Monday, April 3, 2017

FRENCH ART FAIR HIGHLIGHTS CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN ART

Spring means art in Paris. From the end of March, the city becomes awash with the colours of impressionism, retrospectives of master painters, modern art and contemporary works, as museums launch grandiose exhibitions.

Each spring as well, the Art Paris Art Fair welcomes dozens of galleries to the imposing glass-domed Grand Palais exhibition halls, and this year Africa was the guest of honour, with 139 galleries presenting works by an array of artists with links to the continent.

Artwork by Marion Boehm
The 19th edition of the art fair (March 30 to April 2) featured both monographic exhibitions in the Solo Show section and up-and-coming artists in the section titled Promesses (Promises).

Among the 29 countries represented were galleries from Angola, South Africa, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, Senegal and other African nations.

The goal, said the organizers, was to “showcase the talented emerging generation of artists from both the African continent itself and from its diaspora”. Around 15 “Western galleries” chose to show the work of their African artists, who included Omar Ba of Senegal, Kendell Geers of South Africa and Chéri Samba from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In all, the participating galleries presented some 100 artists at the fair, with the African focus being under the direction of cultural consultant and independent curator Marie-Ann Yemsi.

Artist Marion Boehm poses with her work.
Some of the works that drew particular attention were created by European-born artists who had lived in Africa - such as Marion Boehm, whose massive paper-and-fabric collages put African subjects at the centre of traditional, Western-style formats.

Boehm said in an interview that she had always been bothered by the “peripheral” placing of African characters in European paintings of the past; so her pieces (which share certain aspects with the work of Senegalese photographer Omar Victor Diop and that of American painter Kehinde Wiley) depict subjects from colonial eras as principal actors.

The fair also displayed works by Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow, who died last December at the age of 81. His larger-than-life “Mother and Child” sculpture gave a reminder of why his art was so celebrated during his lifetime.

Visitors view Alexis Peskine's "Wolof Cosmic" -
created with nails, moon gold leaf, paint
and varnish on wood panels.
Works by other notable artists were spread around the fair, attracting viewers even though the pleasant weather outside provided stiff competition.

Still, the current act of showcasing these artists shouldn't obscure the fact that “France is backward in terms of its appreciation of contemporary African art”, said curator Yemsi.

“If it would be inexact to say that nothing has changed in France over the last thirty years ..., the history of art as it continues to be taught and disseminated has hardly contributed at all, contrary to other European countries, to the much-needed decolonization of knowledge and imagination,” Yemsi wrote in the fair’s press book. - Tasshon

Ousmane Sow's "Mother and Child", Bronze 2001.