Monday, 14 May 2007

Malick Sidibé Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at 52 Venice Biennale

Statement and recommendation by the Director of the 52nd International Art Exhibition, Robert Storr

Photography has been perhaps the most widely and inventively used artistic medium in Africa in the post- colonial era, as a spate of recent exhibitions has clearly shown. As they have also demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt, no African artist has done more to enhance photography’s stature in the region, contribute to its history, enrich its image archive or increase our awareness of the textures and transformations of African culture in the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first than Malick Sidibé.

Operating primarily from a small studio on one of the busiest streets of central Bamako, the capital of Mali, Sidibé has been the signal portraitist of his city and nation and the intimate observer of the Malian musical scene. Like August Sander, the great German photographer, he has preserved the likenesses of countless individuals while in the process recording the face of the rapidly changing society they, as citizens, have collectively brought into being.

For the 52nd Biennale of 2007 Sidibé has joined forces with the organizers of the project “Les Africains Chantent Contre le SIDA/Africans Sing Against AIDS” to take pictures of the contestants in a countrywide competition for singers and song writers who composed and performed works in Mali’s various languages designed to provide information about the disease, its prevention and its treatment. The unique presence of each of the contestants is the fruit of a collaboration between the subject and the photographer, a collaboration subtly guided by his unfailing tact and captured by his acute eye. At 72, Malick Sidibé is the undisputed master of his photographic generation. No artists anywhere is more deserving of the 2007 Biennale of Venice’s Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, and none more worthy of being the first African so honored.

Malick Sidibé - Biographical data

Born in Soloba, Mali, in 1936. Lives and works in Bamako, Mali

Solo exhibitions

2001: Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

2000: Centre d’Art Contemporain , Geneva, Switzerland

1996: Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, USA

Group exhibitions
2001: You look beautiful like that: The Portrait of Photographs of Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibé, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, MA; travelled to UCLA Hammer Museum, University of California, Los Angeles; Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida; National Portrait Gallery, London; Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachussetts, MA.

Andre Magnin, Malick Sidibe, photographs, Steidl Publishing, 2006.
Michael Amy, Malick Sidibé and Emile Guebehi at Jack Shainman, in “Art in America”, June-July, 2005.
Amadou Chab-Touré, Malick Sidibé, photographe, L’Oeil, 2001.

culled from

Cape Today, Cape Tomorrow

Finally Cape07 has come and gone. (See my earlier blog entries on Cape 07) It will be remembered for its many successes and its many failures. Heralded with much enthusiasm – at least by the international community – when it was first announced at the Dakar Biennale in 2004, it was treated with suspicion within the local community. In spite of its first national discussion session eKapa in December 2005, which according to reports apparently ended in bitter acrimony and a divided art community, the organisers forged ahead with their plans. After the now defunct Johannesburg Biennale, Cape Town wanted to signalled its arrival on the global art circuit with its own 'not a biennale' international exhibition. Gavin Jantjes a South African curator based in Europe with international experience was appointed artistic direction with two young curators Gabi Ngcobo and Khwezi Gule (curator of contemporary collections at Johannesburg Art Gallery).

With an artistic vision aimed at reaching out firstly to the southern African region and then the wider African continent and the African Diaspora, an important curatorial visit for the team was the 2006 Dakar Biennale. The first time all 3 curators were visiting West Africa and probably interacting with so many African artists in one place. This resulted in some artists such as Bright Eke, El Anatsui, Mounir Fatmi amongst others being invited to Transcape. However it seems financial woes began to set in curtailing further travel apart from to the RDC. By August just over a month to opening Transcape had to be postponed from September to March 2007 to the dismay and annoyance of artists and other intending visitors many of whom had already organised and paid for their trip.

But we got over it and waited patiently for March. Then another bombshell, with the financial situation now dire, the artistic director resigned barely four weeks to the opening and the remaining team decided to soldier on by announcing a 'reconceptualisation' of the exhibition into a 'process driven project'. This it became not so much by design but by default. Activities to a large extent were planned based predominately on the generosity of individuals, artists and organisations. With minimum or no funding but lots of determination and energy the team of director Miriam Asmal-Dik, curator Gabi Ngcobo (only member of the original curatorial team left) and project manager Jonathan Granham went about making sure they made the best of the resources available. The result was not spectacular but it definitely was professionally presented. There were no surprises or new discoveries and the team was criticised for relying too much on artists from the stable of from the Goodman and Michael Stevenson galleries jeopardising a rigorous curatorial research. For visitors especially on a short visit the distance between some of the venues spread all over the city and surroundings was a big problem. Even though I was part of the press party and launch party with transport was provided it would have been an arduous and expensive task getting to see the work in the major venues on my own. As for the numerous X-cape exhibitions it was difficult to see more than 2 or 3 of them.

Bringing a project such Cape07 to fruition in South Africa is still fraught with tension and curator Gabi Ngcobo must be commended for rising above the adversity at such a critical and tender stage of her career. It signals the arrival of young, adventurous, energetic curators who are not afraid to fail and are willingly to take a chance. This is something that is needed on the African continent. It is a disappointment that Gavin Jantges didn't bring to bear his wealth of international experience and his network of contacts, to think creativity and adapt to the situation, basically to pull out the stops to make this event more than it was. Any African country organising a large scale internationally exhibition experiences teething problems and needs all hands on deck to make it half successful. In hindsight it continues to put into perspective the Herculean obstacles that Nigerian curator Okwui Enwezor had to overcome to the make the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale happen.

The future bodes well for Cape tomorrow, Miriam Amal-Dik has resigned her position as director of Pro Helvetia to focus full time on developing Cape into a truly ‘African cultural soup’. Reaching out to African artists as originally planned was not possible on this occasion. At an impromptu discussion session during the opening week, I remarked at how I was the only visiting curator/writer from the entire continent at Cape07. Few if any of the African artists based on the continent could make it to Cape07 due to funding constraints. As they move forward the Cape team must where possible and in collaboration with relevant country stakeholders take the activities beyond their borders, beyond their comfort zone and engage pro-actively with African artists, curators, writers and organisations. What is wrong in having the next eKAPA session in Mozambique only an hour or two from Cape Town. In that manner, like Dak'Art they can begin to develop another important platform for visual art and culture on the continent.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Sharjah Biennale 8:

STILL LIFE:Art, Ecology and the Politics of Change
An appropriate and timely issue in a world in which our environment- physical, political and social – is in crisis. It is all the more pertinent in the United Arab Emirates where mindblogging changes are being made to the natural landscape at a frenetic pace. In spite of its title, the curators of the biennale Jack Persekian (artistic director), Mohammed Kazeem, Eva Scharrer and Jonathan Watkins (co-curators) are keen to point out that this is not a ‘green’ biennale nor an attempt to proffer solutions or even make big claims. It is another platform to participate in a pressing global debate through the medium of art.

Touhami Ennadre Anawana Haloba
Still Life consists of over 80 artists from around the world with at least a third from the Middle East. Funds do not seem to be too much of a problem as almost 50% of the work exhibited were newly commissioned for the event. Africa is adequately represented with about 9 artists but as a group the resulting work was a bit disappointing. A mixture of the expected by El Anatsui, Touhami Ennadre and Anawana Haloba, the not so great experimental performative works by Bright Eke and Amal Kenawy, the bland public installation by Susan Hefuna, the utterly confusing presentation and installation by Khaled Hafez and the slick by Zineb Sedira and Mounir Fatmi to downright boring edutainment by Lara Baladi.

Bright Eke Mounir Fatmi
Some of the more provocative works that really engaged with the issues and ideas of the biennale included those of American artist of Iraqi Jewish origin Michael Rakowitz who had two works ‘Invisible enemy should not exist’ an intricate narrative about the looting of cultural patrimony at the National Museum of Bagdad. His second the work ‘The history of dates’ simply and profoundly engaged with the of art, ecology and politics of change. It traces the history of dates from Ancient times to Modern times and focuses on the way in which dates form an intricate part of Iraqi and Middle Eastern life and culture. A central position which is second only to water.

In modern times its cultivation in Iraqi has gone from 30million trees to 3million due to the effects of politics and trade (ban on Iraqi products) of war and of destruction of the fabric of society. A powerful metaphor for the contemporary Iraqi. Rakowitz won the grand biennale prize for his works and deservedly so.

Michael Rakowitz

Another very interesting, challenging project was by the Finnish artist Tea Makipaa. Her performative work involved not travelling to the biennale by airplane. She travelled from Helsinki to Sharjah by road and sea and is still on her back to Finland by road and sea. You can follow the experience of this performative/experiental work on a blog which has fascinating insight into the experience. Afgan artist Lida Abdul presented video and photography work that explore change in a post-conflict nation and the transformation that result in society and in the landscape.
Lida Abdul

The Sharjah Biennale is an important cultural event for a region that lacks a substantial local art scene and what does exist is fairly conservative. The participation of the UAE artists was not remarkable but it does provide the opportunity for young and even older artists to experiment, make new work and gain valuable experience on an international platform. Bringing international artists and art professionals is contributing to the development of cultural infrastructure to the country and the region not to talk of the economic of tourism. It is definitely a region worth visiting not only for the biennale but also for the interesting almost hyper-real developments taking place.

Suchan Kinoshita Gerda Steiner & Jörg Lenzlinger

Cornelia Parker Marya Kazoun
Ends on the 4th of June 2007. Still time to catch that plane!!!

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Godfried Donkor: Financial Times Exhibition at the Hackney Museum

Artist Godfried Donkor has created new work in response to Abolition 07, the bicentenary of the abolition of Britain¹s transatlantic slave trade. For Donkor this is not a body of work that is rooted only in the horrors of slavery. He shows us the complexities of the modern world and looks at the impact that the slave trade had on the general wealth and development of this country. Installed at the heart of Abolition 07, Financial Times uses the FT index as the ground for Donkors painted imagery, the shipping trade of the 18th Century becomes a metaphor for the interaction of nations and the current cultural politics of globalisation.

The work was commissioned by Hackney Museum and supported by SPACE throughout Donkors five-week residency.

Hackney Museum, Technology & Learning Centre, 1 Reading Lane, Hackney, London, E8 1GQ
The exhibition ends on ­ 14 July 2007