Making Africa @ CCCB Barcelona

Running until late August, the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona – CCCB) hosts Making Africa, one of the most extensive collections of Contemporary African design ever, in an impeccably curated exhibition.

DSC_1318 (2)DSC_1387 (2)

A diverse range of creative fields are on offer including object and furniture design, graphic arts, illustration, fashion, architecture, urban planning, art, craft, film and photography (both digital and analogue formats).

The exhibition showcases the work of over 120 African artists and creators and illustrates how design fuels economic and political changes. Making Africa speaks, from Africa, of a new continent “under construction” and places emphasis on its possibilities over its problems.

Consulting Curator of Making Africa Okwui Enwezor opens the exhibition with a wonderful statement on the exhibition statement on the CCCB website saying:

“Thinking about the future means thinking about our possibilities in the world. The future belongs to Africa, because it seems to have happened everywhere else already.”

Even before setting foot in the exhibition space I thought this view on the future of Africa was incredibly profound.

I really like the idea and optimism that Africa’s turn to take its deserved share of possibilities in the world is just around the corner. Other continents have already experienced their political, social and economic futures, so it only makes sense that Africa is next in line. There’s a simplistic beauty to this. A statement that no doubt gives hope to many and for others confirms what is already becoming a reality.

DSC_1385

The contemporary works in the exhibition forge a link with the middle of the 20th century when a young generation of Africans celebrated liberation from colonialism and took their place in the world. Other more recent works sit beside them offering a chance to understand what’s changed in the intervening years and how it has fed into the creative processes and outputs of an entire continent.

The exhibition flows through 4 distinct areas weaving a story of African design under each of the themes.

Prologue looks to give examples of how contemporary graphic designers are representing Africa in a new and completely different way, challenging what we think we know about the continent. I and We delves into how Africans express themselves in the modern age and how younger generations have represented themselves in various unique subcultures. Space and Object is devoted to people and the places they live, and finally Origin and Future looks at Africa and the bright future it holds in its hands.

Prologue

Walking into the first room of this exhibition Cyrus Kabiru’s series C-Stunners (2012) greets you, an interesting and thoughtful piece setting the tone for Making Africa, a sort of mish mash of art, performance, fashion and design.  An internationally acclaimed body of work, the Kenyan self-taught artist creates intricate sculptures from second hand, discarded materials.

DSC_1323DSC_1324

These eyewear sculptures focus on transformation as a key theme. On a physical level, the ingenuity and creativity involved in transforming mundane items into something so attractive is transformationally impressive. On a more abstract level the eyewear represents focus, and narrowing of vision through lenses. However, this focussed and more narrow vision is not always positive, and in the case of Africa stereotypes and stigma persist, and are far less easy to put aside than a pair of glasses.

Moving between the artwork, lining the walls and dominating the middle of the expansive space, Studio R!ot’s work, in collaboration with Nosarieme Garrick, founder and creator of the documentary series My Africa Is… drew my attention.

DSC_1332

The bold, colourful and simplistic but multi-faceted poster design depicts an African woman with her hair worn up into the shape of a black fist – a symbol of solidarity especially within African communities. The colour and design elements, particularly the blue pattern, pays homage to the African continent. It’s such a powerful poster design. I’m a big fan of colourful and minimal design like this, and luckily there was more to follow in this exhibition.

I and We

Sat in a glass case displaying graphic design and fashion were Karo Akpokiere’s Tokeria slip ons designed for BucketFeet. They, much like Garrick’s poster design, combine distinct African patterns and striking geometric shapes that really caught my eye, combined with aesthetics of Japanese woodcuts.   

DSC_1335DSC_1336

Akpokiere has a keen interest in understanding how his drawings can be applied to other materials, such as clothing, to make them more accessible and visible. This chimes well with the purpose of BucketFeet who aim to make “wearable art”. The internet has become an essential part of how he connects with new audiences worldwide, but also in collaborating, sharing ideas and engaging people far beyond his immediate physical surroundings.

There’s an undoubted trend in the design work from Making Africa that I enjoyed the most, bold statements, bright colours and simplicity appeal to me a lot. Kabelo Ramasobane’s work Gaborone Couple struck a chord with me, the illustrator and designer having put this personal artwork together for a friend’s wedding.

DSC_1340DSC_1341

Both characters are depicted with natural hair, a trend that is returning tracing its roots to the African Renaissance Movement. Coupled with the retro design and block printing/relief printing aesthetic, the outcome is two portraits that depict a confident and middle class urban couple in modern Botswana – a positive and encouraging image of modern Africa perhaps often overlooked.  

Space and Object

This penultimate room in the Making Africa exhibition held the pieces of most interest to me. Partick Waterhouse and Mikhael Subotzky’s documentation of the life of Johannesburg’s Ponte City skyscraper is a tumultuous tale. The 54 storey building was once one of South Africa’s most fashionable buildings turned dangerous and decaying, but now on the rise again with increasing investment.

DSC_1350DSC_1351

Viglism, otherwise known as Olalekan Jeyifous, displays his work Cardboard Cityscapes, digitally rendered images that question and examine the urban planning of large cities, the societal consequences and architectural tradition. According to the artist ultimately these “suggest the changing contours of urban settlements and an idea of a degenerate futurism.”

DSC_1356DSC_1357DSC_1358DSC_1359

These fascinating images echo the typologies of the worlds biggest cities, such as Lagos, the capital city of Nigeria with roughly 20,000 people inhabiting every square mile making the total population of 8 million. The image uses cardboard to represent areas of the futuristic city plan, a nod to the inventiveness, ingenuity and creativity to many on the lower rungs of society living in the world’s megacities today. This is a lifestyle not settled upon by choice, but by necessity.

Finally in this section the portraits of Vincent Michea untilted (black with spot) and untitled (orange with chairs) with collage and strong graphic elements featuring to distort, conceal and enhance the characteristics of the subjects within, were fantastically minimalistic yet powerful. Created from things he finds in his native Dakar, these portraits change the seemingly unremarkable subjects into something quite different.

DSC_1362 (2)

For example, (black with spot) combines a piece of common local Dakarian architecture and semi profile to create a portrait where the subject appears to be Nefertiti-esque, transforming her into a “Grande Dame d’Afrique”.

Origin and Future

My own obvious interest in street art meant Haroon Gunn-Salie’s intervention video documenting his street art project in 2013 was a crucial piece of this exhibition. The short video of his intervention forces an interesting dialogue about the past and future of the central Cape Town district of Zonnebloem. Performed using vinyl stickers, the street signs of Cape Town were altered to read “District Six” in place of “Zonnebloem”.

District Six was a neighbourhood of the city that until 1968 was the only place where a closely knit, multi-cultural and multi-racial community existed peacefully. In 1968 it was declared to be a “whites only” community, creating one of the most iconic sights of forced removal during apartheid. The area was renamed as Zonnenbloem, or Sunflower, which it is still called to this day.

Gunn-Salie’s intervention brings to the forefront the concept of District Six as a place and idea and the contemporary politics that now surround the site. It’s an area precious not only in real estate but historically. Interestingly, months after the intervention was staged, authorities had yet to remove the stickers and restore the Zonnenbloem name…

Steven
UKB

Paola Delfin – Raices (Roots) @ Montana Gallery Barcelona

Barcelona is a cultural hub of Western Europe. A city renowned for creativity in every form; architecture, cuisine, art, design and music. So with a city of such artistic distinction, it’s hardly surprising that it is also home to one of the most respected names in hardware –  Montana Colours – and its associated gallery space by the Arc de Triomf near Parc de la Ciutadella.

DSC_1208

Within graffiti, street, urban and mural art communities the paint offered by Montana colours is synonymous with the scene. With such associations comes great respect and admiration from members of that community, and a certain level of gravitas from exhibiting within the four walls of its gallery. That is to say that an artist selected to hang work within the gallery is one of undoubted talent, with output high in quality and individuality.

During my visit, Mexican artist Paola Delfin’s work occupied the gallery with roughly 10 -15 pieces hung in the diminutive but well utilised space, flooded with natural light from floor to ceiling glass doors at the street end.

DSC_1159

Delfin’s art is defined by her exploration of organic forms, the beauty of these and feminine sensibility brought together in dreamlike compositions. These are evident in her paintings and illustrations, especially in this exhibition through her ink and acrylic paint on paper and canvas. Raices or Roots also included an in-situ piece from Delfin adorning the crisp white wall by the gallery entrance. A pity that the beer fridge blocked the view slightly, but you can appreciate the scale and connection that this larger piece makes with the theme from the photograph below. However, despite it’s impressive dimensions and workmanship, the other smaller pieces in the exhibition had more impact for me personally.

DSC_1161

Speaking about her art, Delfin says, “my passion is to create, be available to tell a story with my hands and make it visible to everyone though images that involve you [the viewer] in that story. That feeling is what makes me love being an artist.”

On the title of the exhibition Roots she goes onto elaborate a little more explaining that “there are taproots that travel through lakes, valleys, meadows, mountains, forests, clouds, and tides, and there are other branched and tuberous roots that accumulate and store substances, regardless of their type or size. All of them always go beyond the confines of freedom and adhere to the depths of their spirit.”

We begin to understand fully her fascination with this concept and how detailed her exploration of roots is as she pulls us into her world telling us her story through her art. 

DSC_1164

DSC_1165

DSC_1166

DSC_1172

The beauty of organic forms, the trees and branches of trees wrap around the female subjects. In many cases her female subjects and the natural elements of the painting are seen as one, or become impossibly intertwined.

Highly impressive was the diptych ink drawing on display, titled Sembrando 1 & 2, or Ssowing. The title Sowing perhaps referring to the growth of the people from the ground that supports and develops them, with a child appearing in the background as the fruit of seeds having previously been sown.

This intricate composition, one of a series of delicate ink drawings, was very powerful. Her subjects sit submerged in a surrealist forest-like setting, a recurring scene, and form part of the flowers, shrubs and trees that surround them. The contours of the body are comprised of lines of ink that suggest the skin to be closer to the texture of bark than skin – making the strong link between human life and the roots that guide, support and feed us.

DSC_1176

On the right hand side, a heart is suspended in mid air, both feeding and being fed by branches, reinforcing her idea that our roots and connection to the earth are of vital importance. A source of food, water, work, memories, but ultimately life itself. An interconnected system of strong foundations that keep us grounded and healthy as we develop and grow. 

The painted works, acrylic on canvas, titled Seeds 1, Seeds 2 and Roots keep strong on this connection between human life and the earth. This idea of our link to the earth being crucial brings up another possible connotation. At a time when political unrest in the region of Catalonia is so well publicised and almost tangible in Barcelona life, how much do our roots both geographical and familial,  influence our political beliefs. Perhaps not an intentional commentary by the artist on this occasion, but given the location of this exhibition, an interesting question to ponder. As I considered this question, Podemos (left wing Spanish political party, akin to Syriza in Greece) gathered and whipped a large crowd into a frenzy of chants not 100m away, quite aptly timed.  

The final piece worthy of note within the exhibition was titled debajo de la tierra, or underground. Noticeably different from the rest of the exhibition in that it introduced a brighter colour palette and thicker, chunky brushstroke. This gave the subjects defined blocky contours, and protruding bone structures, to an extent that they are almost uncomfortable to look at, perhaps looking malnourished or unwell in appearance. They reminded me of a less bulbous version of some of Peter Howson’s portraiture work.

DSC_1178

DSC_1181

The ground is a deep red, and the sky and foggy backdrop a misty blue. The choice of these colours I believe to be no mistake. Perhaps the deep red has been carefully selected to represent oxygenated blood within the body, the blue of the sky and mist representing the de-oxygenated blood allowing for a slightly different perspective on roots, acting as veins transporting vital blood. Oxygenated blood of course being pumped by the heart, or ground in this instance, to the trees, or humans, to ensure survival.

The exhibition as a whole is tightly themed, each piece with a clear link back to the main thrust, but exploring a different aspect of the metaphor at each turn in a number of different ways. Her intricate illustrations hark back to her early career in illustration, while her acrylic paintings allow her to explore the different ways of exploring her subject often with a surrealist twist, offering a slightly uncomfortable alternative view of the world in her mind’s eye. Despite being more inclined to seek out exhibitions with intricate illustrations like Paola’s, I think I actually enjoyed her paintings more, testament to their power and impact.

The idea of roots is an interesting one, with many different strands coming to mind. From our spiritual home, to sustenance offered by the ground, and our belief systems and to our ability to move freely, as a UK citizen this is particularly poignant.

Although the artist may not necessarily have intended for some of these, the timing and geographical location of this exhibition makes it all the more interesting and thought provoking.

Steven
UKB

Kulturcast episode 3 – Morvern Cunningham, LeithLate

Now I’ve had a bit of time off I’ve managed to get Kulturcast podcast episode number three recorded which features a conversation with Morvern Cunningham.

Morvern runs Edinburgh-based art festival LeithLate and we caught up at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall in Leith to chat about the organisation LeithLate and the festival of the same name.

The festival runs between the 23rd and 26th of June 2016, over 4 consecutive days making it the biggest LeithLate yet, but more on that in the podcast.

We spoke about how LeithLate came to be, what is on this year’s agenda and what’s to come in future, including a really interesting early doors partnership of LeithLate and Deptford X festivals.

Morvern was very busy so I really appreciate her taking and hour or so to chat to me about what she and LeithLate are doing. It was a really interesting conversation, and I hope you’ll find it just as enlightening!

Check out some of the previous public artworks organised by Leith Late and Morvern below.

kirsty 2kirsty 1Guido 2Guido1eduardo paolozzi2eduardo paolozzi

So, on we go with Kulturcast episode 3 with Morvern Cunningham.

Steven
UKB

Dazzle Ship – Edinburgh Art Festival 2016

I suppose one of the appeals of ‘urban art’ is that it can crop up anywhere, really. By far the most unique example I’ve come across (in more ways than one) has to be Ciara Philips’ “dazzle ship” as part of this year’s Edinburgh Art Festival.

As astonishing as the design is, the story behind the ship is just as amazing.

DSC_0725

The MV Fingal, now docked at the Prince of Wales dock in the historic port of Leith, sticks out with its striking design and bold lines and colours. Amazing then, that this type of design was used in the first and second world wars as a form of camouflage.

The design from Glasgow-based Turner Prize nominee Philips was inspired by the team of women who worked under British marine artist Norman Wilkinson, inventor of the “dazzle” technique.

It’s a little known fact that most of these designs were devised by women, and included in this piece is a message in Morse code embedded within the pattern in retro reflective paint reading “Every Woman a Signal Tower”.

DSC_0735

DSC_0750

Characterised by brilliant, glaring geometric patterns these designs were widely used in both world wars.

Instead of aiming to make the ship invisible to the enemy, it set out to confuse their attempts to sink it by making it difficult to accurately gauge the distance, direction and speed of travel.

A brilliantly outlandish stroke of genius. I wonder what happened during the meeting where that idea was brought up…

IMG_5417

IMG_5415

Ciara’s ship design won’t be blending in down Leith way.

Instead it stands bright against the bland port surroundings, and is a welcome addition to the area, having briefly departed to Queensferry for the Battle of Jutland commemorations this weekend.

A really spectacular sight to see in person.

IMG_5441

IMG_5421

IMG_5435

IMG_5438

IMG_5439

IMG_5451

Check it out now, and read more about the project on the 14-18 NOW website which includes a number of other designs across the UK.

Steven
UKB

D*Face, Misfits and Misprints at StolenSpace

I’m a little late with my review of D*Face‘s last exhibition, Misfits and Misprints, at his home turf of StolenSpace. It’s now made way for the London Police, sadly. But all is not lost.

You can relive the glory of his offerings now via this blog post!

DSC_0439

This exhibition was a bit of a rarity in more ways than one.

It proudly displayed a series of one off paper pieces from D*Face’s archive. Included were misprints, proofs and editions that hadn’t been seen in public before.

Screen printing is really important to him. In fact, he makes the bold claim on his artist statement that it changed his life.

From early Warhol prints to the screen printed decks of Surrey skateboards. Envelopes stuffed full of Shepard Fairey OBEY stickers, to the successful completion of his first home printed run of stickers.

Screen printing hasn’t just been in his blood. It kinda is his blood.

DSC_0437

DSC_0440

DSC_0444

“I have always been fascinated by the process, which in its simplest form is a very basic method of mass print production, practically the lowest rung on the ladder of printing (just after potato printing).”

“Achievable to anyone willing to invest in the small amount of money and time needed to learn the dark art.”

“At the same time it’s revered as the top of the printing food chain and carries with it a trade and skill that is forever being honed by master printers.”

 

“It can be deeply frustrating to people trying to achieve print perfection, but liberating to those who embrace the beauty of misprints and repetition.”

I loved the pieces in this exhibition.

The Coca-Cola bottle and typography, rebranded with the word “Riot”, and his Lichtenstein-esque cartoon characters are perfect examples of his ever-present theme of subversion.

DSC_0445

DSC_0438 (2)

With every piece there’s always something else that bubbles just beneath the surface. Suggestions of something a little more sinister, in the underbelly, is his forte.

No better examples than his characters of the multi layered prints, with print upon print upon print creating, at first look an incomprehensible mish-mash. However, on closer inspection each layer becomes clearer.

It takes a bit more work to appreciate, but there’s reward lying in wait for your efforts.

DSC_0449 (2)

DSC_0450 (2)

DSC_0452

There were also multi-layer pieces put together physically – as in different layers of paper displayed in front and behind each other, as opposed to layers of paint – giving additional depth and a different take on the screenprint.

Overall another great exhibition in these four walls. It’s a gallery that sets the bar high with a constant level of quality, It always tempts me down to the Whitechapel Road end of Brick Lane.

If it’s on at StolenSpace, chances are it’s worth making the time.

With that in mind – make it along to see the London Police exhibition now happening, because if it’s half as good as this, it’ll be unmissable.

Steven
UKB

 

Thierry Noir, Howard Griffin Gallery

Back in London for this year’s UK Blog Awards – and still recovering from the excitement of that event – I struck what is best described as arts-blogger jackpot when I found out that D*Face and Thierry Noir had exhibits open that weekend.

D*Face’s show at his Stolenspace Gallery was really very interesting indeed, but my first stop was at Howard Griffin Gallery for Thierry’s latest show.

Speaking with Richard, owner of Howard Griffin, I hadn’t appreciated that the gallery and it’s LA counterpart has an effective monopoly over Noir’s work. His art exhibiting on both sides of the Atlantic only at Griffin owned galleries these days. Quite a coup indeed.

Having visited during the retrospective held here back in 2014, the spartan layout of the gallery was now banished in favour of a full on glorious mindfuck of an immersive Thierry-opia. Of all the recent “street art” exhibitions I’ve seen, this one really made an impression on me.

DSC_0633[1]

DSC_0636[1]

Every, and I mean every, bit of the exhibition space has been painted.

The walls, the floor, the speakers, the turntable, the roof…everything. As you move from one part of the exhibition to the next it has an affect on you. And not in that airy-fairy arts critic kind of way.

DSC_0644[1]

I genuinely found I relaxed as I moved from the really packed and loud red “zone” to the blue “zone”. I felt a bit relieved to be out of the angry red part of the exhibition. No reflection on the paintings however, I loved them all.

But, the colours really do change your mood as you wander around. I’m not sure if this was the point, but it goes to show how the space and the art combined well.

DSC_0650[1]

DSC_0658[1]

Among some of the most interesting pieces were the giant iconic heads that were once the staple of a trip along the west side of the Berlin wall, and the collaborative pieces from John Dolan and Thierry.

DSC_0654[1]

Especially relevant in this space as the two artists were among the very first to exhibit in the gallery in 2014, along with Phlegm. I like the collision of the more intricate monochrome illustration of John’s and the minimal, in your face bold and bright work of Thierry.

Also worth mentioning are the giant sized sculptures created in collaboration with Chris Tsonias too. Effectively they allow you to walk around his, usually two dimensional, characters. For an art nerd and general embarrassing fanboy like me, that’s a lot of fun.

It all kicks off in full later this month, with an opening party featuring Seth Troxler (a massive fan of Thierry’s) and these mega bottles of liquor to be opened on the occasion. I hope it’s well attended as if they intend on making their way through all of these, there’ll be some cataclysmic hangovers lying in wait.

DSC_0655[1]

In short, if like me you are a fan of Thierry’s work, this exhibition is unmissable. It’s a bit like stepping into one of his paintings. His connection to the Cold War era appeals to my Berlinophile sensibility, so this one was always going to be a winner for me.

For those uninitiated, there would be fewer better introductions to his work, and the art of the “street art” exhibition.

Go check it out, now!

DSC_0661[1]Steven
UKB