Afriques Capitales by Jeanne Véron

Photograph: Courtesy of La Villette, photography by Nicolas Krief

Photograph: Courtesy of La Villette, photography by Nicolas Krief

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Photograph: Courtesy of La Villette, photography by Nicolas Krief

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Interactive walk in a hall made of one hundred cities, one thousand lives and 42 artists' gazes, which flush out in various forms and materials. The space of the large hall of the Villette is structured by artistic installations as well as by their supports, in particular wooden huts (except the superb biodegradable house of Poku Cheremeh), which give the exhibition the look of villages . The dense and labyrinthine scenography requires an active participation of the visitor, sometimes finding works of the same artist in various places. Thus, after passing through the center of the room the labyrinth of Youssef Limoud (Egypt), whose angelic whiteness looks like rubble, one discovers the series of textiles of Hassan Musa or pictures of Cherono Nh'Ok, at the turn of a piece of wooded wall. The itinerary proposed by the "Visitor's Guide" is punctuated with figures, which thus intersect the works of the same artist but not always a single space: the works are not always where they are expected, the visit Made exploration.

However, it seemed to us regrettable that out of forty-two artists exposed, only eleven were women. Finally, if this exhibition is aimed at a large audience, the small "Visitor's Guide" presents in a few lines the exhibiting artist, but not the work in question, or very superficially. If the mediators in charge of answering the visitors' questions are very friendly, and it is pleasant to exchange with other visitors, each work is an enigma for a possible "solitary walker", curious but not specialist.

Article written by Jeanne Véron

Afriques Capitales | Paris | Jeanne Véron

The exhibition opens with two series by Guy Tillim capturing a few daily scenes in Addis Ababa and Johannesburg. The vanishing points traced by the streets or the railway tracks echo from one work to the other, and the series make dialogue between populated spaces and empty spaces, nature and constructions, punctuated with primary colors. The confrontation of African cultures with those of other continents is often depicted in a filigree: if the works of Aida Muluneh offer a hybrid work to the Japanese aesthetic, the series of Guy Tillim (by mixing the languages ​​photographed on the city panels Of South Africa) and those of the famous Nigerien Akinbode Akinbiyi (by the presence of the poster of an American film, showing photoshoped feminine bodies) question the irruption of a Western culture on the African continent. Akinbiyi, through his series in black and white, shows us several African metropolises in an anarchic and authentic light at the same time, which questions the relationship between urban Africans to the rules, to others, to urban furniture, but also puts in abyme The cliché look of Europeans on the African capitals. It is the "Salon" of Hassan Hajjaj which welcomes us as we enter the hall, and we cross again to leave the exhibition. In this installation with very bright colors on a background of blue tapestry, the amateurs will recognize one of the favorite materials of the artist: the boxes and packaging of Coca-Cola. Overhung by photographs that mix pop art and intimate portrait, this surprising furniture questions the place of capitalism in African countries as in the world.
The paradox is often to the honor: between different traditions and modernity, between absence and presence. This last dialectic covers a deeper problematic, a human problematic. That of the place and condition of man, and more concretely of populations or individuals in a given place. This is what Myriam Mihindou (Gabon / France) seems to be questioning through his triptych depicting clothes on the side of a cliff in earth, clothes deprived of bodies, shreds of civilization marrying the natural elements crossed here and there of apparent roots. The work of Mouna Karray (outdoor extension of the exhibition) is more violent: in the dizzying series "Nobody Will Tell Us", desert spaces are silent, heavy with secular or daily history. The ocher and arid earth becomes hostile or even agonizing when the shape of a body is guessed in a bag of fine linen, abandoned in the middle of nowhere, in a corner of this Tunisian south is stifled by silence. Only a car goes up the winding road in the distance, which traces a vanishing point towards the background of the horizon, leaving behind a body and a can of gasoline.

Franck Abd-Bakar Fanny (Côte d'Ivoire) has five large formats in a spectral atmosphere: here again, in a nocturnal setting of deserted North American cities, the aggressive colors, almost fluorescences, illuminate the absence. Absence of soul or human flesh in the relentless layout of the streets, in the multicolored bric-a-brac of a hairdressing salon. Only two pairs of eyes haunt one of the stereotypes, those of female models in small outfits, posted in front of a sex shop; Distant looks, detached, like that of an artist who seems to be absent, as if immersed in the mist of a temporal and cultural shift.

 

From a very different perspective, the bodies, in their carnal materiality and their density, are apprehended, especially in their relationship to movement. The work of the Moroccan woman Safaa Mazirh explores the possibilities of the female body in motion: in her black and white photographs, playing on the blur and suggestion, the artist highlights the non-sexualized beauty of bare curves, with fascinating work On concealment and unveiling. The paso doble of Nandipha Mntambo (South Africa), with its confusing clichés depicting a female model dressed in a patchwork of cowhide pieces, also explores the relationship between body and movement in a dialogue between photography and video.
Finally, we have selected the work of three photographers who have particularly marked us, and who explore territories in very different days. The Kenyan artist Mimi Cherono Ng'Ok offers on a very large scale a few moments of intimacy captured: the surprising and familiar details, which make it possible to guess bodies and objects caught unawares during trips, remind us of certain Disposable devices; Those whose framing and non-canonical purpose means that they are not shown to the guests, but that they are guarded preciously, and which always draw us a tender and melancholy smile. These large sizes displayed on the entire walls of huts are scattered on both sides of the hall, and are crossed at different stages of our microscopic journey into the hall.

In total breaking with this intimate prism, the objective of Sammy Baloji explores the mazes of a village of Lebous ("Ouakam"), located in Dakar, in the form of a juxtaposition of sixty fractals. At first sight, it is a rather desolate face of Dakar that presents the Congolese photographer, with its vague grounds, dilapidated walls, stairs that crumble under a lead sun; Three human beings passing in the distance in these snapshots in view diving, no trace of the sea in the village of sinners, if not a few puddles stagnant water on the roofs. All the strength of this work, however, is to create a form of spirituality in this spectacle, echoing the animistic religion of the Lebous who inhabit the village: it is in the blue of a few walls, shutters, garbage bags and Sky reflected in the puddles that one can guess the presence of these small minds, invisible but multiple, as suggested by the multiple composition of the panel. In the cracks and in the trees, in the relentless laziness of the sun, there is a divine which is agitated.

Finally, return to the corporeal with the percussive and bold triptych of the Moroccan Fatima Mazmouz, which portrays the body of a pregnant mother in a daily super-heroine costume: cape in garbage bag, hood, panties, crop top: The concealed face and chest highlight a decided look, show off a belly and bare legs in the colors of autumn leaves littering the domestic garden. The third photograph differs from the other two in that it is taken indoors: that of a small garage where are gathered tools traditionally attached to male activities; The model, straddling a quad, pretends to show the muscles of its biceps, and appropriates all traditionally masculine attributes, while its round belly (biological expression of femininity) echoes the rounded tires of the quad (attribute Culturally masculine). Fatima Mazmouz says in three A4 formats - which interact with a video putting her model in motion - for millennia of courage, that of mothers who are all super heroines, but also millenia of censorship, that of bodies hidden, Of the nature which is concealed even while it perpetuates life.

Of various formats, sometimes displayed on the wall and sometimes hanging from the ceiling, the photographs are thus one of many supports, in this exhibition whose scenography recalls that of a miniature village, animated by visitors as well as audio and video. However, we had the chance to visit the exhibition during the month of photography (April), where photographers' works were displayed on large panels along the exterior path: Artists present in the exhibition, including Alexis Peskine's shots that immobilize the characters of his video installation inside, but also series of other artists. The cynical gaze and the burlesque aesthetics of Kiluanji Kia Henda (Angola) makes smile and reflect, while the series "Pontus" by Délio Jasse (Angola) opens a dark window on the violence of colonialism.
The spectator-walker is thus placed in the presence of very different works, linked however by the problems they raise, and by the red thread of the title-theme of the exhibition "Afriques Capitales". But it is above all the visitor's gaze that is questioned, invited to deconstruct the possible clichés that inhabit him, to free himself from all received ideas. As the series of Aida Muluneh shows, the model of which is linked or freed as seen from left to right or from right to left, the essential is in the eye of the one who looks.