IFAA Barnsley

Africa 53 artist and curator - Kevin Dalton Johnson, 2008 IFAA participant

Issues of identity are crucial to understanding today’s society and more specifically to Kevin’s work as a British/Jamaican visual artist born in the United Kingdom. Like many others he experiences a great sense of displacement from living with the effects of limited and fragmented information about their culture and heritage. The highly emotive and powerful ceramic busts he creates are cathartic and provide a spiritual connection with his African ancestors. They explore issues of identity, displacement and de-colonization of the mind and confront an art world deeply rooted in the politics and ideals of a colonial past and challenge this existing structure through interrogation and representation. They are informed by personal experience and post graduate research at The University of Manchester. He is a commissioned artist who has created the successful permanent sculpture ‘Captured Africans,’ the first memorial public sculpture to memorialize enslaved Africans. Kevin has had solo and group exhibitions at numerous major galleries both national and international (which were well received) and has works in public and private collections.

Africa 53

Contemporary African art has become a force in the international art world, appearing in galleries, museums and prestigious global surveys. The exhibitions will showcase the work of international contemporary African and diasporic artists, both long established and on the rise at ‘The Cooper’ and ‘The Civic’ art galleries, Barnsley.

‘Africa 53’ is in collaboration with Barnsley and IFAA hosted by the Thamgidi Studio Foundation. IFAA is an international multi-disciplinary arts festival in Arnhem. IFAA facilitates an exciting residency programme for international artists. To suit the context of this exhibition and its objective to show the tremendous range of contemporary art from Africa , African artist (Dak’ Art Biennale winners) involved with the IFAA programme have been selected to show alongside African Diasporic British artists from the UK.

The exhibition selections steer clear of suffering AIDS patients, starving children, exotic animals and other longstanding clichés that figure in Western perceptions of the continent. Instead, these professional African artists probe the soul of their homeland, illumining its values, traditions, history and the influences that shaped it. So don’t look here for traditional woodcarving, weaving and pottery, as the artists are also well versed in the styles and strategies of modernism and post-modernism, which they use with ease and maximum effect to address African concerns, and a whole host of global issues.

Installation by Mansour Ciss

The continent Africa was colonised and divided as a result of the Berlin Conference of 1884- 1885 by European powers, hence the exhibition title ‘Africa 53.’ This was Africa’s undoing in more ways than one, as the colonial powers superimposed their domains on the African continent. By the time independence returned to Africa in 1950, the realm had acquired a legacy of political fragmentation that could neither be eliminated nor made to operate satisfactorily.

The work on the right is by artist Bill Kouelany

The installation on the ground is by artist Cheikhou Ba

Colonisation, a result of the ‘Transatlantic Slave Trade’, has lead to much misunderstanding of Art from Africa, often bound by colonial ideals and perceptions. In this context Art from Africa is presented as ‘primitive’ and non- progressive, hence the importance of this exhibition. The work of the African artists presented in this exhibition, show how African artists use their ‘art’ work as a platform to re-dress such perceptions.

Installation by Kevin Dalton Johnson

‘Africa 53’ is an international multidisciplinary high profile exhibition, which effectively demonstrates that African artists are not primitive and like most modern and contemporary artists all over the world are involved in post-modernist debates. Unifying this exhibit is an interest in themes of community, connection, spirituality and history, with several works addressing the legacy of colonialism. It also presents a unique opportunity for the public to see the vibrancy and creativity of contemporary art from Africa and that of the Diaspora today and includes a residency with the Nigerian artists Bright Eke, whose beautiful installations challenges and dispels dated ‘primitive’ clichés. In addition, there is an opportunity for the public to talk with the artists about their work and ideologies, via an informal open forum discussion chaired by the curator Kevin. Dalton-Johnson.

The work on the left is the Global pass by Mansour Ciss and the one on the right by artist Cheikhou Ba

On the whole, the exhibition is an engaging introduction for general audiences to the living arts of Africa and offers an alternative to more orthodox art gallery ‘white box’ didactics. The curator has attempted to ‘mix it up’ a bit, that is to push the boundaries between the ‘aesthetic’ and ‘contextual’ modes of representation that have long distinguished art from cultural history or ethnographic museums, an effort that has been extended to the contemporary works as well. The outcome is an exhibition that presents different ways of knowing and understanding art from Africa as represented through the art works of exceptionally talented and innovative contemporary African artists.

The two works on the left are by S’thabile Mlotshwa and the one on the right by Kevin Dalton Johnson>

Curator Kevin. Dalton-Johnson.