Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Visionary Africa: Art at Work Exhibition

2010 and 2011 mark the 50th anniversary of the independence of 22 African countries.To commemorate this anniversary and to mark the occasion of the third EU-Africa Summit, the European Commission and the Palais des Beaux Arts (Centre for Fine Arts),in collaboration with the African Union, is launching a multi-disciplinary and itinerant cultural project: “Visionary Africa: Art at Work”. This initiative is the extension and the development in Africa of the “Visionary Africa” festival held in Brussels (Summer 2000).

African Installations
African Installations - 3D View

This project focuses on the importance of culture and creativity as development tools and is directly in line with the Brussels Declaration by Artists and Cultural Professionals. It includes an itinerant urban exhibition of contemporary African artistic practices, artists’ residencies and workshops. The exhibition will be previewed in conjunction with the European Union-Africa Summit in Syrte/Tripoli (Libya, November 29, 2010).

It will then begin to travel to different African capitals at the start of 2011, beginning with Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), followed by Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso). It will feature some 30 reproductions of works of art created by contemporary African artists, taken from the works presented in the exhibitions of the “Visionary Africa” festival in the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels, which ran until September 26, 2010. The idea for this project was put forward during the international colloquium “Culture and Creativity as Vectors for Development”, organised by the European Commission in April 2009.

Culture at the heart of African-European dialogue

Since the end of the 1990s, the European Union has been progressively more committed to strengthening dialogue and building more specific and special relations with Africa.
The first EU-Africa Summit was held in Cairo in April 2000. It defined a framework of political and global dialogue and laid down an action plan in the areas of African integration in the global economy, democratisation, health development, education, the environment and security.
The second Summit took place in Lisbon in 2007. This Summit further strengthened the partnership and brought the EU-Africa dialogue to a higher political level. The Treaty of Lisbon signed at that Summit emphasised culture and creativity for the first time by according it a central role in all European policy fields ranging from regional policy to foreign affairs and development. Culture must therefore find a place “at the heart” of development policies. At Lisbon, the frequency of the Summits was also determined.

From now on, they will take place every three years. The next one will be held in Syrte/Tripoli, Libya, on November 29 2010. The theory was quickly put into practice. The European Commission has increased its efforts to show that culture is a factor of human development, social cohesion and employment.

It was thus thanks to the impetus provided by Louis Michel, the then European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, that in April 2009, the seminar on “Culture and Creativity as Vectors for Development” was organised. 

This brought together around 800 participants: politicians (of whom 46 were ministers of African countries), artists and civil society representatives from the different countries of the EU, but also from the 65 ACP countries (Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific). On that occasion, Louis Michel insisted on the importance of addressing a broad public, on culture is not “a plaything for the pretentious elite” but an integral part of development, “a sphere in which society explains its relationship with the world and plans its future …in a certain way, a mental cement of social cohesion.” In the conclusions to the seminar, stress was placed on the importance of launching an exhibition on African artistic heritage on the occasion of the third EU-Africa summit to be held in Syrte/Tripoli..

Commissioner Andris Piebalgs co-chaired a High-Level Round Table on Culture and Development during the United Nations Summit on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Culture is increasingly recognised as a fundamental dimension in building development and in constructive relations between people.

The European Union-Africa partnership has also identified cultural cooperation as one of the priority actions to consolidate this important dialogue between the two continents. The campaign, “African Cultural Renaissance”, launched by the African Union for the period 2010-2012 and supported by the European Commission, is one of these actions, and the itinerant exhibition of African artistic practices “Visionary Africa: Art at Work” forms part of this.

“Visionary Africa: Art at Work”, urban and itinerant project in Africa

The exhibition will be presented in three African cities in conjunction with important institutional and cultural events. It starts off in Syrte (Libya) in the form of preview on November 29 at the same time as the Europe-Africa Summit. It will then be staged, in a wooden pavilion designed by the architect David Adjaye, in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), headquarters of the African Union, from January 10-30, 2011, dates which coincide with the festival of Timkat.

The exhibition can be seen from February 19 to March 13, 2011, in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso and one of the focal points of celebration of African culture, with, notably, the pan-African cinema and television festival FESPACO (which for a number of years has been part-financed by the EU). The exhibition will spend three weeks in each city. A broad attendance is therefore expected. 

The aim of this new exhibition is to provide, through the work of African artists, a snapshot of the transformations that have occurred on the African continent during the last half century, as well as put its future development into perspective. The exhibition will be staged in a pavilion designed by David Adjaye and divided into three sections: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.
It will feature some thirty reproductions of works by contemporary African artists from different regions of the continent. Each section will retain its autonomy. At the same time, there will be a continuous interface and dialogue between the three “space/time” modules. Seen from this perspective, the exhibition dovetails perfectly with the philosophy of the “Visionary Africa” festival and represents its natural extension.

The fourth space in the pavilion will be dedicated to video projections of the living arts. Every evening, the public will be invited to share the performances of African artists (musicians, choreographers, film-makers, and actors) committed to and involved in African cultural development. These videos were filmed for the most part during the event “48 hours in Brussels”, which was also a part of the “Visionary Africa” festival.

It is from this perspective that in 2009 the European Commission launched this partnership with the Palais des Beaux Arts (Centre for Fine Arts) in Brussels, which consisted of emphasising and strengthening relations between the cultural centres and museums of Europe and Africa. This ambitious project began with the foundation of a “Visionary Africa” festival. Inaugurated on May 30, 2010, it ran until September 26. The festival will continue in itinerant form in major African capitals in the form of the exhibition of African art practices “Art at Work".

The festival was a vast platform for African culture, bringing together an eclectic programme adapted to all types of audience, uniting exhibitions, debates, concerts, film screenings, performances and shows. Two exhibitions dedicated to the African culture of yesterday and today constituted the high point of the “Visionary Africa” festival.

The ambition of “GEO-Graphics”, which was developed and designed by architect, David Adjaye, with the assistance of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, was to redraw the cultural map of Africa and instigate a visual and narrative dialogue with contemporary art. For its part, the exhibition “A Useful Dream. African Photography 1960-2010”, put together by Simon Njami, celebrated 50 years of African photography and presented some 200 photos taken by contemporary African artists (living or deceased). It also signalled the point of departure for drawing up a long-term vision of the relationship between African art and culture, and its development.

The reflections initiated in Brussels by “Visionary Africa” will thus be extended to the African continent thanks to the itinerant exhibition “Art at Work”. The third EU-Africa summit in Syrte/Tripoli will be the starting point for an essential extension of “Visionary Africa” in Africa. The moment chosen is opportune, for in 2010-2011, 22 African countries are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their independence, an independence which has been closely linked to profound changes in political, economic, social and cultural life. In addition, this it is also the moment when the African Union is rediscovering the importance of culture as a factor for development by launching the campaign “African Cultural Renaissance”.

The commissioners of the “Art at Work” project

1) David Adjaye Artistic Director of the “GEO-Graphics” exhibition
 Joint Commissioner of the “Art at Work” project and designer of the itinerant pavilion
Of Ghanaian origin, David Adjaye was born in 1966 in Dar es Salaam, in Tanzania, where his father was Ambassador of Ghana. At the age of 14, he moved to London, where he still lives. In 1993, he completed a degree in architecture at the Royal College of Art. After work placements in the offices of architects David Chipperfield and Eduardo Souto de Moura, he founded his own offices, Adjaye Architects, in 1994. His rise was rapid. Professionals and specialists welcomed his vision and artistic sensitivity, his ingenious use of materials, and his talent for sculpting and emphasising light.

Versatile and the winner of several prestigious competitions, David Adjaye excelled in architectural projects, design exhibitions, temporary pavilions and private homes in Great Britain and the United States. Artists of global renown called on his talent. He worked with Dane Olafur Eliasson for the light installation “Your Black Horizon” at the Venice Bienniale in 2005.
In 2002, he designed the staging and lighting for Chris Ofili’s exhibition of paintings “The Upper Room”, now on display at the Tate Britain. According to David Adjaye, “architecture must make the world a better place.” The way it influences and shapes daily life is at the centre of his thinking and his work. He also attaches great importance to the public and cultural character of architecture. His design of arts centres and large public buildings, built recently in London, Oslo and Denver, bear witness to the interest he shows in the needs of the community as well as the integration of architecture in the existing local environment. Practising his profession extends into major broadcasting and communication work. David Adjaye regularly develops his theories on the BBC, in the “Dreamspaces” programmes. In June 2005, he presented the television programme “Building Africa: Architecture of a Continent”.

Aware that he is a role model for future generations of architects, he is involved in teaching, giving classes at the University of Princeton and at the Royal College of Art. Currently, David Adjaye leads an Anglo-American team in charge of the building of the Museum of Afro-American History and Culture in Washington, whose objective is to celebrate the contribution of Afro-Americans to American culture. It is scheduled to open in 2015. 

In parallel to his work as an architect, David Adjaye has for some years been researching urban mutation on the African continent. At the end of his travels in all the countries of the continent, some 53, he has gathered together an impressive collection of photographs reflecting the great diversity of the African continent and the dramatic speed of urban growth.
The display of these photographs was a high point of the “GEOGraphics” exhibition.

2) Simon Njami Commissioner of the exhibition “A Useful Dream”Joint Commissioner of the “Art at Work” exhibition

Born in 1962 in Lausanne (Switzerland) to Cameroonian parents, Simon Njami is an author, critic and exhibitions commissioner. After studying law and the arts, he began his professional career in Paris as a journalist, a writer, and then as a visual arts consultant at the Association française d’action artistique (AFAA - French Association of Artistic Initiatives). In 1991, with Jean-Loup Pivin and Pascal Martin Saint Léon he co-founded the excellent cultural journal Revue Noire (of which he is also editor-in-chief). This rapidly asserted itself as a reference work for contemporary African art.

In 1997, the three colleagues organised the “Suites africaines” (African Suites) exhibition in Paris. An enthusiastic public discovered the installations, photographs and sculptures of totally unknown artists. Its success was considerable.

The Revue Noire disappeared in 1999, but Simon Njami carried on his activities as an commissioner of exhibitions and has 20 to his name. In 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007, he was the general commissioner and artistic director of the African Festivals of Photography in Bamakp, the only international event dedicated to contemporary African photography and its diaspora.
In 2007, he designed the African “Check List Luanda Pop” pavilion at the 52nd International Art Bienniale in Venice. A prolific writer, Simon Njami’s works include, among others, Cercueil et Cie (Coffin and Co., Lieu Commun, 1985), Les enfants de la Cité (The Children of the City, Gallimard Jeunesse, 1987), Les Clandestins (The Stowaways, Gallimard Jeunesse, 1989), African Gigolo (Seghers, 1989), La Peur (Fear, Serpent à Plumes, 1990) and James Baldwin ou le devoir de la violence (James Baldwin or the Duty of Violence, Seghers, 1991).

He has also co-edited a number of works, including Anthologie de la photographie africaine (An Anthology of African Photography, 1999) and Anthologie de l’art africain au XXème siècle (An Anthology of 20th Century African Art, 2002). 

One of his principal struggles is to make contemporary African artists visible throughout the world and above all, on the African continent – a struggle that is slowly beginning to bear fruit. One example? Between 2005 and 2007, it proved possible to present his ambitious “Africa Remix” project, of which he was the exhibition curator, in Düsseldorf, London, Paris, Tokyo and also in Johannesburg. Plastic responses of African artists to the questions they have in common were at the heart of the exhibition and were articulated around three themes: history/identity, body/soul and town/earth. 

Given his impressive background, the choice of Simon Njami as the curator of the exhibition “A Useful Dream". African Photography 1960- 2010” was an obvious one. Simon Njami gives voice exclusively to artists of the African continent, living or deceased, some of whom have managed to make a name for themselves, and have become known worldwide.

It is enough to mention Mohammed Dib (who died in 2003), Cornélius Yao Augustt Azaglo (who died in 2000), Malick Sidibé, Sammy Baloji, Dorris Haron Kasco or Aïda Mulunech. In 200 superb images, most of them in black and white, these great photographers provided a panorama of the development of the African continent over the last 50 years.

David Adjaye’s Pavilion structure
The showcase for the “Art at Work” exhibition designed by David Adjaye is a pavilion which is at one and the same time elegant, spacious and ergonomic. The concept is in line with “low technology” and is characterised by its ability to be easily assembled and dismantled. It is a lightweight structure created from panels of wood and surmounted by a roof inspired by a pergola and broken up at regular intervals by wide openings which allow the light to flood in.
The pavilion will integrate perfectly with the African landscape and will function with natural light. A detachable canvas cover is, however, provided for in case of rain. To facilitate movement around the pavilion and fluidity, the pavilion has several entrances. Superbly proportioned, the volume is organised into four spaces.

Three of these will house the new “Art at Work” exhibition, bringing together 30 photographic reproductions from the “GEO-Graphics” exhibition (David Adjaye’s works), and the exhibition “A Useful Dream” (the photographs, selected by the co-organisers, David Adjaye and Simon Njami, will be unveiled at the press conference). 

The display will be organised around three spaces/moments in time (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow), which are separate, but yet linked by permanent dialogue. The decision to present reproductions of the photographs instead of the originals is a choice on the part of the organisers.
This formula fits better with the light structure of the pavilion and its ephemeral character. As there is no power supply, the exhibition will only be available to view during the day. In the evening, video projections created during the “48 Hours in Brussels” event will take over. This event, which took place at the time of the “Visionary Africa” festival, gave a voice to a whole range of African artists engaged in strengthening African civil society through the medium of art. Invited by the Palais des Beaux Arts in the summer of 2010, they were able to visit the Festival’s exhibitions.

In their performances, they provided living testimony of the plural identity of African culture in both the plastic and living arts. Among the artists were, for example, musicians, Pitcho Womba Konga, Rokia Traoré, Angélique Kidjo, Didier Awadi, Papa Wemba and Venancio Mbande, the film-makers Hawa Essuman and Raoul Peck, the choreographer Germaine Acogny, the actor Dieudonné Kabongo and the dancer Serge Aimé Coulibaly.

It will be excerpts of their concerts or shows in Brussels that the public of Tripoli/Syrte, Addis Ababa and Ouagadougou will be able to admire. The part of the programme bringing together the living arts is thus an extra opportunity for the “Visionary Africa” festival to be able to travel. So, the debate continues.

The aim of holding the workshops is to provide yet another occasion to pursue the debate initiated in Brussels. What are the main issues for contemporary art in Africa? How can art influence the development of African countries? During the “Visionary Africa” festival, this aspect of the debate was touched on in the Atlas Room. Images, texts and graphics provided a concrete illustration of the artistic practices and the cultural institutions of Africa before and during the colonial period, as well as after independence. On one wall, a timeline showed the principal documents of African cultural policy at a national and international level (UNESCO, African Union). On the opposite wall was displayed the richness of African culture throughout the centuries. In the two African cities hosting the “Art at Work” exhibition, visitors will be presented with a booklet containing the documents displayed in the Atlas Room. The challenge will be to continue the reflection on the ground. The moderators of the workshops, Simon Njami and David Adjaye, will reach out to people and will have the chance to talk to and debate with the stakeholders – people involved in culture – and to take stock of how the proposals and promises of the different institutions are being followed up and implemented. Each workshop will be an opportunity to gather new knowledge, which will be indispensable for subsequent reflection. It is intended that this project be developed in several African countries in such a way that it covers all areas of the continent. The climax will be the publication of a final and exhaustive document, which will be a precious tool for future work.

Artists’ residencies 
The goal of these is to support a vision of African artists connecting with others on their continent, and to support the creation of works of contemporary African art. A famous contemporary artist coming from another African country will be hosted in each of the participating African cities for a period of three weeks. They will leave behind the fruits of their labour and of their interpretation of the city during this period to enrich the artistic heritage of the city.

The concept:

1) Visionary Africa: a work in progress – by Simon Njami
The goal of this travelling exhibition is to convey, through the work of Africa’s artists, the transformations the Continent has undergone in the past fifty years, and show some of the perspectives which it has been imagined could apply for the next fifty years. In lockstep with the structure designed especially for this travelling project, the show is divided into three conceptual spaces: then, now and tomorrow. Although these are treated as autonomous entities, the exhibition will be constructed in such a way as to allow for constant dialogue between these three space/time capsules. The structure’s open and innovative design, and the contemporary artworks on view, represent the vision of tomorrow, where photography and video play a key role.
The then that planted the seeds for the emergence of this new era is for the most part illustrated by photography, a medium that was crucial in the formation of an independent African identity. Now is represented by David Adjaye’s photographic panorama of Africa’s capitals. The public enter the exhibition space through the now section, which gives onto the two separate but conceptually interconnected spaces. The opening now has a documentary character, and intentionally so: it provides the audience with the interpretive keys to the interplay of points reference, or arguments and counter-arguments, that flow through the show, and which weave Africa’s past, present, and future into an imaginary world.
However, these spaces will not be explicitly characterised as such; these titles exist only conceptually, like the backbones of internal circulation. 

2) Presentation of the structure – by David Adjaye
The structure is organised as a labyrinth with three gallery spaces and has been designed to house reproduced images of contemporary work and photography. It is conceived as a neglected structure in line with the public spaces in African capitals. Structurally it is a portal made of a standard timber frame, with the lower parts (which vary in height from space to space) covered in 18mm WPB plywood on both sides to mount/display the reproductions. The reproductions will be printed onto paper and mounted directly onto the walls. 
The upper part of the pavilion exposes the structure to provide light into the spaces. The pavilion is open to the sky; vertical timbers support the timber ceiling joists which span the width of each section – the direction of the joists vary from section to section. A 7.1m high tower rises in the centre of the structure. It can be used to promote the exhibition either by means of projections or posters. The floor will be raised 200mm from the ground by a series of concealed joists and battens; the finish will also be 18mm WPB plywood. 

Bozar Raka Singh, coordinator Visionary Africa: Art at
Nicola Setari, project director Visionary
Leen Daems, press officer Bozar European Commission
Giorgio Ficcarelli, DG DEV:
Christoph Pelzer, DG EuropeAid:

Press contact
Hélène van den Wildenberg – Cecoforma

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