A Personal Universe

Virginia Chihota,  Mukadzi nhai , 2012, courtesy of Tiwani Contemporary Gallery.

Virginia Chihota, Mukadzi nhai, 2012, courtesy of Tiwani Contemporary Gallery.


The strategic alignment of Africa and Latin America based as a supercontinent that existed about 250 million years ago is as ideologically utopian as it is historically challenged. Today the hemispheric centre that once was is merely the origin of a concept, a state of events that remains impossible to locate. Disputed by geographers, the still-emerging picture of Pangaea reveals a reality far more complex than the primordial continent we understood it to be. With this said Pangaea II takes the shifting aggregation of the ancient subcontinents, as its point of departure reconfiguring an image of an art world decentred into archipelagos of thought and islands of meaning.

An ephemeral montage of new works from Africa and Latin America will offer multiple visions of contemporary practice to expand, critique, inform and illuminate their points of origin. The conceptual veil of Pangaea will be lifted to reveal the divergent aesthetic and cultural practices of the ethnically and culturally composite networks that define the modern world. A palimpsest of historical narratives and modern conditions, the artists based in the Global South (Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa) will be united by thematic threads, interactions and unrealised conversations that reveal the contradiction and dichotomies of their surroundings.

Regions bound by the complexities of social, political and racial ties, are increasingly formed of alternative futures in the climate of the 21st century. Artists are increasingly based within an urban context, with cities developing at an unprecedented rate. The pluralities and multiplicities of modernity have risen in tandem with the post-colonial and globalising period of the contemporary world. The artists of Africa and Latin America, are as muchwitnesses to their transforming societies as they are receptacles of the changes such transformation harbours. They operate however, within frameworks of understanding which are marked by a distinction from the rest of their society. They retire into a space that is both personal and political, reflexive and reactive, open and closed, a personal universe.

Identity in the post-colonial era of excessive exiles and migrations continues to be defined by cultural hybridity. The amalgamation of imported cultures and traditional aesthetics are influencing the youth in the urban sprawl of Kinshasa, where Eddy Ilunga Kamuanga is painting faceless women veiled in fashionable guises and brightly coloured clothes. The convergence of traditional standards of African beauty and standardised Western aesthetics, find a visual symbol in the cosmopolitan hair salons, a source of intense fascination for the Douala-based artist Boris Nzebo, who paints elaborate African hair styles against characterful urban backdrops. The expansion of the metropolis to accommodate growing populations is also a source of new civil unrest, dividing populations along the fractures of ethnic and political lines. Abidjan is a city deeply rooted in the civil wars that tore through the Ivory Coast’s social fabric, prompting Aboudia to paint his child soldiers as requiems for the phantoms of war and Armand Boua to depict the torn-away lives of a desperate inner-city youth.

The unknowable lives of citizens failed by oppressive political systems are a character in the intimate woodcuts of the Addis Ababa-based artist Ephrem Solomon. The mass-migrations of Ethiopia, a country shaded by the revolutionary implications of its communist past, have contributed toward its dichotomised political environment. Ideologically motivated conflicts continue to underline the struggle to negotiate strained ancestral roots in a period of modernisation. The Ethiopian character of Dawit Abebe’s fragile and landless citizens evoke people caught between the throng of modernity and the search for identity. The poetics of displacement also take shape in the tree forms of exiled Cuban artists Jorge Mayet, who draws on the spiritual icons of African gods who arrived on the island with the enslaved captives of the Congo region.

The mutating geographical make-up of Latin America’s urban and rural paradigms can be seen in the encroaching disappearance of its biodiversity, which is being threatened by the power hungry global cities and foreign interests of multi-national corporations. Columbian Diego Mendoza Imbachi’s imaginings of plant forms spliced with antennae form a personal investigation of the entanglement of nature and technology. Meanwhile, Alejandro Ospina's schematically complex paintings trace the social networks of digital expansion to reveal mental maps which are as chaotic as the urbanisations in cities like Bogota. The ability of painting to capture psychogeographic conceptions of the urban landscape is elaborated in the satellite views of Santa José by the Costa Rican artist Federico Herrero.

Painting has become an unending network of possible relations and representations. The atemporal dimension of contemporary painting brought about by the proliferation of digital images is addressed in the delirious scenes of the Brazilian-born artist Eduardo Berliner. Cropping, cutting and pasting techniques drawn from the digital realm, painting is increasingly a site for the reinvention of histories in the work of Tijuana-born Alida Cervantes, whose work draws on the friction between Mexico’s colonial legacies and racial stereotypes. The broadening canon of modernist art histories has brought about a renewed fixation with the object. The sleek vases of Pia Camil which recall the primary structures of minimal art are in fact theatrical props of a distinctly Mexican character, while Alexandre da Cunha’s painted car tyres-come flower pots rift off of the tropical urbanism of Rio de Janeiro. The crafted pieces are only so far away from the objects of consumer culture that surround us everyday and can be rooted neo-colonial structures of globalisation, as evidenced in Martinique born artist Jean-François Boclé’s plastic bag installation.

The scope of contemporary art in African and Latin America can no longer be consigned to geographical proximity of their countries, or indeed by the political dimensions of their surroundings. The new points of origin are not in fact the geographical location of Africa and Latin America, but the interior lives of a generation of artists with disparate worldviews. Pangaea II presents a selection of perspectives rather than a singular narrative. Each practice bares a personal universe of its own making. While testifying to the fact that the character of new art from Africa and Latin America is increasingly critical of the power structures and social contrasts that undermine and limit the agencies of their citizens. It is also responding to the homogenisation and globalizing tendencies of consumer culture and industrialisation. The war and terrorism of the past and present are prevailing concerns, as are the global communications, mutating identities, hybridisations, local isolations, cultural shocks and assimilations of contemporary societies.

Pangaea II: New Art from Africa and Latin America © Osei Bonsu, 2014