Pan-African polyphony finds echo at the Festival

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posted on 11/12/2013
Selection of African artists featured in this Southern Panoramas edition offers a sampling of the quality of an output seldom shown in Brazil

Whereas in the political plane, Brazil’s efforts at establishing closer ties with the African continent are recent – including the sending of delegations to African capitals in 2003, and the proposal made this year to create wide-ranging cooperation programs –, in the visual arts field, this reconnection has been taking place for longer. Over 20 years ago, for instance, the Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil made way for the geopolitical South of the world, a scene in which the African continent plays a prominent role. Aside from the nine African artists featured in the current edition of the Southern Panoramas show, Africa was the main subject of two shows held by Videobrasil in partnership with Sesc (the African and Pan-African Contemporary Art exhibitions).

Regarding the selection of African artists in Panoramas, despite the diversity of this vast continent, one can notice relationships between works, including the choice of video as a language, and the discourse focusing on interpersonal relationships. LucFosther Diop, a Cameroonian artist swho has won the FAAP Residency Prize, has said: “I believe there is no type of segregation between human beings; we are all equal, nationality, gender or profession notwithstanding.” Thus, the piece he presents tackles not only the differences between people and territories, but also the difficulty of interpersonal relationships, based on a visual metaphor: the video We Are One is a close-up recording of the artist’s hand moving at an increasingly fast pace, until the fingers start being rubbed frantically, causing a certain discomfort.

Another similarity among the pieces of these artists is the presence of the body, which communicates both with the broader context it is inserted in, and the sensory stimuli it receives. The flaming figures in the piece Tomo, obsessed with going about their daily chores, reveal disturbed personalities that seem to struggle to subsist in an abandoned village, taken by the souls of those who lived there once. The artist Bakary Diallo, from Mali, winner of the residency prize at Sacatar Institute, based this video on the word bambara, which designates a territory where  war has made empty and devastated, in local dialect.

Just like Bakary’s flaming body, Kwa Baba Rithi Undugu (imagem abaixo), by the artist Rehema Chachage, repositions the body in a new context. Two small screens have been placed inside two radios. The objects that are built have unified two different media: radio and video. The human figure featured in the videos shown on the screens is inaudible. The objects are presented side by side, re-signified through the fusing of two areas of communication, and yet are rendered unable to reach their receiver. Building on the notion of dialogue as the foundation of human experience, the piece discusses the voice as a symbol of personal and political expression, intensified by non-communication and the making of mediums unusable.

The power to communicate, however, offers a wide range of possibilities, by means of the body, speech, and the distance between issuer and receiver. Malleable Tracks, a video by South Africa’s Gregg Smith (video still below), intentionally disrupts the message. The film aims to insert itself in the ever-closer configuration between the physical experience of time and space and the way in which we acquire knowledge and information. The viewer is presented with scenes rich in stylistic association and visual charm, soon identified with Hitchcock’s brand of suspense. This immersion is detracted from by a series of substantial gaps in plot development that not only interfere with the story’s interpretation, but also create noises in communication between the plot’s characters.

Whereas Smith used the narrative and text as his strategy, Cameroon’s Em'Kal Eyongakpa chose to build the atmosphere of his video installation Njanga Wata (detail below) on figurative and symbolic elements, such as a man wearing a suit and riding a bicycle. The title is a translation into Pidgin English (English mixed with local languages) of “shrimp river,” a name bestowed on the region by Portuguese explorers in the 15th century. The piece relates the passivity of Cameroonian people to a pattern of political thinking that dates back from colonial times. The image of a cyclist who appears to be headed nowhere highlights a tiresome, permanent quest.

Africa beyond the exhibition

The holding of debates by and about the South helps organize recognizable signs and bring them closer together, proposing a new understanding of cultural, social and political relationships. This is what the Festival program strives to create, featuring African participants other than the artists who account for ten percent of the Southern Panoramas roster: the curator Koyo Kouoh, award juror and founder of the Raw Material Center for Art, in Lagos, Nigeria; and the Cameroonian thinker Achille Mbembe, one of the leading contemporary authorities in postcolonial studies, are featured in the Festival as participants in the Public Programs.    

Meet the other artists and works in other artists and works in Southern Panoramas and follow the Festival program in the Schedule section.