? I must admit that I've lost sleep over this question.
I realise that they may seem to be merely quotation marks, but those are the axis of a much broader concept, the question of what this definition means today, and the doubt as to whether the mere act of defining something doesn't already limit it at its origins.
How then can we provide an identification where it does not exist? A geographical limitation - the choice to further observe the sub-Saharan area - clearly does not coincide with a historical, cultural or even artistic limitation. And then, in a moment where easy stereotypes and inappropriate clichés abound, what do we call Africa, and what does this actually correspond to? I'll let the artists answer this question themselves, as they are authentic interlocutors of one of the most changing, fascinating and complex realities of contemporary history.
WE CALL IT "AFRICA" therefore has the objective of presenting itself as a place for expression, sharing, dialogue and exploration, a place that abandons ostentatious archetypes in order to reflect on the absorption of normal transformation processes and the vast impermanence that defies any type of prediction.

The fresco of a multi-faceted legacy that passes through the complexities of a cultural and identity syncretism is easy to recognise in Dimitri Fagbohoun's (Benin, '72) artistic approach, which has a stylistic grammar that is closely linked to his personal, emotional and existential nomadism. Born in Benin, he grew up in Cameron and has lived in Paris for the past twenty years; Fagbohoun projects his composite and transcultural identity in his art, questioning the by now anachronistic definition of "African" and what this represents in common memory today. Among the works that best absorb this evocation is his 3D AEF (African European Flag) of 2012, an installation that was inspired by the "African American Flag" by David Hammons, one of the most famous symbols of contemporary African-American art. Soliciting viewers' reflection on the use of a single flag to unite African civilizations, which are often completely different from each other, the artist not only replaces the classic tri-colour flag - red, black and green - with a black and white reflective fabric, but provocatively explores the identity value of the multifaceted African community with the ability to combine or separate the various stripes of the flag with the use of many zips.
Just as he chose a flag for 3D AEF, Fagbohoun uses the symbolism of objects in both the singular video-sound installation Les Patriotes of 2012 - in which the portraits of some past African presidents are tattooed on the popular djembes (drums made from wood), just like their work has remained "tattooed" in the history of the countries they have governed - and in the Masks series (2012) where he recovers traditional funerary masks of great importance in African ritual culture. Summarising the various facets of the vulnerability of existence and the expression of the human race's transcendence, the visionary narrative of Masks focuses on the balance between the visible and invisible and on the processes of creation and destruction: processes that are emphasised by the same predilection of the material used, ceramics. Ceramic's brittle properties represent the perceptible frailty of human life: it is precious, but unfortunately also easily deciduous. This transient beauty can also be seen in the sculpture Alàfo riri (Fétiche à clous) of 2015 and the light installation Adé (also 2015), where the artist explores the intangible but painful boundaries of loss, a first-person experience had with the death of his father. These works offer the chance to simultaneously cross different mystical dimensions. Beyond the dramatic evanescence of life, with these recent pieces Fagbohoun conveys his eclectic aesthetic built on a spiritual syncretism that combines aspects of voodoo - Fétiche à clous is a clear reference to esoteric fetishes - of Catholicism, and also relation to the Jewish Kaballah (in the crown Adé).
The same conceptual syncretism also dominates the Carambars installation of 2012, which is part of a project in progress entitled Cross Over that refers to the idea of ​​polysemy: the convergence of multiple meanings and interpretations of one single notion. Rendering candy's play value ironic, the artist re-proposes candy with special aspects instead of common trademarks, for example passages from holy books such as the Bible, Koran and Torah. Without any precise distinction, the candies, and thus the messages themselves, are mixed together and completely lose their individual dogmatic nature.

Experiencing the visionary world of the young South African Bronwyn Katz ('93) is a bit like walking on tiptoe in a weave where fragments of a shy memory alternate; the memory may be shy but it must not and does not want to erode. Everything reveals a deep sense of belonging, the desire to inhabit a place, but above all, to live with the knowledge of what it represented in the past and what it will represent in the future. This place is South Africa, a country that still has to heal from the wounds of ferocious colonialism that left scars in its inhabitants' spirit and has also totally confused its landscape physiognomy.
What are the residues of memory in our daily lives? What are the traces of the past on earth? These are the questions that Bronwyn Katz softly answers with a lexical register that is at the same time complex and offers strikingly immersive strength. Her historical sensibility, able to project her inner state, "contaminates" her entire artistic construction, making a reality that is for many of us distant and alien a collective resonance.
This sensory approach to representation and her sense of urgency to tell the history of her country are at the base of works like Myne (Mine) and Leestekens (Reading Signs), both from 2015; these works reveal the importance of the land as a custodian, but also as a guardian of historical and cultural memory. The sculptures Myne, literally "mines", are the representation of the so-called "big holes" that were dug in South Africa in the search for diamonds: purely speculative invasive operations which have completely eliminated the splendid hills once located there, giving way to huge pits that are today still a metaphor of the economic exploitation of European colonialism. Each sculpture is named after a big hole: Kimberley, Builtfontein, Wesselton, Dutoitspan, De Beers - four of them are exhibited - or, as they are sometimes called, "the great black holes of humanity".
Leestekens (Reading Signs) are instead embossed signs made by hand on Fabriano paper, which reference the rock inscriptions of the famous archaeological site Driekops Eiland near Kimberley. The more than 3500 engravings, all over 2500 years old, become a very precious memory resource for the artist; they are historic, but she firstly considers them testimony of an emotional repertoire. If Leestekens helps us experience the residues of history on earth, with the installation Op 'n one time of 2016 Bronwyn Katz instead confronts the imprints of the body directly on the subject, in this case the mattress, which is often used by the artist as a symbol of the cyclical nature of human existence and the bearer of lives lived. It is in fact here that life originates, and it is here that life goes out.
Present and past, construction and destruction, the concept of memory and oblivion are all recurring combinations in her work, and emphasise how she considers the reflexive dimension invariably linked to the artistic one. One of the most significant examples of this attitude is the captivating video Grond Herinnering - "Memory of the earth" - from 2015 that depicts the artist involved in three different actions: "washing" her legs with the soil of her origins, twirling in a soil stained dress and playing a traditional game played with bricks that she often enjoyed as a child. In the background, the artist reads a letter from her grandmother reminding her of her origins and the magic of their personal memory: a memory that must be kept as a precious and incomparable treasure.

The need to reflect on current cultural history and especially on what is to come and the constant and continuous change of things is a prominent refrain in the multifaceted dialectic of Marcia Kure (Nigeria, ‘70), a careful interpreter of mature, incisive research that explores the boundaries of human nature. Understanding the visionary world of this eclectic interpreter requires understanding her personal choices, as it is in the autobiographical component that we find the answers to a creative process of exemplary uniqueness. The transcontinental migration experience - Marcia Kure has lived in the US for several years - and the still very strong and visceral attachment with her origins in Nigeria, in fact, make this artist's viewpoint the perfect example of contemporary multiculturalism, and is one that shapes her expressive boldness in exploring areas in constant metamorphosis. The conquest of this viewpoint finds a match in the notion of "Prismatic" vision, that is, a view that includes multiple and at times opposite forms that give structure to the entire narrative construction. In this metamorphosis of influences and interpretations, Marcia Kure conquers her stylistic code.
To bring back this evolutionary concept and the synthesis of a multi-faceted sensibility that finds more balance in differences than in affinity, the artist chooses to express herself through collage, a technique that in fact compares aspects on a base that is constructed by overlapping elements and materials. Drawings, paintings, photographs and clippings become aesthetic registers mixed together: they are created in one way but are transformed into another, dictating an expressive rhythm that grants the desire for palpable movement. Despite the fact that collage is by definition two-dimensional work, Marcia Kure's great technical skill is successful in translating a creative explosive charge of mind and body that almost transcends the boundaries of the work itself. The energy given by a play on empty and full space, between absence and presence - stylistic choices with roots in traditional Uli painting practiced by Igbo women in eastern Nigeria - accompanies the viewer in the illusion of corporeal substance, an oscillation suspended between control and explosion, between balance and evasion. This dance between opposing forces exalts the diffusion of constant tension, which cannot only be connected to the technical morphology she has chosen, but also to the highest expression of authentic human feelings, held up in a precarious equilibrium that instinctively hides and reveals.
Marcia Kure's sensory intensity is a focal point in her expressive parable, she rediscovers in the symbolic value that she herself applies to, the concept of the body as the broadest metaphor of the identity. The body as an artistic, cultural and social space, but also a place for exploration and contemplation, is praised in the anthropomorphic subjects of her collages as well as in the composite installation Torn of 2014, where the artist plays on the analogy between skin and fabric. She sees the fabric as an extension of the body itself: the skin protects us, but, at the same time, it can be torn with great ease. Like a cathartic ritual, when she reworks the fabric it is as if she is reworking the skin of a body, revealing or healing wounds. The constant metonymy between beauty and pain, between healing and suffering, symbolises the testimony of trauma which by now has become nested in historical and cultural inheritance - above all in the experience of colonialism and post-colonialism - and how difficult-to-heal wounds represent the fragmentation of an existential dimension that has been forced through unavoidable emotional ups and downs.

Daily life mirrored in an artistic context returns as a predominant feature in the poetry of the Congolese Maurice Mbikayi ('74), who focuses his art on the impact of technology on the African social fabric and the consequences this is generating on the environment, economy and identity. In an era crushed by the hypertrophy of communication, the artist focuses on the power of information technology and technological consumption as a real "social thermometer", which is however an evolution that must more and more frequently deal with the alteration of relations between individuals, but also and above all, with the by now tragic reality of electronic waste landfills, mounds of high-grade toxic material, which are literally poisoning Africa. Even if they are still rarely spoken of, one must not forget that many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, for example Ghana, are the main receptors of so-called e-waste that comes from all over the world: electronic graveyards full of computers, cell phones, cathode ray tubes, all kinds of electrical wires, dumped from the open sky without any legal controls. It is precisely from this e-waste that the artist recovers his materials, transforming the electronic waste into an expressive vehicle. His meticulous and bold installations such as Mbeka 2 and Cyber ​​Warrior, both from 2016, are in fact almost entirely made of computer keys, which when joined together create alter egos of the so-called cyber era. These characters reveal a certain discomfort and seem alone and helpless, unable to understand that which surrounds them. The same sense of loss is also noted in the Untitled collages (2016), again made from computer pieces which this time depict the lines of child soldiers' faces, another open wound of the African social fabric, particularly in the Congolese countries.
In addition to his reflections on the effects of technological consumption, Maurice Mbikayi also conducts artistic research that explores the body's aesthetic value and centrality as a symbolic sensory manifestation, bringing back the theme of dandyism, which is a widespread, daily phenomenon in the Congo. Eccentric clothing and the choice of precise aesthetic codes represent a specific ethical model of the local suburban culture, which must not and cannot be mistakenly understood as mere vanity. Dandyism is above all a sociological phenomenon that finds its weapon of defense precisely in clothing, compared to a contemporary world that cannot be identified with because it is anti-democratic, violent and intolerant. Therefore the choice of decorative subjects which can be connected to clothing, for example in the installation Techno Addict (2015), or the photographic works Ndoto Ya Baba (literally "The dream of a mute") and Mulami Mushidimuka ("The modern shepherd"), where the same artist dresses in dandy garments made with known technological elements. It is the allegory of a fragile and wounded world, not surprisingly in which we find bandages, bones and frightened animals, but a world all the same, where man still tries to interact, even if this often proves to be a dialogue between "mutes".


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