In an impressive exhibition of visual artists on the rise, Brooklyn’s Red Hook Labs and London-based Nataal Media have teamed up for the second consecutive year to co-curate “New African Photography II.” The display coincides with the illustrious 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair—a reference to the 54 countries that comprise the continent—which has traveled from Somerset House to New York’s Pioneer Works this week. “This is an exciting opportunity for us to be able to showcase emerging artists we believe in on a first rate platform in NYC,” says Nataal’s Helen Jennings. And juxtaposed with 1:54’s exhaustive Malick Sidibé exhibition, “The Eye of Bamako,” this second annual look at Africa’s creative landscape is not to miss. Here, Jennings gives us a glimpse at what to expect from this year’s collaboration.
What do you hope people take away from the show?
We hope that through the variety and quality of the works on show, viewers find something that delights and challenges them in equal measure. Many of the artists are showing work that reflects very personal and subtly nuanced takes around such themes as beauty, femininity, identity, street life and home so expect the unexpected.
And how does it differ from last year?
This year is a progression from last year and a completely new line-up. The 2016 show featured six photographers from across Africa and the diaspora. This year features nine artists and although the main focus is still on photography, we have also incorporated a film and a performance artist too. In addition to the opening night, we will be hosting a series of tours, talks and a student portfolio review, so the event side is more developed. But essentially the intention remains the same: to push forward fresh names and inspiring narratives that celebrate modern Africa.
What was the curatorial process like?
The curatorial process was a collaborative one between Sara, myself and Jimmy. Nataal chose and presented artists to Red Hook Labs who we felt expressed positive and intriguing perspectives on Africa. These names were very varied, encompassing fashion, portrait and documentary as well as film and performance, and including both new and known names. From a long list we narrowed it down to those we felt sat right together as a whole. We aren’t trying to tell one story or adhere to one theme, it was more about supporting people we feel are talented and have something special to share with the world.
Is this the first time Malick Sidibé’s photos will be shown as a whole in NYC?
He’s had exhibitions at Jack Shainman Gallery and elsewhere in NYC (I remember seeing a little show at agnès b store!), not to mention a number of US university galleries, but this is the first time this major show, “The Eye of Bamako,” has travelled to the US, having just finished up at London’s Somerset House.
How do Sidibé’s images from the past sit against these new works in the way Africa is portrayed?
Malick Sidibé was, of course, a master of his generation, and sadly only recognized late in his career. He and his contemporaries are now credited for creating a genre of African studio photography that has gone on to influence young African artists working today. There was such a joie to vivre about Sidibé’s images and the way he captured the energy and youth of post independence Bamako. Today the landscape and issues artists are addressing are different but there is a similar pride and power in their work, and thankfully the world is now paying much closer attention.
“New African Photography II” is on view from 4-14 May 2017 at Red Hook Labs in Brooklyn, New York.
Images courtesy Red Hook Labs