Project Title: Photographic Journeys IIII – Guangzhou
Artists: Bill Kouélany & Goddy Leye
Date(s): January – February 2010
Location: Guangzhou | China
In August 2009, Guangzhou featured in international news with a gruesome story: during a police raid on illegal immigrants in what is referred to by local taxi drivers as “Chocolate City”, a neighbourhood that attracts thousands of African traders seeking business opportunities in the East, Emmanuel Okoro, a young man from Nigeria, jumped out of a building to avoid arrest. The incident highlighted complexities at the heart of an increasingly striking phenomenon: Africa-Asia trade relations taking place outside established government and multinational channels, resulting in economic and social networks that crisscross the globe.
Traders hailing from Nigeria (by far the largest number), Guinée, Mali, the two Congos, Cameroon and Liberia – to name but a few nationalities – comb through large-scale China-Africa commerce malls, scouting out deals on remaindered goods. Top brand blue jeans, shoes, purses and lingerie, television sets, laptops and cell phones are purchased at rock-bottom prices and resold for significant profit on markets and in stores from Cairo to Cape Town and Kinshasa.
Over the past ten years, tens (some say hundreds) of thousands of Africans have moved to Guangzhou. Some live there year-round, others come through on a regular basis. Many lack residency papers. Most face rising tides of racism. Yet many, too, speak of rich new lives and relationships. Innovative cultural practices, languages and fashions are emerging and, with them, new takes on the global village.
About Bill Kouélany
Bill Kouélany’s work melds multiple media: painting, collage, installation, spoken and written word, video and performance. Early influences were visual artists prominent on the cultural scene in Brazzaville, her hometown, and the late Congolese poet and political activist Tchikaya U’tamsi. Kouélany’s work explores themes of acute loneliness, highlighting the impact of economic and gender violence on lives lived in the urban South. Metaphors of tearing and stitching, breakage and consolidation suffuse her monumental paintings, collages and installations. Raucous humour and jabs of irony layer onto the work a powerful element of social and political critique.
Kouélany was the first Sub-Saharan woman artist invited to take part in Documenta, one of the contemporary art world’s most prestigious biennales. Residencies and exhibitions today keep her on the road much of the year, throughout Africa, Europe and, most recently with SPARCK, Asia.
About Goddy Leye
Memory, post-colonialism and the making and forgetting of history are the central themes of Leye’s work. Following studies in literature and philology at the University of Yaoundé (1986-1991), from 1987 to 1992, Leye worked under the tutelage of renowned Cameroonian artist and art historian Pascal Kenfack. Thereafter, he completed his training at the National Institute of Arts, Bamako, Mali (1994), the ZKM Karlsruhe Centre for Art and Media, Germany (1997), the 18th Street Arts Complex, Santa Monica, California (1999), and the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam (2000). His work has been shown across the world, in a wide variety of venues, including major exhibitions and festivals, such as “Africa Remix” (2004-2005) and the Johannesburg Art Fair.
Leye is the founder of a unique space and concept: The Art Bakery, located in Bonendale, Cameroon. Here, emerging artists are welcomed free of charge for periods ranging from one month to several years and mentored by Leye in a simultaneously open-ended and rigorous environment for learning and exchange. Key, up-and-coming artists on the central African arts scene today got their start at the Bakery (Guy Wouete, Luc Fosther Diop, Justine Ngaga). Community workshops and early arts training are key foci of the Bakery as well.
Together, Bill Kouélany and Goddy Leye traveled to Guangzhou in January-February 2010. There, they undertook a residency focused on economic, social and cultural exchanges born of commercial ties between Africa and China. Much of their time was spent in the part of the city variously known as “Little Africa” and (in an unpleasant twist) “Chocolate City”. Their sojourn gave rise to a video installation entitled “Chocolate Banana”, which they perfected during a second shorter SPARCK residency at the Art Bakery in April 2010 and showed for the first time in Dakar, as part of the “Off” programme of the 2010 Dakar Biennale. Next stop: Focus 10 at Art Basel, Europe’s premiere contemporary arts fair, and Brazzaville, with co-hosting of the piece by a consortium of non-profit and business actors. For information about and visuals of the Chocolate Banana installation on the move, go to our Photographic Journeys “Showings” page. For information about and visuals of the Chocolate Banana installation on the move, go to our Photographic Journeys Showings page.