From May 23 until June 28 2019, the Institut français Stuttgart presents “Certainties are Suspended”, an exhibition focusing on four exciting African and Afrodiasporic artists. In the context of the festival “Membrane: African Literatures and Ideas”, the exhibition presents recent photographic and experimental video work by Keyezua, Samira Messner, Fabrice Monteiro and Nicolas Premier. The multimedia work on show transcends the purely documentary, engaging with history, affect, presence and the dynamic production of future(s): the aspects that constitute the essence of any society. The works document, expand and investigate realities that elude simple certainties and demand a second look.
As celebrated author Teju Cole reminds us in his recent Book Blind Spot. “To look is to see only a fraction of what one is looking at. Even in the most vigilant eye, there is a blind spot”. Conceptually straddling the literary and the photographic, the exhibition provides a space within Stuttgart’s groundbreaking literary event Membrane to ‘look between the pixels’ in the same way as one reads between the lines. At stake is not merely the photography one looks at, but rather if one is able to see it for what it is (not).
“Certainties are suspended” is curated by Eric Otieno.
Artists & Works
Keyezua is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague. As a Dutch-Angolan artist, she explores the rebirth of Africa like a contemporary storyteller. She works with movie, photography, painting, poems and sculpture. Her work has been shown at Lagos Photo in 2016 & 2017, the Rencontres de Bamako 2017, Breda Photo Festival in 2018 and at Movart, Angola among others. In her body of work Fortia (2017), Keyezua seeks to return ritual value to the Mask, which in recent years has been commodified as a purely decorative object. Her research involved exploring the origins and functions of particular masks, as well as the rituals that accompanied their creation and ceremonial use. Fortia, which is Latin for force or strength, was the basis for Keyezua’s engagement with the death of her father, a process from which the series emerges as an ode to the force of life. The masks were meticulously designed and handmade in a lengthy process by Keyezua and group of six Angolan men who -like Keyezua’s father-were amputees. According to the artist, each mask represents a part of her: a reflection of her memories and the stages of her grief. Photographed on the shoulders of a black woman wearing a flowing red gown against monumental natural backdrops, the masks beautifully tell her story. Keyezua’s awareness of the visual economies surrounding disability and the black female body come to bear in this aesthetically stunning series. By making Fortia about the process and not (only) about the product, she highlights ableism and the commodification of the (black) female body, subjects that one does not immediately associate with her images. She creatively draws on the perceptive and cognitive dissonance that the viewer is confronted with to achieve a deeper and more meaningful engagement with her work.
Samira Messner is a social justice advocate whose upbringing in the rural Somali region of Ethiopia and academic background in gender and development studies is deeply reflected in her photographic pieces and storytelling. Her most recent Work, Imprisoned Freedom (2015), was last displayed at ”Fotoseptimbre 2018” in Texas/USA. She is based in Stuttgart, Germany. Imprisoned Freedom (2015) engages with the lives of women serving life sentences in Ethiopian prisons, often in the aftermath of cases of domestic violence. By way of sober and sombre black and white portraiture, Messner tactfully grasps the poise that often accompanies guarded desperation during periods of life’s adversity. In photographing incarcerated women, Messner challenges the societal dynamics that facilitate the unseeing of the global prison industrial complex, particularly its effects on women. The self-composure of Messner’s subjects appears to be in stark contrast to the contexts they are portrayed in, and expectations of how incarcerated, ‘criminal’ women look like. Imprisoned Freedom raises pertinent questions around domestic violence, self-defence and punitive incarceration in contemporary societies. While the understated aesthetic of Messner’s work is antithetical to the (melo)dramatization of female incarceration for comic relief in pop culture (Orange is the new Black), she ultimately captures the ambivalence of incarceration in essentially enabling a swap of oppressive contexts, where even prison, eventually “feels like home”.
Fabrice Monteiro was born in Namur, Belgium and grew up in Benin. He currently lives and works in Dakar, Senegal. His photography locates itself at the intersection of photo reportage, fashion photography and portrait thereby revealing a special aesthetic. In his work, issues of society, politics, religion and identity figure prominently. His work has been exhibited internationally at the Vitra Museum in Weil am Rhein, the National Museum for African Art in Washington DC, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, CCCB Barcelona, Kunsthal Rotterdam High Museum of Art, Atlanta among others. For Monteiro, images are always “question marks” in a way, as most of the concepts behind his photographic projects begin with a question. In his image series The Prophecy (2015), he confronts us with some of the most pressing questions of our time: Climate Change and the Anthropocene in the context of rampant consumerism and rapid environmental degradation. For The Prophecy, Monteiro draws from animism to create symbolic spirits which he photographed against different backgrounds that represent the environmental arenas that are acutely threatened by human activity. Monteiro portrays the pollution of the ocean with oil and plastics, deforestation, desertification, flooding as well as global economies of waste (mis)management that see garbage shipped across the globe and dumped in countries of the Global South. Monteiro’s work in this series is a wake-up call. It challenges the eurocentrism of global environmental narratives by showing the disastrous effects of climate change in the contexts where it hits hardest, even as the places that create the bulk of contributing factors for climate change are often far flung and/or in denial of its urgency.
Nicolas Premier is a Franco-Congolese artist, living and working in Paris. With AFRICA IS THE FUTURE (AITF), a 2002 art intervention in collaboration with Patrick Ayamam, he started a viral branding campaign on T-shirts and accessories to create an international slogan. Through his photographic work on the AITF Magazine covers, in which the “United Republics of Africa” are hegemonic, Premier studies the mechanisms implemented by a superpower in its self-representation. Premiers work interrogates the evolution and/or the permanence of relations between Africa (s), World (s) and future (s). With AFRICA IS THE FUTURE, a catchy postulate and slogan that Premier conceptualized in 2002, he challenges the place assigned to the African continent in the global narrative. In his AITF cover series (2002) – his most defining work- Premier recalls the famous LIFE magazine covers by creating a fictitious and inverted decal. On them, the so called ‘United Republics of Africa’ are hegemonic allowing Premier to study the underground logics of representation via Image in international news media by juxtaposing the past against an unknown future He is currently working on a series that examines the flows of images assigned to Africa and its diasporas in order to reinterpret them. The experimental series, also to be released on africaisthefuture.com later on this year, uses an short video formats to navigate the collective unconscious and the visual economies assigned to Africa and its diasporas as a form of reappropriation of the Imaginary, myths and narrative as well as the true matrix of futures. “Whose imaginary, anyway?” as posed by Taiye Selasi, thus becomes a pressing question for art and literature alike.
The curator of the Exhibition is Eric Otieno: a scholar, writer and facilitator interested in the intersections between social justice, postcolonial politics, the global ‘order’ and contemporary art & culture. He is a PhD candidate at the Department of Development and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Kassel, Germany, a commentator on various online/print platforms and contributing editor and content creator at GRIOT mag.
Supported by: Bundeskulturstiftung, Freunde des Institut français Stuttgart, Prolab und Robert Bosch Stiftung.