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The exhibition 'Multiple Transmissions: Art in the Afropolitan Age' brings eight African artists to Wiels
Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum, Landlord. Courtesy of the Artist and Tiwani Contemporary.

BRUSSELS.- WIELS invited Sandrine Colard, assistant Professor of art history at Rutgers University (USA) and artistic director of the 2019 Lubumbashi Biennale, to curate an exhibition of work by African artists whom have taken part in the art centre’s residency programme. The result: a group show that gathers eight artists (including five former WIELS residents) and that explores the various transmissions at work in their practices. Through the work of Sinzo Aanza, Simnikiwe Buhlungu, Pélagie Gbaguidi, Jean Katambayi, Nelson Makengo, Emeka Ogboh, Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum and Georges Senga, this exhibition invites us to look at the transversal heritages and the global resonances of ideas, images, sounds and energies that characterize contemporary African art. Imbued with the physical and mental movements that characterize our time – and which the popularity of artistic residencies have only amplified – these paintings, videos, installations, sound pieces and photographic works weave physical and imaginary geographies, and nourish radically plural, or ‘Afropolitan’, artistic practices.

Introduced in the early 2000s, ‘Afropolitanism’ describes the transnational and often urban cultures of numerous Africans or African descendants in the twenty-first century, both in and out of the African continent . Mainly conceptualized by the philosopher Achille Mbembe, the idea of ‘Afropolitanism’ is historically rooted in the continuous movements that have characterized African populations – from labour migrations and the slave trade to postcolonial diasporas and exiles – and in foreigners’ convergences towards Africa – whether colonial conquests, economic migrations or other. Out of these physical, mental and now digital journeys and immersions, and their entanglements, an ‘aesthetics and poetics of the world’ has emerged that transcends borders and nation states.

The idea of transmission has been fundamental to our understanding of art’s evolution. Applied to the African arts in particular, notions of authenticity and unchanging traditions have long prevailed. Yet the emergence of contemporary African art scenes hass continually short-circuited these traditional art-historical narratives. Without denying the genuine obstacles impeding the mobility of African artists, and without silencing migrations that are not always chosen, the idea of Afropolitanism forces us to be attentive to the local, continental and global dimensions that are shaping African arts today.

Every year, WIELS welcomes about 20 residents in the nine studios located in the heart of the building. This is a unique opportunity for these artists to be able to discuss their practices together, to develop their network and to discover the Belgian art scene during six months. For the past five years, the programme has included at least one resident from Africa per year. This is a way for WIELS to highlight these artists and their work, which is still insufficiently known and recognized in the West. Created between Kinshasa, Austin, Johannesburg, Berlin, Lagos, Umbria, Lubumbashi and Brussels, the works of the eight artists presented in Multiple Transmissions offers us a variety of perspectives on their global influences.

Simnikiwe Buhlungu (b.1995) is a South African artist based in Johannesburg, where she recently received a BA from the University of Witwatersrand. Through a multiplicity of media including videos, installations, prints and text-based forms, her practice explores the transmissions of socio-historical and personal narratives, as well as their retentions. Often taking the forms of conversations or unresolved questions, Buhlungu’s pieces mine issues of language and communication. Sound and music—Afrobeat, electronic, soul—are also at the centre of her artistic practice. Among other collective exhibitions, Buhlungu’s work has been included in Ode to the Skreets at the Stevenson Gallery, Johannesburg (2017), and State Proof at The Center for The Less Good Idea, Johannesburg (2018). Buhlungu is a member of the Johannesburg-based collective Title in Transgression. Recent projects with the collective include Mangolo, presented at the I’m not Who You think I’m not #10 public programme at the 10th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art. She was in residence at WIELS in 2018.

Nelson Makengo (b.1990) lives and works in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He has a degree from the Académie des Beaux-Arts de Kinshasa (2015) and has been trained at La Femis in Paris. Fundamentally, Makengo is a self-taught photographer and filmmaker. In his film practice, Makengo privileges the use of figurines of well-known animated movie characters and superheroes, and of visual and sound archives, to sublimate and patch together the fragmented history of his country and city. A saturated and contracted use of colour allows him to appropriate his urban environment. His documentary films, including Tabu (2016), Souvenir d'un été (2017) and Thêatre Urbain (2017) have been part of the official selection of several festivals, such as the Clermont-Ferrand short film festival (2018), the Sao Paulo International Short Film Festival, the St. Louis Documentary Film Festival, Senegal (2017), and more recently at the Afrika Film Festival in Belgium (2018). His film E’Ville (2018) was selected for the 21st Contemporary Art Biennal Sesc_Videobrasil of Sao Paulo. He was in residence at WIELS in 2018.

Sinzo Aanza (b.1990) is a Kinshasa-based writer and artist. Aanza first came to prominence with his novel Généalogies d’une Banalité (2015), which incisively chronicles the absurd and dramatic consequences of his native country’s mineral wealth. Since 2017, Aanza has transitioned towards a contemporary art practice that centres around similar concerns. The exploitation of natural resources, the representation of national identities and the excesses of these, or the international construction of the image of Congo since the colonial era are themes that feed both his visual and literary works. His work Projet d’Attentat Contre l’Image was presented at the 2017 Lyon Biennale, and Aanza had his first solo show, Pertinences Citoyennes at the Galerie Imane Farès in Paris in 2018. That same year, his most recent work, Epreuves d’Allégorie, was selected for the prestigious New Discovery Award at the Rencontres de la Photographie in Arles. His latest literary projects include the theatre play Que Ta Volonté Soit Kin (2016). He was in residence at WIELS in 2017.

Pélagie Gbaguidi (b.1965) was born in Dakar, Senegal, and is of Benin origin. Since graduating from the School of Fine Arts of Liège (Belgium), she has worked and lived in Brussels. Defining herself as a contemporary griot, Gbaguidi's paintings, writings, drawings and installations are musings of individual and collective memory. She critically engages with the misuse of history; deconstructing stereotypes, rewriting meta-narratives and using myth as an open space to create a simulacrum of the present in flux. Her recent exhibitions include Asylstadt Museum at the Stadt Museum in Munich (2013 and 2014), The Divine Comedy curated by Simon Njami at the MMK in Frankfurt (2014), and at the National Museum of African Art in Washington DC. Solo exhibitions include El Mundo Sans le Corps at Sulger-Buel Lovell (2016) and Disclosed Traces and Triadic Apparitions curated by Mika Hayashi Ebbesen (2018). Her works were included in documenta 14 (2017), Athens and Kassel. The artist was a fellow at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation (2018).

Jean Katambayi Mukendi (b.1974) lives and works in Lubumbashi (Democratic Republic of the Congo). Fascinated since his childhood by the mechanization of daily routines in his native mining town, Katambayi’s practice experiments with technology, electricity, geometry, and mathematics. In his work, he combines influences from daily life with experience gained from his training as an electrician. He creates fragile and complex installations and drawings driven by sophisticated electrical mechanisms. His technological discoveries are part of a search for solutions to social problems in current Congolese society. Katambayi has completed multiple residencies in Europe and Africa and has presented four solo shows, including On Ne Sait pas Où on Va at Trampoline Gallery in Antwerp (2016) and Uncertainty Scenarios at Enough Room for Space in Brussels (2016). Katambayi’s work has been included in more than 25 collective exhibitions, in institutions such as Le Palais de Tokyo in Paris (Le Bord des Mondes, 2015) and the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels (2050: A Brief History of the Future, 2015). Katambayi’s work is part of the M HKA collection. He was in residence at WIELS in 2016.

Georges Senga (b.1983) is a photographer based in Lubumbashi (Democratic Republic of the Congo), who was discovered during the first edition of the Picha Biennale de Lubumbashi in 2008. Generally concerned with transmissions of material and immaterial heritage, his first series Empreintes (2009) explored the physical imprints and residues of objects. His second series Une Vie Après La Mort, presented at Kampala Art Biennale in 2013, examined the survival of the figure of Patrice Lumumba in the contemporary Congo. In 2014, the series Kadogos about child soldiers was presented for the first time in 2014 at Mu.ZEE in Ostend. In 2015, Senga’s work was included in the exhibition Odyssées Africaines at the arts centre BRASS (Brussels). Between 2015 and 2017 he was a fellow at the Akademie Schloss in Stuttgart. Senga’s first solo show has opened at the Fondation A Stichting (Brussels) in April 2019. He was in residence at WIELS in 2015.

Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum (b.1980) was born in the Republic of Botswana. She lives and works between Johannesburg, South Africa, and Toronto, Canada, and has in the past called various parts of Southeast Asia and the United States home. Motivated by her experiences in these diverse locales, Sunstrum explores how one's sense of identity develops within geographic and cultural contexts. A multidisciplinary artist, her drawings and paintings – narrative landscapes and portraits that appear simultaneously futuristic and ancient – shift between representational and fantastical depictions, and explorations of the self-mythology of subjects. Sunstrum’s works alludes to geology, theories on the nature of the universe, geometry, and 18th-century notions of the sublime. Her work has been shown at MoCADA, New York (2011), the Havanna Biennale (2012), FRAC Pays de Loire, France (2013), Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg (2015) 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair 2017 , and at the Artpace, San Antonio (2018). Sunstrum had two solo exhibitions at Tiwani Gallery in London, Polyhedra (2016) and Diorama (2019).

Emeka Ogboh (b.1977) is a Nigerian artist based in Berlin. His practice concentrates on explorations of the senses of hearing and taste. Through audio installations and gastronomic works, Ogboh examines how private, public and collective memories and histories are translated, transformed and encoded into sound and food. In his practice, hearing and tasting provide a context in which to ask critical questions on immigration, globalization and post-colonialism. Ogboh has participated in numerous international exhibitions including Sharjah Biennial (2019), documenta 14, Athens and Kassel (2017), Skulptur Projekte Münster (2017), the 56th edition of La Biennale di Venezia, Italy (2015) and Dakar Biennale (2014). His solo shows include The Way Earthly Things are Going, The Tanks at Tate Modern, London (2017) and Market Symphony at Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C. (2016). In 2016 Ogboh was awarded Prize of the Bottcherstraße in Bremen, and in 2018 was shortlisted for the Hugo Boss Prize. In 2019, he received the Sharjah Biennale Prize, together with artist Otobong Nkanga. Ogboh is currently one of the inaugural fellows at the Columbia’s Institute for Ideas and Imagination in Paris.

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