Rethinking the dialectics of Rural and Urban in African Art Scholarship
Date and Start Time 01 July, 2017 at 09:00
This panel seeks papers that address the rural and urban dialectics in African art historical scholarship. How might we consider the dynamics of space, place and belonging; how they shape social imagination and reflected in artistic practices? How are ideas of the rural and the urban mobilized?
Traditionally, African art scholarship approach the rural, referred to as the upcountry, as a space of authenticity where art and artistic practices in precolonial styles, though vanishing, can still be found. Conversely, the urban setting, associated with city life, is viewed as the sphere of hybridized reality and "cosmolocal" modernity (Simbao 2010), where modern and contemporary art and artists thrive. It goes without question that the paradigms of the pre-colonial, colonial, and postcolonial have become unworkable and impractical. Art in Africa today is characterized by multiple temporalities co-existing side by side (Kasfir, 2013). Artists in different parts of the continent create with traditional and new media and in a variety of styles and forms in diverse locales often moving between rural and urban settings. How might we reassess this dialectal territorialization of cultural production in Africa which, while serving as a framework for ordering art historical knowledge, continues to uphold the anthropological roots of the field? How might we reconsider the dynamics of space, place and belonging; how they shape contemporary social imagination around Africa and reflected in artistic practices?
To this end we invite papers that provide new approaches to writing African art history. The papers should address among others:
• The multi-temporal and multi-spatial nature of artistic practice in contemporary Africa
• Old and new art geographies in Africa and their implications
• Intra-national and trans-continental artists' mobility
• Visuality and artists imagination of the rural and urban
• The audacity and meaning of place in artistic practice
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Peripheries in the Centre (of attention). On the role of the "Province" in decolonizing artistic practice in Angolan modern and contemporary art
This paper addresses the role of the rural peripheries in the imagination of Angolan artists, both modern and contemporary. Following Said’s idea of the “quest”, I ask how the rural peripheries where imagined by artists from the urban centre of Luanda in order to decolonize the nation in an aesthetic way.
The academic engagement with the urban space has increased in recent years. This is also true for artistic practices that have focused a lot on the urban space as both content and "canvas" for artistic projects but also the space of contemporary art production per se. The African metropolis thus became a collective archive that is represented by artists in very different ways and media (Nuttall and Mbembe 2008), but also as an imaginative space in a form of a utopian blueprint for possible future societies (de Boeck and Plissart 2004). In my paper I want to draw the attention in a similar way to the imaginations of the rural space and its nostalgic dimension. Traveling to the distant provinces of the country was an important practice among the artist of the independence generation such as António Ole or Ruy Duarte de Carvalho - considered to be a decolonizing practice of appropriation of the former colonized territory, nation-building and re-mapping (Said 1994). In a similar way, the contemporary post-civil-war generation of artists such as Kiluanji Kia Henda or Ruy Sérgio Afonso refers to this practice by engaging not only with the peripheral zones of the city but also with the distant provinces such as Lunda in the east or Namibe in the south. This paper presents some exemplary artworks from both generations to analyze how the imagination of the rural periphery can be regarded as a politicized decolonial aesthetic practice.
Village matters: Ideas, technologies and travel in the work of two urban Cameroonian artists.
The paper analyzes the multiple feedbacks and technological exchanges informing recent work by artists Hervé Youmbi and Hervé Yamguen. the recent production of these Douala based artists stems from an intense creative dialogue with village makers that challenge dichotomies and conceptual boundaries.
Douala based artists Hervé Youmbi and Hervé Yamguen have rather distinct poetics and practices. Yet their art making has also been informed by a lifetime of exchange and a shared vision of the role of the artist in Contemporary Cameroonian society. While both artists work in different media, Youmbi is mostly a conceptual and installation artist, while Yamguen is best known for his surrealist drawings and paintings and his poetry. This paper analyzes two recent bodies of work where both artists engage in multiple ways with ideas, technology and artists based in the rural areas of western Cameroon. In particular, I will look at Youmbi's recent ongoing series Visage de Masques (2015) and Yamguen's experimentation with beaded and lost wax cast bronze sculptures that have marked a new direction in his work. While each body of work follows a very specific personal trajectory for each of the artists, both offer interesting insights on the deep connections and tension between urban and rural. Through these works both Youmbi and Yamguen reflect on their own identity as internationally exhibited artists, living in Cameroon's largest city, yet also connected to the contemporaneity of the traditional culture that in many ways defines them. In their practice these artist challenge the dichotomic conceptual distinctions between rural and urban that often mirror the fraught separation of tradition and modernity.
Crossing borders from rural local to urban global geographies Towards the politics and aesthetics of space representations in Munir Abbar´s "Paris sur mer"
The paper aims to examine Munir Abbar´s “Paris sur Mer” (2007) as a case study in which the cinematic imagination of mobility from rural local to heterogeneous urban global geographies questions the politics and aesthetics of space representations which specific signifiers.
As a native film-maker from Morocco living in Berlin, Munir Abbar is familiar with transnational connections that also characterize his works. In a road movie genre, visually mapping the filmic space with different geographies and altered landscapes, his short film is about Wilson, a young illegal immigrant from Benin, who has Paris as final destination in his mind. After an exhausting journey in the desert, he arrives in Tangier (Morocco), the space-in-between to other world, where he temporally resides, waiting for an opportunity to reach Paris, and where illusion and fantasy become a source of hope for not losing all his benchmarks. Paris in the film however remains an imaginary space created by Wilson as a utopian city with all possible opportunities, but which he describes in the narrated letter to his parents as the real space where he lives. The physical displacement from the rural to urban confronts Wilson´s imagination with the reality, and enables paradoxally unexpected narratives.
The paper aims to examine the short film as a case study in which the cinematic imagination of the mobility from rural local to heterogeneous urban global geographies questions the politics and aesthetics of space representations which specific socio-economic and cultural signifiers.
The Old Still Feeds the New: Reflections on Contemporary Ceramic Art Practice in Nigeria
This paper uses the works of Abbas Ahuwan and Chris Echeta, both of whom live and work in urban areas of Nigeria but return to traditional pottery practices for inspiration, to support the thesis that “the paradigms of the pre-colonial, colonial, and postcolonial have become unworkable and impractical”.
In the 1950s colonial Nigeria, the influential British potter Michael Cardew fostered a modern ceramics expression at the Pottery Training Centre, Abuja. There, local potters, such as Ladi Kwali and Asibi Iddo, were introduced to new materials and techniques with which they produced works that were unmistakably modern based on their synthesis of indigenous materials, forms and decorative techniques with Western ceramics ethos and technology. Since then, contemporary ceramics artists, many of whom live and work in urban areas, have continued to rely on the creative archives of local pottery practices for their work. This paper uses the ceramic sculptures of Abbas Ahuwan (who lives and works at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria but often returns to the village of Hunkuyi, Northern Nigeria, to create work in collaboration with 'traditional' potters) and Chris Echeta (who worked for many years in the urban areas of Oji River and Nsukka in South-eastern Nigeria, and currently in Nasarawa, Northern Nigeria, but continues to draw from Igbo traditional pottery and uli painting for his ceramic sculptures) as case studies in our examination of what can be considered "cosmolocal" ceramic art modernity in support of the observation that "the paradigms of the pre-colonial, colonial, and postcolonial have become unworkable and impractical".
Urban-Rural Binary: Njideka Akunyili Crosby's Postcolonial Kaleidoscope
This paper examines the collage paintings of Nigerian-born Los Angeles-based artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby as an exemplar of how contemporary African artists address the urban and rural in their work.
In the last few years, the Nigerian-born Njideka Akunyili Crosby has increasingly gained international attention for her richly layered (juxtapositions of photo transfers and painted forms) and affective work. A self-described "Afropolitan", Akunyili Crosby's transnational and transcultural artistic practice is often considered within the discourses of globalization and identity politics particularly in the context of the United States where she presently resides. She connects the routine of everyday life to key chapters of her life: her formative years in Nigeria and the present in Los Angeles, inventing a world that collapses space and time. Yet for all her Afropolitan arguments, Akunyili Crosby's work is deeply embedded in the national space of her birth country. Her collaged paintings are a palimpsest of Nigerian politics and postcolonial history, social struggles, popular culture, as well as the ethnography of family life and relationships. But more importantly, as I argue, they mirror her seamless combination of her respective urban and rural experiences in Enugu (where she grew up in eastern Nigeria) and Lagos (where she attended secondary school), and Agulu (her ancestral home, she would visit periodically as a child and adult). Ultimately, the paper argues that urban and rural is not to be understood as a dichotomy of temporalities as it is often presented in African art historical scholarship. Instead, as Akunyili Crosby's work shows, the two temporalities are co-constitutive of sociocultural identities and postcolonial subjectivities in contemporary Africa.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.