New Art Gallery Provides Rare Insight Into Contemporary African Art
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Tyburn Gallery is a new London-based exhibition space dedicated to international contemporary art. Founded by the former editor of the South African Journal of Human Rights Emma Menell, an engagement with the culture and socio-politics of Africa is at the heart of this new venture. Growing up in South Africa, Menell maintained a passion for art, and this lifelong fascination is evidenced in the works she collects.
Both Menell and her family have been involved in entrepreneurial ventures across Africa which have brought them into contact with artists and collectors across the continent. Menell’s own collection features pieces by Robert Hodgins, Moffat Takadiwa, William Kentridge, Guy Tillim and other emerging South African artists. She founded Tyburn Gallery to represent, support and exhibit the work of some of Africa’s most exciting new artists.
The gallery’s inaugural show is Broken English, running from 18 September until 28 October 2015. Curated by Kim Stern, a curator based in Cape Town, the show presents the work of a group of international artists including Stephen Allwright, Joël Andrianomearisoa, Bridget Baker, Eduardo Berliner, Edson Chagas, Dan Halter, Mouna Karray, Yashua Klos, Ibrahim Mahama, Michele Mathison, Mohau Modisakeng, Lakin Ogunbanwo, Athi-Patra Ruga, Rowan Smith and Moffat Takadiwa.
Broken English analyses the categorisation of culture and identity in the millennial world in which continents are connected through social media rather than human contact. Many of the artists live between multiple cities, including Antananarivo, Cape Town, Harare, Johannesburg, Lisbon, London, New York, Paris, São Paulo and Tamale. Their work critiques the relevance of national identity in this globalised social climate. We spoke with the gallery founder Emma Menell to find out how her dynamic career trajectory, and a fascination with the arts, led her to this new venture.
How would you describe Tyburn Gallery?
Tyburn is a gallery dedicated to contemporary art, working with artists from a global range of evolving art scenes, with Africa as a point of departure. Many of our artists are relatively young in terms of age but have already achieved a lot in their artistic practice. The curatorial programme over the next year will reflect the current focus on international artists linked to Africa, through innovative solo exhibitions by Moffat Takadiwa, Michele Mathison, Mouna Karray and Bridget Baker.
Why did you decide to open the gallery in London and why now?
I am South African but have been living the UK for some time now. I’ve always been impressed with London’s highly developed art infrastructure and the rich cultural landscape here. A location in the city provides a strong international platform to present our artists, many of whom are already becoming increasingly visible in the institutional circuits of museums and biennales around the world (Edson Chagas won the Golden Lion for the Angolan pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2013; Ibrahim Mahama, Athi-Patra Ruga and Mohau Modisakeng all have works in the current Biennale; and Bridget Baker and Athi-Patra Ruga were part of Tate’s South African Artists On Screen series this summer). The gallery offers an ideal location for curators and collectors from around the world to view their works.
|Athi-Patra Ruga, Proposed Model of the New Azanian, 2014, Wool, thread and artificial flowers on tapestry, Copyright Athi-Patra Ruga, Courtesy Tyburn Gallery|
What’s the aim of the gallery?
Our core values are aligned to be artist-centric and we want to help give artists the support they need on all aspects of their activities across exhibitions, catalogues and archives. We are commissioning several new works for our opening exhibition and want to continue to commission work for solo shows to support exhibition production. We hope our artists will continue to be included in important international exhibitions, create work that is discussed critically and gain global recognition. We now increasingly see artists from Africa presented alongside the work of their international peers and this is something the gallery will support and promote.
Why is Africa your point of focus for this new space?
I grew up in South Africa and I have been passionate about art all of my life. My own experience of artists in Africa led to my wanting to help promote a deeper, critical understanding of these artists’ work internationally. Their quality of work is exceptionally high and it’s where our area of expertise lies. As the gallery organically grows and expands in the future, this focus may evolve. In my view the art scene across the continent is vibrant and dynamic. We are very excited about Angola and other parts of West Africa, such as Ghana. We are working with significant artists from countries across Africa such as Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Tunisia and also the wider diaspora which are all part of an evolving and very exciting art scene.
|Rowan Smith, Untitled (Burn), 2012, Digital Print, Copyright Rowan Smith, Courtesy Tyburn Gallery.|
How did you go about selecting, curating and putting together the artists for your inaugural show?
Broken English gives a good overview of many of the artists we will be working with in the future. Alongside our Curatorial Advisor Kim Stern, we have selected artists that all have a unique voice and a perceptible individualism within their work. The artists presented work across different mediums and styles, but they all create work that is conceptually rich and layered with multi-cultural narratives, often exploring social, political and economic concerns. I have always been very drawn to photography, and there are several artists in the show whose practice is based around photographically documented performance; often with the artist placed centre stage.
Which pieces are you excited about and why?
We are presenting a sculptural installation by Moffat Takadiwa made from found objects. Part of the post-independence generation of artists in Zimbabwe, his work speaks of the cultural dominance exercised by the consumption of foreign products across Africa. Mouna Karray’s black and white self-portrait series Noir is striking yet subtle. Inspired by a live chicken in a plastic bag being carried by man on a bus in Tunisia, she wrapped herself in a white sheet with only her hand visible to release the shutter. The work is a metaphor for imprisonment, but her act demonstrates the power we still have to act under duress.
|Mouna Karray, Noir#4, 2013, inkjet print on baryta paper, Copyright the Artist, Courtesy Tyburn Gallery|
How has your experience editing the South African Journal of Human Rights affected your approach to this new venture?
Artists necessarily reflect upon the environments from which they arise. I am particularly interested in the political and socio economic developments and challenges across Africa and how artists relate to and articulate these issues within their work.
|Mouna Karray, Noir#7, 2013, inkjet print on baryta paper, Copyright the Artist, Courtesy Tyburn Gallery|
|Mouna Karray, Noir#8, 2013, inkjet print on baryta paper, Copyright the Artist, Courtesy Tyburn Gallery|
How has the art world in Africa changed over the last ten years?
The curatorial rewiring of contemporary African art on a global scale has been happening since the 90s. Artists from the continent are increasingly seeing interest from museums as well as biennales and festivals like Documenta and the Venice Biennale which has brought them to greater public prominence. This has been a gradual process and one I believe will be sustained rather than a trend. The world seems extremely receptive to African artists and I can see why when you look at the calibre of some of the work being produced. There are some very intelligent international curators around have played key roles in this such as Okwui Enwezor, Elvira Dyangani Ose and Gabi Ngcobo to name a few.
Broken English at Tyburn Gallery runs from 18 September – 28 October 2015.
Tyburn Gallery, St Christopher’s Place, London WIU 1BG.