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Exposition AFRICAS: artists past and present

for culture and heritage

The Fondation Clément has joined forces with the Dapper Foundation to welcome the exceptional creativity of artists who, past and present, demonstrate the wealth of a pluralist Africa. Neither Martinique, nor indeed the Caribbean more widely, have hosted an event of this type and scale before.

Africa is a continent made up of fifty-four countries with thousands of languages and cultures. Some of them crossed the Atlantic with the slaves, took root and were later transformed in the Americas and the Caribbean. In other words, Africa is both near and far to those who carry a piece of its heritage within them. The ancient works of art resonate with the heritage site that is the Clément Foundation. A Fang reliquary figure (Gabon), a dance staff honouring the god Shango (Nigeria), a “blessed” object from the Congo and a statuette from the Ivory Coast representing a spirit spouse evoke practices which, in the West Indies, go right to the heart of people’s innermost lives.

The selection of almost one hundred major pieces belonging to the collections of the Dapper Foundation has been made as broadly as possible in order to reveal a vast repertoire of style representing the great cultures of Central and West African societies. The aesthetics of some, influenced mainly by naturalism, stylisation and the assembly or accumulation of various elements has inspired numerous artists such as Picasso and Matisse and contributed to reinvigorating early 20th century art. But above all, the masks, statues and insignias of honour speak to the history of people, their initiation into social and political life, their requests to ancestors, gods and divinities to protect or cure them or to guide the dead into the afterlife.

Through some thirty creations, Africa is liberated from a single fixed idea and is viewed in its realities. Sculpture, paintings, photographs, photomontages, collages and textiles reflect the dynamism of a contemporary art that takes the traces of collective and personal accounts, placed side-by-side or overlapping, and renders them legible. Beyond the diversity of their various approaches, the seventeen artists presented share the same key challenges of unveiling new ways of thinking and engaging.

With the works of Ousmane Sow and Omar Victor Diop, questioning history brings the heroic figures of slavery back to life. This also implies taking a hard look at the colonial and postcolonial periods (Samuel Fosso, Malala Andrialavidrazana) and issues of identity (Hassan Musa), not forgetting the tragedies of apartheid (Sam Nhlengethwa) and internecine wars (Freddy Tsimba).

Some productions explore the territories of collective memory and draw inspiration from beliefs and rituals (Cyprien Tokoudagba). Several of them reinterpret or twist them to submit them to their imagination (Ouattara Watts, Omar Ba, Barthélemy Toguo), while others open a dialogue between invisible presences, ancestral beliefs and the urban world (Chéri Samba, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Nyaba Léon Ouedraogo, Ransome Stanley, Soly Cissé, Joana Choumali).

Christiane Falgayrettes-Leveau