In the context of the international health crisis that questions the notion of borders, Afikaris features - from April 28th to May 25th - the work of five African artists: Asiko, Ibrahim Ballo, Roméo Mivekannin, Jean David Nkot and Marc Posso, whose practice tends to question or inspire their culture, identity and the very notion of borders.
In the 1960s, in his book The Medium is the Massage, an inventory of effects (1967), Canadian philosopher and sociologist Marshal McLuhan said: “the world is a village”. In his ideological vision, he predicted an obligatory movement towards the globalization of culture, due to the instantaneous diffusion of information. Thus, for him, there would be one global culture, as if the world were one village, one community. This theory echoes today as the internet voids physical frontiers, making the world a permeable space where information freely flows without any constraint of time or space. The circulation of cultures specific to a geographical space does not anymore depend on peoples’ flows but is instead linked to information flows, making it instantaneous. When asked what was, according to him, the artist’s role in the current context of international crisis and whether he feared the African continent would be affected, Burkinabe artist Hyacinthe Ouattara underlined the universal aspect of the situation. For him, the world is a « universal courtyard » where humans, beyond being citizens of a country are universal beings. Physical borders do not exist anymore and are, in reality, mental or psychological borders. The issue has no geographical limit and concerns every single Earth inhabitant. Thus, in this context of cultural globalization, migratory fluidity, and universal crisis, is there sense in being attached to a territory? What is the artist’s place in this cultural amalgamation? While artists like Dalila Dalléas Bouzar, Gastineau Massamba or Ivanovic Mbaya do not wish to be considered as “contemporary African artists” in order to stand out as artists in a globalized world, others pay tribute to their roots through their work and aim to be the witnesses of the history of their country. The artworks by the five artists deal, each in their own way, with the notion of territory and roots.
Jean David Nkot, BP4740 Zone Tampon, 2019, 130x120 cm
Indian ink, acrylic, silkscreen printing and posca on linen
The concept of territory is at the heart of Jean David Nkot’s pictorial work. Through the pattern of a map, he underlines the fight of the body against the territory. He anchors this struggle in the contemporary migratory history. However, he does not narrate the history of migration but instead depicts the human condition. Under his brushes, geography becomes aleatory: a mix between the point of departure and arrival, between the dreamed cities and the crossed cities; giving birth to a very personal cartography, related to the depicted person’s private history. Embodying a dream of evasion and a better life, the map can also reveal to be oppressive, absorbing the traveler until he disappears, like in his series, "The Shadows of Space" (2019). Jean David Nkot is particularly interested in what Primo Levi, in his book The Drowned and the Saved (1986), names “the grey zone.” Defined as the space “between the executioner and the victim”, the contemporary grey zone would be, according to Nkot, the time "between the point of departure and the point of arrival for a person on the move.” In his work, far from being an element of scenery, cartography materializes this grey zone as political. Today, while the Coronavirus has no border, he asks the question of what tomorrow’s cartography would be. Would frontiers as social constructions disappear or, on the contrary, become stronger? Thus, Nkot tries to represent the history of his time underlying its main issues.
Roméo Mivekannin, Les Vénus callypiges, 2019, 248x253 cm
Mixed media on bedsheet
Roméo Mivekannin, questions History by taking control of the narrative. Descending through his maternal grandmother, from Behanzin, the King of Abomey, he aims to explore “black identity” and makes it a personal quest. Reproducing on bedsheets from the XXth century, ethnographic photos of colonial times, he replaces the face of the characters by his portrait. Mivekannin reminds us that “the ethnographic photos were intended to support the colonial ideology in the public space.” Reproducing them with precision and at human scale, Mivekannin gives speech to the history and does not emit any judgment. Hence, the use of colonial ideology’s medium is a way to question it. Thus, in his work, the concept of origin includes a duty of memory.
Ibrahim Ballo, Homme tissé sur wax, 2019, 120x80 cm
Acrylic and weave on canvas
Ibrahim Ballo also questions history through traditional weaving in Mali and the progressive disappearance of this practice. His weaved paintings pay tribute to this old tradition. As the first cotton producer of the African continent, Mali perpetuates weaver tradition for centuries. The threads and nodes covering Ballo’s characters like a second skin, symbolize social connections and remind us of human relations generated through cotton manufacturing in Mali. Thus, through his specific artistic practice, Ibrahim Ballo perpetuates this ancient activity whilst regretting its disappearance, which he associates with society’s pains.
Asiko, Asiri Aladire, 2017, 51x76 cm
From "The Woman Code" series
Born in Nigeria and now living in London, photographer Asiko also roots his art in his country’s traditions. For him, photography is about inspiring conversation, on how he sees himself in the world and how he interprets his African heritage. In his work, on a monochrome background, the outline of a woman stands out, adorned with traditional attributes. From one series to another, he alternatively focuses on a different aspect of Yoruba culture, always symbolized through the woman’s body. In “The Woman Code”, Asiko transposes the pattern of Adire indigo textile on the skin of his models. Adire, which means tie and dye, is traditionally produced in South Western Nigeria by Yoruba women. This craftsmanship, with medicinal virtues, is a mix of culture and religious beliefs. Adire ornaments are very powerful as they embody the symbols of the resistance of Yoruba women to patriarchal rule, in a society where women were not allowed to speak in public. Through his images, Asiko free Yoruba women’s speech openly displaying their secrets. Hence, celebrating Adire and paying a tribute to the women who perpetuate this custom, Asiko aims to show how this technique both spread internationally for the beauty of its design and created a social movement.
Marc Posso, Afro Apple, 2019, 90x60 cm
More than shedding light on a specific culture, young photographer Marc Posso composes with the African continent’s cultural richness and diversity. Brought up in Gabon and now living in Paris, he maintains his roots and runs portraits symbolized with a certain cultural mix. Through his photographic work, he aims to deconstruct stereotypes associated with African culture. His photos play with the shapes of his subjects, the contrast of the colors and the volumes of the fabrics to celebrate their history. Beyond celebrating a culture, Marc Posso feeds his pictorial vocabulary through meeting models, traditions, and customs from various countries of the continent, enabling the composition of his language. As an admirer of Malian photographer Malick Sibidé, the same delicateness and simplicity, which contributed to his idol’s fame, can be spotted in his pictures. His portraits are thus, the witnesses of their time and inspire a cultural richness and diversity.
Through the vision of five artists coming from different countries, the exhibition “Origines” aims to rethink global geography in this time of crisis, questioning the concepts of identity and belonging to a territory.
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