Friday, 23 January 2009

Chris Spring | Atlantic Sounds

Here is a picture of Chris in his studio in West London. Chris is a writer, curator and artist. He works at the British Museum and is the Curator of the African Rooms. I visited Chris last year at his studio and he spoke about his work and the influence the contemporary African art has had on his works. In 2008, Chris wrote the book Aganza Afrika, which is a comprehensive catalogue of some of the best contemporary African artists from across the globe.

The most obvious influence is found in this work entitled, Atlantic Sounds

It is all too clear to see how La Bouche du Roi, an installation piece by artist Romuald Hazoumé, influenced the work of Chris Spring. Chris explained just how extremely moved he was by the way in which Romuald simply highlighted the spirits being shipped across the Atlantic with small coloured fetishes. In response to having been a part of this powerful installation at the British Museum, Chris produced his own version with this work, "Atlantic Sounds".

The work is a credit to the Benin artist; it is colourful, vibrant and wonderfully abstract. It is marvellous to see the strong effect each artist is having on the other and portraying mutual admiration for one another.

Romuald Hazoumé | La Bouche du Roi

Detail from La Bouche du Roi, an installation piece by artist Romuald Hazoumé in the shape of a slave ship. It's just been acquired by the British Museum and is on display in Room 35. Photography: Benedict Johnson. Courtesy of the British Museum.

This work by Romuald has had a huge influence in the way in which, contemporary African art is viewed. It is clever, simple and hugely moving. Within the tightly packed boat, Romuald, originally from Benin, a country at the heart of the slave trade, reminds the audience that these slaves were individuals. They took with them the knowledge of Voodoo from Africa; suggesting the spirit is a powerful force and although these West Africans were dehumanized by their captures their individuality shone through via his/her spirit. The small coloured fetishes placed carefully on the cans highlights this. Romuald has a generous way of looking at what must have been such a frightening living hell for those taken from homelands.

This work resonates and is certainly now one of the best known works of art from the Continent. For the past 2 decades, Chris Spring from the British Museum an Elisabeth from the October Gallery have played such pivotal roles in presenting powerful and moving artworks to the Nation and beyond we should be most grateful for their efforts. Looking at this work it speaks volumes but what is clear is what art should be all about. This work bold, honest and has an extremely powerful effect on all of us.

The House That's Pure Poetry

Treasure: Kenyan poet Khadambi Asalache in the Lambeth house that he spent years decorating with wooden friezes and arts and crafts from around the world

The House That's Pure Poetry
Louise Jury, Chief Arts Correspondent

AN elaborately-decorated treasure trove of a house in south London is to be saved for the nation.

It was the home of Khadambi Asalache, a Kenyan poet, artist and writer who transformed his unassuming terrace home in Lambeth into a bohemian delight.

When he died aged 71 two years ago, he left it to the National Trust.

Now the trust is to embark on a campaign to raise up to £4million for renovations and future care and wants to know what Londoners think should be done with the property.

Fiona Reynolds, the trust's director general, said: "Khadambi Asalache is relatively unknown in the UK.

However, the influences in his life -- immigration, a sense of loss, and patriotism for both his old and new countries - are reflected in his art and writing and are common to many of us.

"His house is a truly special place which celebrates diversity and through this we are presented with an important opportunity to develop our understanding of contemporary British culture."

Asalache came to London in 1960, where he taught, worked for the BBC African Service and did architecture and landscape gardening as well as writing. He went on to join the civil service at the Treasury. In 1981 he bought his house in Wandsworth Road. To hide the damp, he began to decorate it with fretwork in pine, creating delicate friezes of birds, dancers, flowers and animals.

The fretwork takes its inspiration from Africa, Islam and Britain. The house was also used to display artefacts from around the world which the National Trust described as a "fascinating artistic statement about a multicultural UK".

But it was only after the house was showcased in design magazines that Asalache began to think about what to do with it. Susie Thomson, his partner, said: "Everybody started to say, this is so extraordinary, it must be kept for the future. It is the most beautiful place. I'm really glad it's being taken on."

Ian Wilson, the project manager, said the building was very fragile. "There's some immediate work that needs doing because some of the ceilings have blown."

Elsie Owusu, founder of the Society of Black Architects, said: "The house could be described as an embodiment of the social, political and artistic history of the British colonial experience in the 20th century.

"The fact that it is hidden in an ordinary English city terrace is all the more intriguing."

The National Trust has accepted the gift of the house in principle and committed £1million to it. But it needs to raise up to £4million more if it is to take the property into its care.

Kenyan poet, novelist, artist and civil servant

KHADAMBI Asalache is one of the "pioneers of modern Kenyan literature in English", according to the Contemporary Africa Database.

His poems were published in literary journals and his best known one, Death Of A Chief, is in the Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry.

His first novel, The Calabash Of Life, about a Kenyan leader who challenges a usurper chief, was published in 1967. It went into 10 editions worldwide and was on the syllabus of many schools in Africa. Asalache also helped to write and produce a section of TV series Danger Man.

In the late Seventies he took an MPhil in philosophy of mathematics at Birkbeck College before working at the Treasury.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Néjib Belkhodja | Le Ciel Etait Rouge

Please allow me to introduce you to one of the worlds most important artists, Néjib Belkhodja. Néjib died in 2007 but his work is very much alive. This painting has as much resonance today as it had in time of the first Iraqi War in 1991, Le ciel était rouge, 91. (The red sky). Najet, his charming wife, told me that whilst Néjib was painting this work he had a nightmare. He spent months trying to work out the right colour for the central space. He tried out numerous ideas and the nightmare was that if the central space was any other colour than purist white then the walls would crumble and fall. Néjib was a true humanitarian and through his art we can see one of the clearest visual voices ever. In this time of trouble over Iraq and the fighting in Gaza no other artist could have given the world a clearer or simple yet sensitive message. Nejib appears to be prophetic as it is now that this very purity, this pivotal piece, becomes the essential glue for ensuring that the structure of the Middle East does not disintegrate wholeheartedly.

I read from his collection of books in his front room and was introduced to the Chilian poet, Pablo Neruda who was an inspiration to Nejib throughout his life. I have accompanied this painting with the words of Neruda poem, "In Spite of Wrath".

Le Ciel Etait Rouge | 1991

In Spite of Wrath

Corroded helmets, dead horseshoes!

But through the fire and the horseshoe
as from a wellspring illuminated
by murky blood,
along with the metal thrust home in the holocaust
a light fell over the earth:
number, name, line and structure

Pages of water, clear power
of murmuring tongues, sweet drops
worked like clusters,
platinum syllables in the tenderness
of dew-streaked breasts,
and a classic diamond mouth
gave its snowy brilliance to the land

In the distance the statue asserted
its dead marble,
and in the spring
of the world, machinery dawned.

Technique erected its dominion
and time became speed and a flash
on the banner of the merchants.
Moon of geography
that discovered plant and planet
extending geometric beauty
in its unfolding movement.
Asia handed up its virginal scent.
Intelligence, with a frozen thread,
followed behind blood, spinning out the day.
The paper called for the distribution of the naked honey
kept in the darkness.

A pigeon-house
flight was flushed from the painting
in sunset-cloud-red and ultramarine blue.
And the tongues of men were joined
in the first wrath, before song.

Thus; with the sanguinary
titan of stone,
infuriated falcon,
came not blood but wheat.

Light came despite the daggers.

Taken from "Selected Poems" by Pablo Neruda