This weekend I will be back with friends and colleagues at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) to facilitate a teacher workshop about working with Art21 education materials and teaching with El Anatsui’s gorgeous exhibition, When I Last Wrote To You About Africa. This being Art21’s second visit to UMMA, I am looking forward to once again working with Pam Reister, Jann Wesolek, and all of the participants joining us this weekend.
El Anastui, one of my favorite artists from Season 6, is in some ways an educator’s dream. His sculptures and installations reference history, culture and memory while simultaneously exploring the possibilities of found materials and different processes for making art. And while Anatsui is best known for his stunning, draped metal sculptures, there is more to the work with than meets the eye… and that’s quite a bit to begin with.
For example, if we step back four decades ago to Anatsui’s initial work in Ghana, the artist began using materials from his immediate surroundings—carving into wooden trays much like those sold in markets to display fruit and vegetables—and then creating works with adinkra-like symbols prominently featured. As Olu Oguibe describes in the magnificent catalogue that accompanies the show, Anastui has been guided by the following principles since this early work:
- Pay close attention to location and environment
- Learn whatever you can from local practitioners
- Use found objects and materials from your surroundings, especially your immediate surroundings
- Let the medium and materials suggest, even dictate, the form
- Acknowledge the potential for art to serve as a metaphor or visual allegory
Anatsui’s ceramic sculpture from 1978, Omen, explores how brokenness can somehow inspire new life and healing. From the small burst of an opening to the coating of manganese that speckles the surface formed from damaged ceramic pieces, Anatsui’s work can represent ideas about fragility and even political instability in Africa.
The Museum of Modern Art, Indianapolis Museum of Art, and Walker Art Center are some of the illustrious cultural spaces where one might expect to see our award-winning film series Art in the Twenty-First Century. It’s true that host organizations have traditionally included such museums, as well as universities, libraries, and cultural centers. But Art21 screenings have also happened in the unlikeliest of places, from a water treatment center in Wichita, Kansas to a research base in Antarctica to a former drill hall in Ethiopia.
In my short time here as Art21’s Director of Education, I have heard incredible stories about enthusiastic individuals and spaces opening their doors to friends, colleagues, and the general public with the sole purpose of sharing Art21’s film series. I can hardly wait to hear new stories that I’m certain will emerge during our yearlong screening initiative Access 100 Artists.
Access is our external screening program, which started back in 2007 to coincide with the Season 4 release of our PBS series. Now six seasons in and Art21 is celebrating an important milestone: to date, we have profiled 100 contemporary artists. In conjunction with our 100 Artists celebration, we’re offering our entire collection of films (including New York Close Up) totally free of charge to partner organizations new and old.
Access 100 Artists aims to be a worldwide festival of free Art21 film screenings. From a small dinner party with friends to a 24-hour outdoor jubilee, no venue is too small or too large. Anyone can participate. Here’s how:
- Register at www.art21.org/access. Share your screening dates with us and we’ll announce them here.
- Use our online resources and discussion guides for pre- and post-screening activities.
- Promote your event with Access postcards. We’ll mail these right to your door along with other materials that will help make your event successful.
- Tell us what went down! Who came? What did you screen? What did you talk about? Enquiring minds want to know.
- Add your pictures to our Access Flickr group and help us grow our visual archive of stories.
By getting involved with Access 100 Artists and sharing your experiences, the education team here gains greater insight into the many different ways that Art21 films are used and shown around the world. We’ll not only share your stories with people in our office, we might get in touch with you and ask for quotes or a blogpost. We’re looking to you to re-think the relationships and connections between the artists we’ve featured. You know what we do. We want to hear your stories!
Revolution 2.1 | The Dictator Will Be Tagged: Power, Revolution Graffiti and the Deconstructed Superhero
“The words of the prophets were written on the subway walls and the tenement halls.”
- “Sounds of Silence,” Simon and Garfunkel
Amidst all the other messages spray-painted around Tahrir Square, calls to action and demands for ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation last year, one military tank stuck out. “The revolution is in Tahrir,” it read, “no sleeping in bed.”
It was a common consensus amongst protesters, who rallied, and continue to speak out, to replace government corruption with reform, and despite sugar-coated concessions that underestimated a country’s intelligence by treating amendments like band-aids, that one thing was clear: the energy of the people refuses to wane. Instead, it continues to ceaselessly evolve as revolutionaries and reformers persistently provoke themselves and each other as creativity splinters through the cracks of worn-out censorship. In this sense, art fueled the revolution by giving the disenfranchised–the outsiders, the rebels, the refugees, the critics–a second draft to rewrite their country’s cultural memory.
Before the Arab Spring, authorities used public art as a means of propaganda, a projection of autocratic state power as status quo. Massive canvases depicting faces of the regime hung from buildings all throughout cities, staring down like Big Brother, like constant surveillance on any form of dissident activity. “This history of art is a sequence of successful transgressions,” wrote Susan Sontag. “Traditional art invites a look. Art that is silent engenders a stare.” Most of the time, these faces were accompanied by background images invoking nationalism or even Islam, suggesting what Joseph Campbell called “clues to the spiritual potentials of the human life.”
Our latest Exclusive video short is now live! Click to watch El Anatsui: Studio Process on Art21.org.
Filmed at his Nsukka, Nigeria studio in 2011, artist El Anatsui describes the collaborative and contemplative setting where his artworks are made. Anatsui employs a team of assistants to construct “blocks” of joined bottle caps that are then shifted around on the studio’s floor. In looking at the patterns and textures created by this process, often through his digital photographs, Anatsui is able to form ideas for new work.
El Anatsui is featured in the Season 6 (2012) episode “Change,” of the Art in the Twenty-First Century program on PBS. Watch full episodes online for free via Art21.org, PBS Video or Hulu, as a paid download via iTunes, or as part of a Netflix streaming subscription.
CREDITS: Producer: Ian Forster. Consulting Producer: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Interview: Susan Sollins. Camera: Calistus Eziokwu. Sound: Ian Forster. Editor: Morgan Riles. Artwork Courtesy: El Anatsui. Special Thanks: Jack Shainman Gallery. Theme Music: Peter Foley.
Before travelling to Nigeria, I had known of a number of artists living around Lagos from Indianapolis friends who have been collecting contemporary Nigerian art during their time living and working there. Among their favorite and most collected artists was Ben Osaghae.
Ben was born in Benin City, the capital of the Edo State and studied painting at Auchi Polytechnic college. He has taught painting in Nigerian universities but has since retired from this work to focus solely on his painting.
At once thoughtful and light hearted, he’s just as likely to tell you something very serious and important as to come with a quick and light laugh about his observations.
I want to show the point of view of the participant of a police check point and the observer driving by. Both at the same time. I don’t worry about making my paintings ‘naturalistic,’ rather I want them to be descriptive. — Ben Osaghae
*Ed. Note: This is the first post in a five-part series by Richard McCoy on the art and artists he encountered during a recent trip to Nigeria.
At the conclusion of the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) exhibition, Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria, I was invited by the U.S. organizer, the Museum for African Art (MfAA), to help their registrar, Amanda Thompson, with the return of more than 100 important artworks to their home country — the works had been out of Nigeria for three years, travelling to six venues in Europe and the USA.
It was truly a privilege to play even a small part in returning these artworks to Nigeria, and a mind-changing experience traveling to Africa for my first time.
While our work days were busy carefully examining each artwork to ensure that it was in the same condition as when it left, in the evenings and weekends I investigated a number of galleries, exhibitions, and studios of contemporary artists working in and around Lagos. What I saw were individuals looking at the rich history and traditions of Nigeria through the lens of the 21st century, in some cases preserving traditions and in others challenging the colonial past and current government, which is infamous for its corruption.
Staying at the hotel Bogobiri House, with its live music just about every night and walls and courtyard filled with contemporary art, it felt like I was at one of the centers of the Lagos art scene. Bogobiri, which is also home to the gallery, Nimbus, is owned by Chike Nwagbogu; he has received a lot of attention for his ideas of putting art at the center of the transformation of Nigeria.
Abdellah Karroum is a Moroccan independent art researcher and curator based in Paris, France and Rabat, Morocco. Karroum founded L’appartement 22 in 2002, the first independent experimental space in Rabat, which inspired the formation of a number of artist-run spaces in Morocco. Nationally as well as internationally acclaimed artists, writers, and filmmakers, including Adel Bdessemed, Doa Aly, Hamdi Attia, Fouad Bellamine, Faouzi Laatiris, Cécile Bourne-Farrell and others have left their mark on L’appartment 22. In addition, Radioapartment22, an experimental online radio, provided the space with a platform for hosting equally significant projects over the past decade.
Between 1993 and 1996, Karroum served as the assistant curator at the CAPC Musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux in France. In 2006 he was appointed associate curator of the DAK’ART Biennial for African Contemporary Art in Senegal; later in 2008 he became co-curator of the Position Papers program for the Gwangju Biennale, and in 2009, the curator of the 3rd AiM International Biennale in Marrakesh, followed by the curatorial project “Sentences on the Banks and other activities” in Darat Al-Funun in Amman, in 2010.
This past summer, Karroum curated the Working for Change project for the Moroccan Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale. This research and action-based project focused on producing artworks and sharing documents. After a research period in the Rif (Morocco), the project continues in Venice with the aim of proposing and studying connections between artistic production and social contexts. Morocco’s example proved significant here at the artistic and political levels, as seen in each of the proposed artworks. This curatorial project’s “practive” approach–which involves the joining of the practice of art as research to its appearance as active production (practice + active)–seeks to activate projects, including several collaborations in Morocco with feminists and other activists.
Storm Janse van Rensburg is a South African curator and Senior Curator of the Goodman Gallery group currently based in Cape Town (CT), South Africa. Van Rensburg began his curatorial career straight out of the University of South Africa in 1995. Until 1999, he served as assistant curator at the Market Theatre Galleries in Johannesburg. It’s important to note that the Market Theatre was founded in 1976 and operated as an independent, non-racial theatre during the apartheid regime.
Later the same year he found himself at the KwaZulu Natal Society of Arts (KZNSA) Gallery in Durban where he was offered his first curatorial position. During those six years, he established the Young Artists Project, a stepping block for young artists and a program of national significance. The KZNSA was founded nearly 108 years ago as a platform where artists could discuss, exhibit and market their work. The gallery has gone through major transformation over the years and currently is the province’s premier contemporary art gallery.
Since 2009, he holds the position of the Senior Curator at the Goodman Gallery Group. Van Rensburg has been with the gallery since 2007 where he previously held the curatorial position at Goodman Gallery Cape while establishing the CT branch. The Goodman Gallery’s website notes that “the gallery has a long history in South African art. It was established by Linda Goodman (now Givon) in 1966 and, from the outset, supported and encouraged artists to exhibit despite the strictures of apartheid. It was involved in the seminal Art Against Apartheid exhibition in 1985 and held shows that spoke out against the repressive apartheid regime. The gallery is home to forty artists including visual art luminaries such as William Kentridge, Kendell Geers and David Goldblatt.”
Van Rensburg for many years has been the face of the Goodman Gallery at the Armory Show; Art Dubai; Art Basel Miami Beach; Art Basel Switzerland; Paris Photo; and at the Joburg Art fair. He has worked closely with artists Mikhael Subotzky, Hasan & Husain Essop, Sue Williamson, Hank Willis Thomas, Kudzanai Chiurai, David Goldblatt, Mikhalene Thomas, Moshekwa langa, Ghada Amer, Reza Aramesh, Kader Attia, Nontsikeleelo Veleko and many others, and has curated numerous exhibitions.
Storm Janse van Rensburg is an absolute gentleman and a multifaceted individual with a marvelous art past and an inspiring future, as he will soon venture into the art world independently. It’s my absolute pleasure to present him today.
Georgia Kotretsos: What role has the studio visit played in your professional life as it has evolved over the passed decade? Did the different positions you’ve held as a curator define the quality and frequency of your visits?
Storm Janse van Rensburg: The studio visit is an important aspect of what I do, in fact what any gallerist or curator does. It is literally at the coal face. A couple of things also intersect at this point. It is a moment to see and talk about ideas, to see the progress of an artist’s project, see developments from one visit to the next. It is a moment for suggestions, resolving problems, practical and conceptual. It is a dialogue that I think is really essential to being a practicing curator.
It is not simply a moment to ‘chew the fat’ with an artist. It is about a trust relationship too. I am also careful during a studio visit that my feedback is not to guide or pressure artists into following a particular direction. It is simply coming in with an open mind, to engage with what is in front of you. And, if there are absences, to articulate them.
Siemon Allen is a South African artist who currently lives and works in the United States. He received his MFA from Natal Technikon (now Durban Institute of Technology) and was a founding member of FLAT gallery, an artist’s initiative in Durban, South Africa. In 2010, he was invited by the gordonschachatcollection as the featured artist at the Johannesburg Art Fair. That same year, he presented Imaging South Africa, a survey of work from the last ten years at the Anderson Gallery in Richmond, Virginia. Allen’s concurrent solo exhibitions took place at The Durban Art Gallery and Bank Gallery in 2009. His work has also been shown at Artists Space, The Whitney Museum, and Momenta in New York City, The Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis, The Renaissance Society in Chicago, and the Johannesburg Art Gallery. His work was included in the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale at the South African National Gallery in Cape Town. Allen is a visiting artist and adjunct professor in the Department of Sculpture and Extended Media at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. His most recent project is an ongoing web-based visual archive of South African audio.
For the past ten years, Siemon Allen has been exploring the image of South Africa through a series of collection projects.
In his own words he tells me:
Ironically, most of my work is the result of my being in the United States, where I find myself looking at the image of South Africa as I might reconstruct it—through historical artifacts (stamps), through current media (newspapers) or through received audio (sampled sound works). To some extent, it speaks to what I feel is a kind of separation from the source, and leads me to consider how much of this work is, at its core, an investigation into notions of branding and identity through displacement.
He is currently showing two works at the South African Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennial.
The most current collection, an archive of South African audio, is made up of over 2500 items, including 650 rare shellac discs. Records is a series of twelve large format prints (78” x 78” x 3”) on Hahnemühle Museum etching paper selected and scanned from the larger audio collection. Allen is presenting five prints from the series for the South African pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale—these include Better, His Master’s Voice, Rave, Tempo, and Zonophone. The scans of the records produce remarkable detail capturing not only the grooves but also the accumulated historic traces of scratches and damage that speak to the memory of the object. It is significant that though these prints are considered by Allen to be part of his audio collection and speak to the primacy of music in South African cultural history, they are silent.
Juozas Cernius is a Canadian visual artist based in Toronto. He has received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2004) and his BFA from Concordia University in Montreal (2002). Juozas has worked in numerous media and has exhibited drawings, paintings, prints, photographs, and sculptures in both Canada and the United States. He has shown at Allen Gallery, at Denise Bibro, and at the Dumbo Arts Center, among other exhibition spaces.
His advertising photography has appeared in Elle Décor (UK, Hong Kong, Russia, USA), Byzance (Middle East), Architectural Digest, Wallpaper* (UK), Art+Auction, and others. He also contributes photographs to ArtFagCity.
Having said all of the above, the reason for this post is Juozas’s most recent enlightening realization that art, opportunities, life, and the world do not end in Manhattan. You see, it all started when one day, waking up in New York for the 7th consecutive year as a legal alien stopped making sense. In 2010, time came to renew his visa again – Juozas had tenaciously pursued an art career and life in New York until Truman Burbank’s spirit took him over for good this time.
He packed his camera bag and got on a plane to a journey of discovery, which lasted over 200 days starting on December 1, 2010. Juozas visited more than 53 towns and cities in Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Swaziland, and South Africa. Last month, he returned to Toronto with a vast body of work of over 12.500 photographs.