Promoting the African contemporary art scene // January Showroom Evening

Posted by Michaëla Hadji-Minaglou on

Promoting the African contemporary art scene by revealing its richness and particularities are key elements of Afikaris’ identity. Showcasing a selection of 10 artists from seven different countries, this new Showroom Evening exhibition embodies this desire, putting forward each artist’s vision of the continent and thus, creating a dialogue between Africa’s regions and different generations of artists.

While entering the showroom, visitors are directly plunged in the nature. Surrounded by exotic vegetation, a bull, reminding prehistorical cave paintings faces them. Nature is always at the heart of Senegalese artist Aliou Diack’s work, through the use of natural pigments he mixes himself, the subject of his compositions, and even prints made by animals walking on the surface of the canvas. Hence, the traditional opposition between nature and culture can’t work anymore as art is then the result of the collaboration of the artist and nature itself. From the raw canvas, still virgin in some areas, something primitive, sending back to the origins of art, stands out from the painting. This aesthetic could also be spotted in Saidou Dicko’s works on paper. This Peulh shepherd, self-taught photographer, video-maker and painter leaves clues about his past life in his work. Few goats dispersed on the paper lead the way, as an invitation to follow them through this abstract composition: organized mess on the white sheet.

Starting from the 2000s, new cities started to be built all over Africa. Thus, between disorder and fantasy, cities participate more than never to feed the artists’ imagination.

Throughout a subtle mix of abstracts and figurative elements, Tunisian artist Thameur Mejri tells the story of Tunisia, taking a critical view of social and political issues in this country. This admirer of Francis Bacon, as his idol, builds his words on flat areas of color that reveal the torments of the city. Skulls, soccer balls, warplanes and parts of human bodies are quite common components in his work to address intricate topics about social, moral and religious values that touch upon subjects of sexuality, the sacred and the profane, nudity and religious dogma. Hence, under his brushes, cities appear to be places for control and indoctrination. Far from this chaos created by the will of power and domination cities could concentrate, other artists think about urban life in a more dreamy and utopian way. Among them, Slimen Elkamel brings to life on his canvases, tales, and poems influenced by the city. From something that might remind at first sight Brassaï’s footages - a dense network of lines and symbols close to engravings - stand out characters. This decor, close to a map testifying of an invisible world, anchors the story of these protagonists in a fantastic universe.

Even if cities flourish on the continent, nature is never far away. The Cameroonian Moustapha Baidi Oumarou imagines outlines, as if they were taken in a fashion magazine or, more basically, as if they came directly from the streets of his city, melted on a plain background where flowers and leaves harmoniously intertwine. Thus, human beings and nature become a whole in a perfect symbiosis.
In Ousmane Niang’s work, the fusion between nature and urban life questions their harmony. From the dots emerges a hybrid figure: a bird whose attitude and behavior remind those of a human being. Seated with the legs crossed, it seems to be carefully listening to the news. Its feathers become an accessory and the pattern of his body a fashionable suit. The bird and the machine seem to be one, like if the radio set was the prolongation of its body. Humanization of animals has always been used in art and literature to criticize an aspect of society while avoiding censorship. Here, nature and technological artifacts merge: is technology running the natural world or is the natural world taking back control on manufactured items?

« Et les princes des villes, n’ont pas besoin d’armure

Les rêves sont faciles »

« Vraiment- Faut qu’tu t’dises que tu peux être le prince de la ville »

In the heart of cities’ organization, their inhabitants are also a great source of inspiration for artists. From Michel Berger to Monsieur Iceberg’s genius remix broadcasted on the occasion of Palais de Tokyo’s exhibition “Prince.sse.s des villes” last summer, townsfolks become the new heroes of modern life. Under Nana Saw Oduro’s lens, the Prince of the city stands out from the crowd for the pureness of his shapes and his ability to adapt to his environment. Here, the Prince of the city remains a prince even when he leaves the city, being a prince being an attitude more than a status. If common sense would lead to believe that cities, making the world global, erase the singularity of each culture, Asiko proves the opposite. In its series “Ase”, he aims to expose Yoruba culture and its intersection with womanhood. In Yoruba culture, “ase” is the energy within all living things. It is believed that it is especially powerful in the female form. Thus, Asiko aims to explores, in his own words, "the divine energy encapsulated within the black woman, her power, and her vulnerability."

While Ibrahim Ballo, throughout his canvases decorated with knots and threads like the second skin of his characters, focuses on human relations, Ajarb questions them in the time of social media. His acid colors reflect urban culture and could remind the chromatic palette of some street artists.


Curatorial text of January exhibition at Afikaris' showroom