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Africa makes a scene: Best contemporary art fairs of 2020 – Al Jazeera English

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African art has been having a very long moment. Over the past 10 years, contemporary artists from the continent – from the Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui to Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu to South African photographer Zanele Muholi – have continued to build their names on the international stage.

African artists have been presenting in major museums and galleries across Europe and the United States, while increasing numbers of African countries have shown at the prestigious Venice Biennale, including Ghana’s critically-acclaimed debut this year.

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Both Sotheby’s and Bonhams auction houses meanwhile have set up their own African contemporary and modern art departments, signalling that the market is paying attention, too. 

“Going into the new decade, I feel we are starting from a stronger foothold,” said Marwan Zakhem, the founder of Gallery 1957, in Ghana’s capital, Accra. “The international art scene has woken up to the wealth of creativity offered across Africa and the diaspora,” Zakhem told Al Jazeera.

“A lot of groundwork has been made in terms of affirming African art as a key component of the ever-flourishing arts scene, so it’s an exciting time to be a part of it”.

Indigogo 4 (2018), by Stacey Gillian Abe [Courtesy of Stellenbosch Triennale] 

What is most notable, however, is the growth seen within the continent. Addressing a crippling lack of infrastructure that has previously forced talent to look elsewhere for opportunity and support, major cities are bolstering their local scenes while establishing themselves as international art destinations.

Art fairs have popped up to seduce collectors, new residences have given creatives spaces to develop their craft and museums such as Cape Town’s Zeitz MOCAA and the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL) in Marrakech have opened to showcase the best on offer.

“There’s still more to be done though,” Zakhem said. “I hope the decade ahead sees more continent-wide investment in the visual arts – more museums, more projects, more educational support – and more events bringing international visitors here.”

As the year – and the decade – draws to a close, here are four African art events to watch out for in 2020 and beyond.

Marrakech enters new decade as first African Capital of Culture

Thanks to the opening of MACAAL, 2018’s inaugural Moroccan edition of the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair and the commercial success of artists such as Hassan Hajjaj – the subject of a recent retrospective at Paris’s Maison Europeenne de la Photographie – Marrakech has become a major draw for critics and collectors.

As 2020’s African Capital of Culture – the first city to hold the designation – it will no doubt be increasing its efforts to engage art lovers and buyers alike. 

Carolle Benitah, Le Rêve des Amants

Carolle Benitah’s Le Reve des Amants is one of the works that will be on show at 1:54 [Courtesy of Galerie 127] 

“Over the last five years, Marrakech has struck an excellent balance in preserving and building on its rich cultural histories, while establishing itself as a space for artistic experimentation. Alongside this, there is a growing number of commercial spaces and both independent and government funding, giving artists more opportunities to support their practices in the long term,” said 1:54 founder Touria El Glaoui. 

“I grew up in Morocco and my father [Hassan El Glaoui] was a painter who always encouraged us to engage with art histories, so seeing the scene grow and blossom has been amazing to witness.”

In February, 1:54 will return to the city’s luxurious La Mamounia hotel for the third year, hosting some 20 European and African galleries. At the same time, MACAAL, the Muse Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech and other local spaces will be staging their own exhibitions, creating an unofficial art week of sorts. 

How the rest of the year shapes up will surely set the template for how future cities make use of the Capital of Culture designation. 

Art X Lagos celebrates five years

The birthplace of art stars including Ben Enwonwu – whose Tutu, dubbed the African Mona Lisa, sold for a record $1.6m in 2018 – Victor Ehikhamenor and Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Nigeria is an obvious choise to be the home of West Africa’s first international art fair: Art X Lagos. 

Launched in 2016 by entrepreneur Tokini Peterside, Art X Lagos serves as an exhibition space, marketplace and classroom for those looking to immerse themselves in the world of contemporary African art.

Art X Lagos

Art X Lagos supports emerging artists by showing their work and awarding a prize to a promising up-and-comer [Courtesy of Art X Lagos] 

It is also notable for prioritising younger artists over established pioneers through both its exhibitions and the Access Bank ART X Prize, which awards one emerging artist with funding, mentoring and an international residency.

“I see how wonderful and massive [Art X Lagos] is becoming and I think it’s placing Lagos as a real arts hub, which I really love, and a serious one,” said Adora Mba, the founder of the Afropolitan Collector, an art advisory platform.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing how big it can go.”

Dak’Art Biennale returns

Of all Africa’s major art events, few rouse as much enthusiasm and respect as Senegal‘s Dakar Biennale, commonly known as Dak’Art.

“It always brings together the best of the African art community to show brilliant work, engage in important dialogues and, of course, celebrate,” said Gallery 1957’s Zakhem. 

“It always outdoes itself,” agreed Mba, for whom Dak’Art is the ultimate place to discover new talent and up-and-comers. “I don’t even know how they keep producing such amazing art and artists and bringing people in.” 

Dak'Art, Senegal

The Dakar Biennale is West Africa’s pre-eminent art event [File: Carley Petesch/AP Photo]

Supported by the country’s Ministry of Culture and Communication, the 14th edition will centre on the theme of I’Ndaffa/Forger/Out of Fire – a trilingual take on the word “forge” in Serer, French and English.

“This general theme refers to the founding act of African creation, which nourishes the diversity of contemporary African creativity, while projecting new ways of telling and understanding Africa,” Artistic Director El Hadji Malick Ndiaye, a curator at Dakar’s Theodore Monod Museum of African Art, said in a statement. 

“It represents the dynamics and action of creating, recreating and kneading. It thus refers to the forge that transforms, the deposit from which the raw material comes, and to the fire that creates.”

This year’s event will be held from May 28 to June 28.

South Africa’s wine region invites the art world in

Africa may not lead the world in terms of the number of major art events held annually, but there is no shortage of arts professionals looking to add to the tally. 

To that end, the Stellenbosch Triennale, conceived by the Stellenbosch Outdoor Sculpture Trust, will make its debut in South Africa in February.

Breaking with convention, the event is more about engaging the community than appealing to art world insiders. 

Kelvin Haizel - BASICII6 IUB

Stellenbosch will hold its debut Triennale, including works from arts such as Kelvin Haizel [Courtesy of Stellenbosch Triennale] 

On their website, organisers say they plan to turn the city into a “curated public laboratory for creative expressions and engagements” where all are invited to interrogate our relationship with nature, the limits of technology and the definition of citizenship.

Works will be displayed at sites across the historic city, and there will also be opportunities to continue the conversation in workshops and online. 

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Visit the city's tiniest art gallery: Five things to do in Saskatoon this weekend – Saskatoon StarPhoenix

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In an effort to help Saskatoon residents share art with one another, Suzy Schwanke has created the Free Little Art Gallery YXE outside her home at 332 Hilliard St. E.

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Whether you’re interested in art, a virtual party, some outdoor activities or cleaning up around the house, there’s a little bit of something for everyone this weekend in Saskatoon.

1. Visit the Free Little Art Gallery

In an effort to help Saskatoon residents share art with one another, Suzy Schwanke has created the Free Little Art Gallery YXE outside her home at 332 Hilliard St. E. Designed in the style of community libraries and kitchen boxes, visitors to the gallery can take a piece of art, leave a piece of art, or do both. You can check out some of the artwork on Instagram @Freelittleartgalleryyxe.

Art teacher Suzy Schwanke is hoping to bring “a little joy to the community” by installing a tiny art gallery on her front lawn in Saskatoon’s Queen Elizabeth neighbourhood.
Art teacher Suzy Schwanke is hoping to bring “a little joy to the community” by installing a tiny art gallery on her front lawn in Saskatoon’s Queen Elizabeth neighbourhood. Photo by Matt Smith /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

2. Hit up The Bassment’s virtual party

Featuring the music and talents of eight Saskatoon bands, The Bassment presents InTune 2021 — a free online party playing from 2 to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The shows will be streamed live through the Bassment’s Facebook and YouTube pages.

3. Check out local performers

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Watch as some of Saskatoon’s performing artists share their work in Episode 1 of Persephone Theatre’s Open Stage, which was published earlier this month. The episode is available to watch whenever you want at persephonetheatre.org and features Peace Akintade, Kathie Cram, Amanda Trapp, Sketchy Bandits, Carla Orosz and Ellen Froese.

4. Have some family fun

The Fuddruckers Family Fun Centre (2910 8th St. E) is open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Sunday, weather permitting. Families can practice their skills on the 18-hole Putt N’ Bounce miniature golf course, reach new heights on The Rock climbing wall or take a swing at the Grand Slam batting cages. More information is available at fudds.ca or by calling 306-477-0808.

5. Drop off your hazardous waste

The City of Saskatoon is holding its first Hazardous Household Waste Drop Off of the year on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Civic Operations Centre (57 Valley Rd.). The drop off is open to Saskatoon residents from residential properties only. Products eligible for drop off include aerosols, automotive fluids, batteries, cleaners, light bulbs, yard chemicals and more. Learn more at saskatoon.ca/hazardouswaste.

  1. Art teacher Suzy Schwanke is hoping to bring

    Little art gallery brings colour, connection to Queen Elizabeth neighbourhood

  2. Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon

    Persephone Theatre brings in community co-leads for new Artists’ Working Group

The news seems to be flying at us faster all the time. From COVID-19 updates to politics and crime and everything in between, it can be hard to keep up. With that in mind, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix has created an Afternoon Headlines newsletter that can be delivered daily to your inbox to help make sure you are up to date with the most vital news of the day. Click here to subscribe.

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YK ARCC celebrates 10 years by pushing for NWT art gallery – Cabin Radio

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Its trailer doubles as one of the NWT’s only art galleries. Now, the Yellowknife Artist-Run Community Centre is turning 10 years old.

The group, YK ARCC for short, formed in 2011 in a downtown Yellowknife church scheduled for demolition. “There was always something going on,” recalled Métis artist Rosalind Mercredi, owner of the city’s Down to Earth Gallery, who was YK ARCC’s first president.

“I think it was so good to be able to have a space where people wanted to work on stuff and, if they had bigger projects they wanted to do, there was a space to do it. It was pretty vibrant times, I would say, for art.”

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Though the organization stayed in the church for less than a year, it has brought art and shows to Yellowknife since. Temporary homes have included an apartment above a Vietnamese restaurant and empty spaces in the Centre Square Mall.

Casey Koyczan, a Tłı̨chǫ artist from Yellowknife pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Manitoba, held some of his first shows with YK ARCC’s help.

“It really helped to be able to show work within an environment that was conducive to more of a fine arts aesthetic as opposed to … a coffee shop, or a pub, or something like that,” said Koyczan, who was on YK ARCC’s board.

“YK ARCC felt like it was getting to more of a formal-exhibit kind of feel.”

‘We need a territorial gallery’

The group made headlines shortly after opening a mobile art gallery in a trailer. At the beginning of the pandemic, the team took art to residents by accepting reservations through Facebook then driving the gallery to make house calls in different neighbourhoods.

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“Because it’s so small, we might be the only gallery in Canada that didn’t have to close,” said longtime board member Sarah Swan. “It has a limited capacity. We knew we could still operate it safely.”

YK ARCC’s first home is pictured in 2011. Photo: Submitted
Casey Koyczan stands in front of a painting at a YK ARCC show in 2014. Photo: Submitted

Yet the trailer’s success simultaneously illuminated what YK ARCC’s members believe is a glaring deficiency in the NWT: the absence of a territorial gallery.

The cost of rent makes it difficult for the non-profit to hold on to one space for any length of time. Many of the spaces that are available in Yellowknife don’t work well for art shows.

“We need a territorial gallery,” former board member Dan Korver said.

That doesn’t mean a commercial gallery geared toward profit, he clarified. Instead, Korver wants a space where artists can show their work and engage with an audience “for art’s sake.”

The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre is the only large-scale, non-commercial, gallery fitting that bill in the NWT. It hosts two fine art exhibits a year.

“It’s just simply not enough,” said Swan. “There are so many more artists and so much more work out there to show, so many more ideas.”

“We created the mobile gallery in the first place to feel that exhibition gap, but also, we created it to be a piece of agitation in itself. That’s why we called it the Art Gallery of the Northwest Territories.

“It’s really pathetic that our territorial gallery is a trailer. We all joke that if there ever is a real gallery of the Northwest Territories that’s not in a trailer, we’ll happily give the name back.”

YK ARCC debuted its mobile gallery in the summer of 2019. Pictured are board member Brian McCutcheon and artist Terry Pamplin. Photo: Submitted
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Art by Shelley Vanderbyl is displayed in Yellowknife’s mobile gallery in May 2020. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
A YK ARCC show in 2018, called Social Fabric, was held inside a former bank in the Centre Square Mall. Thirty-two artists were featured and 800 people attended. Photo: Submitted

Koyczan described obstacles in establishing his career that stemmed directly from the lack of a territorial art gallery.

“Back when I was showing at YK ARCC, it wasn’t recognized by the Canada Arts Council,” he said. “Therefore, when you go to apply for grants and funding … and you provide your CV saying that you showed work at YK ARCC, they check their records and say the show basically didn’t exist because they don’t recognize it as a legitimate gallery.

“I’ve had to work really hard on exporting myself and making artwork that is impactful so that, regardless of where I was located, it would be recognized by people in the south, or around North America, or internationally.

“The NWT needs a contemporary gallery. It’s just holding us back, not having that space.”

‘No GNWT mandate’ for a gallery

In a written statement to Cabin Radio, the territorial Department of Education, Culture, and Employment said it has no plan to create a territorial gallery.

The department said it “does not have a mandate to create physical infrastructure for the arts.”

“However,” the response continued, “the GNWT would be happy to work with regional organizations to see how the GNWT can support their plans.”

Korver believes government involvement in creating an artist-run centre or non-commercial gallery should be limited to provision of funding, so any gallery can remain community-driven and independent.

“We need that physical space, but how do you run it?” he wondered. “Is it better to just provide a grassroots organization – or organizations, maybe there shouldn’t just be one – with stable funding so they can provide those spaces and run those spaces?”

More spaces that can host art are on the way.

Makerspace YK moved into the old After 8 pub this January and is planning workshops and exhibits. The City of Yellowknife expects to open a visitor centre in the Centre Square Mall that would include art displays.

Meanwhile, the territorial government is set to release its updated NWT Arts Strategy this June. The previous territorial arts strategy, released in 2004, had identified a need for more arts spaces.

As a gallery owner, Mercredi said she is curious to see how the strategy is implemented.

YK ARCC staged an outdoor installation in 2017. Photo: Submitted
Rosalind Mercredi, first president of YK ARCC, at the mobile gallery. Photo: Submitted

“You can make a strategy but if the plan doesn’t have an implementation idea behind it, then really just sits,” she said. “How do you implement it when most of the arts organizations don’t have enough infrastructure or people to put those things together?”

Swan said YK ARCC will continue to run its mobile gallery while celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Members have applied for funding to run a series of “emerging curator workshops.”

“Art is our passion,” Swan said. “I think there’s just this drive to share.

“Because we know how good art can be, or how amazing and fully developed it can be, we want to fight for that. We want to try to grow the art community in Yellowknife.”

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