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