IncarNations: African Art as Philosophy

BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels, Belgium
28 Jun 2019 - 06 Oct 2019

Otobong Nkanga,

Otobong Nkanga, "Currency Affair & War and Love Booty", 2011/2016. © Courtesy Otobong Nkanga

IncarNations is an exhibition created by the South African artist Kendell Geers in dialogue with the Congolese collector Sindika Dokolo. A initiative that reflects the diversity of the African artistic heritage, from an Afrocentric point of view and including the itineraries of slaves, colonialism and independence movements.

IncarNations is at once a mix and exchange between classical and contemporary art from Africa and its diasporas, looking at African art as a living philosophical practice. The masks, images and historic objects act as milestones, anchoring contemporary works in the ancient context of live creation. Taken from Sindika Dokolo’s collection, the works of African artists enter into dialogue with those of the diaspora while contemporary works will be displayed alongside classical works.

The exhibition includes works by Sammy Baloji, William Kentridge, Wangechi Mutu, Otobong Nkanga, Yinka Shonibare, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Ana Mendieta, Kehinde Wiley, Andres Serrano, Aida Muluneh, Mwangi Hutter, Hank Willis Thomas, Tracey Rose, Adrian Piper, Lubaina Himid, Roger Ballen, Zanele Muholi, Phyllis Galembo.

IncarNations proposes an alternate approach to the current tendency to appreciate African art on the basis of its aesthetic quality, origin, and ethnographic context. An Afrocentric approach – ‘African art as philosophy’ – takes as reference the thought of Léopold Sedar Senghor and its analysis by philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diagne; “Ethnographic museums are a negation of art because they prevent the objects on display from really looking at us. Because ethnography is constituted, at its colonial origins, as a science of what is radically other, it is in its nature to fabricate strangeness, otherness, separateness”. In order to understand art, it is important to apprehend the work’s context, including its spiritual context. An African mask, for example, created to bring about a symbolic transformation, allowed its wearer to incarnate a deity. This same spiritual strength is embodied in both classical and contemporary works.

Kendell Geers’ work Twilight of the Idols, a small magico-religious statuette wrapped in hazard warning tape, welcomes visitors. This piece, which brings together classical and contemporary art, forms the key to the exhibition, with its complex spiritual powers and stratification. The route flows organically through themes such as animism, Negritude, feminism, identity, masquerade, performativity, fetish, liberation movements, masking traditions and spirit. The classical works are given a central place as spiritual keepers of the exhibition around which the contemporary works are orchestrated. The scenography, a vibrant compilation of image, sound and colour, evokes associations with the dynamic bustle of an African metropolis and underpins the vitality of the works on display.

In IncarNations, Sindika Dokolo and Kendell Geers question the complexity of African identity from a resolutely Afrocentric perspective. After all, Africa is an old continent of 54 countries, thousands of living languages and dialects, traditions, and as much contrasts and multiplicities. The African spirit followed its diasporas via the slave, colonial, trade and exile routes and spread world-wide. It influenced Brazilian, Cuban, European and American traditions. And thus paradoxically, African arts defy all geographical definitions because of the importance of diasporas from this continent. Therefore, to build a collection which claims an African identity raises the core question of ‘what is African art?’’

BOZAR will coordinate a programme of lectures, performances and debates in the context of IncarNations.




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