Kudzanai Chiurai Genesis [Je n'isi isi] III 2016 Pigment inks on premium satin photo paper Image: 130 x 140 cm; Paper 142.4 x 152.4 cm Edition of 10

Africa is remembered for suffering. Colonization, plagues, famine, segregation, countless adjectives of a shaken continent. Nevertheless, it seems important to note that there are movements in contemporary art that have been seeking, in a remarkably expressive way, to bring to light centuries of identity.

In this vein, the city of São Paulo hosts its largest exhibition of contemporary African art, with 18 artists from the continent and two Brazilians of African descent. On display at the CCBB, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, in the city center, the montages total 90 works, spread across the floors of the building.

Altogether, four thematic axes give life to the exhibition: Echoes of History, Bodies and Portraits, Urban Drama and Musical Explosions. On the top floor of the exhibition, for example, there is a room whose montage refers to the Nigerian popular music scene with afrobeat, divided in turn into: Power, Sex, Wealth and Religion.

David feat. Olamide “The Money”
David feat. Olamide “The Money”

Unlike Europe and North America, many countries on the African continent find it difficult to bring artists and their works to the attention. Few opportunities and low investments have kept many on the sidelines. This is the case of Ibrahim Mahama, 31, born in Ghana. To exhibit in galleries around the world, Mahama overcame adversities that range from the lack of infrastructure in the city in which he lives to the absence of curators, critics, gallery owners and even fellow professional artists.

Alfons Hug, German curator and creator, emphasizes that the exhibition tries to show the force behind the African historical reality, racial, tribal and economic divisions and that appears in the works of the current artistic scene.

Ibrahim Mahama Non-Orientable Nkansa 2017 (screen res) 3
Ibrahim Mahama Non-Orientable Nkansa 2017 (screen res) 3

For him, artists like Mahama are essentially what one should look for in order to understand the importance of direct and symbolic cultural exchange between the countries of the continent and Brazil. “What ultimately counts is art and its artist. Ibrahim, for example, in addition to being probably the only professional artist in his city [Accra], he is also a Muslim. And that's amazing considering the history of Muslims with contemporary art”, pointed out the curator. He makes reference to the religious and conservative precepts that have collaborated, in the Muslim majority countries, with their late entry into contemporary art.

Afro-Brazilians

Among the 20 artists on display at the CCBB are two Brazilians, of African descent, Arjan Martins and Dalton Paula. Both were invited by the curator to a residency in the Brazilian Quarter neighborhood, in Nigeria, where they researched and developed works. This region was populated by Africans and their descendants who, after the legal abolition of slavery in Brazil, left the country and returned to Nigeria.

Arjan Martins - Photos by the photographer: Ayesca Borenstein Ariza
Arjan Martins – Photos by the photographer: Ayesca Borenstein Ariza

There is, in the works of Brazilian artists, a great cultural contribution from the countries of the continent, especially Nigeria, given the experience of both in the encounter with ancestry during their studies.

For Hug, this is a good time to expose African plurality. “There is greater appreciation of African and Afro-Brazilian art, because the black presence in this culture has been increasing in almost all areas,” said the curator.

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