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Exhibition features leading contemporary visual and performance artists from West Africa
Bernard Akoi-Jackson, Untitled (Goldman), 2012. Image courtesy the artist.

EAST LANSING, MI.- A major new exhibition examining the work of contemporary artists from West Africa and the diaspora premiered at the Broad MSU this November. The exhibition features work by Bernard Akoi-Jackson, Jelili Atiku, Ibrahim Mahama, Otobong Nkanga, and Zohra Opoku, as well as a video work by German artist Antje Majewski presenting a portrait of pioneering Senegalese sculptor and performance artist Issa Samb. Featuring a range of media—including video art, sculpture, performance, and installation—Material Effects explores each artist’s use of and reflections upon the symbolic, commercial, and practical value of man-made and natural materials.

On view November 6, 2015 – April 8, 2016, the exhibition debuts newly commissioned works by Ibrahim Mahama, Jelili Atiku, and Bernard Akoi-Jackson, marking their first major presentations in a U.S. museum.

“It is our vision to provide a platform for international artists to spark dialogue about some of contemporary society’s most pressing challenges,” said Min Jung Kim, deputy director of external relations at Broad MSU. “We are thrilled to be working with these dynamic artists and to invite examination and conversation, through their probing gaze, on a variety of cultural, political, and social situations across the globe.”

“The objects and materials that surround us—whether they be the cloth we wear or the sacks that carry our food—hold strong meaning” said exhibition curator Yesomi Umolu, “In Material Effects the artists we present use this very basic notion as a platform to explore the relationship between people and things as it relates to global commodity markets, individual and collective identities, and contemporary sociopolitical realities. It has been truly wonderful to get to know these artists and we look forward to bringing their captivating work to East Lansing and the United States.”

Presented across two galleries within the Zaha Hadid-designed building, the works in Material Effects confront the shifting value of materials and objects in different ways: some transform everyday materials into sculptural and performative works, exposing and subverting their perceived meaning and economic value; others leverage an object’s symbolic meaning to spark discussions about broader issues relating to institutional power and global crises.

The exhibition is anchored in the reflections of pioneering Senegalese artist and philosopher Issa Samb (b. 1945) on the intrinsic qualities of objects. A video work by German artist Antje Majewski, La Coquille Conversation entre Issa Samb et Antje Majewski. Dakar 2010, features a conversation with Samb in his courtyard studio—a site that itself contains hundreds of found objects.

Additional highlighted works within the exhibition include:

 Three new commissions:

o A work by Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama (b. 1987) transforming reclaimed jute sacks into a large-scale, site-specific installation that investigates the material remnants of Ghana’s commodity markets.

o A new participatory installation and performance by Ghanaian artist Bernard AkoiJackson (b. 1979) Untitled (Vestige:Systems.BLOCKS.Standards) that looks at the objects and rituals of contemporary African life as they are informed by traditional culture and the colonial heritage.

o The 17th iteration of Nigerian artist Jelili Atiku’s (b. 1968) In the Red series—an installation and associated performance exploring themes of war and violence.

 Nigerian artist Otobong Nkanga’s (b. 1974) Contained Measures of a Kolanut (2012), a work combining woven tapestry and installation that traces the trajectory of the Kolanut—from its ritual use in village life in West African communities, to its movement via the clay trade to Latin America and its use as a key ingredient in popular Western products such as Coca-Cola and Red Bull.

 German-Ghanaian artist Zohra Opoku (b. 1976)’s Post No Bill (2013), a video work delving into the rich history of textile cultures in West Africa to comment on the formation of individual and societal identities.

Material Effects is organized by the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University and guest curated by Yesomi Umolu.

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