Wednesday, 25 September 2013

40 Twists - Exhibition Curator Sheila Black - Kampala 2013


Why does the artist do this? Cover herself in primitive the artist is in Uganda. So close to nature are the Bugandans and those found in the capital, Kampala. Have they all lost their way? Given up trying....leaving those running to be more like the Europeans well alone, and instead bathing in pools of mud like elephants in salt marshes. Look how the artist plays, like a child in a sandpit. See how happy she is being backward, primitive and honest. Watch her gleeful smiles that encourage the viewers to giggle, courting our attention with her native loveliness. Is the artist wanting to be exotic? I don't think so. Not for one moment as this is well orchestrated art, with an attention to the details. It is constructed with intent and full of positive meaning; some may say we are witnesses to a moment of deconstruction and a going backwards, desperately trying to understanding the past and all that has gone before. A returning to the earth and a break from all protocols, in order to reconstruct the way in which Modern Ugandan art is seen and appreciated. Firstly, at home with those inside the country finding affinities to the work, in order to export out to the wider world, with the approval of the Ugandans over and above all else. These works are the language of African artists and this work is bold, it is Afropunk that makes punk look so last-century. There is an edginess to the images. To the rawness of the ground walked upon by modern Ugandans, a place where all the tarmac has run off and left the country. Where roadworks begin and end too early. Nothing is finished, all is a work in progress.

What is this work about and why is of any significance? Let me try and communicate this as clearly as possible. This is the best show on earth. This is a landmark exhibition of black African art. It is so forward thinking it should be shown in years to come. Together, we are standing at the edge of an exciting and novel journey into Art. How shows should be constructed is under discussion and the theory so far, is that they should be created with tenderness, that gently guides the audience through the shows. Each show clearly expressing an overall thought-process of the artist and developing a sense of constructive joined-up thinking. The journey begins at the beginning and we are the observers of a new dawn coming from Guerilla Artists from Uganda. A wave of thinking that may well sweep you off your feet, like a wind sculpture - each show created by this group at @rtpunch Studio are playfully developed and this is intentional to give a sense of inclusion rather than exclusion. To wash away the past and welcome in the future. This sense of artistic generosity is highly infectious. The BA artists are fully aware that contemporary art is not commonplace in Ugandan society. It is yet to be fully appreciated or understood but this milestone exhibition breaks the mould and gives modern Uganda a sense of importance and value.

The background to this story begins with the arts and crafts on the streets of Kampala. The basket-weavers and the paper-twisters are those that are amongst the lowest class of Ugandan society, the ill-educated underclass, whose beautiful and talented works are often overlooked and ignored as trash. This is a best place for our journey to begin...

What is important to note is that this Exhibiton takes place in the @rtpunch Studios themselves in the capital, Kampala. The doors to Modern Ugandan Art have been flung wide-open to a fresh audience. A much younger, proactive group of individuals. The upwardly mobile in Uganda. The thinking classes of the country and those that want to empower themselves with an interest in the development of culture from within. This show was solely funded by the pioneer, Wasswa Donald, the artists that spearheaded the @rtpunch Studios over a decade ago. The group have been irritated by being at the mercy of external support and often denied access to funding. Incensed by the comments made by David Adjaye and Simon Njami last year, expressing their opinions that the country was visually not ready to be seen Internationally. The group was so outraged by these bizarre judgements by complete strangers that, that became the challenge: To create a series of shows worthy of export. The group have worked exceedingly hard to push their artistic ideas forward, especially in regards to the ways in which, they want to world to see them, their country and their works of Art. Previously, shows have been exhibited only to the elite, in the Country Clubs or at the European Institutions. These external aspects of Africa, although with good intent, have had a stranglehold over the intellectual Africans for generations. They have been the Patrons of African Culture and quietly cherry-picking acceptable artists to show.

This exhibition marks a sea-change in that thinking. It intelligently interacts with all aspects of Ugandan identity and proudly displays artworks, which reflect the tapestries-makers, paper-twisters and weaves, placing them all under a different light. Magnifying their importance and empathises these distinct elements that make up the National identity. This is a very important contemporary show, that defines the Nation in an open and expressive manner. It heralds in a modern innovative direction. A guide to an original cultural development of Africa and acts as a blueprint for other Nations to follow.

This is the first of it's kind and with the advancement in Social Networking and Social Media delivering important shows from the capitals of African Nations and also exposing to the wider world has never been easier.

Sheila is a "National Treasure" and this show should be regarded as a celebration of Cultural

Independence throughout the Continent. It would be a shame to break it up into pieces and have it ignored, silenced, if not censored by Collectors and art-lovers. This is a show of such integrity it should be shown international to encourage inspiration to artists within the Continent. "40 Twists" defines the role of the artist and outlines what is needed in shaping Africa's own cultural development. Hopefully, this show will encourage Museums that focus on Africa today, to take a much closer look in what is shaping up on the Continent itself. This beacon of an Exhibition, "40 Twists" by Sheila Black was housed in the art studios in Kampala and viewed by the world; it is arguably one of the best shows on earth.

Author: Joe Pollitt

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga at the October Gallery, London.

Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga, Mũgogo – The Crossing, 2012. Recycled cans, stainless steel wire, galvanized steel wire and paper, 178 x 127 cm. Photo Lee Bennack.

Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga, Folklorico III, 2010.
Stainless steel wire and fabric, 94 x 76 x 61 cm.
Photo Lee Bennack.

Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga, Magetha ma Mwere - The Small Harvest, 2010.Stainless steel wire, woven kiondo basket strips and texas mountain laurel tree seeds, 213 x 91 cm.
Photo Lee Bennack.

Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga:


October Gallery is pleased to present a new exhibition of works by Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga. This will be her first solo exhibition in London.
Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga (b.1960), grew up among the Kikuyu people of Kenya. She first studied Art and Design at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, before continuing her studies at UCLA, USA. She now lives and works in San Antonio, Texas. Gakunga has displayed works in numerous exhibitions in the USA, France, Brazil and Poland.
The exhibited works are predominantly wall-hanging sculptures ingeniously created from tin cans, steel wire and oxidised sheet metal forms. While the techniques Gakunga uses are common to the fibre arts across many traditions, her chosen materials are not. Corroded sheet metal, rusted tin cans and stainless steel wire all follow the concept ofJua Kali, a Swahili expression literally meaning ‘under the hot sun’ that refers to the idea of chance effects created out of things which have been discarded. Here, nothing goes to waste and waste materials become the medium for a wholly new focus of attention. This perceptive approach to repurposing discarded objects is, today, a highly-developed stratagem often employed by contemporary African artists.
Galvanised sheet metal, known in Swahili as mabati, is ubiquitous in Kenya. Used mainly for roofing materials and walls, this sheet metal is particularly associated with theMabati Women Groups and their empowering community housing projects of the ‘60s. Gakunga observed the success of their efforts, the harvesting of water from the new roofs and the consequent ageing of the material itself. Mirroring these weathering effects in her own artistic process, she deliberately saturates rolls of sheet metal in water, a process that oxidises the submerged surfaces, occasionally adding dyes to create different colours and other more complex effects. Finally, Gakunga selects, cuts and links the resultant pieces to assemble her wall-hangings. These striking sculptures reflect, at one and the same time, both the mabati’s enduring functionality and its fragility; the delicate transformations etched in metal by the corrosive effects of water, chance and time emphasising an ethereal, transient beauty.

Another significant material found in these works is fibre or string. Gakunga’s grandmother was a major influence on her, as the traditional Kikuyu women would weave baskets from fibre extracted from the makongo plant. Gakunga continues to use string and ribbons as primary materials within her work, acknowledging the contemporary in her usage of fine grade metal wires used to sew and crochet her works into organic wholes. Creating pieces that mimic the swaying movements of dancers’ dresses and that exude a light, airy quality, Gakunga notes, ‘String is entwined in the life of a Kikuyu woman, from the moment she is born until she departs.’
This delicate body of work pays tribute to these succeeding generations of women. Gakunga’s choice of materials and the processes of stitching, crocheting and weaving proudly maintain traditions which are here transformed into the field of contemporary art. Using these various metaphors to acknowledge her heritage, Gakunga’s sculptures explore the connections between the past and the present, between tradition and modernity and between the older generations and their contemporary descendants. The effect is both playful and provocative. It is also quite positively transformative.

Guest Projects

Following the success of the Royal Opera House Africa Weekend curated by Yinka Shonibare MBE, Guest Projects has launched Guest Projects Africa.
Showcasing cutting edge African Art forms, Guest Projects Africa creates a platform for African artists of all disciplines including spoken word, dance, fashion, architecture, visual arts, and more.

Re-introducing Oshun
October 7-17 2013
Re-Introducing Oshun, is an interdisciplinary project using photography, film, prose and objects to re-discover black women’s bodies as sacred places of intimacy, sensuality and beauty.
Oshun is a West African Orisha from the Yoruba faith and culture whose role concerns, intimacy, beauty and diplomacy. We will be bringing this deity to life, through the approach of ‘visual rhetoric.’ The intention is for us to have the power, control and ownership to create our own representation.
We are a collective consisting of four female artists from the African Diaspora, led by -
Janine Francois, Creative Producer/Director
Stella Odunlami, Curator
Zainab Adamu, Photographer/Filmmaker
Belinda Zhawi, Writer and Griot. 

Skoto Gallery | New York

Oche Onodu (Couch), 2012, plastic bags, bottles, metal, cans, wood, yarn, 68"x27"x128"
Ifeoma Anyaeji
September 26th - November 2nd, 2013
Skoto Gallery is pleased to present Transmogrification, an exhibition of recent mixed media sculpture by the Nigerian-born artist Ifeoma Anyaeji. This will be her first solo show at the gallery. The artist will be present at the reception on Thursday, September 26th, 6-8pm.
Ifeoma Anyaeji’s recent sculpture employs a virtuosic ability to create elegant forms drawn from architecture and domestic furniture design through the reconstruction of found objects such as the ubiquitous plastic bags and bottles. She utilizes a process that is physically and conceptually steeped in memory, history and the passage of time to create work that radically put into question conventional notions of what sculpture is. Using hair plaiting technique known as Threading from her homeland, she threads and braids discarded plastic bags into plasto-yarns which she combines with strong compositional organization to create complex yet lyrical assemblages of everyday objects that reflect subtle understanding of context and awareness of the relationship between function and experimentation. There is an abiding urge in her work to highlight the relevance of social responsibility to the environment in today’s hyper-consumer society as she engages with the cyclical nature of production, accumulation and regeneration in the creative process, and as stated by the artist “My concept of material reuse through the transformation of an object’s physical state, is to echo the environmental implication of accumulation and the extensiveness of a politicized archeology of modernity’s consumptive system”..
By imbuing mundane materials, marks and processes with surprising significance and intricate design, her work is transformed into extraordinary visual poetry with textures of vibrations and pulsations that allow the viewer a freedom of imagination, interpretation and emotional response. Her use of obsessive repetition shows affinities with the concerns of African traditional textile weaving and hair braiding techniques, and seeks to resurrect gender-categorized craft and decorative art as viable means of artistic expression, as well as ts political and subversive potential. Included in this exhibition is Oche Onodu (Couch), 2012, a joyous mixed-media installation that meanders and infiltrates the architecture of spaces, as it implores us to question our everyday experiences in both a physical and mental sense. She inventively combines her materials to form bold abstract composition that evinces persistent experimentation and a mastery of technique that goes beyond accepted boundaries of the medium. Allusions and metaphors abound as she weaves together personal and collective memories with reflections on universal experiences that celebrates openness to the world and to diversity. Although its visual impact is greatest from far away, a closer look offers a rewarding experience and palpable sensations evocative of the expansive possibilities of life and art.
Ifeoma Anyaeji was born 1981 in Benin City, and hails from Anambra State in the south eastern part of Nigeria. She obtained an undergraduate degree, with honors from the University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria in 2005 before traveling to the US in 2010 as a Ford Foundation International Fellow where she obtained her MFA in 2012 at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, Washington University, St Louis, Missouri. She has participated in several solos and group exhibitions both at home and abroad, including ‘Reclamation’, University of Missouri, Columbia in 2012. She was the Washington University in St Louis Nominee for the 2012 International Sculpture Center Outstanding Student Achievement Award. Her work  is in several collections in Africa, Europe and the US. She currently teaches at the University of Benin, Nigeria.
Artist Profile
Ifeoma Ugonnwa Anyaeji is a Nigerian-based artist, born in 1981. While art was a great passion it wasn't her first choice of 'profession' as it didn't seem a sensible choice. Studying art at undergraduate level was still not a guarantee that she would end up becoming a full time art practitioner, because she already had a degree in another field. However, growing up in a society fueled by the dualities of excess and repression; a country in the grip of national schizophrenia from which it has seldom emerged and where art was yet to be accepted as a “decent” career, she decided to take art as a full career and explore her boundaries, as a female artist, beyond her undergraduate training.
Three years ago, she decided to pursue her academic studies. Her research interest in repurposing discarded plastic bags (pure water sachet) earned her the prestigious Ford Foundation Fellowship award, and an opportunity to study for a Masters in Fine Arts degree program at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. This period of dislocation and unwitting wrench from the familiar gave her more confidence to explore other mediums, including her new found medium - plastic bags, which she had developed in Nigeria, and express truths which had laid recognized but unclaimed within her. As a woman, she had always wanted to sculpt but found traditional materials both strenuous and unwieldy. She transferred her crocheting skills, her experience of traditional hair plaiting techniques and passion about up-cycling to her new medium, and developed a form of sculpture she calls Plasto-art. Here she found she could manipulate these materials to create dynamic, and mobile sculptures which were also comparatively light, easy to move, assemble and dissemble. In her words, “ my sculptures are highly conceptual and in making forms which reference household furniture and architectural structures I draw from traditional crafts, techniques and processes particularly those which may seem out of fashion. I love to up-cycle ideas and materials, challenging the peculiarities of transforming these materials. There is a social-cultural meaning offered by my sculptures, not just aesthetics”.
With her new process of making, Ifeoma aims to re-define a gender-categorized craft into a new order of contemporary gender & race defying art. Through these sculptures she clearly expresses her disproval at a myriad number of issues including excessive accumulation of non-biodegradable domestic materials with little or no regards for the environment. While her sculptures are bold and assertive, in contrast, her paintings are delicate, gentle, fine works observing the fragility of humanity and beauty of the human race. These paintings, while they have organically metamorphosed to include found objects, remain supremely and unashamedly feminine.
Ifeoma has had several solos and group exhibitions both in Nigeria and international, including ‘Reclamation’ in University of Missouri in Columbia in 2012 and 'Here & Now' in New jersey in 2010. She currently teaches at the University of Benin, where she gained her first degree, in painting.
Artist Statement
My works are about up-cycling and material reuse, in review of our cultural attitude to the concept of product newness, value and expiration date, as well as social responsibility to the environment. In creating these works I reflect on the cultural prescription of value and value systems, particularly from my home country Nigeria. My concept of material reuse through the transformation of an object’s physical state, is to echo the environmental implication of accumulation and the extensiveness of a politicized archeology of modernity’s consumptive system. The discarded plastic bags and bottles, two common environmental pollutants, are the main media with which I visually express the narrative of a domestic object’s possible transition from the discarded to the aesthetic or functional. This I conceive by creating a complexity of sculptural forms that allow for multiple interpretations of the functionality of an object after it has been consumed. I envisage a multiplicity of uses while retaining the physical state of the discarded object. As an artist I am constantly intrigued by craft processes. Therefore, my work incorporates the processes of a communal hair plaiting technique from my home country, Nigeria, called Threading. Using this hair craft technique, otherwise termed “old fashioned”, I am able to extend the functionality of these discarded plastic bags and bottles beyond covers and packaging. I beautifully transmogrify their physical appearance by braiding the bags into Plasto-yarns, using these to create objects that reference architectural forms and domestic furniture. My repetitive process of Threading and choice of medium are
reminiscent of the domestic lifestyle and accumulative nature of the average consumer. The works, which sometimes are displayed as installations, are conceptual and appear organic; presenting non-biodegradable medium, like plastic (Polyethylene) bags and bottles, as otherwise.
Some thoughts on Ifeoma's Anyaeji's work:
"Working primarily with the ubiquitous plastic grocery bag, emblematic in its reference to both consumption and waste, Ifeoma Anyaeji’s weaves dense, sculptural tapestries that reclaim both material and process. Using a Nigerian hair braiding technique to coil the bags, they are bound together using artisan practices of basketry and textile weaving--low-tech, manual practices that are often communal in nature. Colors from the bags’ industry branding and marketing logos are bound and partitioned to create undulating patterns and waves of thick materiality. Dizzying in their congested space, at times the patterns read as aerial views of smog-filled manufacturing sites, the wrapped and coiled plastic milk jugs creating multiple smokestacks of varying heights, each embedded in a swirling landscape of commercial activity. The circular patterns then shift, simultaneously becoming ephemeral, dreamlike scapes of water, clouds, and natural formations. In this, the pieces point to both problem and solution, reflecting attitudes of both indignation and hope.
Cheryl Wassenaar, 2012
Associate Professor of Art,
Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.