There’s lots going on this spring and summer at MAD with Dead or Alive opening officially on April 27th, Bespoke on May 13th and Abraaj 2010, scheduled for August 31st. In the midst of all this preparations for The Global Africa Project—to open on November 16, 2010—are progressing with great intensity.
The exhibition organization has taken an interesting turn: our continuing research has clarified the various issues facing creators in the global African universe as they interact with the international marketplace and art world. It is fascinating that many of them continue to be engaged in their home countries even if they are marketing their work elsewhere. Their home contexts provide inspiration, purpose and not incidentally raw materials and labor for their endeavors. Their interest in sourcing ideas and materials locally inevitably encompass the impulse toward recycling which has morphed from a strategy of “making do” to one of environmental responsibility and competitive creativity. You only need to look at the dramatic creations of fashion designer Anggy Haif of Cameroon, or the furniture of Ousmane M’Baye of Senegal to glimpse the success of this localized approach.
It is clear that design, craft, art, fashion and architecture provide a “third way” (first defined by the Peruvian economist Hernando deSoto in 1989) for economic sustainability in the on-going debate whether aid or investment is the best strategy to be pursued in the global African worlds. With this comes a concern about the continued survival and viability of traditional artisan skills, materials and techniques. Proactive solutions to this are exemplified in the careers of South African ceramicists Nesta Nala, N’tombe Nala and Clive Sithole, as well as their countrymen basket artists Reuben Ndwandwe and Beauty Nzgongo, the Group Bogolan Kasobane in Mali and Mary Jackson one of the many basket makers of the Sea Islands off of South Carolina. These individuals have not only have been instrumental in advancing the development of material and style in their media but also have been key in preserving these technical skills and passing them onto a new generation. The interactions that have coalesced between designers and artisans have driven the practice of USA designer Stephen Burks and we are pleased to include in the exhibition a wonderful tapestry designed by sculptor Melvin Edwards that was produced at the Manufacture Senegalese des Arts Decoratifs in This, Senegal that was inaugurated by then President Leopold Seder Senghor in 1966. This tapestry center under the direction of Papa Ibra Tall (born 1935) has produced over 900 works since its inauguration.
Designers, craftsmen, artists and architects in the global African universe also express their concerns with issues such as the cultural fusion that characterizes a global world. They are dealing with the impact of the past on the present, national and international exchanges of materials and styles. The sartorial elegance and style of Haitian American designer Vincent Glemaud’s menswear, and the pattern on pattern exuberance of Duro Olowu’s acclaimed apparel for women have secured for them a strong presence in the fashion press. In several instances that global fusion is presence in the backgrounds of several of the creators in The Global Africa Project: Kossi Aguessy, who works in Paris, is of Togolese and Brazilian parentage and Taslim Martin, whose parents hail from St. Lucia and Nigeria, works in London. Both designers are making their reputations working in collaboration with a number of international firms.
It is striking that one of the issues mentioned by global African designers, craftsmen and artists is a concern about the impact of their work on their community—no matter who and what place that constitutes. Among the examples we are looking at therefore are the dramatic architectural re-gentrification of blighted neighborhoods in Baltimore, Maryland by Loring Cornish and Tyree Guyton and Jenenne Whitfield (The Heidelberg Project) in Detroit, Michigan.
References: Hernando deSoto, The Third Way: the Invisible Revolution in the Third World. (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1989); Dambisa Moyo, Dead Aid; Why Aid is not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009; Ron Nixon, “Just When Africa’s Luck was Changing. “ The New York Times (August 1, 2009) http://travel.nytimes.com/2009/08/02/business/02africa.html?scp=1&sq=Investment%20and%20aid%20in%20Africa&st=cse,
Images: courtesy Anggy Haif and http://www.coroflot.com/ousmane