“mo(ve)ments: African Digital Subjectivities,” part of Africa Salon’s slate of activities, can be found at the School of Art this week. The exhibit is meant to explore the ways that technology intersects with contemporary African art, and the way that African artists have incorporated the Internet and other digital media into their canvases.
The space for the exhibition feels cavernous, and when I visit it in the middle of the afternoon, it is completely empty and silent. The windows have also been shuttered, creating a warehouse-like space lit only by buzzing fluorescent lights. The effect is almost eerie, but this is before my eye is caught by the various projections playing on the walls.
The first one playing is a series of gorgeous photos by a Kenyan brother-sister duo, who have aptly named their artistic partnership 2 Many Siblings. Their photos are vibrant and colorful, showing various people standing against blank backdrops with other images projected over them. They range from cosmic and awe-inspiring, such as a man with telescopic images of outer space superimposed on him, to surreally gorgeous, such as a lone figure who appears to grow butterfly wings. The photos are miraculous for the unreality they capture without straining for effect. The images all feel breathlessly super-cool.
Next on the show is Helen Harris, a Namibian artist whose pictures of young people simply hanging out are superimposed on what appears to be colorful stitching. It’s an odd effect, as scenes that look like they could easily belong in any one of Yale’s various social spaces become strangely segmented and almost alien. This technique and other digital manipulations are further applied to video montages of various artists at work. The effect is distancing, and makes ordinary photos feel almost expressionistic in their abstraction.
William Ukoh, from Nigeria, displays photos with less obvious manipulation, yet their vibrancy and popping, Lichtenstein-like colors suggest some imagined reality. The photos show contemporary Nigerians, seemingly at ease and not acknowledging the camera, against a series of pop-art backgrounds. Little out-of-place details, which I will leave you to discover for yourself, further suggest that we aren’t looking at our own world, but rather a comic-book version of it, as written by Andy Warhol (visual references to Coca-Cola solidify this impression).
David Uzochukwu is an Austro-Nigerian artist based in Brussels. The opening image of his section of the slideshow is striking and eerie. A man covered in an oil-like sludge sits on a perfectly white bed, staring impassively into the distance. As the show progresses, we see more and more tar-coated people against nondescript, beige backgrounds, and even in the middle of everyday situations. I can’t claim to know what it all means (perhaps something about exploitation of Africa’s oil), but it certainly yields some of the exhibit’s most disturbing images.
Projected on another wall is a static collage of South African photographer Kent Andreasen’s works. The pictures have a wide variety of subjects and even forms, ranging from photographs to drawings. Unfortunately, when I went, the projector was slightly blurry, so it was hard to make out the exact content of the images. Still, it’s an interesting choice to display everything at once, separated by large negative space on a white background. It leads to a more comprehensive feeling for the vibe of his work.
Finally, my favorite part of the exhibit was Nicola Brandt’s spectacularly realized video installation exploring the legacy of German colonialism in her native Namibia. The installation takes place on three side-by-side monitors, sometimes playing completely different images, other times lining up to create one wide panorama. Footage mostly contains images of Jodorowsky-esque desert landscapes, awe-inspiring in and of themselves, and yet Brandt has taken their inherent surrealism one step further by filming them being traversed by an unknown woman in a series of gorgeous, elaborate dresses. We see bookshelves filled with German books, hear bits of the history of the native Namibians, and learn (in a long shot played in reverse) a little more about the dresses the woman is wearing, as well about as the woman herself. A poetic, fragmented voiceover accompanies the images. The installation is lyrical and melancholy, and almost any given shot of the videos could be framed and hung on a wall.
These six artists are creating gorgeous, original art that gleefully breaks with traditional form and content. “mo(ve)ments: African Digital Subjectivities” is a wonderful exhibit, one that gives contemporary African art the showcase it so deserves.