Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Tough Love in Maputo

My schedule has been nothing short of hectic and whilst i have so much i would love to share as i can't seem to write short entries i keep putting it off till I find that ever elusive time to write something in full. Over the past 10months i have amassed quite a collection of unfinished blog entries. I will have to see how I can turn that into some kind of project a la Hans Ulrich Obrist's The Agency for Unrealised Project one. Actually come to think of it I have amassed quite a collection of unrealised curatorial projects which i remember with fondness. For example an exhibition of Shirin Neshat (before she became famous) and Farah Bajull or Wouldn't take nothing for my journey which was a group exhibition with artists such as David Hammons, Leonardo Drew, Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simposon etc, or the exhibition of Kara Walker (Also before she became famous. I came across her work when she had only had 1 exhibition at the Drawing Center which was very well received and she had finished her MA at RISD and was applying for AIR at the Studio Museum Harlem. I was doing my curatorial internship and came across her work in the applications and just loved. I was asked to prepare all the applications as the jury would be meeting and of course I arranged it in order of my preferences with Walker on top and Shepp (Archie i think) 2nd. The didn't take her and the rest is history. These were presented to galleries in London in the mid90's and I guess they weren't really ready then. So HUO let me know when you are doing your next AUP. See if I can dig them out of the cobwebs. Anyway I digress (see what I mean).

So Maputo. Yes I was there about 10 days ago (Becoming my favourite place in this our beautiful continent) at the invitation of the Goethe Institute. A portfolio review for over 20 photographers meeting 6-7 curators from Africa and Europe was organised to take place during the Maputo PhotoFesta. At the last minute Photofesta was cancelled and a decision was taken to continue with the PReview. Well Done Goethe Institute for sticking to your guns. One of the best things you done - not that you don't always - apart from feeding us with all those huge prawns, fish, and other delicious Mozambican food. Okay!!!! Don't get me wrong it was seriously hardwork and I have yet to recover - from the good food and WORK.

far right CO Berlin curator Felix Hoffman

Short short - It was a fantastic professional and networking opportunity. For years cultural workers in the visual arts complain that there are few opportunities to meet and interact intensively and this was a model that was beneficial and important for all who attended.
1. We live on the same continent and we don't know each other. When will we stop flying over Africa to Europe? Yes when will we stay long enough on the continent and visit each other? Although I travel quite a bit most of the time people think it is to Europe but most of my travel is actually within Africa and I now find it bizarre when people say they have not been to any or not more than 1 or 2 countries EVEN within their region of the continent. Of course my favourite point of conversation is how many African countries have you visited.
2. It was a great opportunity for the curators to see a diversity of work. Each photographer saw or was supposed to see 3 curators but you know una people some saw 4-6.
3. It was the first time almost all of them were getting 'serious' critical feedback about their work.
4. Out of the 12-13 photographers I saw, I found about 5%good 10% interesting, 10% with potential with more guidance/feedback, 15% neither here or there and 20% who had to go back and think hard about which
direction they want to take if they want to continue with photographer. There is still a window of opportunity for them. And the rest were made to understand not to give up their day job.
I remember on the evening of the first review, saw many long faces and the mood was sober. I think shock. It is not easy going through a critical review especially the first time but I was happy to see that by the next day these photographers came out guns smoking, ready to make the effort necessary to advance their field. The best part of the day was when I met one of the photographers who sampled a portion of the 'tough love' staple at an opening of an exhibition said to me beaming with a smile 'I WILL NEVER FORGET YOU', and asked somebody to take a picture of us.I will NEVER FORGET HIM too. That in essence was what the event was about.

A lot of activities local and international on the continent over the past 10-20years has been focused on artists' residencies - making work without any real or new developments to deal with other challenges artists face. Photography has more of a challenge as there are few if any - outside of S.Africa probably - that offer tertiary qualifications in photography or digital art. As for the critical or contextual aspect. Forget it! We have barely begun.
I did leave a bit confused and dejected as in my mind I kept asking. Where do we begin? I guess my small consolation is that I CCA,Lagos does have an art library (won't tell you how many people bother to come) and photography and other lens based media are one of the areas of focus.

Cross section of photographers and
curator Khwezi Gule (right side with glasses)


Blogger James said...

Maputototo, as somebody called it, was certainly worth it's while to me as a photographer... on "serious critic", the issue is, this has to be done more regularly in what ever channel and perhaps an online commentary would save the organiser, as it were, lots.
Bisi, i did not get to converse with you and certainly i would have wanted that based on what some of those you interacted with had to say or feel....

13 November 2008 at 08:19  

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