Saturday, August 31, 2013

Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa

Where: African Art Museum

When: through January 5, 2014

As I write this, it's not even September, but I'm already seeing exhibits that will close in 2014.  Partly that's because my schedule has allowed me to see several exhibits per week lately, and partly it's because there don't seem to be as many shows on display that are closing this fall.  There are a TON of shows closing in January, however, so it's not as if I lack for things to see.

I haven't been to the African Art Museum in a while - they don't seem to have as many temporary exhibits as the Sackler (which is almost identical in size).  I'm not sure why that is, but I wish they offered a few more things I could add to my list to visit.  I find I like contemporary African art very much and would enjoy seeing more of it.

This display, which is fairly large, is comprised of works that consider the role of the land in African society.  In some pieces this is the actual earth itself, in others it's representations of land, maps for example.  In yet others, it's what is contained below the surface of life, buried in the earth.  The show focuses on works from 1800 - present.

The first work I noticed was a painting, imagine my surprise.  I've noticed that a lot of African art is composed of sculpture, masks, bead work, but you don't often see a lot of painting.  This one is a still life called Hottentots Holland:  Flora Capensis 2 by Andrew Putter.  It reminded me of many still life paintings I've seen over the years in the National Gallery.  At first, it's a lovely arrangement of flowers, but the more I looked, the more I saw other images in the floral designs.  An interesting piece, and one I was sorry to leave behind.

One thing I noticed about the display is how young many of the artists are; lots of them were born in the 1960s or later.  Nice to know that, despite the continent's problems, people are still making art and sharing it with the rest of the world.

Another set of paintings that I liked was Christine Dixie's Even in the Long Descent I-V.  This deals with the Cape Frontier Wars, which lasted from 1779-1879.  The five works show a family buried in the earth, complete with their dog.  The idea, as I interpreted it, is that the life we live today, on the surface of the land, is built on the lives of others, who are now hidden below us.  It behooves us not to forget these people, and the circumstances of their lives.  Dogs, I found out, are often used as symbols of the underground, as they dig in the earth - something I didn't know before.

Less traditional pieces are represented as well, including a piece by Batoul S'himi.  It's a pressure cooker, with a map of the world carved into it.  It symbolizes the under-representation of women in world politics and the pressure that exists to change this.  One of the last pieces I saw was one by Younes Rahmoun entitled Kemmoussa.  It's a series of plastic bags, tied into tiny knots and strung together.  I couldn't help but be reminded of the plastic bags I take with me every day when I walk my dogs - these bags have a better fate than the ones I'm using!!

Verdict:  Well worth a look if you're at all interested in African art, or in the relationship between people and the land.

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