Monthly Archives: March 2012

Video of the Week: After Hot-En-Tot: Two conversations with Artist Renée Cox

Following on from the popularity of an earlier post – If you don’t ask, you don’t get, and then you get kicked to the curb – focusing on the work of Renée Cox this week’s video feature includes two clips, each containing an interview with artist Renée Cox recorded at the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art on 22 October 2009. The first is a conversation with an audience led by former Spelman Cosby chair Lisa E. Farrington, Ph.D., John Jay College, CUNY. The second is a one-on-one conversation that appears to have been filmed on the same day inside the Museum’s gallery space.

Each clip presents Cox ruminating on themes and driving forces behind her work including Race, Gender, Womanhood, Representation and Femininity. There are some overlaps in the conversation of each clip but also some interesting divergences.

The first conversation is pinned around specific works of Cox’s. It takes as its starting point the motivation for Cox’s work Hot-en-tot (1994) based on research she conducted which led her to find out about the “extraordinarily shocking histories” of human exhibition. Cox’s photographic work Hot-en-tot is inspired by the life and experiences of a Khosian woman, Saartje Baartman, who was objectified as a physiognomic curiosity and exhibited in Europe in the 19th century, as the ‘Hottentot Venus’. In Cox’s nude self-portrait her breasts and buttocks are covered with oversized prosthetic versions found for sale in a fancy dress shop. Cox discusses the power of the objectifying gaze and the importance for her in this, and other works, of revising history and creating a space to defy and return that gaze. Through revisiting Baartman’s body and the exploitative narrative that surrounded it – which became a potent symbol projected outwards onto the black female body as an abstract idea – Cox recreates, revises, and represents: A process that she employs through(out) her body (of work).

The second clip offers a more intimate and provocative discussion with Cox. She talks about the resonance of her work Queen Nanny of the Maroons (2004) which appeared in the exhibition Afro Modern: Journeys through the Black Atlantic at Tate Liverpool in 2010.  Generally though, this conversation explores more broadly the social issues that “inspire and impact” her work as a whole. Here Cox discusses specific issues surrounding: education and intergration in the contemporary context of the United States and; the comparative importance of race and skin tone as identity in Jamaica and the United States. Cox encapsulates her bold and assured approach to creating as she winds up the interview stating: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get, and then you get kicked to the curb.”

To read more about Cox’s work click here.

To view Renée Cox’s website click here

Click here to view some images of Cox’s work online via tumblr.

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3rd Edition of Journal: SAVVY | art.contemporary.african.

Out Now: 3rd Edition of SAVVY Journal for Critical Texts on Contemporary African Art

SAVVY | art.contemporary.african. (ISSN 2191-4362)

Title: Art and politics – An inseparable couple? The fire behind the smoke called political art. 

Talking about politics and Africa is always crackling. Talking about politics and art is always a guarantee for a hot debate. Then of course talking about art, politics and Africa is a recipe for an electrifying discourse. An objective and constructive critique without pledging any predetermined allegiance to a specific school of thought is an important ingredient in this recipe.

What is for certain is, arts and politics are not of different planets. They share the same playground, they are not antagonistic but complementary to each other and usually co-exist in a symbiotic relationship… and that was evident in many of the texts we received. Surprisingly, we received no article claiming the independence of art from politics or propagating „l’art pour l’art“. Is art for art sake a blunt imagination or is it just not an African issue? Art is known to be able to reflect, in one way or the other – consciously or unconsciously, the socio-political, physical or psychological context in which an artist finds him-/herself. Art and the so-called „Schaffensdrang“ have to do with a need to create, and often this need stems from a reaction to one’s immediate or extended surrounding.

The authors in this edition tackled the issue from diverse perspectives, ranging from the economics of politics to humour as a tool for political expression. While Emeka Okereke contemplates the usage of the terminology „Contemporary African Art“, Kangsen Wakai investigates the myth of the trans-atlantic Afro-Diasporic constellation Otabenga Jones and Associates, Sebastian Weier ironises in his reflection on African art as a class struggle and the poet Ezeiyoke Chukwunonso gives a philosophical background to arts and politics. This edition also features enquiries into the works of Moridja Kitenge Banza, Robin Rhode, Steve Bandoma, Uche Okeke and Guy Woueté’s politico-economic quest. Apart from interviews with designer Serge Mouangue and photographer Dimitri Fagbohoun you can also read reviews on exhibitions by David Goldblatt, Leo Asemota, Jürgen Schadeberg, Temitayo Ogunbiyi and many more.

Even though socio-political issues play a vital role in Contemporary African Art it would be an enormous mistake for any one to limit Contemporary African Art to political and social frames, thus neglecting the profound aesthetic value, twist of irony and emotionality many do possess.

SAVVY Online Journal offers a limited print version for collectors (50 copies) – acquirable for 50€/journal.

The bike is in your court, ride it!

Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung (PhD) | Editor-in-chief

Andrea Heister (M.A.) | Deputy editor-in-chief

Contributors: Kangsen Feka Wakai, Emeka Okereke, Sebastian Weier, Ezeiyoke Chukwononso, Fenneken Veldkamp, Bhavisha Panchia, Salvatore Falci, Patrick Tankama, Guy Woueté, Moyo Okediji, Prune Helfter, Yves Chatap, M. Neelika Jayawardane, Simon Raven, Dietrich Heißenbüttel, Daniele G. Daude | Nina Wichmann (proofreading) | Johanna Ndikung, Ioana Muntenescu, Ekpenyong Ani (translation)

Graphic Design – Guy Dollman | Web Design – Alice Motanga

Acknowledgements: Marc-André Schmachtel, Nina Tsonkidou and Clara Giacalone

Support: Goethe Institute Lagos

Video: Stuart Hall On the Limits and Possibilities of Cosmopolitanism

This week’s video is an interview with Stuart Hall on the subject of Cosmopolitanism. Conducted by Pnina Werbner in March 2006, this interview is part of a series of video Interviews with Leading Thinkers undertaken by researchers at the University of Cambridge, now digitized and available online.

In this 40 minute video Pnina Werbner asks Stuart Hall to talk through his understanding of the place cosmopolitanism has: as a discursive concept and; in its applications to the contemporary world. Distinguishing between a cosmopolitanism of the above and the forced or obligatory cosmopolitanism of the below – which he terms ‘vernacular cosmopolitanism’ – Hall considers the connections between cosmopolitanism and: diaspora, universality, liberalism, identity and globalization.

A particularly interesting conversation ensues as Werbner asks Hall to focus on his personal relationship to and experience of cosmopolitanism. This leads Hall to consider understandings, realisations and possibilities of the concept across time and space: in Caribbean, African, European and Middle Eastern contexts of the past, present and future.

To view other videos in the Interviews with Leading Thinkers series click here.

Video of the Week: Haitian Master Artists

This week’s videos wing their way to you from Gail Pellett Productions. These short 5 minute and under ‘mini-docs’ accompanied the exhibition ‘Haitian Art’ held at the Brooklyn Museum in 1978. Curated by Ute Stebich this exhibition was a landmark in the U.S. both in terms of its focus – as a major exhibition – on Haitian Art and its use of video within the gallery spaces.

Click the image links below to access five short videos: 1 introductory overview and 4 surviving videos out of 13 which each contain an interview with individual Haitian artists:

Haitian Art

“In 1978  the Brooklyn Museum mounted the first major exhibit of Haitian art in the U.S. — which later traveled to several other cities… Ute Stebich, the curator of this major exhibit, convinced the Brooklyn Museum to send a videographer  to travel around Haiti, shoot interviews with the artists and capture something of the world that inspired their work … the resulting mini documentaries produced were shown on monitors throughout the galleries — a controversial sensation at that time.”

Jasmin Joseph: Haitian Master Artist

Jasmin Joseph by Pascale Monnin

Jasmin Joseph by Pascale Monnin

“In this portion of the mini-doc we hear about Joseph’s early years as an artist, his transformation from sculptor to painter and his imaginative and spiritual world. He also explains why he doesn’t like the term “primitive” in describing his and other Haitian artists’ work … Joseph began making art through carving terra-cotta sculptures that came to the attention of Jason Seley, an American sculptor who partnered with Dewitt Peters…”

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Appropriated Landscapes: The Walther Collection

Embedded in the picturesque, unassuming Bavarian town of Ulm, Germany, is a fascinating plot of land. It contains three unusual looking buildings: three houses

Opening of Appropriated Landscapes at the Walther Collection, June 2011 photo: The Walther Collection (flickr)

– one is traditional, covered in ivy, another black, mostly windowless, with a trendy interior and then a white cube, two stories high with a vast underground level. This is the home of the Walther Collection, and currently the exhibition, ‘Appropriated Landscapes’. Each year a new curator creates a show from the collection, and this one is part of a three-year project focusing on the holdings of African photography.

The show, curated by Corrine Diserens, explores the effects of colonization, war and ideology on physical and psychological landscapes of South Africa. Around 200 images are displayed by 14 artists including recent work from Jane Alexander and Guy Tillim as well as newly commissioned pieces from Ângela Ferreira, Christine Meisner, and Peter Friedl.

Each house has a different atmosphere. With its low ceilings and intimate rooms the Green House is perfectly suited to exhibit the small-scale work of two of South Africa’s most prominent photographers; David Goldblatt and Santu Mofokeng. At a time when ‘struggle’ documentary photography was playing a crucial role in exposing the horrors of apartheid in a most palpable manner, Goldblatt chose instead to look at the effects of this system in a different way. From the early 1960s he photographed the deep rooted effects of apartheid by veering towards the eventless, the ‘unnatural’ nature of the man-altered South African landscape. Santu Mofokeng’s work too engages with the concept of landscape as the mute witness to history. His photographs depict the previously undocumented, everyday life of the ‘forgotten society’ of black South Africans in the townships. Though trauma is manifested in this landscape, the key theme that emerges through Mofokeng’s images is survival.

In the Black House, Jo Ractliffe’s new body of work on Angola’s civil war is premiered. Ractliffe visited Angola at the end of the war and for two years traveled with South African and Angolan ex-soldiers through what Portuguese colonials referred to as “As Terras do Fim do Mundo” – the lands of the end of the world. The haunting images produced show a scarred landscape. Unease is purposefully implied through unusually inhabited images of unintelligible signage, mass graves, and vast spaces with solitary, strange objects.

In the main exhibition space – the architecturally striking White Box – are photographs and video installations. Most striking is the presentation of the work of Mikhael Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse. The subject of their collaboration is Ponte City: a 54-storey cylindrical building situated in the centre of Johannesburg. This is the tallest residential tower block in Africa and a politically important building; abandoned by white residents, it is now a precarious home to thousands of squatters and so represents a place of constant struggle. The artists’ have displayed lightbox panels divided into three themes: doors, windows and TVs. Presented on large screens suspended from the ceiling, the 12-channel digital slide projection provides a multitude of perspectives on the contemporary skyline of the city of Johannesburg from the point of view of the residents, giving a new resonance to the work.

Guy Tillim disarms colonial inheritance, not merely recording collapsed histories but “a walk through an avenue of dreams”. His highly composed photographs show urban decay and disorder, leading one to question the aestheticisation of poverty by an outsider. The video work of Penny Siopis and Peter Freidl’s films work to analyse narrative tools in colonialized surroundings and the perilous public sphere. In contrast to much of the exhibition, Zanele Muholi and Sabelo Mlangeni’s photographs are ‘peopling’ the landscape with marginal groups. Muholi, working with victims of hate crime, undermines the ethnographic archive by exploring sexual indeterminacy and the scrambling of codes. In the Country Girls series Mlangeni visits cross-dressing communities in rural South Africa exploring masculine intimacy to a poignant effect.

The scars of memory and history on the land expand the definition of landscape. The images displayed together here as Appropriated Landscapes depict the trajectory – from production through reception to the legacy – of these scars which have shaped the land. The exhibition asks important questions about the relationship between history and memory, the role of the photographer, and the problems of moving on from a trauma embedded in the very landscape.

To view images of works in the Appropriated Landscapes exhibition click here and follow the links for specific artists within each building.

Contributed by: Hannah-Grace Fitzpatrick