From Nigeria to Senegal, contemporary African art in Paris this April

By Nicolas Michel
Posted on Monday, 4 April 2022 15:37

"We Work shit out ", Matthew Eguavoen. © Galerie Afikaris.

As the 1-54 art fair prepares to open in Paris this week, we take a stroll through the galleries that are showcasing contemporary and vibrant African art.

As the second Parisian edition of the 1-54 African contemporary art fair gets underway (from 7 to 10 April 2022, at Christie’s), which will include 23 international galleries, the French capital can pride itself on opening its doors – and its art market – to numerous African visual artists, who are either of African origin or influenced by the continent.

Although it would be an strenuous mission to draw up an exhaustive panorama of this increasingly vibrant event, it is possible to wander from one neighbourhood to another to discover (very) great artists. In general, admission is free, buying is not obligatory and the gallery owners don’t bite (at least not always). Even better: they are usually more than willing to tell you everything they know about the artists they (re)present. Here is a selection of five addresses that we guarantee will not disappoint.

Magnin-A, 118 boulevard Richard Lenoir, 11th arrondissement

Seyni Awa Camara & Estevão Mucavele: Les Restes du Bruit, until 14 May 2022

Camara / Mucavele © Galerie Magnin-A.You won’t see Seyni Awa Camara at the social dinners of the contemporary art world, nor will you come across her at any vernissage, boasting to anyone who will listen about the quality of her work. That is because Seyni Awa Camara, who was born around 1945, never leaves her village of Bignona, in Lower Casamance (Senegal), where she produces works of ochre clay like no other. It is rare to be able to contemplate several of them together, which the vast space of André Magnin’s gallery allows today.

You must take advantage of this opportunity. Fragile, loosely fired, seductively strange, Camara’s large earthen figures, “to which the faces of children, chameleons or even birds sometimes cling”, are “charged with an almost hieratic symbolism.” In any case, they open the door to a variety of more or less magical interpretations, often revolving around the relationship to childbirth, nature and femininity.

Still little known in France, the work of Estevão Mucavele (born in 1941 in Manjacaze, Mozambique) is essentially composed of desert and quasi-abstract landscapes. Landscapes “that inhabit his dreams: the mines, the sea, inspired by his travels between Mozambique and South Africa.” The shapes of the Karoo Desert and Cape Mountains can be found here.

A miner at the age of 16, a cleaner in a Johannesburg art gallery, a caretaker, Mucavele is said to have had an intense personal experience, as she crossed the stone desert on foot during a return journey from South Africa to Mozambique. Presented alongside Camara’s richly present works, Mucavele’s works speak of the frightening “eternal silence of infinite spaces.”

(Works sold between €6,000 and €45,000)

Galerie Art-Z, 27 rue Keller, 11th arrondissement

L’Afrique Secrète de Françoise Huguier, photographs and archives by Françoise Huguier, Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keïta, until 23 April

“Le pêcheur bozo” (The bozo fisherman), Françoise Huguier. © Galerie Art-ZBetween two cigarettes, Françoise Huguier (born in 1942) confides in a husky voice, mixing anecdotes about this series – essentially portraits of women – made in 1996 and 1997. “How did I photograph these women in their space? It’s simple, I’ll tell you. When I arrive in a village, I ask to see the chief. I bring tea and sugar. Do you know about the three tea ceremony? A village chief judges you right away. What have you come for? For the women’s room… So he comes with me, with 300 kids behind me who want to see.”

A sense of light and setting, an interest in the architecture of places, the confidence of the people photographed: Huguier’s images show a Mali at peace, rich in its cultures. “Huguier builds sincere relationships with her models, women she meets in Burkina and Mali, as well as with local photographers,” writes Olivier Sultan, who runs the Art-Z gallery. Through her intimate portraits of women, she reveals them to the public, just as she brought immense talents such as Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé out of the shadows by creating the Bamako Biennial of Photography in 1994, which has made these two great artists part of the history of photography.

For her part, the French photographer from the Vu agency recalls that she went to Mali because she was told that there was – just like in Japan – “a language of women and a language of men.” Her 50 years of work will be exhibited at Perpignan’s Visa pour l’Image festival from 27 August 2022.

(Works sold between €750 and €6,000).

Galerie Cécile Fakhoury, 29 avenue Matignon, 8th arrondissement

Mody, celui qui vient des deux mondes: Elladj Lincy Deloumeaux, until 16 April.

Elladj Lincy Deloumeaux. © Grégory COPITET/Galerie Cécile Fakhoury.A black body draped in lace: the works of Guadeloupean artist Elladj Lincy Deloumeaux are in black and white – with a few touches of colour appearing here and there. Deloumeaux, who was born in 1995 in Guadeloupe, paints a single model named Mody, “whose name in Wolof means ‘the one who comes from both worlds.’” In various positions, Mody’s body either confronts the white lace or loves it, it is all a matter of interpretation. “One cannot help but wonder if being one with this fabric is really a consoling experience for the subject,” writes Louise Thurin.

“Does the light lace suffocate him? Is it caught in the net? By what net?” According to the artist, Mody, who is grappling with the plurality of his identity, oscillates between a desire and fear to drop the veil on the storm brewing inside him. Draping is a dual action which – in the same movement – covers him, conceals him and reveals him, thus making him visible only when he embraces his form. The work of draping, of suggestion, the addition of sandy matter, the deliberate incompleteness of the brushstroke and the studied two-colour process make Deloumeaux’s paintings icons of a new kind where the masculine and feminine are no longer distinguishable, where the model seems to be born to himself at the same time as the artist who paints him.

(Works sold between €5,000 and €20,000).

Galerie Afikaris, 38 rue Quincampoix, IVth arrondissement 

Egué Okpá, by Matthew Eguavoen, from 2 April to 3 May 2022

“We Work shit out”, Matthew Eguavoen. © Galerie Afikaris.Egué Okpá means “family” in the Edo language. This is the title of the first solo exhibition that the young Nigerian artist Matthew Eguavoen (born 1988) is presenting in this very dynamic gallery, which was founded in 2018 by Florian Azzopardi. He paints realistic and frontal portraits with sharp colours using acrylic and oil. The gallery owners who present his work feel that “Matthew Eguavoen addresses the subject of parenthood by projecting his own experience as a young father into his paintings.”

He developed this narrative in response to the birth of his first child. Matthew Eguavoen presents a frank and personal view of fatherhood. His portraits with their neutral expressions and piercing gazes leave room for interpretation. Although they are tinged with tenderness, they sometimes bear witness to a certain baby blues, as parenthood is often accompanied by its share of questioning and doubts.”

The titles of his works poetically express the importance of familial bonds and women’s essential role: Yaniwura (Mother is as precious as gold), I was my parent’s flower girl. A member of the “Black Vanguard” movement, he sometimes takes inspiration from fashion clichés, modifying their context and giving his models a strong presence and an intense dignity.

(Works sold between €6,800 and €9,400).

Galerie Mariane Ibrahim, 18 avenue de Matignon, 8th arrondissement

In the realm of love, Florine Démosthène, until 16 April 2022

“In the realm of love”, Florine Démosthène. © Galerie Mariane Ibrahim.Born in the US and raised between Port-au-Prince and New York, Florine Démosthène essentially practices collage from cut mylar (polyester film), ink and glitter, mixing yellows, blues, greens and ochres to obtain liquid colours. Far from the dictatorship of bodies formatted by and for advertising, in her Royaume de l’Amour she puts forth massive, translucent silhouettes that are floating in an indeterminate space, sometimes flown over by a species of cherub named “guardians of the water lilies.”

According to the gallery owners, Démosthène “is interested in how the African concept of love manifests itself and whether it exists within the limits of what this feeling is today. The work is based on the artist’s reflections on conversations she had while living and working in Ghana.”

To her body of dreamlike collages are added some sculptures “in reference to objects from the Fon (Benin) and Aŋlɔ Eʋeawó (Ghana) shrines.” Since most aspects of African spirituality and sacred science manifest themselves around altars, Florine Demosthenes explores the conflict between traditional, ethereal, Western and contemporary conceptions of love.

(Works sold between €11,000 and €25,000).

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