At Pangaea II, the current exhibition of African and Latin American artists at the Saatchi Gallery, the Africans win hands down in terms of intensity and originality; the Latin American art looks a bit too sunlit and carefree — if not careless — in contrast.
Two African artists in this exhibition in particular pack a real punch. Aboudia comes from the Ivory Coast and made a great deal of his work in 2011 in an underground studio where he had been forced to take refuge due to the violence that followed the elections in his home city of Abidjian. You can see this in the work entitled Daloa 29, a menacing row of characters carrying weapons facing, as it were, the artist. The same can be said for the work below.
Aboudia, Djoly du Mogoba, 2011. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas. 176 x 237 cm (each canvas). Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
But life has got back to normal for Aboudia. His recent paintings are huge and vivid paeans to above-ground urban life in this lively African city. He mixes collaged newspaper cuttings, contrasting faces, cars, skyscrapers, working TV sets, photographs of traditional African sculptures and street graphics into a maelstrom of life to which he adds Basquiat-like faces and Abstract Expressionist graffiti trails, all of which demand, like the streets of his hometown, the total immersion and participation of the viewer.
Ibrahim Mahama’s canvas is the humble coal sack — specifically roughly woven sacks imported by the Ghana Cocoa Board and re-used by the charcoal sellers in every market and for every transation in his native Abidjian. He produces huge installations by using these patched, marked sacks stamped with faded traders’ names and locations, which map out their voyages as vessels of global commodities. Wrapped around heaps of fruit in the market place or embracing the contours of a museum building, the spread of jute fibres in Mahama’s hands become references to the many hands through which they have passed in the interests of the world’s daily economy.
Left: Ibrahim Mahama, Untitled, 2014. Coal sack. 183 x 213 cm. Right: Ibrahim Mahama, Untitled, 2014. Coal sack. 183 x 213 cm. Images courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
These installations are not normally displayed in museums or art galleries, but in the very market places themselves, from whence they will, possibly, depart on another leg of their voyage. In isolation, sack by sack, in a gallery such as the Saatchi Gallery, they assume a strange and atavistic beauty.
Now, news of a very sensible appointment: the University of the Arts London has appointed the distinguished ceramic artist Grayson Perry, aka Claire, as its new Chancellor. He takes over from Kwame Kwei-Armah.
Grayson Perry, aka Claire, the new Chancellor of the University of the Arts London. Photograph © 2014 Getty Images
Grayson has been a Governor at UAL since 2010 and says that he ‘hopes to use the position to act as an ambassador and champion of the arts, and especially high quality arts and design education’. In other words, it’s business as usual for this doughty champion of contemporary art in all its many manifestations. ‘Being an artist has given me so much,’ Grayson says. ‘My career, my friends and my sanity, not to mention my wardrobe!’
He’s not joking. Second year Central St. Martin’s BA (Hons) Fashion students design a dress for Grayson every year, based on a brief written by him. They are pretty spectacular; some years ago, I took him to draw the couture collections in Paris and if I said he managed to stop Chanel’s carefully calibrated couture runway in its tracks by wearing his St. Martin’s wardrobe, I would not be exaggerating.
Since winning the Turner Prize in 2003 and embarking on a journey that has seen him become a national treasure, every exhibition or television programme Grayson Perry has been involved with has let people in on what art means — when, that is, it isn’t being described in the bewildering and puzzling language employed by art academics and curators. No discourses for Grayson, thank you very much.
He makes art seem as if it belongs to everybody — which it does. He makes it seem fun as well as being serious — which it is — and not simply the concern of an inner circle. As I said, a sensible, very possibly inspired appointment.
Main image: Ibrahim Mahama, Untitled, 2013. Draped jute sacks wall installation. Dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
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