10 African video artists to know now

Project [SFIP] brings African video art to London.

The Ben Uri Gallery and Museum in London is hosting Project [SFIP] from 13 to 30 March 2014. Featuring video art from Africa, the show shines a spotlight on oft-forgotten aspects of contemporary art practice from the continent. Art Radar profiles 10 of the participating artists in the exhibition.

Nicene Kossentini, 'Myopia', 2008, video, 3m:13s. Image courtesy the artist, [SFIP] and Ben Uri Gallery and Museum.

Nicene Kossentini, ‘Myopia’, 2008, video, 3m:13s. Image courtesy the artist, [SFIP] and Ben Uri Gallery and Museum.

What is project [SFIP]?

Project [SFIP],“Still Fighting Ignorance and Intellectual Perfidy”, is “a multi-national exhibition process and a platform for critical thinking, researching and presenting African video art.” It was founded and curated by Tongolese-French curator and producer Kisito Assangni. The project started in 2011 and has toured various locations around the world since its inception.

After opening at the Marrakech Biennale on 26 February 2014 (until 31 March), Project [SFIP] is launching on 13 March 2014 at the Ben Uri Gallery and Museum in London. The exhibition presents the work of 21 African video artists, ranging from video to short film. The show addresses the democratisation of cultural and artistic practice in an age of ‘techno-cultural revolution’, when everyone has everyday access to new media.

Mohamed El Baz, 'FUCK THE DEATH', 2011, video, 11m:10s. Image courtesy the artist, [SFIP] and Ben Uri Gallery and Museum.

Mohamed El Baz, ‘FUCK THE DEATH’, 2011, video, 11m:10s. Image courtesy the artist, [SFIP] and Ben Uri Gallery and Museum.

The exhibition shines the spotlight on often-ignored aspects of African artistic practice as African art is still largely associated with painting and sculpture. [SFIP] demonstrates how African artists based in Africa, USA and Europe are confronting contemporary issues through new media.

The project, reflecting on an age of inter-cultural migration, provides a meeting point for knowledge and interest in the relationship between self and society. The works on show address a range of issue including alterity, identity, tolerance and social relationships, and artists reflections on their sense of place and belonging in an increasingly interconnected world.

According to the press release, the exhibition:

focuses on aesthetic and methodological perspectives of fighting ignorance and intellectual perfidy in contemporary African art. The project tells Africa’s story by African new media artists as seen through the lens of the relation between tradition and modernity.

Kokou Ekouagou, 'Taller man', 2011, video, 2m:20s. Image courtesy the artist, [SFIP] and Ben Uri Gallery and Museum.

Kokou Ekouagou, ‘Taller man’, 2011, video, 2m:20s. Image courtesy the artist, [SFIP] and Ben Uri Gallery and Museum.

10 artists in focus

Said Afifi (Morocco)

Said Afifi (b. 1983) explores the multitude of possibilities offered by new technologies and exploits them through multiple media, such as interactive installations, photography and video. A central concern in his artistic approach is the question of the paradox and the absurd. The artist attempts to decipher the world through his own personal view without the influence of others.

Watch ‘Metamorphosis of the linguist #2′ from Saïd Afifi on vimeo.

His work Metamorphosis of the linguist #2 (2010, 4m:58s) departs from the idea of leaning on a textual content – what he calls “the veritable genealogy of modern reason” – as a basis for audio and visual artistic research. The objective of the intervention is to make Nietzsche’s reflection lose its logic and to make it re-construct itself in a succinct way until it finds a purely absurd dimension.

The audience is invited to develop, with the artist, its own forms of expression when reading, translating or vocally expressing the intellectual content of the book. The main idea is to create an interaction with the public based on spontaneity, flexibility and freedom.

Rehema Chachage, 'Kwa Baba Rithi Undugu', 2010, still from video, video duration: 1 m:23s. Image courtesy the artist, [SFIP] and Ben Uri Gallery and Museum.

Rehema Chachage, ‘Kwa Baba Rithi Undugu’, 2010, still from video, video duration: 1m:23s. Image courtesy the artist, [SFIP] and Ben Uri Gallery and Museum.

Younes Baba-Ali (Morocco)

Younes Baba-Ali (b. 1986) is a multi-disciplinary artist trained in France, whose work centres around sound material and its conditioning. He works in diverse media including sound, video, photography and installation. As an artist/engineer, Baba-Ali masters the potentialities of technology as an attempt to understand its complexity. The artist subtly and often ironically interrogates the mechanisms of contemporary society while shedding light on its dysfunctions.

His work poses the viewer face to face with the thin divide and unavoidable coexistence between intelligence and chaos. Urgent issues he reflects upon include the effects of the “Society of the Spectacle”, the question of multicultural identities and religious clashes, the over-production and waste of goods.

In his sound installation Call for Prayer – Morse (2011, 3m:6s) the artist uses a megaphone that broadcasts the Muslim call to prayer in Morse code. The prayer call sounds five times a day, at precise times, depending on geographic location. The call evokes the close relationship between religious practice and the absence of spiritual experience.

The Morse translation of the call for prayer transforms it into an alert signal against the dangers of proselytising. The code warns against religious and moral rigour, which in their excessive doses can prevent people to live a free religious and spiritual life. The work addresses the lack of spiritual freedom and the mechanical response to a call for prayer: it is not a conviction or a free choice anymore, rather it is forgetting to respond to the demand of a community distanced from their own needs.

Ezra Wube, 'Gela 2', 2010, stop motion video, 1m:57s. Image courtesy the artist, [SFIP] and Ben Uri Gallery and Museum.

Ezra Wube, ‘Gela 2′, 2010, stop motion video, 1m:57s. Image courtesy the artist, [SFIP] and Ben Uri Gallery and Museum.

Ezra Wube (Ethiopia)

Ezra Wube (b. 1980) moved to the United States at the age of 18. His works encompass video, installation, drawing, painting and performance. Ezra’s work references the constant shifting of time and place.

In November 2013, Wube created a piece while in residency at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Swing Space, titled Midnight Moment. The three-minute animation was shown in Times Square, New York City, every night throughout November. The work was a love letter to New York City from the artist, with a collection of memories of his daily journey throughout the city.

Watch ‘Gela 2′ by Ezra Wube on youtube.com.

Reflections on time, place and memory are also central to his work on show, a stop action animation titled Gela 2 (2010, 1m:57s). Here the artist explores the idea of Pluralism through autobiography. The work is in a continuous dialogue between the ‘here’ and ‘there’, tradition and modernity, continuously oscillating between different times and spaces.

Michèle Magema, 'Interiority Fresco IV. The Kiss of Narcisse(e)', 2010, video, 4m:10s. Image courtesy the artist, [SFIP] and Ben Uri Gallery and Museum.

Michèle Magema, ‘Interiority Fresco IV. The Kiss of Narcisse(e)’, 2010, still from video, video duration: 4m:10s. Image courtesy the artist, [SFIP] and Ben Uri Gallery and Museum.

Michèle Magema (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

Michèle Magema (b. 1977) was born in Congo and educated in France. A key focus in her practice is the articulation of a permanent exchange between her Congolese culture and her adoptive French culture through videos and installations.

The plurality of her belonging allows her to interrogate her own history and that of a nation, a continent and more largely the world. The artist is interested in individual histories that she puts in relation to universal History. This allows her to take a critical posture within and towards the world.

In her video Interiority Fresco IV. The Kiss of Narcisse(e) (2010, 4m:10s), the artist offers an alternative reading of the myth of Narcissus. In the video, the artist dressed in white kisses a series of three masks fixed to a wall that are casts of her own face. She incarnates Echo, the beautiful nymph that fell in love with Narcissus. Playing with the myth’s significance and symbolism, the artist – in a game of metamorphosis – pursues her own reflection, playing with notions of appearance and belonging, of echo upon echo.

Rehema Chachage (Tanzania)

Rehema Chachage (b.1987) is a new media artist, working mostly in video and sculptural installations as well as performance-based work. The themes explored in her work are often determined by her “situatedness”, but the most prominent concepts are “rootedness” and “identity”: being a stranger, the outsider, the other, the alien and often voiceless.

Such themes have been inspired by the social alienation that she experienced in the four years she spent as a cultural “foreigner” and a non-South African during her studies in Cape Town, being a black female student in a predominantly white middle class oriented institution.

Watch ‘Kwa Baba Rithi Undugu’ by Rehema Chachage on youtube.com.

Kwa Baba Rithi Undugu (2010, 1m:23s) is a part of the Haba na Haba installation that explores the themes of ‘voice’ and ‘voicelessness’. It consists of two sculpturally made transistor radios with embedded TFT monitors. The devices contain audio-visual data that have been specially selected and intentionally interfered with by the artist, in order to make it somewhat inaccessible or incomprehensible.

This intentional ‘break in transmission’ gives two choices to viewers: to either ignore the content of the work, which they may perhaps not even understand or relate to – this is often the fate of the voiceless individual – or to try to listen and engage with what is being said by this voice that speaks from a place of ‘difference’.

Kai Lossgott (South Africa)

Kai Lossgott (b. 1980, Germany) is a Cape Town-based artist, writer, curator and poet whose personal practice currently focuses on exploring green politics and systems theory through experimental film, performance and drawing. His curatorial projects include the internationally touring artists’ film programmes CITY BREATH and LETTERS FROM THE SKY.

Watch ‘Read these roads’ by Kai Lossgott on youtube.com.

The artist talks about the evaporating water puddle images in his stop frame animation Read these roads (2010, 3m:58s) as a hint at the living systemic relationship between Table Mountain’s hydrology systems, the City of Cape Town’s water system and the biological systems of the human body. He defines this video as “a poem of unfulfilled desire for the lost personal bond with the natural world.”

The soundtrack of the video comes from Adderley Street in the Cape Town CBD (Central Business District), above the underground storm water drain where the now forgotten Varsterivier runs into the sea daily. The Varsterivier is one of the many forgotten rivers in the area, which alone equals three million cubic tons of untapped fresh spring water. The artist directly comments on a very important issue: fresh water is one of South Africa’s scarcest resources.

N’doye Douts (Senengal)

N’doye Douts (b. 1973) favours painting as his mode of expression but also works in sculpture and film. His video animations show how space is occupied, and how its occupation and its density are intensified by a society. At the same time, his works explore the social network and the familiar solidarity that forms in a population taking its roots in geographical proximity. His oeuvre lies in a world that is in constant flux, in a continuous state of construction and deconstruction, between chaos and order.

Watch ‘Train train Medina’ by Mohamadou Ndoye  on vimeo.

Train train Medina (2001, 7m:02s) is a short animated film made with sand and paper cuts. One day, a man starts to steal sand from the beach to build his own house. From one house, the area becomes an entire Medina, where everything becomes confused. The communications, transportation, the conviviality between inhabitants, everything is at the mercy of chaos.

One day, finally, everything melts and fuses together. Living together in disrespect of nature and of others provokes a time of social malaise that makes all savage and wild, and finally erases everything without leaving any trace. The short film was awarded the Anima Prize (Belgium) and the prize for best animation film from Africa in 2003 (Canada).

Victor Mutelekesha (Zambia)

Victor Mutelekesha (b. 1976) was born, raised and partly educated in Zambia. He received art academy education in Norway, where he currently lives and works. His work focuses on the displacement of the human individual, which is generated by the ongoing repressive manipulation and by the increasingly visible social and environmental breakdown of a culture that is so permeated with wars and injustices in general. Through his work, he wants to imagine our world as a place where the hope for a renewed emancipation of the human is still possible.

Watch ‘Shadow of my shadow’ by Victor Mutelekesha on youtube.com.

Shadow of my shadow (2009, 3m:39s) was created to reflect the illusion of existence. The individuals in the back layer of the video exist within the Norwegian-African diaspora and are well integrated in the Norwegian way of life, or so they appear to be. In reality, the allure of what (and where) they once were denies them a complete sense of belonging. At the same time, the feeling of complete belonging is constantly shaken by not so often but powerful acts of cruelty, such as by individuals like Anders Behring Breivik targeting the supposed multiculturalism and liberal policies of Norway. The artist says, “such acts remind you that you don’t really belong.”

Dimitri Fagbohoun (Benin)

Dimitri Fagbohoun (b. 1972) creates installations, photos, media art and films. Through abstraction, Fagbohoun seduces the viewer into a world of ongoing equilibrium and the intervals that articulate the stream of daily events. Moments that only exist to punctuate human drama are depicted in order to clarify our existence and to find poetic meaning in everyday life.

Black Brain (2010, 4m:2s) was inspired by Christopher Nolan’s film Memento, in its quest for the truth, the memories in our brain, life and spirit. In the video, the artist makes a roast out of cotton wool, as a symbol for the human brain. The roast burns through a phenomenon of self-combustion and the spectator is invited to eat a piece of the burnt roast.

This action functions as an invitation to question our memory, the weight of our actions and our amnesia. It allows us to face our own inertia in front of the mutations of the world. In a metaphorical way, with the uses of cotton wool as symbol of a past that is yet present, the artist also questions Black identity.

Victor Mutelekesha, 'Shadow of my Shadow', 2009, video, 3m:39s. Image courtesy the artist, [SFIP] and Ben Uri Gallery and Museum.

Victor Mutelekesha, ‘Shadow of my Shadow’, 2009, video, 3m:39s. Image courtesy the artist, [SFIP] and Ben Uri Gallery and Museum.

Jude Anogwih (Nigeria)

Jude Anogwih (b. 1975) is a multimedia artist and curator. He is a founding member of Video Art Network, Lagos. As an artist, he interrogates concepts of identity, mobility and migration. His work has been featured in several international art exhibitions and projects, and his recent curatorial projects include the 2011 exhibition “Contested Terrains” at Tate Modern, London and Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), Lagos with curator Kerryn Greenberg (Tate Modern).

Stop! (2009, 2m:4s) reflects on identity and migration. The subject of migration is a timely, urgent matter of reflection and concern, says the artist, especially for a contemporary nation such as Nigeria.

Most immigrants face complex social realities that arise from migration and the search for identity. Individuals in such situations often have to reflect on their own personal experiences and struggles during their displacement, in their quest to assume a new identity within or outside their place of dwelling.

Nirveda Alleck, 'Perfect Match', 2006, video, 6 min 32 sec. Image courtesy the artist, [SFIP] and Ben Uri Gallery and Museum.

Nirveda Alleck, ‘Perfect Match’, 2006, still from video,video duration: 6 min 32 sec. Image courtesy the artist, [SFIP] and Ben Uri Gallery and Museum.

Other [SFIP] artists

  • Nirveda Alleck (b. 1975, Mauritius)
  • Saidou Dicko (b. 1979, Burkina Faso)
  • Mohamed El Baz (b. 1967, Morocco)
  • Kokou Ekouagou (b. 1979, Togo)
  • Samba Fall (b. 1977, Senegal)
  • Wanja Kimani (b. 1986, Kenya)
  • Nicene Kossentini (b. 1976, Tunisia)
  • Nathalie Mba Bikoro (b. 1985, Gabon)
  • Johan Thom (b. 1976, South Africa)
  • Saliou Traoré (b. 1965, Burkina Faso)
  • Guy Wouete (b. 1980, Cameroon)

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia


Related topics: African artists, video, animation, new media, museum shows, events in London

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