Arts + Culture

2 exhibitions at Fowler Museum to showcase contemporary African art

'Continental Rifts' and 'Transformations' open Feb. 22

Long dedicated to exploring the vast range of African artistic expression, the Fowler Museum at UCLA will present two concurrent exhibitions of contemporary art from and about the continent, including video and film, photography, painting, sculpture and prints.
"Continental Rifts: Contemporary Time-Based Works of Africa" features the work of five internationally acclaimed artists: Yto Barrada, Cludia Cristvo, Alfredo Jaar, Georgia Papageorge and Berni Searle. "Transformations: Recent Contemporary African Acquisitions" includes two large-scale metal "tapestries" by celebrated artist El Anatsui, as well as paintings, prints and sculptures by seven additional African artists. Both exhibitions will be on display at the Fowler from Feb. 22 through June 14, 2009, and will be considered in a special presentation on Mar. 19 by noted critic, writer and philosopher Simon Njami.

"The artists presented in these two exhibitions offer multiple perspectives on African artistic production today, fracturing any sense of a singular African aesthetic," said Polly Nooter Roberts, curator of both the exhibitions and a professor in the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures. "Their works offer a plurality of visions that destabilize and also disrupt the neatness of continental categories or boundaries while at the same time offering powerful prisms through which to see many Africas at once."

Continental Rifts
"Continental Rifts" explores time-based media — video, film and related photography — and considers ways in which new media lend themselves to the representation of complex identity negotiations resulting from transnational movement, shifting notions of "home" and "abroad," and deep emotional attachments and divides. The works raise the question "Whose Africa?" by considering issues of geology, geography, botany, war, memory, exile and loss. In the process, national and continental boundaries become blurred as lived experience and remembered pasts defy such arbitrary divides.

The featured artists have deeply individual relationships to the continent. Most have multiple heritages but consider themselves to be African. Some reside elsewhere but have powerful memories of the continent, some move back and forth between continents, and some are from other parts of the world but find themselves compelled to produce films about Africa.
The works in "Continental Rifts," which are all being shown in Los Angeles for the first time, include "Africa Rifting: Lines of Fire, Namibia/Brazil" (2001) by Georgia Papageorge of South Africa; "Home and Away" (2003) by Berni Searle of South Africa; "The Botanist" (2007), along with eight photographs from the "Iris Tingitana" series, by Yto Barrada, who was born in Paris, grew up in Morocco and lives in Tangier; "Fata Morgana" and "Le voyage imaginaire (The Imaginary Journey)" (2008) by Cludia Cristvo, who was born in Angola of Portuguese parents; and "Muxima" (2005) by Alfredo Jaar, who was born in Chile and in recent years has worked in Rwanda and Angola. Several of these works have been exhibited in international contemporary art venues such as the Venice Biennale, Documenta and the Dakar Biennale.

As described in a recent preview of the exhibition published by the College Art Association, "Papageorge's video uses the ancient splitting of Gondwanaland into Africa and South America as a metaphor for social, cultural, and political ruptures, while also offering a chance for redemption and healing. Likewise, Searle's video places images of Spain and Morocco on opposite screens, emphasizing not only the body of water but also the physical, emotional, and legal distances between the two continents. Barrada's work also focuses on Morocco, exploring identity, migration, and dislocation in that country through a video that emphasizes an endangered, native wildflower, and through photographs of Moroccan youths and urban development and entropy. The African-born people in Cristvo's videos describe their memories and projections of the continent, which they left as children. And a work by Jaar uses music, landscape, and lived realities as launching points for aesthetic meditation."

"Transformations" presents works by eight artists of African heritage who explore the potential of their mediums to engender new forms, histories and intentions. They have pushed the limits of the materials with which they work to elicit different textures, colors, layers, shapes and dimensions.

Included are two recently acquired works by acclaimed artist El Anatsui: "Fading Scroll" (2007), co-purchased this year by the Fowler and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, with major support from the Broad Art Foundation, and "Versatility" (2006). The work of El Anatsui, who was born in Ghana and lives in Nigeria, garnered much praise and attention last year at the 2007 Venice Biennale and in the traveling exhibition "El Anatsui: Gawu," which appeared at the Fowler Museum in 2007.

"Transformations" also features paintings, linocut prints and sculptures by seven other artists — Viy Diba, Yelimane Fall, Norman Kaplan, Wosene Kosrof, Azaria Mbatha, Moussa Tine and Durant Sihlali — typifying the daring, resourceful artistic production occurring in African cities today. Their work and careers are both global and local, in that they participate in international art biennials, residencies and other exhibitions while at the same time creating art grounded in the realities of everyday life in Africa — concerns about consumerism and poverty, religion in problem-solving, histories and realities of segregationist politics, and people's roles in economic cycles.
Additional Information
"Continental Rifts" is made possible by the generous support of the College Art Association; the FLAX Foundation (France Los Angeles Exchange), in collaboration with French Cultural Services; the Joy and Jerry Monkarsh Family Foundation; and the Jerome L. Joss Fund. The exhibition was selected as the College Art Association 2009 Annual Exhibition. Additional support for both exhibitions was provided by the Yvonne Lenart Public Programs Fund, and Manus, the support group of the Fowler Museum.

The Fowler is open Wednesdays through Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. and Thursdays from noon to 8 p.m.; it is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The museum, part of the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, is located in the north part of the UCLA campus. Admission is free. Parking is available for a maximum of $9 in Lot 4. For more information, call 310-825-4361 or visit

Saturday Feb. 21
4–6 p.m.
Fowler OutSpoken Panel: Whose Africa?
Curator Polly Nooter Roberts provides an overview of "Continental Rifts: Contemporary Time-Based Works of Africa" and talks with three of the artists whose work is featured: Yto Barrada, Claudia Cristvo and Berni Searle. Each artist will give a short presentation illustrated with new and recent clips of their work. The program continues with an informal, moderated discussion and concludes with questions from the audience. The Fowler members' opening follows this panel. For information on joining the Fowler, call 310-206-0306.
Sunday, Feb. 22
Noon–5 p.m.
Opening Day
Opening day for both exhibitions — "Continental Rifts: Contemporary Time-Based Works of Africa" and "Transformations: Recent Contemporary African Acquisitions."
2 p.m.
Exhibition Tour: Medium as Message
Polly Nooter Roberts, curator of "Transformations" and "Continental Rifts," focuses on the ways in which diverse contemporary artists of Africa, from El Anatsui to Viy Diba, use materials in deliberately transformative ways to convey aspects of meaning and memory. Following the tour, three artists featured in "Continental Rifts" — Yto Barrada, Claudia Cristvo and Berni Searle — will comment on their explorations of time-based media, including video and film, as well as related photography, and the relationships between the media they employ and the messages that emanate from their works.
1–4 p.m.
Kids in the Courtyard: Pop Art
Participants are invited to use soda tabs and bottle caps to create works of art inspired by El Anatsui's sculptures.
Thursday, March 19
7 p.m.
Fowler OutSpoken Lecture:
Simon Njami: Africa in the World — Curating African Contemporary Art in an International Arena
Born in Cameroon and based in Paris, noted essayist and art critic Simon Njami has been described as "Europe's reigning monarch of Afro-hip." Drawing on his expertise as curator of the recent Joburg Art Fair, the African Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale and the much-acclaimed Africa Remix, Njami explores some of the key artists and issues in the thriving and sometimes contradictory contemporary art scene. Co-presented by the Santa Monica Museum of Art, in conjunction with the exhibition "Eye of the Needle, Eye of the Heart: Elias Sim, 20 Years." Sponsorship support provided by the UCLA Department of Art History.
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