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AFRICA REMIX (article first published : 2007-09-13)

Presently on view at the Johannesburg Art Gallery is a fantastic exhibition titled Africa Remix and with it comes, the book/catalogue featuring artworks by more than 80 artists from 25 countries. Africa Remix explores different themes, dividing the work into three sections - Identity and History; Body and Soul; and City and Land.

The title of the book is not meant to inform us but rather serves as an appeal to readers to see the reality that is Africa. 2000 copies have been printed each containing 270 full – colour pages. The different chapters create a relatively balanced viewpoint and the catalogue is an incredible resource for anyone who wants to be informed about contemporary African art. All the work has been produced on the African continent during the past 10 years. On show are paintings, sculpture, installation, video, drawings, photography and design. The exhibition is the largest contemporary African art exhibition ever seen and it was shown in Germany, France, Britain, Sweden and Japan before it came to Africa.

Curator Simon Njami has been working on the project for 10 years travelling around the African continent to meet artists, visit art school and study different approaches and cross-over cultures that thrive as intensely and as contradictorily as anywhere in the world.

The following artists from South Africa are represented in Africa Remix: Jane Alexander, Willie Bester, Wim Botha, Andries Botha, Tracey Derrick, Marlene Dumas, David Goldblatt, Jackson Hlungwani, William Kentridge, Moshekwa Langa, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Santu Mofokeng, Tracey Rose and Guy Tillim.

The artworks are seen as an expression of the direct influence of the present time on the artist. The exhibition and catalogue explore the enormously diverse place that Africa is, and the effects of globalisation on the continent. Well-known, experienced artists as well as new names have been included. JAG director Clive Kelner estimated the cost of bringing the exhibition to South Africa to be about R5-million. This is being borne by the Johannesburg municipality through its Arts Alive programme, and the Gauteng provincial department of sport, arts, culture and recreation.

The provincial minister in charge of the department, Barbara Creecy, said that support of the exhibition recognised an attempt to "address the historical imbalances and inaccurate portrayals of the image of Africa that have been so prevalent in the past".

The chapter Identity and History sets out the problem of being “African”. It goes as far as saying “today’s Africa is the fruit of a history altered by others. It is impossible to separate the construct Africanness from its historical context, impossible for Africans to have been able to think of themselves in any other way than as a reaction to others – in this case colonisers.”

The introduction to the catalogue reads: “It is impossible to comprehend fully what Africa is… and even after reading the catalogue, that question remains. Yet it is through the art works that the answers will transpire. One of the question’s that arises is if there is such a thing as Africanity, which according to the author means that “being an African is not so much about where you live but how you think and what you do.”

The catalogue is as explosive as the exhibition and should be on the shelves of every lover of African art. The works by Jane Alexander, Wim Botha, Andries Botha, William Kentridge, have already gained great critical acclaim in this country, yet they too are totally linked to a specific past.

Africa is the master continent in recycling and in Africa Remix there are some fantastic examples such as Willie Bester’s For those left behind. The 20 drawings by Marlene Dumas, Blindfolded, are a great contribution by a world-famous artist – a South African who chose to permanently live in the Netherlands. The catalogue delves deep. It includes African art from the North African countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco and discusses the geographical link and divide between these countries and sub-Saharan Africa.

For me the most interesting chapter in the book was Identity and History, perhaps because many of the artists were familiar to me. “Today’s Africa is the fruit of history altered by others and if you see what art is being made on this continent one is made aware of the enormous creativity that has sprung forth from Africa as a whole. It almost gives the catalogue a visionary quality.

Seldom has an exhibition/catalogue made such an impact and it’s a great pity that only Johannesburg can afford to host this exhibition. Luckily the book is available in the rest of the country. Again a book from the JAG stable that should be on the shelves of all educational institutions and all libraries in South Africa and the rest of the continent.

Africa Remix - Contemporary Art of a Continent is produced by the Johannesburg Art Gallery and published by Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd. The book is available in paperback and has the format of a coffee table book. Cost is R250, available at all book stores. – Marianne Meijer




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