Sunday, November 18, 2007

"Africa Remix" and the Hunger for Contemporary Art

The tremendous response and reception of Simon Njami's touring show, Africa Remix at the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG) where it showed between June and October says a lot about the inavailability of important contemporary African art exhibitions on the African continent. With more than a hundred thousand visitors, several media reports/reviews, and many critical reflections on the show by South African commentators, the show indeed attained a truly blockbuster status in South Africa. Given that none of the previous shows of comparable significance, including Africa Explores (1991), Seven Stories (1995), The Short Century (2001) never made it to the continent, Africa Remix is a landmark show simply because having originated in Europe, it succeeded in showcasing the work of contemporary African artists to an African spectatorship and audience who usually encounter (that is if at all) the work of artists inside and outside the continent only through media reports, published sources, and hearsay. Except you lived in Dakar whose Biennale is a different kind of event anyway. Having been involved in two of these shows, I know that it is problem has a lot to do with the absence of infrastructural and financial resources inside Africa (JAG spent at least $450,000 to host Africa Remix) on the one hand and hard commitment and vision on the part of officials in the abysmally few institutions in the continent that can actually host important contemporary art shows (Nigeria has no space for such exhibitions but now wants to build some stupid, half-billion dollar Millennium Tower for culture--see previous post on this--instead) . This is why I must use this space to express my eternal gratitude to Clive Kellner, the curator of the JAG and Steven Sacks, the Director, for mustering the resources to successfully bring Africa Remix to South Africa and publish the JAG's outstanding version of the exhibition catalogue. This is hoping that this precedent will be sustained at the JAG, and that institutions in other parts of Africa will see this as a challenge, as it is impossible to overstate the case for direct encounter and experience of the work of significant contemporary artists by "home-based" critics, scholars, curators and, perhaps most important, practising artists most of whom are unable to travel to see art from beyond the confines of their places of residence.

Congratulations Clive and the JAG!; congratulations to Simon and his curatorial team!

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