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African and diaspora art showcase explores link between figures on earth and beyond

Updated: Apr 6

The first leg of Gallery 1957's free two-city exhibition kicked off on 14 March 2024 in London. Abena Sɛwaa of AKADi Magazine went to see the multi-media showcase.

Rashaad Newsome, REALNESS2,2023, Fujicolor Crystal Archive Matte Photo collage with Swarovski crystals, 1116.2 x 116.2 x 6.3 cm, courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957
Rashaad Newsome, REALNESS2,2023, Fujicolor Crystal Archive Matte Photo collage with Swarovski crystals, 1116.2 x 116.2 x 6.3 cm, courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957

An art exhibition that invites visitors to reimagine a more symbiotic existence between man and nature and draws on the importance of ancestors has opened its doors to the public in London.


The works of 16 artists from the African continent and African diaspora challenge the concept of the Anthropocene – how humans have impacted the environment to such a degree that it has caused a distinct geological change.


Entitled: ‘Constellations Part 1: Figures on Earth & Beyond’, Gallery 1957’s London exhibition in South Kensington, rather rejects this Anthropocene label and explores our interconnection with nature in a way that promotes and celebrates sustainability.


Repositories for ancestors and knowledge

British-Kenyan multimedia artist Phoebe Boswell showcases her three-part pastel series. The series includes multiple iterations of her self- portrait as a centrepiece within a forest setting.


Entitled: ‘The most penetrating preachers’, and ‘the smallest play of leaves in my branches, the smallest scar on my bark’, Phoebe’s multiple bodies are depicted in a way that makes them indistinguishable from the trees in the forest.  


Phoebe Boswell, the smallest play of leaves in my branches, the smallest scar on my bark, and the most penetrating preacher, courtesy the Artist and Gallery 1957


“The trees become repositories for ancestors and knowledge,” Katherine Finerty, one of the three curators behind this two-part gallery exhibition, explained. The link between art and ancestors is a recurrent theme I noticed with other works throughout this exhibition.


For me, Phoebe’s work made me reflect on the linguistic parallels between the Twi words for wood ‘dua’ and the Twi word for body ‘nipa dua’ – could there be a connection?  


Water is life

Moving from one earthly element to another, Nigerian-American Modupeola Fadugba’s piece: ‘Reflections: A Tale of Two Cities’ captures the reflective power of water.

 Modupeola Fadugba , Reflections: A Tale of Two Cities , 2023, acrylic, graphite, ink and metal leaf on burned canvas, 183 x 115.6 cm, courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957
Modupeola Fadugba , Reflections: A Tale of Two Cities , 2023, acrylic, graphite, ink and metal leaf on burned canvas, 183 x 115.6 cm, courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957

The piece was inspired by a community project Modupeola took an interest in while in the USA. The project encouraged elderly African Americans to socialise through communal swimming and resulted in some of them learning how to swim for the first time.  


Inspired by their achievements, Modupeola took the concept to Nigeria where she encouraged some of her art studio assistants to learn to swim. The two young women depicted by the edge of a pool in the piece, are two of the assistants who learnt to swim.

What was most riveting about Modupeola’s water-inspired work was her use of “fire as a tool to create colour and texture”.


 Modupeola Fadugba , Reflections: A Tale of Two Cities , 2023
Modupeola Fadugba , Reflections: A Tale of Two Cities , 2023

“Fire is part of my visual vocabulary [a form of reflection – a memory] that references the time when I was growing up in Rwanda – post genocide – living there, wanting to go to school but all the buildings, all the schools looked burnt, had craters where bombs had exploded,” she told visitors during the exhibition viewing.


“I was fascinated by the idea that Kente was the mapping out of Ananse’s dance" - artist Zak Ové.

Ananse’s dance

Zak Ové’s work moves visitors from earthly figures to the ephemeral.


Zak’s multi-media tapestry pays homage to Akan folklore, the link between music and memory, and draws on his Trinidadian heritage through the influence of masquerade.

 Zak Ové, Anansi’s Dance , 2023
Zak Ové, Anansi’s Dance , 2023

Better known for his sculptures, Zak explained that while researching his piece called: ‘Anansi’s Dance’ in Accra, he learnt about the fabled origins of the Kente cloth and its link to Kwaku Ananse – the Akan trickster spider.


“I was fascinated by the idea that Kente was the mapping out of Ananse’s dance,” he told AKADi Magazine. “I like the idea a lot, the lines in a Kente and spiders legs making a web.


“In Trinidad, we always see Ananse as having this homegrown Trinidadian identity, but there is more breadth to all the stories and journeys of Ananse in Ghana, – he is Africanised. I am always interested in old-world mythologies and how we use or repurpose new-world materials to contemporise those myths.”


Zak’s piece includes vintage Kente swatches sourced from the Art Centre in Accra, antique piano keys, which Zak collects, vintage recycled Ghanaian glass beads, and a copper nail.


 Zak Ové, Anansi’s Dance , 2023, Vintage kente swatches, antique piano keys, vintage recycled Ghanaian glass beads, copper nail, 190 x 190 cm, courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957
Zak Ové, Anansi’s Dance , 2023, Vintage kente swatches, antique piano keys, vintage recycled Ghanaian glass beads, copper nail, 190 x 190 cm, courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957

For me, Zak’s piece was a perfect example of how ancient and modern worlds can collide in a way that honours antiquity but also succeeds in being contemporary. Could this be a reference to Sankofa – the Akan philosophy of looking to the past to inform the present and future?


Visitors will find ‘Anansi’s Dance’ in Gallery 1957’s main room alongside other works that push boundaries in how artistic expression is delivered.


What I found refreshing about ‘Constellations Part 1: Figures on Earth & Beyond’, was the breadth and range of media that creatives used to express their art.


Katherine, who shares curation of Gallery 1957’s showcase with artists Nuna Adisenu-Doe and Tracy Naa Koshie Thompson, described this part of the exhibition as the “home of the hybrids” where tapestry, collage, sound and other media are “in dialogue with each other.”


As well as the more traditional use of drawing, painting, sculpture installation, and textiles, artists explored 3-D rendered collage, lightbox, and sound.


 Denyse Gawu - Mensah, Golden Sun , Living with Sun , 2023, Led lightbox, digital collage print on pvc banner, 65 x 47 cm, courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957
Denyse Gawu - Mensah, Golden Sun , Living with Sun , 2023, Led lightbox, digital collage print on pvc banner, 65 x 47 cm, courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957

Andrew Pierre Hart’s specially commissioned piece is a soundscape that fuses experimental sounds with music and voices – and uses dynamic, grid-like structures as a way to capture sound in the form of painting, Katherine explains.


Andrew Pierre Hart, Gurunsi Rhythms, detail of installation view from Constellations–Part 1: Figures On Earth & Beyond. Photographed by Ric Bower and courtesy of Gallery 1957
Andrew Pierre Hart, Gurunsi Rhythms, detail of installation view from Constellations–Part 1: Figures On Earth & Beyond. Photographed by Ric Bower and courtesy of Gallery 1957


A favourite, for me, was seeing how Rashaad Newsome’s piece combines art and social media to create new spaces within which art can be seen.


Imagine being able to point your camera phone at any scene in your immediate environment. And imagine having Rashaad’s robotic creation superimposed into that space and dancing to sounds in your environment. This is what Rashaad’s piece ‘Self-Inventions’ does.


Rashaad Newsome, Self Inventions , 2023, in collaboration with LACMA × Snapchat: Monumental Perspectives, © Rashaad Newsome, image courtesy of Snap Inc., showcased at Gallery 1957
Rashaad Newsome, Self Inventions , 2023, in collaboration with LACMA × Snapchat: Monumental Perspectives, © Rashaad Newsome, image courtesy of Snap Inc., showcased at Gallery 1957

As long as visitors have access to the QR code  at Gallery 1957’s London and Accra spaces and have Snapchat, they can experience this interactive piece of art wherever they are in the world.


‘Self-Inventions’ is part of the LACMA × Snapchat: Monumental Perspectives (Collection III) initiative. This work uses augmented reality to explore representation and history across monuments. This initiative uses the lens of collective ancestral memory to examine the individual and communal legacies.


Responding and listening to the architecture

The creation of art that is in dialogue with its surrounding is a thread that visitors will witness throughout the exhibition.


Gallery 1957’s Asantewaa Art Prize winner Lois Selasie Arde-Acquah explores the relationship between the natural and synthetic in her specially commissioned piece entitled: ‘Ephemeral Liberation’.


Lois Selasie Arde-Acquah, Ephemeral Liberation, Installation view of Constellations–Part 1: Figures On Earth & Beyond, on view at Gallery 1957. Photographed by Ric Bower and courtesy of Gallery 1957


The Gallery’s entrance is draped in Lois’ ‘leafy’ undergrowth installation, which is made from synthetic leather materials sourced from a market in Kumasi. The installation is positioned opposite the natural greenery of Hyde Park and aims to draw on the connection between the artificial and the organic.


Meanwhile, Adelaide Damoah’s specially commissioned work: 'Interwoven Cosmos: Past and Future Ancestral Echoes & Portal of Past and Future Ancestors' draws on the influence of her Akan heritage, British colonialism and the power structures and histories that unite them both. 


The piece is situated by the equestrian statue of Baron Robert Napier at Queen’s Gate and the Albert Memorial and depicts a cross structure edged with gold Victorian lace that features references to her identity as a British Ghanaian.


Adelaide’s work forces you to zoom in to soak up the detail. There are four generations of her maternal Akan ancestry embedded into this piece. She uses screen print techniques to capture their images and includes wording from letters that reference Ghana’s independence from colonial rule.


Adelaide Damoah, Interwoven cosmos: Past and future ancestral echoes & Portal of past and future ancestors: Ekobɛ, detail of installation view from Constellations–Part 1: Figures On Earth& Beyond, Photographed by Ric Bower and courtesy of Gallery 1957.
Adelaide Damoah, Interwoven cosmos: Past and future ancestral echoes & Portal of past and future ancestors: Ekobɛ, detail of installation view from Constellations–Part 1: Figures On Earth& Beyond, Photographed by Ric Bower and courtesy of Gallery 1957.

At the same time, you have to step back from the piece to truly appreciate the piece as a whole – its beauty, the symbolic power behind the cross and Christianity, and its link to European imperialism.


For me, the Victorian lace was not just a reference to a time past but also a symbol of reclamation with Ghanaians and wider African nations absorbing the material as part of their fashion and cultural lexicon.

 Ayesha Feisal, The Hard Place , 2023, polyurethane, plaster, paper clay, resin and acrylic, 55 x 75 x 50 cm
Ayesha Feisal, The Hard Place , 2023, polyurethane, plaster, paper clay, resin and acrylic, 55 x 75 x 50 cm

Other artists’ work that is on display at the Gallery until 25 May 2024, include: Denyse Gawu-Mensah, Larry Amponsah, Henry Hussey, Ayomide Tejuoso, Johannes Phokela, Ayesha Feisal, Alberta Whittle, Lisa C Soto, and Sarah Meyohas.


For more information, visit: www.gallery1957.com


Alberta Whittle, Listening for all that has been forgotten , 2023, Digital collage on brushed aluminium, 80 x 120 cm, courtesy the artist, Gallery 1957 and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd., Glasgow
Alberta Whittle, Listening for all that has been forgotten , 2023, Digital collage on brushed aluminium, 80 x 120 cm, courtesy the artist, Gallery 1957 and The Modern Institute/Toby Webster Ltd., Glasgow

‘Constellations - Part 2’ is scheduled to take place in August 2024, at Gallery 1957’s exhibition space in Accra, Ghana, and will be a group curation between Katherine, Nuna and Tracy.  


Read more articles about Gallery 1957's exhibitions below.


The contents of this page were written for AKADi Magazine and cannot be reproduced without permission.

 


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