I left Kenya in 2009 after spending twenty one years of my life there. I had gone there for romantic reasons and to practice as an artist and live on the shores of the Indian Ocean in a palm thatched Swahili house – the latter I managed for ten good years.
1980’s Kenya was President Arap Moi’s Kenya – a sort of inefficient totalitarian state which bordered on the comic unless you were on the receiving end of it. Where African intellectuals and artists were deemed suspect by the authorities, many were in exile. The others only known about by a small group of African art experts. Gallery Watatu was the art colussus in Nairobi but by the time I arrived its charismatic director, Ruth Schaffner, was close to the end of her life.
Jak Katarikawe was the artist that turned my head. I was in Lilian Towers a plush modern hotel complex in downtown Nairobi allegedly named after Moi’s mistress for reasons I cant remember. Unlike Mombasa with its sense of soul and historic charm there was little in Nairobi that stirred me deeply until I wandered downstairs in an “exhibition area” and saw extraordinary works by a man I’d never heard of on the wall – Jak Katarikawe. There must have been about twenty black and white woodcuts – and one in particular caught my eye, I remember the title clearly “Escape by night – Bride price later” It was a couple in a canoe paddling off at night.
Apart from Katarikawe most of my visual stimulation in those days came from art that had nothing to do with galleries made by people who wouldn’t have called themselves artists. Carvers of dugout canoes, a man in Mombasa who made impossibly realistic and suggestive gyrating dolls out of inner tubes, coat hangers and .. actually no one ever knew how he made them. Fabrics, shop signs, driftwood, Baobab trees,the multiplicity of different bone structures in faces from different ethnic groups, the vivid beauty of a still pristine Indian Ocean.
Years later after working for eight years as an artist myself and then as an art dealer I thought I knew the Kenyan art scene pretty well but I missed a young artist called Cyrus Kabiru.
If Kabiru had been a young man in the 90s he might have ended up an anonymous artisan like the unnamed genius who produced the gyrating dolls. Other than being taken up by Jean Pigozzi (as Richard Onyango was) or being the darling of Ruth Schaffner as was Jak and a small group of lucky artists, there was limited scope for people with creative brilliance. The internet changed all that.
Cyrus Kabiru | C-Stunner : Revolution | Mixed media sculpture | 2009
Fast forward to 2013 and Kabiru (aged 28 yrs) yesterday accepted a TED Fellowship at TED’s Long Beach conference in front of thousands of applauding delegates. On March 1st – 9th I will be curating a show for him at Frank Pictures Gallery in Santa Monica https://www.facebook.com/events/212693828874991/. I “discovered” Kabiru (in the Christopher Columbus sense), on Facebook. He had posted a photograph of himself wearing one of his C-Stunners eyewear sculptures – I think it was Revolution – which uses spent bullets in its construction. As soon as I saw the image and quickly looked at other works on his Tumblr etc I thought here is someone who has got what it takes – the work radiated a confident perfectionism and obsessive quality that great artists generally have – unless you are a purely conceptual artist in the end there is some artifact produced and it’s that attention to detail that makes it great. The work was literally and metaphorically visionary. It spoke of the aspirations of a generation looking beyond the cliches about Africa – it was art that transcended borders in more ways than one.
It was only later that I learnt that the roots of Kabiru’s obsession with making “glasses” came from a specific family fable:
Cyrus Kabiru | C-Stunner : Gallata Mask| 13 x 33 x 21cm | Mixed media sculpture | 2012
Kabiru has been creating his ‘spectacles’ since childhood. First as toys for himself and later for his class-mates as a way of bartering his way through school work. His passion for ‘glasses’ stems from his father’s phobia about them. As a child, the artist’s grandparents punished his father severely for losing a pair of glasses that they had made huge sacrifices to provide him with. When the young Kabiru began playing with his father’s glasses, he was told by his father “if you want to survive in my house you will make your own glasses”. Taking him at his word, the young boy embarked on what would become his lifetime mission to create eyewear out of “trash”.
His father, bemused by the explosion of toy glasses became an unwitting curator, decreeing that his son should “only make the glasses when there is a reason” by recreating again and again the object of his father’s pain, and his grandparent’s hope, Kabiru began to create a body of work that would have symbolic significance well beyond his own family story, ultimately becoming a metaphor for the power of creative transformation both within Africa and worldwide.
Kabiru has been featured in group shows throughout Europe and the Middle East including Istanbul Design Biennale, Istanbul, Perimeter Art & Design, Paris, Rosetta Arts, London, Fashion Space Gallery, London College of Fashion, London, and upcoming shows in Dubai and Paris.
His C-STUNNERS were recently worn by Bobby Womack on the cover of Clash Magazine’s December 2012 issue and he has been profiled by the New York Times (September 2012), The International Herald Tribune (September 2012), and Under the Influence Magazine’s Africa Issue (November 2012).
For more information about Kabiru’s work, you can watch the following video links below:
MTV Base – http://www.mtvbase.com/shows/touching-base/
Manufactured – http://vimeo.com/33167682
Ed Cross Fine Art – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3iWXSSj_6Y
If you are in Los Angeles come along to see Kabiru’s biggest yet exhibition of his C-Stunner works and his first show in the U.S.A. at Frank Pictures March 1-9, 2013 11.30am – 6.30pm
Artist Reception: Saturday, March 2nd 5.30pm – 8.30pm
Frank Pictures Gallery
Bergamot Station, A-5
2525 Michigan Avenue,
Santa Monica, CA 90404
The C-Stunner Los Angeles tour is sponsored by Stunner of the Month, a monthly sunglass subscription service that is changing the way you see, and the way others see you. StunMo founders discovered and acquired some of Kabiru’s work more than a year ago. As avid supporters of bringing his creations to more people, they offered to put on a series of events while he is in Los Angeles to help one stunner from another. Stunner of the Month: It’s not just a brand, it’s a lifestyle. Start stunnin’ today, go to www.stunnerofthemonth.com.
Thanks to Ian Birrell’s excellent article in The Independent, yesterday, Cyrus Kabiru was eventually issued with a visa. Sadly this came too late for him to attend the TED conference in Edinburgh but the good news is that he will be attending their Fellows Conference in Los Angeles in January next year. We thank the British High Commission for reacting so swiftly to put this right and hope that the criteria for issuing visas will be reexamined to ensure that talented individuals in the fields of the arts and academia wishing to visit for specific events are not routinely excluded.
Next week the young and highly talented Kenyan visual artist, Cyrus Kabiru, should be in Edinburgh receiving his TEDGlobal 2012 Fellowship one of an elite group of nineteen fellows worldwide, acknowledged by TED as emerging global leaders in their fields. But thanks to the British High Commission in Nairobi who have refused his visa application for the second time, he won’t be there.
It seems that the British government now has a very crude immigration policy when it comes to Africa that excludes anyone who is not married and who is not “wealthy”. There seems to be no value placed on culture, enterprise and achievement.
TED Global 2012 Fellows http://www.ted.com/pages/tedglobal_2012_fellows
Ed Cross 07507067567
Au fil du Fleuve
15 rue El Hadj Abdoul Aziz Sy (ex rue Ribet)
Tel. 00 221 77 379 95 34
16 May – 10 June 2012
Open daily 10am to 12pm and 3pm to 7pm
The Yellow Crossing: the Peoples´ Waltz presents new visual works in collaboration between Marie-Caroline Camara and Nathalie Mba Bikoro. Comprising of an installation in the old house of the Devès family and its outer surroundings, the exhibition presents a journey of the people of St Louis, focusing on family, migration, displacement and returning home. Both artist’s works present their own journeys from Africa and beyond, of life, history, travel and family. Both return to this home in St Louis, combining visions to pay homage to their histories and specifically developing works for St Louis and its people. This unique site-specific collaboration celebrates our stories of how we came to become who we are today and where we go from here.
With its starting point connecting the two artists with the home of the Devès family, from slave trade economies, threading through stories and myths of political struggle and human rights, the visual displays create an installation of sculptures, found objects, photography, print-making, film and a series of on-site live performances that will engage the participation of the local audiences.
Inspired by a Fang proverb from her grandmother “you must go very far to come back”, Gabonese artist Mba Bikoro investigates these routes and concepts of returning home. Inspired greatly by the history and the people of St Louis, the two artists pay tribute to the people to rediscover the myths of the home and identity.
The exhibition will transform the home of the old Devès working factory, a former Arabic gum producer, into a sanctuary presenting a homage to the people. From mixed medium visual displays, the artists combine both their skills to create installations of film, photography, sculpture and printworks. During the exhibition, the artist will present a series of live art performances to local audiences within the home and its outer surroundings creating spaces and events engaging in viewers’ participation. Camara and Mba Bikoro meet to give life to these forms and objects by narrating fractured narratives as a way of reconstructing hope and vision.
Nathalie Anguezomo Menier Mba Bikoro is a French-Gabonese interdisciplinary artist working with visual arts & live art performance.
With an education in Politics, Philosophy and Media Arts, Bikoro leaves France and the UK to set out her work as an artist to return back to Gabon.
Her 10 year battle with leukeamia during childhood in Gabon, the Netherlands and France has influenced the narrative and methods in which she chooses to create her work. This personal struggle for recovery and return back to her family has pushed her visual language as well as setting goals to develop independent creative initiatives in the arts and culture lead by local people. Her aims and objectives are to incorporate converging arts and sciences into her own practice and research towards developing a Cancer Recovery Arts Centre. She aims to do this by incorporating creative spaces for interaction for children and adults in Libreville, Lambarene & Bitam (Gabon) and by developing educational collaborative community projects lead by local people.
Mba Bikoro uses the vocabulary of various art forms to make works that function to create fractured narratives and blurs boundaries between meaning, experience and aesthetics. Her alternative live art performances are unique interpretations of historical mythology and challenging appropriations of a knowledge far from ordinary. In doing so she highlights, accentuates and magnifies elements of the relationships present within these spaces.
Her practice proposes a composition of sound, body movement, archaeology and digital performance and encourages interactive response. Her approach responds to people and spaces mediating a great awareness of combining politics and philosophy.
Marie-Caroline Camara was born in France and has lived in Senegal since 2007. She has a bi-cultural background as her father was from Saint Louis and her mother from Normandy. Her exquisite restoration of a warehouse by the Jay Wharf in Saint Louis in Sénégal is one of her many contributions to the cultural life of the city. The house itself, where the exhibition will take place, belonged to the Devès family. Gaspard Devès was a local merchant involved in the Gum Arabic trade who was also a political and civil rights activist. Amongst her passions, Marie-Caroline has a fascination with architecture and craft. For her warehouse conversion, she chose plain colours and low maintenance materials such as chiffon-like fabrics, concrete and oxidized metal sheets. All the furniture in the house has been designed by Marie Caroline, inspired by cultural cross-fertilization and made by local craftsmen. She has also sourced recycled objects as decorative items. She believes that Saint Louis is a vibrant city full of emotions which informs her choice of light colours and her minimalist style.
Dak’Art 2012 | Biennale de l’art africain contemporain
Dates: 11 May -10 June 2012
Place: Dakar, Senegal
Curators: Christine EYENE, Nadira LAGGOUNE, Riason NAIDOO
THEME: “CONTEMPORARY CREATION AND SOCIAL DYNAMICS”
The tenth edition of the biennale takes place in a particular context. Indeed 2012 is the year of the elections, as was 2000. This year also marks the twentieth anniversary of the longest established biennale on the African continent. A gathering well known to the international art scene, DAK’ART is scheduled in accordance to its biennial calendar. The theme chosen for this edition stands as a pretext to examine, through various angles, the dialogue contemporary artists engage with a social environment in constant change.
Throughout the world, and particularly in Africa, times of crises have given way to periods of stability. Some countries are recovering from a financial crisis, others, from a social dead-end; people’s movements have never been so crucial in the quest for a new equilibrium. In this quest, culture is one of the significant levers to activate. Each time, artists have played an instrumental role in social mobilisation and in the raising of individual and collective awareness and engagement.
“Contemporary creation and social dynamics” is an investigative field that scholars, art critics and artists are invited to explore as part of the encounters and exchanges of the 2012 edition of the Biennale.
Ousseynou Wade, Secretary General of the Dakar Biennale
Dak’Art 2012 brings together numerous events. In addition to the international exhibition presenting artists from several African countries and the diaspora at the Musée Théodore Monod, an exhibition at the Galerie Nationale will feature three invited artists: Peter Clarke, Goddy Leye and Berni Searle.
Spain will be honoured with a presentation of architects and visual artists at Maison de la Culture Douta Seck. Finally, two exhibitions will pay homage to pioneering artists Papa Ibra Tall et Joe Ouakam.
The encounters and exchanges will invite international participants to debate around the theme “Contemporary creation and social dynamics”. … Of course the OFF will offer numerous exhibitions in Dakar, Saint-Louis and in the whole of Senegal.
The selection committee was composed of three members and met in Dakar from 16 to 18 February 2012.
The members of the committee reviewed three hundred and twenty-nine applications submitted by artists from thirty-six African countries and twenty-one other countries […].
Each application was the object of lengthy discussions between the members of the international committee. The selection criteria were: the originality of the artistic approach, the aesthetic and conceptual qualities, as well as the currency of the discourse, regardless of the theme of the 2012 Dakar Biennale.
Forty-two artists from twenty-one African countries and one artist from Reunion Island have been selected for the international exhibition.
Adel Marwa (Egypt), Alleck Nirveda (Mauritius), Assie Romaric (Ivory Coast), Ba Cheikhou (Senegal), Baba-Ali Younes (Morocco), Baker Bridget (South Africa), Beckett James (South Africa), Caranda-Martin Doughba Hamilton (Liberia), Chachage Rehema (Tanzania), Cissé Mamadou (Senegal), Diallo Bakary (Mali), Emmanuel Paul (South Africa), Eyongakpa Em’Kal (Cameroon), Fatmi Mounir (Morocco), Foli Jessica (South Africa), Goliath Gabrielle (South Africa), Hoareau Stéphanie (France – Reunion Island), Kameli Katia (Algeria), Kimani Wanja (Kenya), Konan Pascal (Ivory Coast), Lamrani Jamila (Morocco), Mba Bikoro Nathalie (Gabon), Modisakeng Mohau (South Africa), Modum Chika (Nigeria), Mteki Nancy (Zimbabwe), Mutelekesha Victor (Zambia), Nasr Moataz (Egypt), Ndiaye Cheikh (Senegal) Ngqinambi Ndikhumbule (South Africa), Niang Ibrahima Piniang (Senegal), Nsengiyumva Laura (Rwanda), Ramanankirahina Amalia (Madagascar), Sagna Henri (Senegal), Segueda Léopold (Burkina Faso), Seydi Mamady (Senegal), Shadi Lerato (South Africa), Sinzogan Julien (Benin), Tabti Oussama (Algeria), Tundula Christian (DRC), Youmbi Hervé (Cameroon), Zaidi Rafik (Algeria), Zouggar Sofiane (Algeria)
42 artists 16 females, 26 males from 21 African countries and Reunion Island
CURATORS OF DAK’ART 2012
Christine EYENE is an independent curator and art critic currently working with Autograph ABP, London. In 2011 she was curator of the African section of the 3rd edition of ‘Photoquai – Biennial of World Images’, Musée du Quai Branly, Paris and ‘Gwanza – Month of Photography’, National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Harare.
Her current exhibitions are: ‘Reflections on the Self: Five African Women Photographers’, Hayward Touring, UK (2011-2014) and ‘Women Speak Out’, Dakar and touring Africa (2011-2012). Previous projects include ‘FOCUS – Contemporary Art Africa’, as part of Art Basel Public Programme, Switzerland (2010-2011).
As an art critic she has contributed to Africultures, Art South Africa, Basler Zeitung, Manifesta Journal, Third Text, and written essays in art books and exhibition catalogues.
Eyene has been member of jury of Fondation Blachère Prize at the Bamako Encounters 2007, 2009 and Dak’Art Biennial 2008, 2010. She currently sits in the selection committees of Art Moves Africa and Visa for Creation, Institut Français.
Nadira LAGGOUNE is curator and art critic. She graduated in Law and holds a Master in audiovisual criticism and art theory. A doctoral researcher, she is currently assistant lecturer at the Ecole Supérieure des Beaux-arts in Algiers.
Laggoune has been member of numerous art jury in Algeria and abroad, including the Arab Fond for Art and Culture (AFAC). Today she is a permament member of the Fond Algérien d’Aide à la Production Cinématographique and AICA.
She has written extensively on contemporary art, especially Algerian art, as well as gender. She has curated many international and local exhibitions including the 2nd Panafrican Festival, Algiers 2009 and the International Festival of Contemporary Art (FIAC), Algiers 2009 and 2011.
Nadira Laggoune lives and works in Algiers where she strives to give visibility to emerging artists in Algeria and on the African continent.
Riason NAIDOO was born in 1970 in Chatsworth (Durban), South Africa. He has BA and MA in Fine Art from University of the Witwatersrand. Riason has curated several photographic exhibitions dealing with the archives − most notably on the work of photographer Ranjith Kally shown at the 6th Bamako Encounters (2005), touring includes Reunion Island − and more recently the exhibition entitled ‘The Indian in DRUM magazine in the 1950s’ shown at museums in South Africa. He most recently directed the South Africa-Mali Project: Timbuktu Manuscripts project for the South African Presidency and the Department of Arts & Culture, also NEPAD’s first cultural project. He has previously been in charge of artistic projects at the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS) in Johannesburg; taught drawing, painting and art history in the Department of Architecture at the University of Witwatersrand; and worked as Education Officer at the Durban Art Gallery. He has been on exchanges to the MS University of Baroda in India (1997) and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Bordeaux in France (2001).
He is currently director of the South African National Gallery and the Old Town House museums, part of Iziko Museums based in Cape Town. He recently curated ‘1910-2010: From Pierneef to Gugulective’, that showcased a century of South African art at the South African National Gallery. He has also worked as an artist in painting and new media.
The Dakar Biennale is organised by the Ministry in charge of Culture, Senegal
Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie
L’Union Economique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine
Ambassade de France
Communauté Française de Belgique
Fondation Blachère France
Ville de Dakar
- For information and press enquiries please first register for an accreditation. The form is available on www.biennaledakar.org
Accreditation requests have to be returned by 20 April.
- A media space will be available online for accredited journalists.
- Press contact: email@example.com
Le communiqué de presse est disponible en français sur le site de la biennale www.biennaledakar.org
Pause – the work of Cote D’Ivoire sculptor Jems Koko Bi
An African art collection at the Tate has been mooted for a while but thanks to the single-mindedness of Tate Modern’s International Curator Kerryn Greenberg herself a South African, it has happened sooner than most would have expected. The sponsorship of Nigeria’s progressive Guarantee Trust Bank has kick started the process which includes the recent appointment of Elvira Dyangani Ose to the curatorial team and the establishment of a large acquisitions committee made up mostly of collectors active in this field – many from the African continent. It is exciting to see this begin to unfold – not withstanding the usual tired debates about what constitutes African Art – the effects of this initiative will ripple far and wide – effectively forcing other key global institutions to be cognizant of art emerging from Africa or art inspired by this continent. In addition to validating a number of fine artists who have been under examined and under exposed it will, by its very process of fundraising for the collection, engage the continent’s governments, entrepreneurs, institutions and other stakeholders together with Africa’s trading partners, in the business of supporting contemporary visual arts. I hope that Tate Modern wont succumb to a general tendency to favour African photography and New Media at the expense of work linked to painting, drawing, print making and other more traditional mediums. I am a huge fan of African photography but I think the danger is that it is often “easier” for the west to view Africa through the photographer’s lense despite the fact that the photographer may be living and working in their own country it can chime with that sense of the outside looking in and it is for “Westerners” a comfortably familiar and technically clinical medium often invoking memories of viewing harrowing or entertaining documentaries from the comfort of the sofa. How different from and El Anatsui “cloth” with its all its thousands of bits of actual histories embodied by branded bottle tops and foils, a Hazoume mask made from a fuel smuggler’s modified jerrycan or indeed a Peterson Kamwathi charcoal drawing produced on the wall of his studio in Kiambu with the neighbour’s dog looking in hopefully at the door. Of course there is a huge role for fine art photography (including that of “ambassador” for the wider art scene in Africa) anyone interested must buy George Osodi’s brilliant newly published book The Rape of Paradise from Trolley Books or look at the wonderful work of Mauro Pinto from Mozambique or Adolphus Opara from Nigeria to name but a few.
For me it’s always important that art is not an alienating process in a spiritual sense – in fact it should be the opposite. Last year’s Contested Terrains show at the Tate Modern conceived and executed jointly with CCA Lagos – was criticised by some for being too aligned to the global contemporary scene – I think
Gor Soudan | Along With The Rest of Them II| 2012 | 210 x 95 cm
it was Time Out Magazine who wise cracked “too much Art and not enough Africa”. Depending on your point of view this either speaks of ignorance and arrogance on the part of Western journalists or touches on a truth that Africa must safeguard its own cultural uniqueness – and in particular – its spirituality in the broad sense – the overwhelming sense of “soul” that one gets from art that grows firmly and proudly out of African culture. What I can say is that this was and is (it will be staged in Lagos too) a fine model for respectful collaboration between what are in institutional terms, a David and Goliath. Admittedly an ageing if highly successful Goliath as the geopolitical tables turn relentlessly and the heirs to those ill-gotten plantation sugar fortunes beckon back to Africa for reasons that go well beyond altruism. Fortunately The Tate is not alone in its African interests – INIVA (Institute of International Visual Arts) now under the stewardship of the distinguished Tessa Jackson is putting its weight in what seems to be a measured strategic way behind supporting Africa related projects. The debate about national and continental art and the global art scene will rumble on – one thing is for sure for various reasons most young artists from Africa want to be known as international artists not African artists. In an interesting discussion I had with Peterson Kamwathi, Michael Soi and Gour Soudan in Nairobi recently in the aftermath of controversy over a video installation that had got out of control and where crosses from actual graves had been used as props, Kamwathi coined the phrase (with tongue in cheek) “I’d rather be a human being than an artist”. On the flight back from Africa, musing on this conversation and other things, it struck me that my experience of the continent could be summed up in one word “improvisation” and I mean that on different levels – but the main one being that the sense of personal (not economic) alienation that one finds in the West is largely absent in Africa -and in its place is a propensity for communication and sharing the threads of human experience (even if this sometimes goes horribly wrong) – the musical metaphor for this is not only Jazz but for me is my memories of people whistling in the Old Town of Mombasa or in Lamu, and other human beings responding in kind from streets away. Maybe that is why El Anatsui and Elias Sime are so quintessentially African – for tapestry – of one sort or another in Africa – is what it’s all about. How different from much of contemporary western culture with its sense of boundaries, glass and pedestals – and to what extent is art all about that sense of the other – to what extent is art about the human need to be in awe of something and to revere it?