I is an Other | Be the Other

National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, Rome, Italy
20 Mar 2018 - 24 Jun 2018

Courtesy National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art (Rome), Rome.

Courtesy National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art (Rome), Rome.

The Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome presents I Is an Other | Be The Other, curated by Simon Njami, an exhibition of the works of 17 contemporary African artists.

Of African origin but internationally trained and inspired, the artists explore a common theme of the relationship with the unknown, starting with encountering the other.

Through 34 works of painting, sculpture, installation, video, photography and performance, the show examines the relationship with the other as the starting point for our understanding of the world. Each artist expresses his or her quest for otherness, leaning here on mythology, there on the visionary element, playfulness or irony: the result is a strikingly varied set of interpretations.

Past and future interweave and generate a different vision of history, kaleidoscopic and open to unusual layerings of time, in which the artists’ journeys take shape. Taken together, their works form a rich tapestry of perspectives from which to observe reality. There are masks, and sculptures by Nick Cave, evocative of imaginary rituals. For Simon Njami, the mask is the basis for investigating one’s relationship with the other, which in the act of hiding alludes to something different and outside the known.

Examining a different kind of relationship, with space, Maurice Pefura stages a scene from the Divine Comedy: a kind of labyrinth where the pages that form its walls bear inscriptions only visible from certain angles as we are accompanied in a rite of initiation.

Bili Bidjocka‘s triptych brings us to Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, in no particular order, a journey in which each of us is free to choose our own idea of temporality.

Mehdi-Georges Lahlou offers ironic reinterpretations, while Theo Eshetu invents mutants with multiple faces that intertwine into a single figure, a universal face that resembles nothing we can possibly know.

Jane Alexander, too, creates a world in mutation, a post-apocalyptic universe with echoes in Phyllis Galembo‘s work.

Wifredo Lam revisits Cuban Santería with its origins in the Gulf of Benin, like a compass pointing in no direction, while Igshaan Adams turns to textile art where the geometric lines of a labyrinth lead to nowhere. The same labyrinth sensation, not physical but mental, emerges from the compositions of Paulo Kapela to show us a history that never happened, like Beya Gille Gacha‘s Venus representing a myth to encompass all myths.

Simon Njami’s own words frame this ambitious project and the exhibition I Is an Other | Be The Other: “What first drives your existence, what gets you out of your cave and beyond what you’ve already seen and what you already know, is the need for another. Either way, for or against, only another allows you to construct yourself. So the other really ought to be thanked. Without another, closed within yourself, you would have no presence in the world… This show invites us to experience exactly this sort of role play, in the psychoanalytical sense, by agreeing to step out of ourselves for a moment and feel, with body and soul, the thrill of being the other.”



National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art (Rome)
Viale delle Belle Arti, 131
00197 Rome
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 8:30am–7:30pm



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