Contemporary art: at the Kadist gallery, intra-African migrations are in the spotlight

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“Our faces”, by Nidhal Chamekh.

Large sketches of faces on fabric, a video stroll through the Burkinabe bush, a carved wooden panel made up of eight pieces… Combining formats, materials and supports, the “Diaspora at Home” exhibition, presented until January 30 at the Kadist gallery, located in the XVIIIe arrondissement of Paris, brings together ten artists around intra-African mobility.

“The theme of migrations within the continent arose from several discussions with Iheanyi Onwuegbucha, artistic director of the Center for Contemporary Art in Lagos and co-curator of the“ Diaspora at Home ”project, explains Sophie Potelon, co-curator of the exhibition, and in particular the observation of mobility difficulties on the continent. ”

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The young Nigerian-based commissioner himself regularly experiences the challenge of traveling within Africa: from the difficulty in obtaining visas to the lack of direct flights between the major mainland cities, including the high costs of such steps.

Added to this is the desire to decentralize the media debate, which generally focuses on the exodus of populations from the South to the North, while the figures say something quite different. In 2019, recalls the Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe, “Of the nearly 1.3 billion Africans, only around 29 million live abroad. Among these 29 million, 70% did not set off for Europe or any other region of the world. They settled in other African countries ”.

“On the sidelines of the official story”

Upon entering the gallery, the visitor discovers faces sketched on large white canvases cut horizontally in half. These drawings by the Tunisian artist Nidhal Chamekh, born in 1985 in Dahmani, in the north-west of Tunisia, represent soldiers from colonial empires from Africa or Asia.

Faces taken from the French illustrated weekly The mirror, created in 1910, where the representations of sharpshooters belonging to certain infantry troops were both ethnographic drawings and colonial and orientalist images of Epinal.

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“Many contributed to the liberation of France during the first and second world wars, but remained on the sidelines of the official narrative. The first fragment of the face presented is drawn from a photo taken by Jacques-Philippe Potteau [naturaliste français, 1807-1876] and preserved at the Paris Natural History Museum ”, underlines the plastic surgeon.

Most of these faces are anonymous, with the exception of the one highlighted at the entrance to the gallery: “Bel Krer ben Kraler, Algerian sharpshooter, born in Romialis (Negritia). Size: 1 meter, 60 centimeters. Real negro hair, black eyes with yellow whites. Son of a black mother and father. Photo, 1865 ”, specified the Natural History Museum.

“Wandering lines”

Much closer to us in time, Rahima Gambo has chosen to wander through the bush of Burkina Faso. The Abuja-based Nigerian multimedia artist travels the red laterite earth of the Central Plateau, one of the thirteen regions of the small, landlocked country. During this walk, she films herself holding a bronze circle in one of her hands, twirls it around until it frames the Sun.

Birds are singing, a flute interferes in the general twittering and joins the rustling of branches under his feet. Several objects of the same alloy – a triangle, an L, a semi-circle, a straight line… – follow one another in his palm, described by the artist as “Wandering lines”. In front of the screen, imposing copper spirals imitate the movement of walking, fluid and continuous.

« Nest Works and Wander Lines », de Rahima Gambo.

“I discovered copper spirals in a store in Abuja: they are used for air conditioning and in old boilers. They allow water or air to pass through and echo the sound of the flute. They participate in a search for a new language, new instruments of perception, a new territory, a poetic narration ”and from Rahima Gambo.

Violence, tear, burn

Less immersive is the wooden panel presented at the Kadist gallery. It is sculpted by the Ghanaian El Anatsui, born on the island of Anyako in 1944 and settled in Nigeria in 1975 to teach drawing and sculpture at the University of Nsukka. The artist was notably exhibited in Paris in 2021: large metal sculptures and two rivers mixing textiles and video projection adorned the weapon room of the Conciergerie during the Africa2020 season.

During his artistic life he went from exploring conventional materials like wood and ceramics to reusing usually discarded resources like wooden mortars, cassava graters, offset printing plates and alcohol bottle caps.

« Bird » (Migration Series), d’El Anatsui.

The turbulent history of African migrations is a major preoccupation of the artist. And in particular the expulsion of Nigerians by Ghana in 1969, and of Ghanaians by Nigeria in 1983, for reasons qualified at the time of economic and security. To carve his wooden panel, El Anatsui used the chainsaw and torch, signifying the violence, tearing and burning of a forced migration.

This work also refers to the trans-Saharan slave trade, to the recent immigration of Africans to the West and to the interior of the continent, including in its community, the Ewe. Without forgetting its own installation from Ghana to Nigeria.

“Invisible borders”

We can also admire at the Kadist gallery the sound and video performance of the South African Ntshepe Tsekere Bopape, who was notably the first curator of his country to organize a collective exhibition in Paris and, under the name of Mo Laudi, pioneer of the afrohouse from the early 2000s by organizing parties in London and Paris.

“Music knows no borders. It causes a vibratory movement of particles in the environment, projecting the sound further. It crosses the invisible borders created by humans to establish separations based on race, class, gender, culture ”, specifies the artist.

« Fixed Things and Flying Things », de Wura-Natasha Ogunji.

Among the other works not to be missed: the work Animal, Cameroonian Goddy Leye (1965-2011), who was one of the first African visual artists to think of crossing the continent’s borders as a creative act; the wallpapers and photographs of Nigerian Abraham Oghobase, which deconstruct traditional manufacturing methods and explore his personal immigration; hand-sewn designs on tracing paper by Wura-Natasha Ogunji, also from Nigeria.

Exposition « Diaspora at Home », at the Kadist gallery, 19 bis-21, rue des Trois Frères, 75018 Paris. Thursday to Sunday, 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Until January 30, 2022.

The galleries and the Kadist collection

Kadist is the artistic branch of a family foundation for philanthropic purposes (anagram of its name Tsadik) which operates in the fields of art, culture, social actions and health. Its activity started in 2001 with the constitution of a collection of contemporary art. At the end of 2006, a gallery opened in Paris and, in 2010, in San Francisco. From 2012, Kadist launched collaborations with institutions abroad to set up intercultural projects and disseminate the work of artists.

“In total, there are over 1,600 works in the collection, coming from over 100 different countries. We opened an office in Mexico and another in China. At the same time, we are developing new projects in Europe and the Middle East. After the exhibition Diaspora at Home, we will host American artist Xaviera Simmons in residence for an exhibition that will open in April. This project is in dialogue with an artist researcher, Savannah Wood, who will also come in residence and who takes care of a large collection of African-American press images ”, emphasizes Emilie Villez, director of Kadist Paris.

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Contemporary art: at the Kadist gallery, intra-African migrations are in the spotlight