In 1995 everything revolved around Africa in more than 25 cities in the UK. As part of the festival africa95, major institutions such as the Tate Gallery in Liverpool or the Victoria and Albert Museum in London focused on the continent’s art and culture. One of the most influential exhibitions during this extravaganza was Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa. In London’s Whitechapel Gallery, curator Clémentine Deliss and African co-curators went about telling not one but several stories about the contemporary artscape in Africa.
Concept and criticism
The initiators of africa95 worked on the festival’s program for a total of three years. Essentially important for the project development were intensive seminars and workshops with African artists who actively contributed to creating the musical, literary, visual arts, and performance events. This dialogue also formed the basis for the exhibition Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa – the title being part of the concept. For Clémentine Deliss the motivation was not telling the curatorial narrative about “contemporary African art”. She was looking for plurality, not one complete story but fragments and personal perspectives: “The exhibition is not intended to be comprehensive or complete in its narratives, but invites the audience to experience a small part of the conceptual and aesthetic manifestations of the visual arts in Africa during the second half of the twentieth century.”
In collaboration with five co-curators, Seven Stories was to tap into the historical development of contemporary art practice in Africa from several different viewpoints. Each of the curators devoted him- or herself to a specific region and defined its most significant artistic movements. The result was an exhibition with works by 61 artists from seven countries, which were grouped in five sub-stories: in the Nigerian section the artist and curator Chika Okeke Kurator focused on the influence of the Zaira Art Society and the Nsukka School on modern artistic production; Professor Salah Hassan presented spiritual works from Sudan and Ethiopia; while the artist, curator and activist El Hadji Sy presented the collective Laboratoire Agit’Art in form of a mixed media installation in the Senegalese section. David Koloane, artist and curator, presented works from South Africa which emerged during the apartheid regime and also addressed the country’s future. Wanjiku Nyachae, who works as an advisor and coach, curated the Kenyan and Ugandan section. She selected paintings dealing with social issues and political events such as Idi Amin’s brutal rule in Uganda.