Exhibition: AFRICA at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

The exhibition AFRICA is the third and last in the series architecture, culture and identity. It focuses on the area called sub-Saharan Africa – the part of Africa south of the Sahara Desert. Louisiana’s wish to mount this exhibition has its origin in a very simple observation: despite the fact that Africa is the world’s second-largest continent, surprisingly little contemporary culture from there comes our way.

The continent is more or less trapped in erroneous notions; for example that it is a country (not a continent with many countries). And unless one has actually travelled around and experienced the continent with one’s own eyes, it is the stereotyped narratives of abysmal poverty, drought, famine, genocide, military coups, ebola, AIDS and misdirected foreign aid that dominate the picture. It is therefore Louisiana’s aim with this exhibition to shed light, by pinpointing a number of judiciously selected examples from a cultural here and now, on the complexity of the great continent and to help open the eyes of the public to a more varied view of the development and future prospects of this part of the world.

The exhibition AFRICA is the last in a series that explores architecture, culture and identity formation in geographical entities which may or may not be part of our everyday language: the Nordic (the exhibition NEW NORDIC in 2012); the Arab (the exhibition ARAB CONTEMPORARY in 2014); and now AFRICA. No exhibition can describe, analyse and vitalize such large contexts exhaustively; on the other hand, through a number of examples one may help to establish a different framework of understanding from the standard one. And this is also an ambition of the exhibition AFRICA.

The exhibition is divided into seven thematic sections with focuses on different, inspiring narratives about what is happening here and now, exemplified by a number of specific construction projects under the selected themes. “Belonging” To begin with, 25 prominent artists, designers, writers and architects are given their say. With a point of departure in their respective professions, each offers a suggestion for what it means for them to ‘belong’. In this respect we experience for example an audio work by Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh, with a simultaneous reading of an Igbo legend in both English and Igbo, and South African artist Athi-Patra Ruga’s beautiful hand-woven map of fictional territories; one has the opportunity to read the young Somali writer Diriye Osman’s story of growing up as a homosexual in Somalia and Kenya, and there are self-portraits of the Senegalese photographer Omar Victor Diop, who ‘re-enacts’ historical representations of African men – with a twist. The examples mentioned and the other contributions form a polyphony at the beginning of the exhibition.

Coexistence Coexistence, viewed in several perspectives, is a central concept across regions in Africa. The exhibition demonstrates this in a number of images and cases that show how the coexistence of apparently paradoxical contrasts is a condition of life and is of fundamental importance to the individual community. It could be through an art work, dealing with the coexistence of a local reality and a global pop culture. It could be an architecture project, which in its core is an image of the reconciliation with a still very present and painful past. Or it could be a photograph which portrays the coexistence between visible and invisible family members.

Growing cities
Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the places on the planet where the cities are growing most. In this theme the exhibition turns the focus on the following six cities: Dakar, Lagos, Nairobi, Kinshasa, Maputo and Johannesburg. They have been picked because several of them can be called important nodal points on the continent. The cities also represent a complexity of geography, culture and colonial history that is expressed in different ways of living. Many cases show informal neighbour­hoods formed by people themselves, with related informal economies. In this section too we see examples of utopian visions of the future, housing projects for a growing middle class, and the architecture of the colonial era, which still stands as relics of the past. The city theme has been staged by the South African architect Heinrich Wolff.

Making space
As a dissection and investigation of the various scenes of coexistence, the exhibition dips into a range of spatial topologies related to everyday life across sub-Saharan Africa: when food is cooked, when sacrifices are made to the ancestors, or when the elders gather in council. The everyday chores are determinants of the form and function of the architecture.

In one way or another they all begin beneath the tree, the simplest example of a space – where there are shade and shelter, and where the villagers gather. The theme juxtaposes topologies of space with a number of new architectural projects that take their cue from regional building customs. Particularly striking is an installation by the architect Diébédo Francis Kéré. He has drawn inspiration from his own village of Gando in Burkina Faso, where he has identified the tree in particular as a central element. His contribution isa roofing system with informal seating arrangements where the visitors to the museum can gather, reflect and meet in an intimate setting.

Although Rwanda is one of the smallest nations on the African continent, the country looms large in the minds of many people as a result of the macabre genocide in 1994. In that sense Rwanda is the Africa – in our minds – of stories and images of horror one can hardly bear. The paradox is that Rwanda, twenty years after the genocide, is one of the best-functioning countries on the African continent, with a growing economy and a firm administration that will do anything to improve the country. It is crucial for the exhibition to make room for a narrative from Rwanda, because this example stands so clearly in people’s minds, and the need for a counter-image is all the greater. This is a story of reconciliation, education and a general strengthening of the social infrastructure through the erection of school buildings, kindergartens and other fundamental constructions – all crucial to the transformation of the image of Rwanda, so the country can escape from the curse imposed by the events of the past. The theme is a case history recounted by the drawing office ASA. For the space the founders of ASA, Tomà Berlanda and Nerea Amorós Elorduy, have created a 1:1 brick structure which is a section of one of the building types they have erected in various parts of Rwanda.

New communities
Socially rooted architecture – schools, hospitals, children’s homes, women’s centres, religious institutions etc. – is one of the most outstanding architectural tendencies in sub-Saharan Africa. It is characteristic of several of these projects that there is a high degree of local specificity. To a great extent they make use of local resources and try to engage in dialogue with an existing building tradition in the given region. And it is essential to involve the local users in the construction process such that the finished building matches the needs people have locally and it is essential that the participants are trained in the maintenance of the project once the architects have left the arena.

Building futures
What will the future be like? How does one build the future? Contemporary art’s exploration of potential ‘futures’ is a strong tendency on the African continent and is called Afrofuturism. Within architecture the future also plays a special role. The term white elephants is applied to ambitious building projects which are conceived on the grand scale for a desired future, but whose reality is oblivion and decay, for example as a result of a lack of grounding in the local surroundings or of socio-economic realism. At the same time the houses, mansions and skyscrapers of the colonial period lie in several places as ruins from a long-vanished era. They remind us that political and ideological power shifts can make any building a white elephant. A central element in this theme is the recently-deceased Congolese artist Bodys Isek Kingelez’ monumental, beautiful city-model Kinshasa: Project for The Third Millennium. In addition the exhibition is showing two large 1:1 installations in the Sculpture Park by the Spanish architect studio selgascano and the Namibian architects Droomer & Christensen. 

As mentioned, AFRICA is the third and final exhibition in the series on Architecture, culture and identity which started at Louisiana in 2012 with the exhibition NEW NORDIC. In 2014 this was followed by ARAB CONTEMPORARY, about new tendencies in the Arab world with a special focus on the relationship between private and public space. ARAB CONTEMPORARY included the Maghreb countries in North Africa. The exhibition is sponsored by Realdania.

Republic of Fritz Hansen, AUDI and Nørgaard på Strøget. Louisiana’s Main Corporate Partners. Realdania. Sponsor of Louisiana’s architecture exhibitions.

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Cite: "Exhibition: AFRICA at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art" 25 Jun 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/769181/exhibition-africa-at-louisiana-museum-of-modern-art> ISSN 0719-8884

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