8 Projects Asserting Contemporary African Art’s Equal Standing to Unfold at The Armory Show

Emeka Ogboh, Recording in Yaba, Lagos. Photo by Emeka Ogboh, courtesy of The Armory Show.

This is a republished version of the article originally published on Artsy by Isaac Kaplan. Click here to view original.

Curators Julia Grosse and Yvette Mutumba—the first women to helm the annual Focus—will spotlight a broad range of young artists from Africa and the African diaspora at the fair’s 2016 edition next month. The eight projects, which both individually and collectively challenge the often simplistic conventional conceptions that surround Africa’s artistic output, will be spread across the fair’s home at Manhattan’s Piers 94 and 92.

The Armory Show’s commissioned artist for 2016, Kapwani Kiwangaheadlines the group with The Secretary’s Suite, an immersive mixed-media piece drawing on archival material to blend fact and fiction into a work that recalls the office occupied by the Secretary General of the United Nations in 1961. (The emphasis on the UN is apt; with 205 galleries from 36 counties, the Armory Show’s 22nd year promises one of its most global editions yet.) Kiwanga’s commissioned piece, presented by Berlin’s Galerie Tanja Wagner, explores the “economy of gifts within the political context of the United Nations” while also “playing with the idea of the gift as a powerful tool in the context of an art fair,” Grosse and Mutumba told Artsy.

It is joined by seven other “young voices working in very different kinds of media, from sound to installation to drawing to video to sculpture,” said the curators. These diverse works speak to specific aspects of African history while also showcasing the manifold artistic output one should expect from a continent of 54 countries and some 1.1 billion people.

Left: Sketches by Karo Akpokiere. Image courtesy of The Armory Show. Right: Ed Young, ALL SO FUCKING AFRICAN, 2016. Images courtesy of SMAC Gallery and The Armory Show.


Several of the pieces wittily intervene with expectations of the art fair context in which they will be shown. Nigerian artist Karo Akpokiere (whose work appeared in the most recent Venice Biennale) will presentAlternate Art Fair, a site-specific work of fictitious artists and galleries, which will be on view at at Pier 94. Fellow Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh’s Oshodi Stock Exchange v 2.0 will transport viewers, not to a fake art fair or the UN, but to a bustling Lagos bus stop, thanks to a rich soundscape. South African artist Ed Young will contribute a number of text-based works emblazoned with sardonic phrases like “All So Fucking African.” And South African artist Jared Ginsburg’s contribution Loop with Bamboo III is comprised of two motorized sculptural pieces that, as the name suggests, continually and cyclically morph and shift.

As part of expanding conventional Western depictions of Africa, questions of African history (national and individual) will also be explored. The VIP lounge will play host to South African artist Athi-Patra Ruga’s A Land Without a People for a People Without A Land, a series of hand-embroidered tapestries that touch on the relationship between myth and post-apartheid life, while the subtle photographs of Mame-Diarra Niang entwine the landscape with issues of personal mythology and identity. Personal past is central in Pied Piper’s Voyage, South African artist Lebohang Kganye’s animated film, which sees the artist dressing up as a familial patriarch.

Left: Athi-Patra Ruga, Azania in Waiting, Circa 2008-2009 (Nihil Reich). Image courtesy of WHATIFTHEWORLD and The Armory Show. Right: Lebohang Kganye, the pied piper, 2014. Image courtesy of Afronova and The Armory Show.


The selection of artists and their placement throughout the fair reflects the curatorial duo’s conviction that “contemporary art from African perspectives cannot be put into just one section,” as it “intersects with the international art business.” Mutumba and Grosse have assembled a group of artists that are poised to assert the quality of all-too-often-overlooked contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora while powerfully rejecting the notion that African art can be reduced to a single style.

—Isaac Kaplan

 © 2016 Artsy