About the exhibition:

The exhibition is on view at Arendt House.
every Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

The gallery at Arendt House will be open to the public while maintaining social distancing rules.

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Of beauty - Invitation cover 

Of Beauty, Blackness & Power

We were inspired by the emergence of African artists at European art events to work with Philippe Dupont, a great lover of contemporary African art, in realising this exhibition of African-American and African photography: Of Beauty, Blackness & Power, which we finished installing just a few days before quarantine began.

This exhibition highlights seven contemporary artists’ perspectives on African-American and African identity.

While four of the artists use the medium of self-portrait, each vantage point is different, spanning multiple generations. As is often the case for exhibitions in the Arendt House hall, we selected up-and-coming photographers and artists whose work has appeared at important shows like the Whitney, Sharjah and Venice Biennials.

The 22 photographs chosen portray novel positions in photography, which are connected to diverse aesthetic questions surrounding issues of African and African-American identity.

The common thread running through the works is a singular, personal stance toward African and African-American history and culture. On one side, we have African-American artists from the post-black, post-racial era; on the other, African artists dealing with topical questions related to the realities of urban and post-apartheid life, as well as themes inspired by African tradition.

 

The artists:

 

VIRTUAL EXHIBITION

Zanele Muholi_

Phaphama, at Cassilhaus, North Carolina - Zanele Muholi For South African artist Zanele Muholi, who made her breakthrough at the 2019 Venice Biennial, the black body, or even the black face, against a black or white backdrop is not merely a portrait or self-portrait, but becomes a tool of socio-political inquiry and a means of denouncing all manifestations of racism and xenophobia. She views her work as a form of black activism and resistance. Above all, her collection of self-portraits entitled Somnyama Ngonyama, meaning Hail the Dark Lioness, which contains the two wallpaper pieces featured in the exhibition, reveals a beauty that simultaneously exudes a great accusatory power.

 

 

In front of the camera, she assumes a series of roles, playing with racist clichés, African culture and even different social masks. To borrow a term from Jung, her self-portraits become personas that she wears for the space of a picture.

Thus it is she who, from one photograph to the next, holds up a mirror to the viewer, offering herself into a duel of gazes and fixing hers upon us with beauty and force.

Starkly mindful of inequity, Muholi reports being inspired by the negative experiences she has had in Europe and the United States, both as a black person and with respect to gender: she is also an activist for the cause of lesbians in Africa, where the fight is far from won.

Ntozakhe II, Parktown, 2016 - Zanele Muholi

 

 

 


Prince Gyasi_

3 - Prince Gyasi 

In the work of Ghanaian artist Prince Gyasi, community involvement and the exploration of the visual aesthetic of black people take on a more colourful and playful tone. With their lightness and humour, his photographic compositions send out a message of hope.

Black bodies against colourful backgrounds, firmly rooted in the contemporary culture of his home country, proclaim a kind of counter-current to white standards of beauty. 

   
We see a broad palette of gestures and situations which reflect a certain ‘blackness’ captured within ritualised and choreographed scenes of daily life by the artist’s lens.

Using only an iPhone, Gyasi creates a whole new universe, quirky and surreal, in homage to young Ghanaians in hardship. He also uses his photography to help marginalised and disadvantaged youth through his non-profit organisation, Boxedkids.
6 - Prince Gyasi 
   
2 - Energy is Contagious - 3 - Prince Gyasi  1 - Humility (Series Phases) - Prince Gyasi 
click to view in 360° click to view in 360°

 

Mohau Modisakeng_

5 - Mohau Modisakeng 

Choreography and the power of ritual also lie at the heart of the video and photographic works of South African artist Mohau Modisakeng.

He made his professional breakthrough at the 2017 Venice Biennial with the video installation Passage. In his work, Modisakeng revisits South Africa's violent past, often taking his own body as a subject.

His powerful portrait series Baheberu (meaning “Hebrew”) makes reference to a people who, after their exodus, will one day form a new kingdom.

He creates images of supernatural beauty – as in Emira, another series – using the African body in metaphorical and symbolic performances that express the violence of South Africa’s history. Referencing spirituality, invoking the ancestors in highly choreographed scenes, he denounces all forms of racist segregation.

6 - Mohau Modisakeng 

 

 

Lunga Ntila_

3 - Strange I, 2019 - Mask, 2019 - Define Beauty III, 2019 -  Strange II, 2019 - Lunga Ntila 

For the budding South African artist Lunga Ntila, femininity and sexuality are at the root of the “distorted” self-portraits through which she advocates for women in Africa.

In her words: “My feminism looks like freedom; it is opinionated and unapologetic.” As an artist, she works to dismantle stereotypes of black womanhood.

   

In her fragmented collages, she addresses the subject of blackness, the fragility of identity, and beauty as an aesthetically and culturally loaded concept. Her superb mini-collages made from self-portraits reference historic art movements such as cubism, but in working from the perspective of African culture, she does the exact opposite of the avant-garde artists of the early XX century. Picasso and the cubists were inspired by African masks, while Ntila uses her own black face as a point of departure, progressively deconstructing it until it itself becomes a sort of mask.

This concludes our review of the African artists in our exhibition. Now we move on to those from the US.

2 - Strange I, 2019 - Mask, 2019 - Define Beauty III, 2019 -  Strange II, 2019 - Lunga Ntila 

 


Lyle Ashton Harris_

4 - Lyle Ashton Harris 

Internationally renowned American mixed-media artist Lyle Ashton Harris explores intersections between the personal and the political in society. In photomontages, mixed-media collage works and arresting self-portraits, he plays with notions of African-American ethnicity, gender and identity in contemporary urban culture. While living in Africa – spending several years in Ghana and Tanzania – and then in the Bronx in a community shaped by South African victims of political exile, Harris enjoyed total freedom of expression in his development.

In his self-portraits, he conveys the violence to which black people have been subjected. At once, handcuffs symbolise both slavery and rebellion.

   

With collections of imagery, he seeks to create complex iconographic references within a melting pot of US and African culture, in perpetual defiance of the establishment.

His piece Anansi is a reference to the spider of West African folklore that is widely known among the Akan people of Ghana.
Folk tales passed down through oral tradition describe the spider’s strength and cunning when confronted with superior forces. This collage using Ghanaian cloth and two-dye sublimation prints presents a clash of disparate images. Replete with symbolism and imagery from different cultures, his works leave the door open to viewer interpretation.

5 - Lyle Ashton Harris 

 

 

Caecilia Tripp_

6  - Caecilia Tripp 

We included Caecilia Tripp, the only European artist in the group, to gain a plurality of gazes on African and African-American culture. Tripp now divides her time between New York and Toronto.

Renowned for her five-screen film installation Even the Stars Look Lonesome, shown at the Sharjah Biennial, her work focuses on various forms of freedom, utopia and civil disobedience in a globalised world. Poetic, political and ecological, her storytelling gives a central role to new languages, the investigation of sound and the examination of cultural and social codes.

   

Meaningful in their own right, the photographs featured in the exhibition are stills from Even the Stars Look Lonesome, which is grounded in the writings and research of the Senegalese historian and scientist Cheikh Anta Diop.

4  - Caecilia Tripp 
   
5  - Caecilia Tripp  Like her works in film, her photographic works inspired by African-American culture deal with cosmic and ritualised reminiscences. In her photography in particular, bodies fragmented through the framing of individual parts such as hands, the chest, or winged feet unfold between light and darkness in polyphonic rhythm.

 

 

Hank Willis Thomas_

5 - Hank Thomas Willis  Renowned New York artist Hank Willis Thomas is a conceptual artist working with sculpture, painting and photography. He co-opts advertising and propagandist imagery in order to question beliefs about race and ethnicity and to share his critical awareness of the ongoing battle for social justice and civil rights.
   
The three photographs included in the exhibition are reappropriations of sports advertisements depicting two opposing worlds: the celebrated status of the black athlete in American football and basketball, and references to a world of slavery and violence that has left scars which can still be seen today. 4 - Hank Thomas Willis 

 

 

This exhibition displays a variety of aesthetic approaches which together form a small cross-section of new movements in African-American and African photography, dealing with questions of identity, intersectionality, tradition and modernity in a critical examination of the double-edged game that is seeing and being seen


Paul di Felice

 

The exhibition is on view at Arendt House. At the moment the gallery will be open to the public while maintaining social distancing rules. However you may still enjoy the virtual exhibition here on Arendt & Art and also on the Arendt & Medernach Facebook page_


Photos taken before the lockdown by Eric Chenal.

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