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22.05.2014 GUIDE

(untitled), Ibrahim Mahama, 2013. Foto: Courtesy of the artist.

Dak’Art 2014: South African Soap Operas, Rain Bow Flags and a Ferocious Santigold

This year marks the 11th edition of Dak’Art Biennale, the first festival to celebrate contemporary art from the African continent. At times I get the feeling that the people putting up the exhibitions at Dak’Art 2014 are not used to dealing with art: when an exhibition manual hang on the wall next to the artwork, wooden shipment boxes are used as pedestal for the sculptures and a performance gets cancelled because the technicians refuse to take a break from their sound check - even when the curator asks them too. But engaging with the artists and their artworks at Dak’Art makes me not care about the mess surrounding them.

AF Lotte Løvholm

Dakar, Senegal
09.05.14 - 08.06.14

Dak’Art 2014 opened May 9 and will continue till June 8 with an international programme, a programme for invited artists and the independent programme, OFF, that was initially created as an alternative to the festival but is now embraced and validated by the festival organisation. The OFF programme consists of more than 200 exhibitions in Dakar and on the island Saint Louis north of Dakar. Around 700 artists from Africa applied with works for the international exhibition however the selection this year mainly consists of very established artists and artworks that have been shown worldwide already. The choice of theme is like the selection of artworks rather safe: “Producing the Common”. The theme could be interpreted as a pragmatic decision by the three curators Elise Atangana, Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi and Abdelkader Damani for contextualizing the impossible concept “African art”. Cameroonian curator Atangana says in her statement: "The common is mostly what we have in common through values and rights, which in essence brings us together and unites us. In other words the common is a co-ownership." The theme is of course also an attempt to underline the connection between aesthetics and politics inspired by French philosopher Jacques Rancière but “Producing the Common” offers little direction to the context of the artworks that are in fact dealing with many different themes.

The artwork “Extra” from 2011 by South African artist Candice Breitz is one of those artworks that has been around and created a bit of controversy since it was first exhibited. The work is an installation of the idea of a “African” living room: big dark carved out wooden chairs, Dutch wax print fabric on the walls and a television screening the post-apartheid soap opera “Generations”. As the first series portraying black South African middle-class, “Generations” does not have one single white cast member. With “Extra” Breitz places herself as a white South African woman in the most awkward positions possible among the characters in various “Generations” scenes. The characters do not notice her even when she is lying between them with her legs on the couch.

Other artworks that have also been received internationally before the festival are British/Ghanian artist John Akomfrah’s poetic and touching short film “Peripeteia” (2012) on diaspora and American artist Simone Leigh’s video “My dreams, my works, must wait till after hell…” (2012) of a sleeping black woman. With her back to the camera and her head covered with stone the video is the opposite of Andy Warhol’s film “Sleep” where the white male body is celebrated through a five hours long peaceful sleep. In Leigh’s video the woman is hiding her breasts, the object of exoticism in many representations of the African woman, and her hair, a political object especially in the US. Another well-established artist presented at the international exhibition is Algerian Kader Attia who created the installation Indépendence Tchao for the festival referencing the colonial architecture in Dakar and its absurdity. Attia also presented a collage video for the exhibition “Precarious Imaging” in the OFF programme at the gallery Raw Material Company of transgender men in Algiers and Mumbai.

For the opening of the festival on May 10 Kenyan artist Ato Malinda presented a precise and simple performance referencing the idea of womanhood. In a little (and a bit hidden) box Malinda invited the audience on a 1-1 meeting with her where she would tell stories on childhood memories while having a rainbow flag painted on her forehead and putting a scarf over her mouth. Fellow Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu is referencing consumption and greed through the video “The End of Eating Everything” (2013) where a medusa like creature, acted by American musician Santigold, violently consumes a flock of birds. Consumerism is a theme for Benin artist Barthelemy Togou as well with his outdoor installation of kidney beans planted as the shape of Africa.

Many of the artists presented at the international exhibition are well established however the programme also presents a few works of younger artists like Kenyan Mimi Cherono who is exhibiting at Copenhagen Photo Festival in June. Extracts from Cherono’s photographical work “The Other Country” on belonging and dislocation was exhibited at the international exhibition. In the invited programme Danish Jeanette Ehlers is showing two video works “The Video of Me” and “Black Bullets” who is also exhibited at Nikolaj Kunsthal at the moment. Highlights from the OFF programme includes young artist Ibrahim Mahama from Ghana presenting photographs of his large scale installations of coal sacks sewn together covering buildings and spaces in his hometown Accra as an investigation of the African market for the OFF programme at Saint Louis. And artist Mame-Diarra Niang from Senegal presenting her first performance Ethère dealing with issues of homophobia is another relevant artwork that makes the OFF programme even more “in” than the IN programme of the festival. An article on Niangs performance will be published. 

Ato Malinda, 2014. Foto: Dak'Art.

Peripeteia, John Akomfrah (still video image), 2012. Foto: Dak'Art.

My dreams, my works must wait till after hell…, Simone Leigh & Chitra Ganesh (still video image), 2012. Foto: Dak'Art.

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