Following an avant-première at the Goethe Institut in Nairobi, on 4 November a vast exhibition opened at the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum in Cologne: Afropolis. City, Media, Art. Curated by Kerstin Pinther, Christian Hanussek and Larissa Förster, it focuses on the urban condition in five African cities: Cairo, Johannesburg, Kinshasa, Lagos and Nairobi. The show is highly innovative, with a rich mix of texts, contemporary and archival photo, audio and film material, and art work in a wide range of media, including photography, graphic art, sculpture, video, installation and interactive network art projects.
One of the great strengths of Afropolis is that the curators did serious site research. The result is an exhibition that, unlike the overwhelming majority of big contemporary shows on Africa, does not trot out the “usual suspects”. There are many artists, here, whom one does not commonly see in exhibitions and, of those, a number present extremely interesting work. By the better-known creators, the works on offer are not the usual ones either: there is a great deal of variety and several lovely surprises. Another plus is the fact that art and data are given equal place: this isn’t a documentary show that uses art as an adjunct, or an art exhibition that includes bits and pieces of contextual information to explain or expand on the work. It’s a beautiful balance, put together with real elegance. A terrific catalogue accompanies the show.
For SPARCK, the show is particularly meaningful, as several artists with whom we work are represented with great flare. Mowoso’s Ground / Overground / Underground project is exhibited for the first time at Afropolis and the result is stunning. A 4 meter-long spaceship-cum-viewing-booth, complete with cherry-red cinema seats, shows two versions of the remarkable video the Mowoso crew created during their summer 2009 residency in Kinshasa and Mbandaka, DRC. The ship-booth trails a tail, comet-style, made of flying videotape activated by ventilators, and is surrounded by lamps that recall 19th century trawler ship lanterns. Whiskey bottles lit like Christmas lights and stacked car tire installations add to the contraption’s Afrofuturist soul, bringing to mind something between Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber, a Tina Turner Mad Max tank and Marshal Mobutu’s failed 1970s space program.
Positioned near the main entrance to the show and at the hinge between two cities – Kinshasa and Nairobi – the GOU ship attracted a great deal of attention, with people sitting inside, around and in front of it for long periods of time, watching the video – a series of mind-altering dreamtime scapes – unfold.
The GOU ship is the work of several people, come together to imagine the future-past: Mowoso founders Dicoco Boketshu Bokungu and Eléonore Hellio, installation artist and musician Bebson de la Rue, and architect Julien Bielher, co-founder of the experimental crew Exyzt.
Present also in Afropolis are designer/ photographer Cédrick Nzolo, co-curator of our “Night Moves” publication (2010) whose photography also features on the cover of the new SPARCK/Lowave DVD “IN/FLUX” (2010), and Méga Mingiedi whose work appears in “Night Moves” as well.
Afropolis runs at the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum until 13 March. It then moves to Iwalewa-House in Bayreuth. For further details:
Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum / Kulturen der Welt