Aesthetic alterity, abundance of proposals and plurality of spaces. Over some 500 m2, the 193 Gallery and the Carole Kvasnevski gallery in Paris are presenting "We are enough", a journey in eight chapters bringing together the creations of eleven artists. The exhibition probes African societies and their diasporas. As a call to deconstruct prejudices.
"Because black people are dignified around the world despite the weight of history," said Roger Niyigena Karera, curator of the event and co-founder of Afirika Artfest. But it must be kept in mind that African nations are still in many economic difficulties. There is a long way to go and the solution will come from us, the black people, in collaboration with the rest of the world. »
"Like a beautiful book whose pages one flips through"
To address such a vast theme, it was necessary to work on a narrative that was easy for visitors to understand, "like a beautiful book whose pages you skim through, with clear transitions, visually and emotionally, without any chronological order or imposed importance. “says the curator.
Each artist must respond to a specific statement that fits into the overall message. The first chapter, "Awareness", is represented by the works of Joana Choumali and Modou Dieng Yacine. Originally from Abidjan, in the Ivory Coast, the first studied graphic arts in Casablanca. His paintings depict a dreamlike universe, as if to ward off the violence of the world.
A graduate of the fine arts of Dakar and the San Francisco Art Institute, the second was born in Saint-Louis, Senegal, and presents a series dedicated to skirmishers, notably combining period black and white photographs and acrylic paint, "a way of reclaiming my African identity, of recreating a language and a positive vision of the history of the black man, slave or soldier, migrant or marginal".
The "Multiple Identities" chapter highlights the work of South African photographer Zanele Muholi, currently on display at the European House of Photography (MEP), Paris, through May 21. Her work is, in her own words, a "visual activism" enterprise aimed at bringing visibility, now almost non-existent, to black lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex people.
Thanks to the "Self Acceptance" section, Thandiwe Muriu and Evans Mbuga, both born in Nairobi, Kenya, advocate a force of evidence: no one chooses their skin color or their origin. The first offers feminine photographic portraits saturated with colors and fabrics with strange "glasses", bordering on trompe-l'oeil. The second pays homage to his contemporaries, of whom he paints joyful portraits in lively tones, "collecting moments lived with family or friends with my camera. Then I document these memories in my studio by painting on Plexiglas, weaving the textile."
With April Bey, from the Bahamas, we enter an Afro-futuristic world for the chapter "We are who we are". Works with sometimes generous dimensions that combine American and Bahamian visual culture with contemporary pop culture, bursting with colors and materials. An imaginary universe where everything seems possible.
Reflection of a common colonial history
In the "Renaissance" stage, Modou Dieng Yacine and Willow Evann reaffirm the importance of recognizing the past to better understand the future. Originally from Ivory Coast and living in Ile-de-France, the second is a visual artist, dancer and photographer. His works presented – two sets composed of multiple squares of wood partly printed with portraits of black people – reflect a common, colonial, African and French history: "My origins, my identity and my journey as a man black from the Ivorian diaspora are recurring themes in my work. And I am very attached to the organic aspect, to handling living materials like wood. »
The last three chapters complete the journey. "Dreams", with Nigerian Ken Nwadiogbu, offers a utopian vision of migration and even exile. The young autodidact questions the modes of representation of black people through intriguing installations. And as a sweet conclusion, "Safe Place" presents very expressive works by the Ivorian Cédric Tchinan and those with a visual language that seems simplified by the Nigerian Abe Ogunlende.
The final stop, “Unity and Pride,” features paintings by Alexis Peskine. Born in 1979 in Paris into a family of Russian and Afro-Brazilian origin, the artist creates large portraits of people from the African diasporas. With a very particular technique: nails of different sizes are driven with extreme precision into wood stained with coffee, earth or bissap, and by applying gold leaf to the heads of these nails, amazing composite images are born . “I choose people whose physical envelope inspires positive things in me. I photograph them and rework their images so that they become entities. I transform the image into dots like in screen printing and I replace these dots with eight kinds of nails,” says Alexis Peskine.
For César Lévy, founder and director of the 193 Gallery, this exhibition makes it possible to "present a diversity of mediums - painting, photography, tapestry, wood carving, painted cardboard... - and sensibilities in order to show the richness of African scenes, some of which are still undervalued, by constantly renewing our offer. The gallery aims to fight preconceived ideas, to discover new emerging artists and to deconstruct many prejudices”. With "We are enough", the objective seems to have been achieved.