A new exhibition at Johannesburg’s Goodman Gallery, titled Africans in America, is an exploration of the cultural and contextual parallels between the continent and the United States.
The exhibition also forms part of the academic conference Black Portraiture[s] III. Reinventions: Strains of Histories and Cultures, held for the first time in South Africa at the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg, from 17-19 November 2016.
Black Portraiture[s] III is a collaboration between the US Department of State and Patrick Gaspard, the US ambassador to South Africa, as well as Harvard University, New York University and the Institute for African American Affairs. The forum offers an opportunity for artists, activists and academics from Africa, the US and the rest of the world to share ideas and perspectives on the African political and cultural identity within a global context.
Emphasising that overall theme, the Africans in America exhibition itself runs until 17 December, presenting works at the Goodman and the Johannesburg Art Gallery. Artists featured include Ghada Amer, Theaster Gates, Alfredo Jaar, Julie Mehretu, Wangechi Mutu, Odili Donald Odita and Kehinde Wiley.
The exhibition is curated by Goodman director Liza Essers and Hank Willis Thomas. The work of the American visual artist and photographer has been widely praised for consistently challenging perceptions of identity, history and symbols, while igniting dialogue about African and diaspora identities, particularly in global political and pop culture contexts.
A Place To Call Home (Africa-America)
Thomas’s 2009 work, titled A Place To Call Home (Africa-America), represents the overarching identity of the Goodman exhibition.
A wall-mounted sculpture of black metal against a white background, the piece epitomises the distinctive geographical, historical and political connection suggested by the African American identity. It challenges the mythological association between black Americans and the African continent.
As Thomas describes it, “our roots may be from there, but many of us don’t necessarily feel any more at home on the continent than we do on the continent of our birth. Our home is a place in between.”
Emerging African artists
African artists involved in the Africans in America exhibition include Eritrean photographer Dawit L Petros, whose art incorporates migration and multicultural globalisation as metaphors for African modernity.
— The Culturist (@TheCulturist) September 18, 2016
Rwandan visual artist Valerie Piraino uses the long history of mining and environmental damage in Africa to inform her minimalist work.
Valerie Piraino’s understated works suggest a potent absence. Usually they call to mind people, either specific figures from her life that she invokes through subtle images and materials, or more universal notions of femininity that she calls to mind with totemic objects. The latter body of work includes her incredible series of sculptures based on the form of the papaya. For Piraino the fruit stands in for the bodies of women in the Global South—because of its beauty, nourishment, and yonic symbolism, as well as the way it is trafficked, traded, exoticized, and literally consumed. “How have these bodies been colonized, sexualized, co-opted, and destroyed?” she writes. Here she presents us with a gorgeous, golden fruit seemingly at the peak of ripeness, but the title’s double meaning suggests the double-edged sword of lust and hatred, hypersexualization and denigration, that black women are subjected to throughout the world. Her work makes me think of Simone Leigh, especially her sculptures of cowrie shells made from watermelon casts. Both artists channel the power of seemingly simple objects to tell profound, interconnected stories of exchange and exploitation. Valerie Piraino, Bad Seed, 2014 #valeriepiraino
Brendan Fernandes, a Canadian-Kenyan artist, explores pan-Africanism with a post-modern, multi-discipline slant.
Established during apartheid, the Goodman Gallery has, over five decades, become an important art portal for African creativity. It has been under the directorship of Essers since 2008. The gallery is focused on shaping change through art and culture, as well as opening up avenues of dialogue between established and emerging South African artists, and artists across the continent and the globe.
For more information on the Africans in America exhibition and the gallery, visit the Goodman Gallery website.
Source: Goodman Gallery