Thursday, 1 December 2011

Skoto Gallery - Drawings from Contemporary African Artists

SKOTO GALLERY 529 West 20th Street, 5FL.
New York, NY 10011 212-352 8058

Uche Okeke, Beggar,1963, charcoal on paper,15.5x11.5 inches.
Jose Bedia, Dudley Charles, Victor Ekpuk, Vladimir Cybil Charlier
Bernard Guillot, Richard Hunt, Osaretin Ighile, Michael Marshall
Uche Okeke, Ibrahim El Salahi, Sumayyah Samaha, Juliana Zevallos
December 8th, 2011 – January 21st, 2012
Skoto Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition of drawings by an international group of established and emerging artists. The opening reception is Thursday, December 8th, 6-8pm.
This show will include more than three dozen works on paper made in a wide variety of media, including ink, graphite, watercolor, and collage that offer unique insights into the thought and work processes of the exhibiting artists. These are phenomenal works in their own right, and they also provide a link between their other works in painting, sculpture and architecture. Despite their varied experiences, personal cultural backgrounds and styles their approach to drawing is through a contemporary experience, their metaphysics is distinctly new and refreshing, celebrating the moment of apprehension and the fugitive moment of response with a few traces of ink or a few strokes of the pencil.
Among the works included in the exhibition is a selection of six exceptionally strong drawings from the early 1960’s by the Nigerian artist Uche Okeke (b. 1933), whose exhibition “Another Modernity: Works on Paper by Uche Okeke”, Newark Museum in February-July, 2006 was highly acclaimed. This will be the first US exhibition of these drawings. Renowned for his immense contribution to the development of modern Nigerian art and pioneering visual experimentations with traditional Igbo Uli mural and body design, Uche Okeke’s early drawings in graphite, charcoal or ink are pure meditations upon the nature of line itself. A master of lyrical and sensitive lines, he uses resplendent curves and fluid lines to convey the true harmonies of his artistic vision.
Also included is a selection of ink drawings by the Cuban-born artist Jose Bedia (b. 1959) that reactivate imagery drawn from the most diverse ancient, geographical, historical and cultural horizons, he utilizes a particular rigor and economy of line in his work that encourages a clarity of intent and simplicity of execution. Bedia says of his work - It is an attempt at communication and community between the material and spiritual universe of “modern” man and that of “primitive” man.
There is a lyrical beauty in the recent large-scale drawings of Dudley Charles (Guyana, South America) that belies its surprising seamlessness between the spiritual and physical worlds. He draws from both figuration and abstraction, combined with a wide spectrum of cultural references to expand the medium’s definition in relation to gesture and form. There is a sense of value for spontaneity and improvisation that engages the viewer directly and viscerally as ideas are distilled into swirling or meandering lines in his work.
The Lebanese-born artist Sumayyah Samaha’s series of charcoal drawings titled “Portrait of Iraq”, 2004-2006 explores the vulnerability of humanity caught in a state of ruin as a result of the US invasion of Iraq. The delicate nature of her drawings allow the viewer to be initially drawn into them, and upon closer examination one is almost taken aback by the realization that such fragility also convey atrocities of war, destruction and death. Her work also demonstrates mastery of the use of charcoal with such subtlety that reveals the incredible possibilities of the medium as soft fields of gray become backgrounds for her abstract and organic forms, creating an aura of magic and playfulness. Samaha’s work goes beyond the political and emotional turmoil of our confused world, emoting, instead, an almost surreal, exotic world that creates a tantalizing sense of belonging.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Man and Machine: The Art of Kelani Abass

Man and Machine: The Art of Kelani Abass

Obidike Okafor |

The views of any engineer about machines might just change with the new offerings Kelani Abass has been showing, at the Omenka Gallery in Ikoyi, Lagos. In his second solo exhibition titled “Man and Machine” Abass takes viewers on a roll through a new body of work that involves gears wheels, colours, print and stories told through machines. Kelani Abass, was born in 1979 and has been a full time studio artist since graduating from YABATECH in 2007. His works explore human figures and mythology, the best Painting student in 2007 at YABATECH has featured in about 16 group shows.
Abass worked in his father’s printing press throughout his primary school and secondary school. He grew his creative side and worked the machines while at the press until he left for Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, in 2002 to study art.  “It is fascinating to observe the way machines operate as different parts, to achieve a common goal. This informs my thinking and ideas, and thus inspires my art in this direction. Most of my early works seem to fall within the Naturalistic figurative genre, they reflects socio-political and economic realities of the Nation, creating a platform for my new works, which evolves more metaphoric in nature” Abass says about his new works
Man and Machine, politics of Godfatherism
Man and machine (Politics of Godfatherism)
His  new paintings, drawings and sound installation are indeed a metaphor he uses to describe how machines make work easier. Some of the paintings and drawings are divided in series there is the “Man and machine series” were he lays emphasis on the way by which wheels, as singular units, propel movement in machines, all working together to achieve a common end result, and the “Illusion” series were the digital camera as a machine inspire these set of drawings.  “This (Man and machine series) illustratively reflects the basic need for individuals to work together as one, with combinative and compensative efforts, to achieve their objectives. We need one another to survive as a team, with synergetic efforts to make our dreams, visions, goals and aspirations, as a common people, come true. I also use patches of red, green and orange following the traffic light system in some of the works to show when to move, when to stop and when to get ready” he said.
 According to the artist, the “Illusions” series are drawings based on photographic reproduction, with the help of processes like enlargement or slow motion, processes controlled by machines that capture images which escape natural vision. These works wake the mind to the realities of time and space, the way the past is brought into the future by stored images, then tomorrow which we base the whole of our existence never really exists. “We must learn to stop seeing something which is actually not there, conquer illusion then we will know reality, once we can see behind the curtain of illusion and find the true reality, we can only transcend the illusion of being a physical thing to a spiritual entity” Abass says.
Man and Machine I
Man and Machine I
 When “Man and machine” opens a different side of this multimedia artist will be seen as the pieces on display are a complete departure from his solo “Paradigm shift”. Normally there is always the fear of the new but Abass is comfortable with where he is going to as an artist. “While in school you have to do what your lecturer wants you to do. The school system does not allow freedom and it affects your creativity. My first solo exhibition ‘Paradigm shift’ was a combination of what I learnt in school and what I had learnt on my own. Moving into conceptual works allows me to say more using non conventional ways of working,” he explained. 
The winner of the  Caterina de Medici painting competition organised as part of the Black Heritage Festival, Lagos in 2010, will have 25 works set up with sounds made by various machines while at work will provide the ambience;  bringing the paintings and drawings to life. The work entitled Man and machine (Baba Ijebu),  is done on a grey back ground and  has lotto numbers covering certain parts of the surface with two wheels being held by a spool, and as seen on the lotto boards of the popular Baba Ijebu some of the numbers are circled. 
“This work shows how we allow machines decide our future. I asked the young people who play the lotto in front of my house questions about how the lotto works and they told me that the machine picks the winning number” Abass said about Man and machine (Baba Ijebu).
In Man and Machine (I) the general composition is dominantly grey on two panels that are held together by emblems of technology (gears, wheels), with city outlines dancing long the edges of the canvass. In the composition entitled Man and machine (Politics of Godfatherism),  the work is done on two joined canvasses that are bonded by a cluster of wheels and gear systems connected by a spool. On two ends of the gears are black and white small portraits of a past head of state. On the lower part of the canvass are   groups of people, representing the populace. The background has a hue closer   to neutral gray with patches of red, blue and green on the edges. 
Man and Machine, Baba Ijebu
Man and Machine, (Baba Ijebu)
Man and Machine IV (Politics of God fatherism), talks about the way past leaders still remain relevant in determining who rules the country,” Abass said. In the composition entitled Tussle (a diptych), a plane is broken into two equal segments connected by a rope, at the end of each spool are arms tugging the rope, with patches of red, blue, green and yellow forming a hedge around the arms.  In Man and Machine (Peace) is made up of three panels with a an arm is turning the handle on one of the gears  while a white dove sits on top of the connecting wheel on the third panel. 
Man and Machine (Time past), Man and Machine (synergy) and Man and Machine (Governance and Entrepreneur) follow the same orientation with gears, wheels, spindles and hands.  Done in acrylic, oil, charcoal and paper collage that hint at the story of printing, and the colours used also mimic paper. The images in Illusions series look more like hazy photographs. The distorted pictures of a child’s face, an adult’s face and a blurred image of a child drinking water are a part of this body of work.
Machines save time, with the print technology being one of the first to use machines the artist takes advantage of this experience to discuss themes in terms of concepts. “I want to use this exhibition to show people new ways of doing art. I also want to educate people about printing and machines. It is difficult at times as an artist to represent ideas especially when combining art and engineering” Abass said. 
Man and Machine, time
Man and Machine, Time
The body of work is an undeniable love and attachment to the trade of printing. Childhood experiences as a machine operator and his creative process, is what he uses as a tool to discuss important themes. For those who have been to a press and seen how noisy and chaotic it can be, “Man and Machine” could just bring out the beauty found in the entire hullabaloo. For those who have never been to a printing press in their lifetimes, the exhibitions will not only provide the sights but the sounds to make the viewer appreciate how machines have made things easier, and the beauty seen in every gear, every wheel and every other machine that has come into existence. 
Abass requires us to  look  at how new inventions have been born out of hard work, the painter says the works are a  reminder to  us  of how far we have come as a people and how far we can go as we continue to discover new things.
To appreciate machines more one has to be able to see them in action. Abass plans on taking his works to the next level after this exhibition, by making them animated. “There is a South African William Kentridge who does animation and video drawings, that is the level and direction my works are going to” Abass said with a smile.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Zenzele Chulu | Zambian Artist/Activist

Born in 1967 on Zambia’s Independence Day  earned him the name Kenneth after the first Republican President Kenneth Kaunda. Later Zenzele a Zulu name meaning self reliance became the name synonymous with the artist’s credentials.  In 1991 Zenzele Chulu enrolled at Evelyn Hone College of Applied Arts and Commerce, to do his Art Teachers Diploma, he later headed the Art Section and taught art for four years at Kabulonga High School for Boys before joining the Visual Arts Council – Documentation Project as a Research Assistant, it was this period that he motivated himself to take on art administration and cultural management  as his contribution in developing visual arts in Zambia, working with almost the entire spectrum of the Zambian art scene. Since 1998 when he quit from teaching,  Zenzele has immersed his abilities in the creative industry with humility and dedication.  Despite the rages, changes and  challenges faced in the Zambian art scene, he has  shown remarkable zeal in delivering what he can. 

His 1997- 2000, allegoric and epic painting,  Return of the Gods was exhibited first time at Expo 2000 in Hanover, Germany and later  was entered into the Osaka Triennale in Osaka, Japan 2001 becoming the first Zambian artist to enter the US$ 93,0000 rich finals of this international art competition and  later the same year he attended Thapong International Art Workshop in Gaberone, Botswana, and concluded the year with local  Ngoma Award -  Best Two Dimensional artist in his pocket. In 2002 he became a member of the Insaka International Artists Trust organising team and  has organised five successful international artists workshops producing more new artists that have become household names in contemporary art today in Zambia. Over the years he has facilitated a lot of artists to get exposed, Stary Mwaba, Ngamanya Banda, Kalinosi Mutale, Charles Chambata, Gordon Shamulenge, Kate Naluyele, Nezias Nyirenda, Tom Phiri the list goes on,  while working with experienced senior artists Vincentio Phiri, Lutanda Mwamba, Mulenga Chafilwa, William Miko, Patrick Mumba, Style Kunda, Flinto Chandia, Martin Phiri, Godfrey Setti, Shadreck Simukanga and many more not mentioned here.

In 2004 he participated in the TGD4 Tambacounda International Art Workshop in Tambacounda and JOKO Workshop in Dakar, Senegal. In 2005 he went to Nagoya, Japan as the designer for the Zambian pavilion for the Aichi Expo 2005 and later he went for an art residence at the Bag Factory in Johannesburg, South Africa and  after returning he got inspired to do an art residence at Rockston Studios in Lusaka till 2008. His work , ‘ Will Power ’ broke through ranks was also exhibited alongside great painters Andy Warhol, Mangalatana , Alberto Korda and Roy Lichtenstein in Paris, at Tajan Auction House facilitated by Joe Pollit. Zenzele represented Triangle Arts Trust at the 2008 Tulipamwe Workshop in Nambia after returning from another workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for the first Abro Ethiopia International Workshop where Kenenisa was added to his list of names and an exchange programme in Mauritius.

In  2008 he attended ARESUVA  visual arts conference in Abuja, Nigeria where he sat on the panel among professors and doctors of the arts . In 2010 he was invited to a residence at the  Art Bakery in Cameroon where he got inspired by the late Cameroonian artist Goody Leye to launch Zambia’s first art newspaper, ARTpages and later he conducted  a capacity building workshop in Addis Ababa for young emerging Ethiopian artists. He was in China at the  Shanghai  Expo 2010,  to modify the Zambian pavilion and later was selected to attend the 2011 Florence Biennale in Florence , Italy. He was this year  nominated by Triangle Arts Trust Director Alessio Antoniolli to enter the US$ 25, 000, Sovereign Art African Prize to held during the Johannesburg Art Fair in September 2011, part of  the Prize money will be donated to charity.  Zenzele is scheduled to give a presentation of Insakartists Trust at the Triangle Arts Conference in London, this year November, 2011.

His uncompromising distinct artistic direction makes him one of the most sophisticated and diverse artists of the times.  Zenzele styles have one thing in common , all have ancient and traditional African themes, which  are central to his compositions, from the figurative contra style to the current trend of emotionally charged schematic tantrums .One may not realize that the current abstract schematic tantrums have roots in the ancient caves and rock shelters of Zambia’s Heritage sites, found scattered across from the hills of Eastern; Central and Northern  provinces, hence in 1994 he had his first schematic tantrums solo exhibition at Rockston Studios and Gallery. Zenzele began his research way back in 1998 up to 2003 with the Documentation Project funded by the Visual Arts Council going round the country documenting Zambian arts and crafts , which included historical sites and national monuments.  It was the outburst of artistic anger about the state in which these sites were losing their priceless value through archaeological theft and grafiti . He decided to throw tantrums on canvas as a way of drumming up  an awareness campaign, about the plight of these heritage sites, since 2004 the trend of schematic tantrums has continued to fascinate the art scene with various themes within themes. He continues to be  the contemporary custodian of ancient tradition of abstraction and an activist of his country’s artistic heritage. On the other side Zenzele was this year nominated  as country researcher for the Zambian chapter  on the artists expression of creative freedom and its relationship  to human rights with ARTerial Network based in Cape Town, South Africa under the  ARTWATCH AFRICA Programme. Furthermore he was picked to represent artists run network from the African continent at the Triangle Network Conference in London.

 ©ARTpages 2011.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Soweto meets Savile Row - African Fashion Week 2011

News from Jo'burg from the amazing Makhotso Simone

Liberia’s President Wins Boycotted Runoff Vote

Glenna Gordon/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images

MONROVIA, Liberia — Election officials announced on Thursday that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s only female president, had been re-elected by an overwhelming margin this week in a runoff vote that was marred by an opposition boycott.
Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf won 90.8 percent of the vote in the low-turnout election, easily defeating Winston Tubman, a former United Nations diplomat who said he was withdrawing from the race only days before the voting over what he claimed was fraud in the first round.
Independent election observers found no evidence of serious irregularities in either the first or second rounds of voting, and Mr. Tubman’s motives for pulling out remained unclear. Both the Carter Center and monitors from Ecowas, the regional grouping of West African states, said both votes were generally free and fair. Analysts said Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf’s opponent had been expected to lose, boycott or not.
Mr. Tubman’s strategy proved provocative in a country that has been through decades of political violence. On Monday, his supporters clashed with Liberian police officers who responded to the crowd with tear gas and live ammunition, killing at least one of the protesters.
The Carter Center, calling Mr. Tubman’s claims “unsubstantiated,” said the election was “well-administered,” and it criticized Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf’s opponents for spoiling the vote.
Their “decision to boycott essentially denied the Liberian people a genuine choice within a competitive electoral process,” the center said in a statement on Thursday. Only 37.4 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, about half the number who voted in the first round on Oct. 11, when 16 candidates were running. The low turnout and political unrest may leave the president vulnerable to claims that she does not hold a clear mandate going into her second term.
Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf came out on top in the first round of voting in October, shortly after having been named the joint winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in stabilizing a country torn by more than a decade of civil war. The Nobel announcement apparently boosted her re-election prospects, even as it was criticized by opponents as unfair interference in Liberia’s voting.
But she did not garner the more than 50 percent of the votes necessary to win outright, and so faced a runoff against Mr. Tubman, who conceded that the real draw on his ticket was his vice-presidential running mate, the former international soccer star George Weah. Both men lost to Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf in the 2005 presidential election.
In an interview on Thursday Mr. Tubman, a veteran Liberian political figure who once served as justice minister under the military dictator Samuel K. Doe, did not back down from his boycott call. Mr. Tubman, a member of the country’s American-descended ruling elite and whose family has long played a leading role here, said again that his party’s attitude toward the new government would be one of “noncooperation and nonrecognition.”
Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf, for her part, said she would pursue a policy of reconciliation.
“We are determined to make Liberia a post-conflict success story,” Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf said at a news conference, adding that she was considering giving out government posts to leaders of opposition parties. “I’m very confident that we’ll be able to reconcile.”
Mr. Tubman seemed disinclined to take her up on the offer. “I have never wanted a job from her government,” he said.
With 86 percent of precincts reporting, the Liberian elections chairwoman, Elizabeth Nelson, said Thursday that Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf had received 513,320 votes out of 565,391 tallied. Only 52,071 of the ballots counted, or 9.2 percent, had been cast for Mr. Tubman — his tally in 2005.
Mr. Tubman had urged Liberians not to vote and warned there could be violence if the runoff election proceeded as scheduled. When his supporters confronted the police on Monday with rocks and bottles, the police fired back, killing at least one. One of Mr. Tubman’s supporters said she and others had been held in a shipping container at the airfield across from Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf’s home. All 84 of the detainees were released late Tuesday.
Mr. Tubman said that while he regretted the loss of life during Monday’s confrontation, he did not regret the boycott.

Adam Nossiter contributed reporting from Dakar, Senegal.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman win Nobel prize Three women – two Liberian, one Yemeni – are awarded peace prize for their work campaigning for women's rights

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty, Frederick M Brown/Getty, Khaled Abdullah/Reuters
Three women who have campaigned for peace and democracy in Liberiaand Yemen have been jointly awarded this year's Nobel peace prize.
The Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Leymah Gbowee, a social worker turned peace campaigner from the same country, will share the 10m kronor (£950,000) prize with Tawakkul Karman, a journalist and pro-democracy activist in Yemen who has been a leading figure in the protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh since January.
The Nobel committee said the three had been chosen "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work".
"We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society," the committee said in a statement. They are the first women to be awarded the prize since 2004 when the committee honoured Wangari Muta Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist who died last month, and bring the tally of female winners to 15, compared with 85 men.
Sirleaf, 72, is a Harvard-trained economist who became Africa's first democratically elected female president in 2005, two years after the country achieved a fragile peace after decades of civil war. The committee said she had "contributed to securing peace in Liberia, to promoting economic and social development, and to strengthening the position of women".
Seen as a reformer and peacemaker in Liberia when she first took office, Sirleaf declared a zero-tolerance policy against corruption and has made education compulsory and free for all primary-age children. She is currently running for re-election, with a vote to be held on Tuesday.
Gbowee, 39, was instrumental in helping bring Liberia to peace in the early 2000s, leading a movement of women who dressed in white to protest against the use of rape and child soldiers in the war. During the 2003 peace talks, she and hundreds of women surrounded the hall where the discussions were being held, refusing to let delegates leave until they had signed the treaty. The committee said she had "mobilised and organised women across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the long war in Liberia, and to ensure women's participation in elections".
Since 2004, Gbowee has served as a commissioner on Liberia's truth and reconciliation commission, and she is now executive director of theWomen in Peace and Security Network, an organisation that works with women in Liberia, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Sierra Leone to promote peace, literacy and political involvement.
"In the most trying circumstances, both before and during the Arab spring, Tawakkul Karman has played a leading part in the struggle for women's rights and for democracy and peace in Yemen," the Nobel committee said of the third winner. Karman, 32, is a mother of three who in 2005 founded the group Women Journalists Without Chains.
She has been a key figure among youth activists in Yemen since they began occupying a square in central Sana'a in February demanding the end of the Saleh regime, and has often been the voice of activists on Arabic television, giving on-the-ground reports of the situation in the square outside Sana'a University, where dozens of activists have been shot dead by government forces.
She called her award "a victory for the Yemeni people, for the Yemeni revolution and all the Arab revolutions".
"This is a message that the era of Arab dictatorships is over. This is a message to this regime and all the despotic regimes that no voice can drown out the voice of freedom and dignity. This is a victory for the Arab spring in Tunis, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen. Our peaceful revolution will continue until we topple Saleh and establish a civilian state."
The chairman of the Norwegian Nobel committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, told the Associated Press that Karman's award should be seen as a signal that both women and Islam had played an important part in this year's Arab uprisings. "The Arab spring cannot be successful without including the women in it," he said.
He said Karman belonged to a Muslim movement with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group "which in the west is perceived as a threat to democracy". He added: "I don't believe that. There are many signals that that kind of movement can be an important part of the solution."
Jagland told AP it was difficult to find a leader of the Arab spring revolts, especially among the many bloggers who played a role in energising the protests, and noted that Karman's work started before the Arab uprisings.
"It was not easy for us to pick one from Egypt or pick one from Tunisia, because there were so many, and we did not want to say that one was more important than the others." He noted that Karman had "started her activism long before the revolution took place in Tunisia and Egypt. She has been a very courageous woman in Yemen for quite a long time."
Sirleaf said the award "gives me a stronger commitment to work for reconciliation. Liberians should be proud".
Asked about the potential sensitivity of awarding an international prize days before the winner seeks re-election, Jagland said: "We cannot look to that domestic consideration. We have to look at Alfred Nobel's will, which says that the prize should go to the person that has done the most for peace in the world."

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Suzanne Ouedraogo from Burkina Faso

Suzanne Ouedraogo artist from Burkina Faso.

Here is one of my favourite artists. Suzanne Ouedraogo. Her work is quite shocking but this makes it all the more impressive especially coming from Burkina Faso. She has taken bold steps to be outspoken about issues surrounding women - the family, child welfare and sexual violence.

Her series on Female Circumcision 2000-2003

African Painters | Suzanne Ouedraogo | Female Circumcision    African Writers

Excision 2000

Excision I - 2003

Excision II - 2003

Here is a poem on the subject of female circumcision by a young female Nigerian Poet which goes well with these paintings.

Our Dilemma by Chinwe Azubuike

You, our gods of immortals and living
Of seas and lands
Of all visible and not
We beseech, hear our cry this day
And come to our rescue.

Our sacred weapons of pleasure
Are being destroyed by the day
Rendered useless
By our overseeing Lords and Ladies
Of ancestral descent.

They perform a barbaric operation on our ‘flesh of honour’
And call it ‘Female Circumcision’
In the white man’s language.
They mutilate our pride and say it is ‘tradition’
“The initiation to womanhood”

They cut us!
Oh yes, they cut us with the blade.

In the gaze of our fellows, they cut us!
At times in the secrecy of our mother’s haven.
They do not concede to the tools,
Nor words of the physician’s for our safety
To them it has been for ages
And tradition dare not be defiled.
They just cut us.

Against our will as they are wont to
For we foresee the agony and anguish
To these we try to parry but helpless we are

Our eyes have cried,
Tears of unending pain and torment
They have run dry of water.
Our hearts, laden with loathsomeness
We fear may burst.

They cut us, with or without our consent
Left to bleed by their ignorance
Sometimes fatal to our existence.
Other times, we become plagued with illness of strange names
“Infection” the physician would call it

Again they say it delivers us from the hands of promiscuity
As we ascend the ladder of womanhood.
Such blasphemy! We think
As if we are not bound for the act of consummation
In our ‘married’ days

As we watch our counterparts this day
Buried deep in this sin,
Sisters whom we term fortunate cut at childbirth
Fortunate to have escaped the pain we feel now,
We can’t but wonder
“Who is fooling who?”

You, our ancestral Lords and Ladies
Suffer us no more we beg
What profit do you aspire
When our lives are wont to expire
In this course of tradition?

Oh! What a shame,
That you who drum to our ears
To revere the dignity between our legs,
Become the ones that destroy it.

Poem by Chinwe Azubuike | Nigeria

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Violence, loathing, beauty, pain: How Rembrandt influenced Francis Bacon

Self Portrait by Francis Bacon 1974


He brutally mutilated the old master's self-portraits – then endlessly echoed them. but just how influenced was Francis Bacon by Rembrandt? Charles Darwent explores a new exhibition that attempts to paint a clearer picture
By Charles Darwent
Sunday, 16 October 2011
In June 1962, the American photographer Irving Penn shot a series of portraits of Francis Bacon at the latter's studio in Reece Mews, London. One (previous page) sticks particularly in the mind. It is of Bacon standing in front of a wall which he has covered, typically, with pages torn from books and magazines. Peering down over the artist's shoulder is one of these, the crumpled image of an old man. It is Rembrandt, painted by himself, in the famous Self-Portrait with Beret now at the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence.
Rembrandt's 'Self-Portrait with Beret' from the Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence
Self-Portrait with Beret
Us looking at Penn looking at Bacon looking at Rembrandt. Penn's portrait is full of questions, prime among them the one of who chose its mise-en-scène. Did Bacon ask to be photographed in front of a dead Old Master, or was it Penn who saw a connection between the two men, and if so of what kind? Bacon was 52 when Penn's picture was taken, although, with his cherub cheeks and boot-polish-blacked hair, he looks 20 years younger. Rembrandt was 51 when he painted the Aix self-portrait and seems 20 years older. Like Bacon, he had lived beyond his means; unlike Bacon, his luck had run out. In 1660, the year of the self-portrait, Rembrandt had been forced to sell his house and printing press and to go to work for his son, Titus. Etched into his face is the pauper's grave that would wait for him a decade later. Did Penn see, in Bacon's sybaritic life, a similar end? Or did Bacon choose to have Rembrandt look over his right shoulder – the angel's side – as a token of admiration, or self-admiration?
Nothing in Bacon's life or art is ever easy, his take on Rembrandt least of all. What we do know is that there was a take – that Bacon, a tireless gatherer of scraps, admired Rembrandt above all other artists. Again and again in his quarter-of-a-century of interviews with the critic David Sylvester, Bacon returns to the Dutchman, worrying away at him as if picking at a scab, or at Rembrandt's scabrous paint. It is hard to believe that so deep a relationship between two such great artists had never been the subject of an exhibition – Bacon has been paired off with everyone from Van Gogh to Eadweard Muybridge – but this is the case. Which makes Irrational Marks, the opening show of the new Ordovas gallery in London, which looks at the work of two men side-by-side, both welcome and revealing. 
Maybe acts of homage are always tinged with loathing; certainly, Bacon's seems that way. Rembrandt painted or etched nearly 100 self-portraits over 40 years. Many – the Mauritshuis gallery's Self-portrait with Gorget, say – show him as young and strong, high on the hog's back. Bacon's fascination, though, is with the man laid low, stripped bare. There are half-a-dozen of his torn-out pages in this show, all of them taken from Reece Mews and bearing reproductions of Rembrandt self-portraits post-1655, when the artist was in his fifties, widowed and broke. To the violence of the Dutchman's own life, Bacon has added another: the pages are creased and spattered with paint. The housekeeping at Reece Mews was known to be slovenly, but the treatment to which the pages have been subjected seems harsh even so, less a lack of care than an outright attack. In one plate, torn from Claude Roger Marx's monograph on Rembrandt, the old man's throat has apparently been cut. His upper lip has been gouged out.
It may, of course, have been a kind of empathy. If you saw the film Love is the Devil, you'll know Bacon's taste for the lash. Pain was beauty for him; pain was truth. In a story he told, often and in several variants, Bacon's fox-hunting father had had his 14-year-old son horsewhipped when he was caught being buggered by a stable-boy. The punishment had backfired: from then on, the artist-to-be added masochism to his repertoire of happily delinquent sexuality. To enjoy Rembrandt's pain was to pay him an accolade, to enrol him in a club: not for nothing did Bacon refer to the Dutchman's clotted brushwork as a "coagulation". But, as with his father's horsewhipping, to feel Rembrandt's pain was to turn the Oedipal tables.
If there is hate in Bacon's love of Rembrandt, then it may have something to do with their differing views of age. The master of Reece Mews once disingenuously remarked to David Sylvester that he painted self-portraits, although he "loathed [his] own face", because he hadn't "got anyone else to do". By absolute contrast, Rembrandt loves his own face, not because it is his but because it is a face.
In a sense, all of the Dutch Master's self-portraits are double portraits. They depict a man who is getting older, but they also show an artist who is growing more mature. Every vicissitude that life can throw at Rembrandt – each pouch and jowl, every newly acquired line – calls for an artistic answer. There is a blessed equity to his self-depiction. It takes experience to paint an experienced face: Rembrandt had to be 51 to paint himself at 51. Old age, suffering, become cartes de visite, advertisements of his skill. The Aix self-portrait is like a fugue in which one voice is worn down by time, the other triumphant over it.
Talking to Sylvester about the Aix image, Bacon praised Rembrandt's abstraction, his capacity to make the "irrational marks" from which this show takes its title. The Aix self-portrait, he says, is "almost completely anti-illustrational". That both is and is not true – Rembrandt, like any 17th-century painter, would have viewed the lack of resemblance as a failure – but it is certainly revealing about Bacon's own view of himself. The point of a double portrait is to understand both sitters by reference to the other. This exhibition of the two men's work does just that. Where Rembrandt's images of himself are revealed as inescapably optimistic, Bacon's are endlessly pessimistic.
Only when you see him next to Rembrandt do you realise that Bacon is all about self-effacement. In one study for a self-portrait, made in 1973 (above left), Bacon's own face is eclipsed by another, the face of a watch. You sense an 11th hour: the artist, now 64, is reduced to two forms, a double-chin and the skull-like socket of an eye. There is no redemption in his self-image, none of Rembrandt's saving virtuosity: there is only age, and time ticking away. With its grey brushwork and hazy surface, the watch-portrait feels like a picture torn from a newspaper or magazine. Its monochrome palette seems to echo the brown-on-brown self-portraits of the ageing Rembrandt, at least as shown in black-and-white reproduction. The watch-portrait is Rembrandt rubbed out and then rubbed out again, faded and re-faded. It is a self-portrait of Bacon as someone else, someone he wanted to be.
Irrational Marks: Bacon and Rembrandt is at Ordovas, 25 Savile Row, London W1 (020 7287 5013,, until 16 December
Masters of the art: Two very brief lives
Francis Bacon
The second of five children, Francis Bacon was born in Dublin in 1909 to a Boer War veteran and an heiressto a Sheffield steel business. The family moved frequently between Ireland and England in Bacon's youth. Bacon's father banished him in 1926 when he discovered the 17-year-old in his mother's underwear; on a meagre allowance, he drifted between London, Berlin and Paris, where he was inspired to art by a Picasso exhibition.
In the 1930s, he made tentative forays into painting, while working as an interior decorator and furniture designer. His breakthrough came in 1944 with the triptych 'Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion'.
In the 1950s and 1960s Bacon became an habitué of Soho drinking and gambling dens. In 1971 his then-lover George Dyer killed himself on the eve of a retrospective in Paris. Bacon spent the rest of his life with the altogether more stable John Edwards, who was named as the sole heir to Bacon's estate on the painter's death in 1992.
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was born in 1606, the ninth child of a prosperous miller.
Within five years of opening his studio in Leiden in 1624, Rembrandt had been discovered by the Dutch court; he soon moved to Amsterdam, married well and bought a house in a fashionable quarter.
From then, despite his success as a painter, he was plagued by personal tragedy and money problems. Only his fourth child, Titus, born in 1641, survived beyond infancy, and his wife Saskia died in 1642. Rembrandt narrowly avoided bankruptcy in his early fifties (he had to sell his house a few years later).
After an unfortunate relationship with his ailing wife's nurse, he took up with a young maid, Hendrickje, who, with Titus, assisted in the final years of his career.
Rembrandt died in 1669, outliving his son by a year and Hendrickje by six.
Mike H

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Building an African Library Online

Modern African Writers


Hello Fellow Readers,

This is an introduction to the African Library. My name is Joe Pollitt and I would like to start to put together a series of published works found on the Internet by African Writers or about the issues surrounding Africa. The main source of information will be coming through the Amazon website with a brief editorial and information about the artist and their lives. Initially, I am starting off with a list of over 800 writers from Africa and this blog would like to explore as many as possible and maybe more. What could be more exciting is the development of artists and writers who self-publish from Blurb | and create a continually developing library with artists and writers who are keen to contribute to the educational development from all corners of Africa.

All the artists will be labelled in the appropriate African countries from Algeria to Zimbabwe - there is a small tag feature at the bottom of the posts. Click if interested in a specific subject or country as they will be labels for Books on African Artists, African Design, Diaspora, Tribal Art, African Music, Modern Art, African Fashion and Photography and more....

Here are over 800 African Writers 

A.M. Issa-Salwe
Ababa Haylemelekot
Abbakar Adam Ismail

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Lu Lei | The Sky's The Limit by Joe Pollitt

(Here is something rather off subject but an article I wrote about for a Chinese gallery - OtherGallery, Beijing) 

Since the beginning of this millennium, the world has been exposed to modern China through the eyes of a select few from the media arena. Resolute to infect and dilute the potency of the artistic dragons of China, the U.S and UK art worlds have purposefully created their own brand of Eastern promise by trying to create the fetishism akin to the Saatchi version of “Oriental Sensationalism.” In dong so, they have ostensibly set about with such extraordinary determination to undermine and align Chinese artists with the likes of Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and the demon, Damien Hirst. Crushing any notion of true intelligence and strongly endorsing mediocrity and celebrity over raw acumen,  they are demanding and increasingly supporting, creating and promoting mindless Pokemon sex stars whilst constantly ordering posters of Red Flags, hammers and sickles along with More, More, Mao.  Desperately fearful that the active minds of intelligence in fresh China should dare to flourish and thrive, like young bamboo. The West encourage all artists to become ‘Pop or Hip-Hop’ from the US or YBA or Banksy with ‘Gimmicks of Urban Street Chic’ from the UK.

Thankfully, there is fruit amongst the thorns in the shape of Lu Lei. Unlike his counterparts such as Zhao Bo who mass produces cartoonish Congolese-Cheri Samba-style works of political satire or the disappointing legal graffiti efforts on canvas of Zhang Dali or the non-offensive angelic and delicate designs by Qing Qing whose robes appear of hemp and spring and summer flowers from the meadows.  As an intuitive fine artist, worthy of fervent support, Lu Lei has, inevitably, chosen a different path; a unique Global vision of clarity. His is a way of seeing further than the commercial campaigns and the obvious financial gains being offered up as treacle for the few and dished out to the masses – soon those decorated as important artists of ‘Now’ will be remembered as the major players of the Chinese artistic sell-out movement of the early 21st Century.
When thinking about modern Chinese art, what springs to mind, are the interviews with the young Bruce Lee back in the 1970s; so determined was he, to be seen as progressive, whilst Hollywood had other ideas. The very hint of having Bruce Lee as the leading man in Kung Fu was unthinkable. The role was given to David Carradine; a safe, trustworthy American actor whom the US movie public could fall in love with and still be regarded as respectable. Pinewood producers felt similarly in Britain, secretly electing, as they all too frequently do, that the British audience would feel better-off and more comfortable with Chinese characters like the mischievous, Cato Fong played by Burt Kwouk, rather than the more aggressive alpha males such as Sammo Hung, Russell Wong or Robin Shou. This year, Burt was awarded an OBE for his contribution to drama, for his portrayal of the Chinese houseboy in the Pink Panther films, but this negative, albeit mildly amusing role went a long way in denigrating the Chinese people and their culture in the minds of Western onlookers. This obvious abuse of the medium of cinema should have sent alarm-bells ringing throughout the Buddhist world but the seduction of all things broadcasted and televised has been all too tantalizing yet it comes as a surprise that the Great Wall of China can so easily be tarnished.
Lu Lei’s artistic practice promises to generate a sea-change with new works being created and previous works being mounted; this vigorous, intelligent and motivating exhibition titled is earmarked to be one of the greatest showcases ever seen in Modern China. In fact, the show could potentially create a new art dynasty in contemporary Chinese Art.  The true art revolution starts with the courageous wild swans that are willing to stick their necks on-the-line by producing provocative works and those prepared to champion that provocation. For those unfamiliar with this artist, Lu Lei and his works here is an extremely succinct resume: he was born in Jiangsu Province in 1972 and graduated in sculpture at the China Fine Art College in Beijing in 1998.
Square, 2005 by Lu Lei

Cleverly, Lu Lei has added the essential ingredient of intelligence into the mix. He has been amongst one of the few artists that are managing to push forward the ambitious notion and contemporary concept of global art. In doing so, he has somehow relaxed the grout away from the bricks from the Great Wall itself, revealing a trailblazing Chinese art in the making. His works begin in 2005, with a series of black and white images of 100 empty barrels of gasoline/petrol and within a selected few barrels are loudspeakers; other barrels have concave mirrors inside; this results in the spectators being left with a mild sense of wonderment and acute confusion as to whether or not, the barrels are full or empty. There are two flags, one on either side of the installation and they are black and white respectively. In many ways the work is a living statement, a therapeutic form of self-analysis or self-hypnosis, constructively analyzing the purpose and function of being built in the first place; contemplating the ultimate nature of art as viewed from an internal perspective. The work is ironically entitled, “Square” – In the same year and along the same lines Lu Lei constructed a glass house, with five speakers on the front wall and five on the back, amounting to ten in all. A thin isolated individual with his arm raised is clearly visible and behind him is a tiny square screen playing a video, the work is entitled: “The Big Details in the Key Moment”, 2005.

The surroundings are perfect. Deep inside the guts of a gallery; a time for reflection and rational meditation without the restrictions of dictatorial obligations, family duties or curious religious hand puppets, casting shadows of doubt where there are none. Artistic memory jogging and the eyewitness is immediately transported back to 1989 to the Tiananmen Massacre and that inconceivable picture of a single man, alone in front of the world and before him four petrifying tanks. One voice or heroic action can speak for a nation and on that particular day it was the Leader, Liu Xiaobo who shocked the visual world. The works clearly defend the rights of dreamers; rejoices in those who see themselves as individuals and shows China to be a country thinking out-aloud; stepping out from the majority; away from the group and ultimately standing up; bravely independent and often alone.
Alongside the installation Lu Lei has created a series of professional sketches and proficient watercolors that illustrates he is an impressively proficient draftsman. Working out sketches on a series of white and blue mathematical graph paper, he methodically constructs and develops his idea down onto the paper in a rather clinical fashion, as if he were an architect or structural engineer.  He also created images on thick watercolor-paper and effectively uses Indian ink displaying a beguiling technique and in one painting creates a fantastic image of the man in the glasshouse being bombarded with disorderly flapping bats and in another more academic and intellectual work he starts to play with the idea of Russian artist, Vladimir Tatlin and his ‘Monument to the 3rd International’.  Tatlin’s version came at a time of immense change in the Soviet Union and the interest then, was on the mechanics of all things; the nuts and bolts of arguments and discussions. The reason being was to discover the reasonable and the rational explanation to all things; the vision of the time was on the planning and the analysis; the architectural blueprints and the pure pleasure of working out the best solution for a worthwhile society, opposed to just ignorantly enjoying the end product only to take it for granted later. In many ways these positive, ideological and altruistic thought processes echoed the modernization of Soviet Russia; and the possibility of achieving authentic social change and ambitiously and maybe naively, searching for total equality.

In Lu Lei’s deconstructed version he adds a satellite and an aerial and then redressed or reconstructs the deconstructed version by wrapping the image up and adding a hammer and sickle to epitomize that the transparency so wished for at the beginning of the Russian Revolution, had failed and drastically changed. Sadly, Tatlin’s Monument and his dream of an unambiguous world had woken up and was now dressed and fully-clothed. These works really acknowledges that Lei has superlative dexterity and is proficient in numerous aspects of Art.
The artist continues with the effective theme of working in monochrome, “Clouds”, 2006 - tackles the issues of the ideological contrasts between the socially conscious, society within China and the Capitalist, and consumer greed of the West. This is simply represented in a series of clouds connected together by thin wire, symbolic of the importance of telecommunications, in a Post Internet Asia. In 2007, Lei begins to open up, but only slightly and introduces a single color, Red. In his installation, “Elements”, Lei, focusing on the organs of the body and veins in which they are fed and kept alive. The organs are made up of resistance wire and then painted red and placed on ceramic backs, in the shape of graveyard-headstones. A year later in 2008, Lei creates what many would consider his Masterpiece  – “Moments”. The work plays with so many different elements within art – geometry, architecture, sculpture, video-work, inventive carpentry, light and shadows. A blackboard is the material of choice; a material able to create true magic.

Moments, 2008 by Lu Lei

Let us start in the middle, where the meat of the work lies. The slanted table top is attached to the blackboard and seen as an extension of the blackboard. A perversion, this unwanted bastard of a blackboard, is the creation of the original. The artist blows life into the blackboard, giving the inanimate object a life-force able to create. He has extended the possibilities of what essentially a traditional blackboard has always been expected to do. Bending the functionalities and responsibilities of a regular Chinese blackboard; the artist has the audacity to allow the board to breed, creating an imaginative blackboard without restraint. A board that was left alone one evening as nobody was watching and started to create; creating a series of abominable atrocities. This anarchic structure hypothetically, has free will. A mind of its own and the ability to create monsters at will. Forming structures that defy definition – shapes that are virtually impossible to define and when seen, even by experts, are unable to either be named, or understood. The practicalities of these disobedient shapes seem abhorrence to those that dare to visually confront. These rebellious structures are forcing all to put into question the actual reason for their very existence? Formed out of the belly of the board is a distorted tabletop, with flat surfaces and challenging perspectives housing a small square hole nearing the end; spikes underneath, like a trapped black star, unable to breathe or shine; devoid of reason. The board is unfairly divided and poking out the corner on the larger side of the board or the majority share side, is a video playing but seen more as a Cyclops looking, spying on at all those that are viewing, singularly seeing. The majority stare and the onlookers ponder on what or who is watching who or whom? Flying out from the corner of the board is a shooting black star, invisible at night but visible in the day, when the lights are turned on. The dull-black-star casts playful shadows on the white-washed-walls. Giving new life to the board and the walls and poking from the side a seemingly huge architectural tumor has been growing, forming staircases and platforms with limited floor-space and high dark walls; walls without ceilings, walls without windows, walls without doors. Only the walls, the single staircase and the limited floors space exist; as if in an Escher-style dream in a three-dimensional reality the board has created a perfect malfunction. Shadows radiate fantasy silhouettes that virtually fall to the floor. This ingenious installation entitled, ‘Moments’, is simply the artist’s greatest work to date.

All in all Lu Lei’s work is a celebration of an artist who is beginning to display a true sense of artistic maturity. His installations, alongside his obvious expertise in draughtsmanship can be defined as precision artistry, which can only be compared with skilled archers on horseback, shooting arrows at targets, whilst side-saddling thoroughbred stallions. He confidently assembles his fluid ideas and develops and executes them perfectly in his artworks. The artist is able to broach an array of various complex disciplines: with a comprehensible understanding of architecture, mathematics, design, sculpture and geometry, which are the ideal qualities to look for when choosing an artist to move up into Chinese and international civic art and join the ranks of other international super artists such as Michelangelo, Picasso, Miro, Anthony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Richard Serra and Henry Moore. Civic or public art has often been used for political gains. The most extreme and widely argued demonstration of this continues to be the use of art as propaganda; especially within regimes coupled with instantaneous suppression of opposition. The approach to art seen in Stalin's Soviet Union and Mao's Cultural Revolution stands as a symbol of this old school oppression. It would be wonderful to see a Chinese Artist working alongside the best in the world and Lu Lei has all the right attributes and credentials to do so. It is vital that government and local leaders take it upon themselves to encourage a new way of seeing and a new wave of supporting their artists. In many countries around the world an unofficial ‘Artists Tax’ is levied onto all new builds and the construction company and owner set aside 1% of the overall budget to go towards the purchase of artworks from artists.  
China is so fortunate to have an artist such as Lu Lei who is clearly capable of creating and performing successfully on the national stage but more importantly, if given the opportunity, could show the country that he is more than adept to deliver and compete within the International art scene. His works create a myriad of ideas that shine like a sharp bright light, through glass prisms, generating new and glorious sounds and visuals, seldom published or accessible to those in the autocratic Far East.