Exhibition preview: Architecture of Independence + Making Africa
Olivia Arigho Stiles previews two bold new exhibitions on digital-era African art and design opening at Vitra Design Museum Gallery.
Two new exhibitions at Vitra Design museum in collaboration with the Guggenheim Bilbao reveal the extraordinary breadth of African design and architecture in the digital epoch. Architecture of Independence – African Modernism forms the prelude to Making Africa – A Continent of Contemporary Design. Both exhibitions explore pan-African identity and the relationship between art, design and politico-economic transformation.
The exhibitions reveal how technological processes across the continent have fuelled artistic experimentation. Overtaking the Europe and the US, there are 650 million registered mobile phones in Africa, many of which offer access to the internet, which has led to vast global avenues of communication and collaboration opening up between Africa’s emerging artists and the world. Additionally, given the vastness and diversity of the African continent, digitalisation has also opened up new paths for intra-continental collaboration.
Architecture of Independence – African Modernism vividly portrays the decisive impact the dramatic upsurge in African decolonisation movements of the 1950s and 60s had on the continent’s architecture. Seeking to consolidate nation building in the wake of dynamic anti-colonial struggles, the spirit of independence and innovation was manifest in experimental and futuristic architecture. It was parliament buildings, central banks, sports stadiums, universities and independence memorials which showcased this modernist design, reflecting the civic and political implications of the modernist project. It also illuminates the central contradictions arising from the use of colonially derived architectural styles to articulate cultural expressions of decolonisation.
The Architecture of Independence exhibition is dominated by the photographs of Iwan Baan, perhaps to the detriment of lesser known architectural photographers. Meanwhile Making Africa features work which sits at the intersection of material and visual culture, including the eyewear sculptures by Kenyan artist Cyrus Kabiru, the furniture of Cheick Diallo from Mali and the photography of Mozambican Mário Macilau and Nigerian J.D. ’Okhai Ojeikere. It also shows the architecture of Francis Kéré, David Adjaye and Kunlé Adeyemi, cardboard city models by Bodys Isek Kingelez and animation art by Robin Rhode, a South African based in Berlin, drawing on the experience of the African diaspora in Europe, and placing the exhibition firmly in the spirit of pan-African solidarity and innovation.
Architecture of Independence – African Modernism (20.02. – 31.05.2015) and Making Africa – A Continent of Contemporary Design (14 March – 13 September 2015) can be seen at Vitra Design Museum Gallery, Weil am Rhein, Germany. Tweet us your reviews at @GovtGazette