'Africa' at the CAC

Titling an exhibition 'Africa' is to make a big statement. A continent of almost 12 million square miles, over a billion people, 50-odd countries and countless nations and tribes swallowed up within; north to south, east to west, as disparate as they come. Trying to represent that in a single exhibition was never going to happen. Nevertheless the curators have put together an interesting, entertaining selection of work which is also enlightening - in that it demonstrates how little we (or at least I) know or understand about Africa, and African Art in particular.

The exhibition précis talks about making an introduction to an emerging and an established artistic scene, referencing traditional and contemporary art - both of which are, evidently - touched by globalisation, and affirming the continent as a creative centre largely unknown to a European public.

Taking that as the context, it is all the more frustrating that this offers just a glimpse. Some of the work falls squarely within a framework of Western contemporary art, so much so that it could have come from anywhere. There is nothing wrong with this - it shows that African art should not be considered discrete in the sense that it has an equal footing on any world stage. Perhaps the intention was to provide that frame of reference. All the same, I would have liked to have been awed - something I'm quite sure Africa is very capable of. Some of the work shows references of other cultures in ways which can be charming, amusing and also terrifying, depending on your take. Some of the work is clearly, resoundingly - and excitingly - African.

The range of works - around ninety, from some 30 artists - takes in sculpture, painting, photography, film and installation.

I enjoyed the photographic series 'African Spirits' of Samuel Fosso which meticulously replicate images such as Malcolm X, and Carl Fischer's Mohammed Ali as Saint Sebastian, with the artist as model. Many of the other photographic works, though, I found to be more about Africa than distinctly about African Art, or referenced European art in a manner which I often found heavy-handed.

Some of the painting and sculpture made the most impact on me, for its freshness and unadulterated excitement. The paintings of Chéri Samba were in some ways traditional, but the colour and symbolism were striking. My favourite painting was 'Agatonon', the 'water god' by Cyprien Tokoudagba, below. The stars of the show, by far, were the sculptures of Demba Camara and César Dogbo, also below.

Images of the exhibition should be available on the site for a few more days - following the link below, click on 'Diaporama' on the exhibition page for 'Africa'

Centre d'art Contemporain, Meymac

Meschac Gaba

Cyprien Tokoudagba

Romould Hazumé

César Dogbo

Chéri Samba

Balthazar Faye

Demba Camara

Samuel Fosso

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