Mohamed Camara’s series, Certains Matins (certain mornings), possess the air of a sojourner’s memoirs to the center of rituals that usually, sometimes, and occasionally happen. His self-portrait, Certains matins, je suis le cactus de Sibérie, is a serenade of contrasting temperatures manifested in black skin against white snow. Certains matins, ma cousine me fait des trucs que je ne comprends pas, Certains matins, elle est la premiere à commencer la journeé à la fenetre, and Certains matins, je prie mon dieu are homages to sacred aberrations. Yet Camara’s work, refreshingly, doesn’t offer definitive positions about post-colonial adaptation and the other usual 90s crit theory suspects
Stealing hearts on the international art circuit in 2003, Camara’s impressive early resume boasted all the widely traveled African art shows –Bamako 03, Bamako 05, Snap Judgments: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography– alongside solo shows at Galerie Pierre Brullé in Paris, Zuiderpershuis in Belgium, and a 2004 Tate Modern solo exhibit, Untitled: Mohamed Camara. However since his Certains Matins series appeared in Bamako 2007, this digi-photographer-cum-footballer for Bamako has fallen off the radar save showing up in Galerie Hengevoss-Dürkop’s group show planet africa. Just maybe this lad of romantic liturgy will make a come back in this year’s Bamako 2009. If not, we’ll have to settle with murky editorial shots of footballing legs.
If you thought lens daddy Samuel Fosso’s closet-o-dictator couldn’t have gotten better after Le Chef, then you ain’t seen his newest series, African Spirits. At Paris’s Galerie Jean Marc Patras ‘til March and the highlight of Foam International Photography Magazine’s issue number 17, ‘Portrait?’ the b+w series pulls together a dazzling troupe of friends, enemies, heroes, and all around shady dudes. Flashing himself into Mobutu, Patrice Lumumba, Mohamed Ali, and Angela Davis to name a few, Fosso, as always, resembles his subjects better than your fave docudrama ever could. So if you’re broke like the rest of us and can’t make it to Paris, pick up a copy of Foam for hardcopy Sammys and Olu Oguibe’s article that confirms all the moma gossip.
In 1976 the Black President of psychedelic Afrobeat sex, Fela Anikulapo Kuti churned out over half a dozen albums, and his Kalakutu Republic compatriot, Ghariokwu Lemi designed nearly all of them. For the two artists, 1976 marked a year of collaboration and medley of design possibility. In his only minimalist album cover for Fela, Zombie, Lemi matched Tunde Kuboye‘s photograph of painted boys into plastic toy nightmares to Fela’s siren to sing, make love ‘n art, and smoke against Nigeria’s corrupt government’s brutality. The cover marks a departure from the visual vocabulary of buxom lady(ies) of Yellow Fever and several of Fela’s pre-76 covers, Zombie acts like a serum to commence peaceful, yet confrontational protest. But the trajectory and use of photography didn’t last long. Lemi’s other ’76 works, Upside Down, Ikoyi Blindness, No Bread, and Before I jump like a monkey give me some banana, are collage, comic book-esque illustrations defined by anxious colors and protest scenarios that report atrocity with the most casual glance. Though the duo’s cover theme contrasts are subtle, the jump from ladies to calm protest to political comics signifies shifts in Nigeria’s political landscape, and a definative artistic response. But don’t think Lemi’s work stops at Fela’s albums. Beside other covers (including some with darlings in aviators) his recent illustrations like Anoda Sistem (2002) continue to portray Nigeria’s political landscape with wit and humanity. For more check out Lemi’s myspace, it’s worth the trip.
A Lubumbashi gent born and raised, Sammy Baloji is the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s mix-master of subversive photo montages. Circumventing the impulse to snap easy pix of rundown landscapes and rust or depressing images of peeps amid war ‘n economic depression, Baloji’s 2006 series “Mémoire“ is an aesthetic contortion of Dada meets nouveau photoshop geek with more than a dollop of regional history smeared ontop. Digging into the archive, Baloji extracts b&w images of migrant mine workers from the early 20th Century and superimposes them over contemporary shots of the now abandoned industrial landscape. The mines, established by sadistic Belgians ‘n Congolese in 1908 for the Congo Free State colonial enterprise, fell into disrepair once ole Mobutu (think leopard patterned hat) caught hold of ’em in ’66, and have since become a Bermuda Triangle for power games. Yet despite the bloody history packed into the series, Baloji’s work possesses an air of dignity, as if his photographic cut outs, once victimized by colonial contests, have returned to lay claim to their labor.
You’ve seen his work and it sort of reminded you of Cindy Sherman meets Malik Sidibé so you already love him, but you can’t remember his name— he’s Samuel Fosso, the damn fine lookin’ gent who transformed traditional West African studio photography from family photos+fabrics to a gender bending, power transgressing tableaux. Shuttering himself into the handsomest Samuel he can be since the mid-1970s, first in black and white and later in color, the roster of role-portrait Samuels range from tribal salesman (see Le Chef) to liberated 70s disco cowstress to his grandfather’s dream. Born in Cameroon, raised in Nigeria, residing in Central African Republic, rumor has it Fosso began churnin’ out the auto-portraits at breakneck awesomeness to send home to Mom in Nigeria. But canards or grapevines aside, since entering the international stage as the star of Okwui Enwezor’s mega show In/sight: African Photographers 1940 to the Present, Fosso’s gender, power, and expectation bending photos have been everywhere. So if you don’t know him, get to it, cause he’s one sassy lens daddy.
An assemblage of bright ‘n primary colored plastic bowls, lights, and gyrating fans cribbed from household good stores, Assefa Gebrekidan’s installations are like a theme park birthed from the creative cooperation of Vladamir Tatlin, Ethiopian Orthodox painters, and the makers of Mouse Trap. Thematically playing with light as a substance of magic and missiles, Gebrekidan calls viewers up to the switch plate, leaving the passive to venture through his abstract ode to readymades in the dark. Exhibited at London’s Camden Arts Center during his 2005 fellowship, the set of six, Coming Out, A Glimmer of Hope, Wheel of Time, Unwanted Guest, A Cracking Night, and Inner Power is Gebrekidan’s only work to be found on the net, begging the question, where did his infamous photos of clay pot destruction wander off to?
Shot in Jo’burg’s polychromatic streets, Lolo Veleko’s Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder (2004+) and Wonderland (2007+) are sexy compendiums of young fashionistas and urban spots that boldly declare Urban Africa ain’t just Hyena men and crumbling Lumumbas. Owing to her subjects’ boss coordination of accessories and necessaries, Veleko’s photos could easily be popped into a more racially astute version of Nylon’s Street Stylin’ section, even if she isn’t snapping for commerce. Veleko documents looks as vocab for cultural communication and q’s of complex post-Aparthied identity. But before calling it classic post-colonial politicin’ v. shallow hipster connoisseurship, consider the parallels between her work and Fruits‘s insight into transformative Japanese textiles and hair color or if ensembles sans baby tees make you sleep better at night, think The Sartorialist– afterall, they are both repped by Danzinger Gallery (Chelsea, NY). Yet despite being represented in Chelsea and by Goodman Gallery (Gauteng, J’burg), Lolo sits under a measure of obscurity in NY’s Chelesea/Soho/LES/Dumbo/Billyburg gallery pentagon. So tsk tsk to all you in-the-dark photophiles and go check out her latest exhibit in Berlin.
On exhibit at NYU’s Gray Gallery Poetics of the Cloth African Textiles/Recent Art is an awkward shot-gun marriage between shiny trash turned fine art and yet another conservative, banal stab at curating African work. There is El Anatsui, the renowned Ghanian bad ass of scrap metal and and golden bottle tops; Sokari Douglass Camp, a Nigerian politial practitioner of recast scrap metal; and other textile imaginators who weave ‘n torque patterns out of anything but their grandparent’s sewing kits. Standing outside the cloth-metal crowd is Grace Ndiritu, a video cloth temptress extraordinaire hailing from the U.K. and immigrant parents. Whether training her lens on women’s blue scarfed heads in slowmo that make lonely planet traveler home videos look like a sham or recording herself defiantly wrapping and unwrapping herself into a temptpress in the Nightingale (2003), Ndiritu becons our voyeuristic desire to glaze over and gaze.
Sadly, the wall scribblers tacked up the interesting details in a small font, letting the oversize letters discourse like its 1999 all over again: really, how many more times does a university gallery need to reiterate that art is everywhere in baby-step language? While wall text shouldn’t leave the art impaired shipwrecked in jargon, the show’s curators over did it. And to make matters worse, The New York Times‘s Karen Rosenberg butchered it further. Opening her review with “to the casual Western eye “African art” equals “African sculpture” [and as this] exhibition makes clear, this picture is laughably outdated,” Rosenberg ironically opted not to mention that minus the wall hangings and a tv, the exhibit is sculptures. And as if Rosenberg hadn’t already sewn herself into a rhetorical quagmire, she later laid the misinformation down by penning “One of the show’s discoveries, Grace Ndiritu…” as if Ndiritu work hadn’t been reviewed in Frieze in 2007 or given a shout out in Holland Cotter’s (i.e. NYTimes ole man of art reviewing) April ’08 review of Flow, which showed at the Studio Museum of Harlem. Apparently writing for The New York Times doesn’t necessitate reading it anymore.
But trash talk aside, catch the show: it‘s on view ’til December 6th.