I was recently listening to a talk given by Jerry Saltz at the University of Chicago in which he says, “art is not linear…there is a lot happening all at once, everywhere…”. I think there is a lot of truth to this, particularly in the evolution of Modernism, as it came from a variety of places and backgrounds. That being said, there is one historical starting point that has driven much of the inspiration we see in Modernism in the west – and that is the stylistic adoption of historical African art into the practices of Picasso, Gauguin, etc.
But what if, for once, we stop looking at how historical African art has influenced the Modernism of the West and instead look at the influence historical African art has had for African artists who continue to work on the continent – as well as some of the diaspora who are closely tied to the continent? This is the aim of Sindika Dokolo and Kendell Geer’s new show “IncarNations” at the BOZAR Center for Fine Arts in Brussels – looking at African art as a whole, from an AfroCentric viewpoint, from the historical to the present day and exploring the this oeuvre as a living philosophical practice that eschews foreignness/otherness instead for iteration, evolution, and continuity.
The show is derived from Sindika Dokolo’s personal collection, and highlight a variety of classical and contemporary African art side by side – in an attempt to highlight that one can only understand contemporary African art with some basic understanding of the classical/ritualistic/metaphysical of African history.
One piece in particular that brings this idea to life is by Kendell Greers, the co-curator of the show. Geer’s “Twilight of the Idols 3” is a masterpiece of retrospection. Part of a series of ten sculptures, “Twilight of the Idols” was based on Nietzche’s book of the same title, in which the author rallied against religious iconography and icons as they were problematic eternal idols. Geer’s approach with the series was to wrap Congolese nkisi nkondo power figures with red and white Chevron tape (essentially caution tape used to secure crime scenes) to signal danger and to mimic the historical relevance of the nails used in the sculpture – which were intended to protect people from harm or disease. This piece in particular reframes how we look at historical African art – that which was originally sacred and spiritual, but then fetishized by collectors from the West – is a compelling idea for us to consider as we think about African art broadly. Without understanding the historical and how it actually is still powerfully relevant to how we live our lives today; we can’t understand the contemporary to the fullest.
As the late Okwui Enwezor stated:
The work of Kendell Geers offers up two possibilities; one a visceral setting which gives the viewer a kind of adrenaline rush of excitement; an aesthetic experience that places one at a site of recognition yet giving off the aura of impenetrability. The other possibility is one of extreme coldness, a mnemonic disruption that borders on repulsion. In fact Geers would have it no other way.… Geers’ work aptly rediscovers and redefines that moment of transference, there where what is most valuable to our subjective individual agency and sense of history is perennially contested, negotiated and debased.
The rest of the show is comprised of other heavy hitters from the contemporary art world, such as Kehinde Wiley, Sammy Baloji, William Kentridge, Tracey Rose, Wangechi Mutu, Otobong Nkanga, Yinka Shonibare CBE, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Ana Mendieta, Aida Muluneh, Mwangi Hutter, Hank Willis Thomas, Tracey Rose, Adrian Piper, Lubaina Himid, Roger Ballen, Zanele Muholi, Phyllis Galembo and many others.
“IncarNations” runs through October 6th, 2019 at the BOZAR Center of Fine Arts, Brussels.