Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Author: Chris Spring
Publisher: Laurence King
1st Published: 2008
336 pages |
Chris Spring's book on African art is a 336-page compendium of contemporary practice in Africa.The brief introductory section showcases group practices from communities such as the Fantasy Coffins of Teshie, Ghana, and other art movements from East, through West, to North Africa.
However, the book is primarily about individual artists, the major thrust of the book being to introduce the reader to the author's view of African art. For a book that attempts to cover continental Africa with a sampling of the works of some 63 artists, this can only be a personal collection, speaking as much to the taste of the curator as to the variety of the art on the continent. This is especially so because the artists featured are sometimes no longer working in Africa. Yet, the work that has been assembled within these pages depicts a comprehensive mix of paintings, sculptures, installations and performance art from an intensely vigorous pantheon. Bruce Onobrakpeya, El Anatsui, Chris Ofili.. Those who come to this book with entrenched ethnographic expectations from African art will have their sop, but the collected artists have moved in quirkily distinct directions with both brilliance and individuality.
The quality of the art reproductions succeed for the coffee-table, but the insightful commentaries that accompany them also provide a sustained philosophy of art as the artists grapple with all the big issues. The 7 million idle guns left over after the Mozambican civil war engage four artists, Kester, Fiel dos Santos, Hilario Nhatugueja and Adelino Mate, who worked on Bishop Sengulane's Swords into Ploughshares project, recycling small arms. The work of South African artist Willie Bester is also consciously political - from the recycled metal sculpture, For Those Left Behind, and the vigorous mixed-media piece, Transition. Congolese, Cheri Samba explores this tradition with his Little Kadogo (Child Soldier) and La Chulte du 3e Baobab. Yet, the haunting pieces are intensely personal. - Like the dreaminess of Gemuce's Grandmother and Granddaughter, or the regal, sphinxlike intricacy of Mohamed Bushara's Untitled, 2006 etching - which was also the cover art of 's debut print edition.
The icons of African art are represented here alongside their less famous - and by this evidence - not less talented compatriots. From Jane Alexander's unsettling mannequins to Yinka Shonibare's hilarious ones. From Algeria, through Sudan to Uganda... it is barely possible to take the pulse of African art in 336 pages but Chris Spring has done so sensitively and with curatorial flair in this important book.
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