Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Diaspora Dialogue @ UMUC Gallery, Maryland

This past Sunday, Diaspora Dialogue: The Art of Kwabena Ampofo-Anti, Alexander "Skunder" Boghossian, and Victor Ekpuk opened at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC), in the Washington DC area. For me, it was an eye-opener because it was the first time I was seeing so many works--21 in total--by Skunder Boghossian, easily one of the most influential modern African artists of the 20th century; from his Union (1966) through some key works from the 1970s, to his late work, including the very important The Cross Roads (1992-97). The exhibition is, in a way, like mini-retrospectives of the three artists--which is great because it makes the large format, delightfully illustrated catalogue (no comment on my introductory text!) is an important resource for anyone interested in including any of the artists in their course offerings.


                                          Art historians: Amanda Carlson, Shannen Hill and Ugochukwu Smooth Nzewi
Art Historian Janine Sytma (left) 

Writer/blogger Ikhide Ikheloa, Nzewi and art historian Peju Layiwola

Victor Ekpuk in black (center)

Skunder Boghossian, DMZ, 1973

Kwabena Ampofo-Anti, Sumanguru Atenteben (2004) (left); Mamafrika  (2008) (right)
The ceramic sculptures of Ampofo-Anti (who is a nephew of that Ghanaian pioneer modernist Dr. Oku Ampofo) was a great revelation for me. I cannot remember the last time (if ever!) I saw ceramic sculpture in such monumental scale. Although they clearly bear marks of ancient and traditional African architectural--especially Sudanic adobe--inspiration, they also seem like futuristic, actually apocalyptic, structures. Order and chaos, stasis and dynamism, strength and fragility all press against the flat, angular surfaces of these towering structures. 

Ampofo-Anti, Omo Mondawmin II (2004) (left); Odurugya (2008) (right)

Audience at the opening artists' panel discussion. 

Victor Ekpuk, Head I (2006)
It was of course wonderful to see Ekpuk's work of the past twenty years, beginning from early painting Fish Market (1994), through the dramatic Three Wise Men (1996) and the recent pastel drawing, the I AM series (2012), consisting of simple, playfully rendered heads. Though I had seen Three Wise Men many years back in Lagos, seeing the work now I could not but appreciate more than ever before the artist's remarkable achievement with a graphic notation system he developed from nsibidi, the occult script associated with the once-powerful and still-secret Ekpe society of Southeastern Nigeria. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Re-writing history of MoMA, NY and African Artists

It is often that one watches with despair as fiction becomes history, which is then perpetuated because some "authority" said so. I was reading a published statement recently by someone (it is not important that I name the person) who is considered knowledgeable on modern and contemporary African art to the effect that the Ethiopian artist Skunder Boghossian (1937-2003) was the first modern African artist whose work was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA). I was surprised by this, since I thought I knew a bit about this subject, having seen the Museum's acquisition records. So I went to Wikipedia--everyman's go-to encyclopedia--and behold the same statement is repeated there, but this time with a reference to the obituary written by the venerable Holland Cotter of the New York Times. The thing though is that this claim is, as far as I know, factually incorrect. Two paintings by the Zimbabwean sculptor/painter Thomas Mukarobgwa and and one sculpture by his compatriot John Ndandarika were gifted to the Museum in 1963 and included in a February 1965 MoMA exhibition of new acquisitions. Someone might say, aha, Mukarobgwa and Ndandarika works were gifted not purchased by the Museum! But guess what, the Sudanese artist Ibrahim El Salahi's painting The Mosque (1964), was purchased by MoMA in early 1965; and he even had a show the Museum that same year.
And when did the MoMA purchase Skunder Boghossian's 1964 painting Juju' Wedding?  In early 1966. As far as I know that was his first work to enter the MoMA collection.

Thankfully, it is easy to correct errors in Wikipedia. But not in the New York Times.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Anatsui Public Conversation @ Brooklyn Museum: Photos

Last Sunday (Feb., 10) at the Brooklyn Museum, El Anatsui engaged in a public conversation with Susan Vogel, the founding director of the Museum for African Art (NY) and author of the recently released monograph El Anatsui: Art and Life (Prestel, 2012); and with Kevin Dumouchelle, the Museum's Associate Curator of the Arts of Africa and the Pacific Islands. This program was part of the opening events for the big show of El's work Gravity and Grace: Monumental Works by El Anatsui at the Museum.This exhibition, possibly the artists biggest museum show so far in the United States, was originally organized by the Akron Art Museum

Vogel, Anatsui and Dumouchelle on stage after the talk

Joint book signing

Vogel and Anatsui with Nigerian writer and scholar Teju Cole

Columbia University professor Zoe Strother

All attention on my camera!

Anatsui with NY glass sculptor  Eric Rubinstein

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Assassination of Lumumba

What has changed in the world since this tragic event? Each time I read about or watch this story, it is hard not to be cynical about any claims by the US, not to mention the Europeans, as forces for good in Africa, even today.