MANCHESTER's two main galleries and other venues will collaborate for the first time on a major exhibition of contemporary art drawn from West African countries.
An art bus, modelled on the highly decorated taxi-buses that ferry people across Dakar, Accra and Bamako, will take activities out far beyond the usual participating institutions.
The exhibition called West Africa, We Face Forward: Art from West Africa Today will run from 1 June to 16 September 2012 and be part of the nationwide Olympic celebrations
Curated by a team led by Dr Maria Balshaw, Director of Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester City Galleries and taking place across Whitworth Art Gallery and Park, Manchester Art Gallery and Platt Hall (Gallery of Costume), the exhibition will feature painting, drawing, photography, textiles, sculpture, video and sound work – from a wide range of practitioners whose work is internationally acclaimed, but rarely seen in the UK.
The contemporary art in We Face Forward offers fresh perspectives and reflects on the globalised nature of cultural production. The exhibition will be be based on three themes: the politics of economic and cultural circulation, the question of energy and environmental sustainability and the place of tradition in contemporary culture.
Confirmed artists include: Hélène Amazou, Mohamed Camara, Aboubakar Fofana, Meschac Gaba, Romuald Hazoumè, Abdoulaye Konaté, Nii Obodai, Nnenna Okore, Emeka Ogboh, Abraham Oghobase, Amadou Sanogo, Malick Sidibé, Pascale Marthine Tayou and Barthélémy Toguo, with a number of others shortly to be confirmed.
The title of the exhibition is taken from a speech by Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, made in 1960. Stating his resistance to Cold War super powers, Nkrumah’s full quote is “We face neither East nor West: we face forward.”
The exhibition takes its direction from Nkrumah’s statement of independence, deriving inspiration from his sense of West African cultural dynamism.
(CONFIDENTIAL FACT: Nkrumah was one of the delegates at the Fifth Pan-African Congress which took place at All Saints in Manchester in 1945 and which asserted, 'the right of all colonial peoples to control their own destiny'. It was the first co-ordinated step to independence in Africa. JS)
Major new installations by Barthélémy Toguo at Manchester Art Gallery and Pascale Marthine Tayou at the Whitworth will take centre stage with other artists’ work exploring the themes and populating the galleries and their permanent collections.
The Gallery of Costume will show work by three Malian photographers, Malick Sidibé, Abderramane Sakaly and Soungalo Malé: their archives are being preserved as part of the Malian photo-archive by the National Museum of Mali.
Their extraordinary portraits will be shown alongside West African dress from the gallery collection as well as with some contemporary fashion pieces from West African designers.
But this isn't just about the galleries. There are lots of other venues involved.
For instance the galleries are also working with music venue Band on the Wall and The Manchester Museum on a West African musical programme.
The programme is currently being finalised with the collectives Afrocubism and African Express Soundsystem likely to perform, as well as free pop-up events for the opening and closing weekends.
World renowned players such as Toumani Diabaté, Bassekou Kouyate, Femi Kuti, Orchestra Baobab, Dele Sosimi, Fatoumata Diabaté will be invited to play in a range of venues from the Bridgewater Hall down to the intimate spaces of the exhibitions themselves, and Whitworth Park and Platt Fields.
The programme will also involve world music students (studying kora and balafon in particular) from the Royal Northern College of Music, to develop a West African music programme, within the exhibition spaces.
A summer-long community programme, within the galleries, parks and at a number of locations across the city, will engage the large numbers of West African descent people resident in Greater Manchester.
An art bus, modelled on the highly decorated taxi-buses that ferry people across Dakar, Accra and Bamako, will take activities out beyond the usual participating institutions. A family focused programme will sit within the exhibition, taking the West African Anansi (the spider) story as a jumping off point.
In the city other museums are also taking up the West African theme. The shared West African and British significance of football as a focus for celebration, but also critique, will be represented in Manchester during We Face Forward.
The city is hosting nine matches during the 2012 Olympics, and the National Football Museum presents African artists for whom football gives a means to explore protest, politics and social engagement.
Dr Maria Balshaw, Director of Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester City Galleries, said: “Manchester's connections to West Africa are part of its industrial and trading history. This exhibition brings the dynamism of West African art today to Manchester, as the world comes to the UK for the Olympics.”
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