Everyone knows that this year’s Biennale was one of the most outward-looking so far. Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor’s theme ‘All the World’s Futures’ looked to artists from far and wide for contributions – from South Africa to Russia, from Seoul to New York. But, apart from the usual big shots like Chris Ofili, El Anatsui, Wangechi Mutu, Ibrahim Mahama, who were the African artists who really stood out?
Politics were everywhere at the Venice Biennale this year – and things sometimes threatened to get a little heavy – but this young Zimbabwean artist who’s represented by the South African Goodman Gallery managed to make a point without shoving it down our throats.
His timely meditation on immigration – see the header for the screenshot of an astronaut in a decommissioned Zimbabwean dollar-covered space suit bumbling around South Africa – was funny, thought-provoking and even had a happy ending. If his moves in his space suit are anything to go by, the man can dance. Can’t wait to see what he does next. Lindsay Lohan can’t wait either.
Best known for his aluminium slides and upside-down glasses, Carsten Höller is also the former bar manager of a Kinshasa hot spot (albeit one based in North London). At the Biennale he presented – with Måns Månsson – a brilliant video installation called Fara Fara showcasing two Congolese musicians Werrason and Koffi Olomidé. In the lead up to a joint concert, they prepare for their sing-off like prize fighters. Great music, great clothes and also an insightful portrait of two very different artists.
I spent a couple of hours in the delightful company of his production company ‘Smoking Dogs Films’ and these guys are clever and fun. The three videos which make up Vertigo Sea, and are the final flourish to the show at the Central Pavilion, form an elegiac piece on whaling, the sea and our relationship to it. No dancing but a beautiful soundtrack. A must-sea.
Unless you’re keen on breaking out the moves to God Save the Queen or Star Spangled Banner, Emeka Ogboh’s sound installation won’t get your toes tapping. It will however get you thinking. He recorded the German national anthem in 10 different African languages (Ibo, Yorouba, Bamoun, More, Twi, Ewondo, Sango, Douala, Kikongo and Lingala) on a set of speakers. It is a haunting reflection on what it means to be a citizen of this global world.
Is this the coolest man in Angola? The Biennale, certainly. The world? Never mind. Just take the advice he gives in a video shown at his Biennale show, ‘Don’t be cool be relevant … and if you can be relevantly cool then good for you.’
Not only is he edgy (his other piece is called Fuck Africa) but he’s got great style too. His video, music, performance, and installation-based work has already been recognised by The Future Generation Art Award who awarded him the prize jointly with Columbian artist Carlos Motta in 2014. Get ready to see him either in a gallery or at Glastonbury.
To be commended for things other than sound and music:
OK, she’s not exactly up and coming. And I thought she was dead. But the room devoted Marlene Dumas’s skull paintings proved why she’s still relevant. One for Damien Hirst to study if he’s looking for tips on how to paint and how to make skulls interesting again. (And through the opening, in the photo below, you can see Kerry James Marshall’s abstract paintings.)
Malawian Samson Kambalu is interested in ‘creativity and play’. That means footballs covered in pages from the bible which are there for a kick around. This is definitely an artist to look out for – and he seems fun too.
Camille Norment’s installation for the Nordic Pavilion (the African American lives and works in Oslo) was a beautiful combination of music, trees and broken glass. Peaceful, until an unsupervised toddler made a running leap for one of the shattered panes right in front of me.