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Reviewed by:
  • Afriques Capitales
  • Rebecca Fenton (bio)
Afriques Capitales
curated by Simon Njami
Episode 1: La Villette, Paris, France
March 29–May 28, 2017
Episode 2: Gare Saint-Saveur, Lille, France
April 6–September 3, 2017

Afriques Capitales was presented as an exhibition in two episodes: in Paris, as part of the 100% Afrique festival by La Villette cultural park, and in Lille as part of the festival lille3000. Funding for the exhibitions came from the Total Foundation (France) and the Sindika Dokolo Foundation (Angola).

At the time of this two-part exhibition, Paris abounded with African art. The Louis Vuitton Foundation, the Art Paris Art Fair, the Month of the Photo, the Institute of the Arab World, and even the department stores Galeries Lafayette and BHV-Marais featured Africa-themed exhibitions. At once expansive and focused, Afriques Capitales stood out with an incisive curatorial vision and offered a unique visiting experience, one that opened opportunities for unexpected confluences—particularly in Paris, where the installation was deliberately jumbled, chaotic, and lively.

Afriques Capitales presented works by sixty-eight artists, of whom seventeen are women, and included both well-known and early-career artists. The two exhibitions had some overlap in the artists and even the works shown, but the installations in each venue created distinct viewing experiences. Responding to Paris as an island and Lille as a crossroads city, Njami subtitled the Lille exhibition Toward the Cape of Good Hope and emphasized the theme of travel there, tying in to its location in a converted train station. Both episodes were accompanied by programming of performing arts, films, and workshops. Each time I visited the sites, I was impressed by the staff of “mediators” (gallery attendants) who led tours and engaged with visitors.

In Paris, the exhibition opened with Hassan Hajjaj’s installation Le Salon (2017), a playful pop-art lounge with cheerfully clashing plastic mats, posters, and red Coke-crate furniture, recreating the environment of the artist’s candylike portrait photographs (Fig. 1). Reached through a red plastic curtain, the cavernous main exhibition space beyond was lined in black and lit with blue, sealing off the daylight and reframing its nineteenth-century cast iron and glass architecture. Large wooden boxes delineated some smaller galleries and paths in the hall. As viewers made their way through the maze of structures and works, many of them very large scale, the exhibition yielded a series of small revelations: resonances between pop culture and politics, bodies and histories.


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1.

Installation view of Hassan Hajjaj, Le Salon, in Afriques Capitales at La Villette, Paris, 2017.

Photo: Rebecca Fenton


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2.

A top-down view of Afriques Capitales at La Villette, Paris, 2017.

Youssef Limoud’s Labyrinth (2017) is in the center of the network of passages created by the freestanding galleries.

Photo: Nicolas Krief, courtesy of La Villette

In Lille, the works were staged in a similar (if less grand) postindustrial venue, but the arrangement was more open, less maze-like. Its video works were shown in a row of cubicles resembling train cars, and its small galleries were likewise all in a block, so that viewers stepped from one surreal room-world straight into another. Notably, Nicola Lo Calzo’s haunting installation Tchamba (2011–2017) used the language of ethnographic display—objects in Plexiglas vitrines, “context” photographs—but combined with immersive sound, severe lighting, and stone-covered floor, the room [End Page 86] seemed designed to really invoke spirit, not just document this vodun practice dedicated to the spirits of enslaved ancestors.


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3.

Installation view of (right) Moataz Nasr, The Minaret (2012), and (center) Mimi Cherono Ng’ok, untitled photograph (2014), in Afriques Capitales at La Villette, Paris, 2017.

Photo: David Wicks


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4.

Lavar Munroe

Of the Omens He Has as He Entered His Own Village, and Other Incidents that Embellished and Gave a Colour to a Great History (2017)

Deconstructed junkanoo costumes, found fabrics, cattle horns, beads, rubber, tennis balls, ribbon, mesh, wood, mask, sythetic hair, feathers and cardboard. Installation dimensions variable.

Photo: courtesy of Lavar...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1937-2108
Print ISSN
0001-9933
Pages
pp. 86-89
Launched on MUSE
2018-05-23
Open Access
No
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