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Wednesday, 9 April 2014

PANGAEA: NEW ART FROM AFRICA AND LATIN AMERICA. Free entrance. Until 31 August. London SW3

Dillon Marsh
629x500 cm
© Dillon marsh 2010
Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London

Eating ants. My brother and I played games and the one who lost had to eat an ant. Alive. Crushed between our teeth. We were under 10 year old living in West Africa. The most excruciating taste ever! Indescribable! Once, our mother caught my brother chewing an ant displaying his distorted face. As the instigator of the “punishment”, I got sent to my bedroom. As a young communist with nice dresses and hind eyes, the games went on.

Sir Charles Saatchi invited me to the night opening of his new acquisitions from Africa and Latin America.
“Naturally” drawn by the abject, I lured myself to the left upon entering the mammoth gallery. A room full of / filled with “mummified” ants: two bandaged human skulls at opposite ends jointed by wood sticks, the size of a human baby. These creepy crawlies are beautifully crafted and highly impressive. To those who have lived in countries or continents infested with ants (Africa and Latin America)... the experience is full on.
However, Rafael GómezbarrosCasa Tomada plea on addressing issues of displacement suffered in his native Colombia due to the armed conflict and resulting in people fleeing the country... is pretty lame! Ants are warriors and predators. Ants have colonised most of the world (1 million ants per 1 human being). They have adapted extremely well in new environments and modified them. They have mutated and resisted for over 130 millions years and are the ones mostly destroying the planet (am not calling for an ants genocide here)! But of course, we need these parasitic insects for aerating our soils, dispersing seeds and other medical purposes. If Gómezbarros uses these parasites to express what some idiots feel about immigrants, then he should have chosen a less powerful symbol to create an impact of “invasion”. Ants are not victims of their fate, whether being eaten by naughty kids or eaten as a insects caviar delicacy... in Colombia.

Among the 14 other artists - (the only woman) Chilean Alejandra Prieto’s Coal Mirror didn’t make the customs - I was very touched by the three African photographers and the giant sacks wall installation by Ibrahim Mahama. Not that the other artists have nothing to offer, but they are very unfortunately easily comparable to Western artists due to our lack of knowledge of emerging countries contemporary arts – despite their pieces invoking the issues of their respective countries, and also the lack of contemporary art studies in these countries – having to come to Europe or US to study for the most privileged and getting a Western reference. Which conflicts the two worlds once again: one that has his art/artists completely formatted to what’s more important on a postcard rather than the “product” itself, and one that needs to release its demons but is once again constricted to one form of doing.

When I entered the atmospheric room of draped jute sacks by late 20’s Ghanaian Ibrahim Mahama, I closed my eyes expecting my lungs to be filled with my childhood memory of sacks smells displayed at markets. Mostly damped smell. No smell! My disappointment was however overcome by the giant installation Ghana Cocoa Board recycled into charcoal containers, imperfect, holed, dirty, torn and “well economically travelled”... I came back to the room three times that evening until I finally fingered where I last experienced a sack-like moment-oppressing impression. It was at the Riverside Studios for Théatre de ComplicitéThe Three Lives Of Lucie Cabrol!

Ibrahim Mahama
Untitled, 2013
Draped jute sacks wall installation
Dimension variable
© Ibrahim Marsh 2013
Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London

Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou, a Benin based photographer; Mário Macilau a photographer from Mozambique and South African photographer Dillon Marsh are not only visually disturbing by their beautiful and yet brutal images but they also retrace the facets of colonialism, tyranny and poverty. Leonce with his bare-breast woman from Porto Novo wearing a Yoruba mask fronting a pale blue wall in a colonial déco; Mário with his raw regard of an African girl powdered in white looking in defiance. And Dillon with his nature transformed by man-made structures repossessed by nature bird-made sculptures. I wouldn’t have minded looking at more photographs of these artists.

Jose Carlos Martinat
Ejercicio Superficial #12
Glass and spray paint
Dimensions variable
© Jose Carlos Martinat, 2011
Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London

Finally... my ex neighbour in Barranco, the artist who introduced me to many contemporary artists in Lima, Jose Carlos Martinat. Ejercicio Superficial #12 is his piece that Saatchi bought. His proposition here is his appropriation of graffiti windows from abandoned urban buildings he stole around Lima and remodelled them as an installation. Graffiti is absolutely everywhere in Lima. No building, no wall is spared! Out of his body of work, Ejercicio Superficial #12 is not my Martinat favourite’s work! JC (Jota Cé) is one of those resistant to Western art dictatorship. He is self-taught, lives in Peru and visits Mexico regularly. JC is considered an avant-garde artist in his homeland as he is not directly influenced by Western artists but creates mathematically and sarcastically projects out of his country long stamina to terrorismo. Jose Carlos works on his country political aspects in general and more specifically on its contemporary society. He constantly questions his world, our world, using digital mechanisms, capturing instants, distributing spied info via diverse devices to targeting brutalism buildings (El Pentagonito, el bunker militar de Lima) as main places for torture under the Fujimori years.
He says his son is almost as tall as he is. We go around the rooms, say hello to people. JC is happy, casual, encantador. JC is being JC. Here or there! He is showing off his (very bad) English about a Saatchi party afterwards. I asked where? He shows me the email “Ladbroke Grove”. His Peruvian friend asked “How do we get there?En combi, JC replies. I almost forgot about the Peruvian humour. Some of us laughed... from Saatchi to Ladbroke en combi. What a hilarious image!

Saatchi new proposition for his Chelsea Gallery is Pangaea: New Art From Africa and Latin America.
In theory, Africa and South America were a conjoined landmass called Pangaea some 300 million years ago that started to separate when ants started to devour the lands (my theory) 100 million years ago.

What’s for sure is that Africa and Latin American people were strongly linked due to US-European slave trade. These people who were once known as “primitive”, who were once slave and who suffered colonial rules are united today via their contemporary œuvres d'art and show off their countries struggles despite all of us being united by urban expansion, digital connections and markets interactions. The exhibition offers a metissée culture.

As I left the gallery, I witnessed a White woman dropping her Champagne glass. Minutes later a Black man mopped and picked up the mess.

Charles Saatchi is a great man to love to hate. But here again, there is controversy. Take a combi to King’s Road and take time to stop at whatever piece of art takes you to your internal trip.

PANGAEA: NEW ART FROM AFRICA AND LATIN AMERICA. Free entrance. Until 31 August 2014. - Opening hours: 10am-6pm, 7 days a week, last entry 5:30pm - Duke of York's HQ, King's Road, London SW3 4RY

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