Sunday, April 12, 2009

Video Art Out of Africa

"A couple of weeks ago, the eminent journal Science announced the confirmation of the earliest known human footprints heretofore discovered. Preserved between layers of volcanic ash, the 1.5-million-year-old tracks were shown by laser-scanning analysis to have been made by truly upright citizens (not like those knuckle-dragging Australopitheci).

It should come as no surprise that the footprints were found in East Africa, in the country now known as Kenya; the same neck of the woods where Mitochondrial Eve — the original common female ancestor of every human alive today — is thought to have trod some 150,000 years back.

And it was just a little farther down the coast, in Blombos Cave on the Southern Cape coast of South Africa, that archaeologists in the early 1990s discovered two ochre engraved plaques that had been inscribed with abstract geometric designs approximately 75,000 years ago — predating the cave paintings at Lascaux by a healthy 60 millennia: arguably our species’ oldest objets d’art.

Now let’s look at the headlines ... hmmm ... “Kenyan Police Accused of Widespread Killings” ... “15,000 Flee Southern Darfur” ... “President of Guinea-Bissau Assassinated” ... “Zimbabwe Cholera Epidemic Worsening. ... ”

Seeded with land mines, depleted of natural resources, riddled with plague, political corruption, poverty and starvation; her social structures pulverized to a jittery, explosive subatomic mush, awash in imported toxic waste, homogenized global urban culture and IMF debt, Africa is as much our future as it is our past.

The curators at the Fowler Museum know this — at least it seems so, going by their track record, with shows like 2003’s “A Saint in the City: Sufi Arts of Urban Senegal,” which traced the proliferation and mutation of a single image of Sufi saint Amadou Bamba across almost every surface of Dakar, and last year’s “Inscribing Meaning: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art” — far and away the most compelling recent L.A. exhibit on the relationship between language and art. Both epitomize the Fowler’s ongoing commitment to representing the artistic practices of the non-Anglo world, Africa in particular, in all their complex vitality: balanced between ancient local traditions, contemporary international Art World strategies, and coping mechanisms for the coming apocalypse.

Of course, in the short term, it is the middle ground that is of greatest interest to the artists, curators and other players engaged in the effort to shift some capital away from Damien Hirst, Richard Prince and (South African–born) Marlene Dumas and into the grass-roots art economies of Dakar, Johannesburg and Lagos — or at least generate some art stars to compete on Charles Saatchi’s playing field."

Images: Muxima Alfredo Jaar 2005

Read the rest of Digital Roots: Continental Rifts at Fowler Museum here

And here's the Fowler's webpage about the shows.

1 comment:

Ecstacticize said...

Thanks for writing about this. The contemporary artwork coming out of Africa for the past few years has helped redefine its perception from a third world ghetto to individuals with sophisticated worldview under sometimes dire circumstances. I would think that it is hard to separate the politics of everyday life from the work that comes out of it. Its great to see it gaining exposure stateside.