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Contemporary African Art in NYC: Winter 2017

Post by Evelyn Owen with Natalie Petit

This winter brings a stellar selection of contemporary African art exhibitions to New York City, so we’ve compiled one of our seasonal roundups to share the good news! From modernist painting to contemporary photography, there’s something for everybody. Time to mark your calendars…


1. Black Artstory Month: The Altar: Rituals of Healing in the African Diaspora


The 5th Annual Black Artstory Month is themed around “The Altar: Rituals of Healing in the African Diaspora”


February 1—28, 2017

Myrtle Ave, BKLYN

472 Myrtle Avenue, 2nd Floor, Brooklyn

Times vary


Each February, the folks at Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn host gatherings celebrating Black Artstory Month. As the name suggests, the series offers an artistic slant on Black History Month, shining a light on the creative achievements and contributions of African Americans. For its 5th season, Black Artstory Month is focusing on healing, restoration, and realignment in African Diasporic communities through a range of exhibitions, performances, discussions, readings, screenings, and more. We’re excited to try out the self-guided Artwalk along Myrtle Avenue, where any day of the week you can see over twenty window murals and other art installations. Also coming up on Friday, February 24th is an evening of art making, movement & dance entitled “A Seat at the Table.”  

2. Mor Faye: The Untitled Series, Works On Paper, 1969-84


Mor Faye, Untitled 175, 1982.


January 26—March 11, 2017

Skoto Gallery

529 West 20th Street, 5th Floor

Tuesday through Saturday, 11am—6pm

 The artist Mor Faye (1947-1984) has taken on almost mythical status in the history of Senegalese art. His life story has been told as one of early achievement followed by tragic decline, from his successful participation in the 1966 First World Festival of Negro Arts to his subsequent hermit-like withdrawal from the art world in his home city of Dakar, his struggles with mental illness, and his untimely death from cerebral malaria at the age of only 37. This exhibition of paintings at Skoto Gallery invites a new perspective on Faye’s work, one that recognizes and celebrates his international outlook, his intense productivity, and his ability, through art, to express the interplay between our interior lives and the wide world around us. 
This is the first solo presentation of Faye’s work in New York City, but it’s by no means the first time his art has been seen outside Senegal. Following exhibits elsewhere in Africa and in Europe during the 1960s and 1970s, in 1993, The Africa Center’s parent institution, the Museum for African Art, organized an exhibition called “Fusion: West African Artists at the Venice Biennial.”  This show featured work by Faye as well as his fellow Dakar artist Moustapha Dimé, and Ivorian artists Tamessir Dia, Ouattara, and Gérard Santoni. The publication that accompanied Fusion is available for free on our publications page—check it out to read an essay about Mor Faye, as well as interviews with the other artists. 

3. Yossi Milo – Pieter Hugo: 1994


Pieter Hugo, Portrait #3, Rwanda, 2014. From the series 1994


January 26—March 11, 2017

Yossi Milo

245 Tenth Avenue

Tuesday through Saturday, 10am—6pm


1994 was the year Apartheid ended in South Africa; it was also the year of the Rwandan genocides. This exhibition by South African artist Pieter Hugo features color photographs of children born in both countries after 1994, and examines the hope and freedom their young lives symbolize, as well as the ways that history often becomes embedded in the landscape and can not always be shaken off quite so easily. Hugo explains:
“I noticed how the kids, particularly in South Africa, don’t carry the same historical baggage as their parents. I find their engagement with the world to be very refreshing in that they are not burdened by the past, but at the same time you witness them growing up with these liberation narratives that are in some ways fabrications. It’s like you know something they don’t know about the potential failure or shortcomings of these narratives…”

Jacob van Schalkwyk, Steel, 2016.


February 9—March 25, 2017

David Krut

526 West 26th Street, #816

Wednesday through Saturday, 10am—6pm


/’atmes,fir/ is the phonetic spelling of “Atmosphere,” a suitably moody and ambiguous title for this exhibition of abstract painting by three emerging artists from South Africa. Drawing inspiration from the sensory and natural worlds—whether jazz rhythms, clouds, or colors in the environment—the works offer a multitude of viewpoints on contemporary South African landscapes and socio-cultural realities. 

5. Atta Kwami: Thami


Atta Kwami, Dasiamime, 2016


February 16—March 18, 2017

Howard Scott Gallery

529 West 20th Street, 7th Floor

Tuesday through Saturday 11am—6pm



The jewel-like, energetic paintings of Ghanaian painter Atta Kwami are the subject of this solo exhibition, his fourth at Howard Scott Gallery. Drawing influences from Ghanaian architecture and African strip-woven textiles, Kwami’s work plays with color and form through improvisatory and conversational explorations of tradition and innovation. 

For the new paintings in “Thani”, Kwami was inspired by his stay last year at a studio run by the Thami Mnyele Foundation in Amsterdam. Thami Mnyele (1948-1985) was a South African artist and activist who died in exile in Botswana. Kwami says:

“The atmosphere of the studio, its generous proportions, its location, and the organizational support of the team were enough to launch me in a new direction. These paintings, the Thami Mnyele paintings, embody the rhythms and spatial dialogues that excite me when I experience the drama of city architecture. More recently in Ghana, I have been looking anew at vernacular roof-tops, at their complexity and simplicity which say so much about the aesthetics of the region; its geometry and its abstractions.”



6. Yinka Shonibare: Prejudice at Home: A Parlour, a Library, and a Room


YINKA SHONIBARE MBE, The British Library, 2014


February 17—March 18, 2017

James Cohan Gallery

533 West 26th Street

Tuesday through Saturday, 10am—6pm



Three major installations by British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare MBE are currently on view at James Cohan under the collective title “Prejudice at Home,” and together they bring to the fore issues such as intolerance and inequality that Shonibare has addressed throughout his career. In “The Victorian Philanthropist’s Parlour,” Shonibare subverts expectations to deconstruct the concept of philanthropy in the era of colonialism; in “The British Library,” against a backdrop of growing hostility to “outsiders,” he draws attention to the positive contributions of migrants to British society; and in the filmic suite “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” he references Oscar Wilde’s protagonist to examine questions of privilege, vanity, and narcissism.  


7. Admire Kamudzengerere: I am gonna…you. Till you run.


Admire Kamudzengerere, Untitled, 2013


February 24—March 26, 2017

Catinca Tabacaru

250 Broome Street

Wednesday through Sunday, 11am—6pm



Family ties, memory, and identity are some of the threads woven through the work of Zimbabwean artist Admire Kamudzengerere in the cryptically titled show “I am gonna…you. Till you run,” his first solo exhibition in New York City. Following the death of his father, Kamudzengerere began to make self-portraits by looking in a mirror as he traced an image of his face on paper placed upon an ink stone. Collectively, and over time, these portraits become less immediately recognizable, allowing for the possibility of new and unknown faces to enter and confront the artist’s field of vision. Using different types and sizes of paper—from Post-Its to phone books—Kamudzengerere has created “the pieces of a universal puzzle invoking a unifying human thread.”



8. Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (Congolese Plantation Workers Art League) (CATPC)


Jérémie Mabiala reflecting on his work, 2015


January 29—March 27, 2017

Sculpture Center

44-19 Purves Street, Long Island City

Thursday through Monday, 11am—6pm


This challenging exhibition provokes a combination of sensory delight and conceptual puzzlement. In the cavernous Sculpture Center, a former trolley repair shop in Long Island City, rows of almost life-size figures create a dignified, symmetrical formation. These sculptures were first molded in clay in the Democratic Republic of Congo by members of the Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (Congolese Plantation Workers Art League or CATPC), before being 3D printed and cast in cacao in Europe. They emit an enticing chocolatey aroma (although of course they aren’t for eating.)
Beyond these simple pleasures, the figures point to deep contradictions in the art market and the art world more generally. It’s widely known that many major art museums rely on funding from corporate giants, a number of which rely in turn on the plantation economy. CATPC’s members are plantation workers, whose lives are almost entirely controlled by the logic of global trade and who occupy a powerless position relative to the majority of the world’s art collectors, art dealers, and even artists. Can they somehow subvert this situation by using cacao produced on plantations to infiltrate the art world, drawing the profits back into their community? Can they collapse the distinction between those who produce the raw materials that create wealth, and the privileged individuals, institutions, and networks that tend to benefit from it? Any attempt to reach answers to these questions is further complicated by the involvement of controversial Dutch artist Renzo Martens, whose Institute for Human Activities is a “sister organization” to CATPC that aims to “diversify the local economy through critical artistic engagement.” The extent to which Martens’ conceptual and creative impulses shape or compete with the plantation workers’ own goals and desires is an open debate, just one of many prompted by this problematic yet fascinating project. 
CATPC also feature in a group exhibition, What Is To Be Done?, in the Focus section at this year’s Armory Show, on which, more below…

9. The Armory Show


Turiya Magadlela, Umjuluko, Inyembezi ne Gazi 1 (Blood, Sweat and Tears), 2016


March 2—5, 2017

The Armory Show

Piers 92 & 95

711 12th Avenue at West 54th Street

Thursday, March 2 and Friday, March 3: 12pm—8pm | Saturday, March 4: 12pm—7pm | Sunday, March 5: 12pm—6pm

General Admission: $47. Student, senior, group, and after-work discounts available

One Day Admission to The Armory Show and VOLTA (see #10): $60


After last year’s Armory Show, which had a special Focus section on African and diasporic art, this year’s offering was always going to feel somewhat limited. There are only two Africa-based galleries participating, both of which are based in Cape Town: SMAC will offer work by a number of artists in the core “Galleries” section, and BLANK will present work by Turiya Magadlela (pictured above) as part of “Insights.” Elsewhere in “Insights” there’s a chance to see work by Malagasy artist Joël Andrianomearisoa (presented by Madrid-based gallery Sabrina Amrani), German-Ghanaian multidisciplinary artist Zohra Opoku (presented by Seattle-based gallery Mariane Ibrahim), and Zimbabwean artist Gareth Nyandoro (presented by London-based gallery Tiwani.) This year’s “Focus” section includes work by Ghanaian installation artist Ibrahim Mahama, and there’s also another opportunity to check out the cacao sculptures of the Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantations Congolaises (CATPC) (also showing at Sculpture Center, #8 on this list!)





Volta NY

March 1—5, 2017


Pier 90

12th Avenue at West 50th Street

Wednesday, March 1 (Preview): 5pm—10pm | Thursday through Saturday, March 2—4: 12pm—8pm | Sunday, March 5: 12pm—5pm

One Day Admission: $25 (Student: $20)

One Day Admission to VOLTA and The Armory Show (see # 9): $60


If you’re visiting the Armory Show (#9 on this list) it’s definitely worth detouring to VOLTA NY, an invitational fair of solo artist projects just a little way downriver at Pier 90. Smaller than the Armory, VOLTA is a great place to concentrate on the work of individual artists without so many distractions. Exhibiting artists include Beatrice Wanjiku (with ARTLabAfrica, based in Nairobi), Ryan Hewett (shown by Cape Town’s Barnard Gallery), Armand Boua (presented by Ethan Cohen, New York), Ouattara Watts (with Galerie Michael Janssen, Berlin), and Mohau Modisakeng (shown by Whatiftheworld, Cape Town.) 



11. Ernest Mancoba


Ernest Mancoba, Untitled (Calligraphic 3), 1990


February 23—April 8, 2017

AICON Gallery

35 Great Jones Street 

Tuesday through Saturday, 10am—6pm



This exhibition presents paintings and drawings by Ernest Mancoba, an important black South African modernist artist, in his first major solo show in New York City. Mancoba was born and raised in Johannesburg in 1904, at a time when racial discrimination and segregation were becoming increasingly entrenched and systematized in the country. Apartheid did not officially begin until 1948, but the pursuit of artistic freedom led him to move to Europe ten years earlier, in 1938.

Following studies in Paris and a period in a Nazi internment camp, Mancoba moved to Denmark where he became a founding member of the COBRA avant-garde art movement. His contribution to COBRA was largely ignored at the time, arguably because as an African artist he was seen through a racist lens as inherently “primitive.” It is only recently that his historical significance has been recognized, and his artistic achievements understood. This exhibition presents a valuable opportunity to learn about Mancoba’s work, and set it in its rightful place in the history of global Modernism. 



12. Sammy Baloji and Filip De Boeck: Urban Now: City Life in Congo


A man crosses the street in the Tshangu district of Kinshasa in 2013. Photo: Sammy Baloji.


November 1, 2016—July 14, 2017

Open Society Foundations, New York

224 West 57th Street

Call for opening hours: (212) 548–0600



A collaboration between photographer Sammy Baloji and anthropologist Filip De Boeck, Urban Now: City Life in Congo explores urban environments in the Democratic Republic of Congo through photography and video. “Urban now” is defined here as “a moment suspended between the broken dreams of a colonial past and the promises of neoliberal futures”—a kind of active limbo marked by frequent transformations in the landscape and displacements of urban populations. Images of crumbling infrastructure and contested parcels of land are juxtaposed with portraits of specific individuals—gravediggers, land chiefs, horticulturalists—to shine a light on the complex relationships between urban inhabitants and their challenging, ever-changing surroundings. 



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The Moth is coming to Aaron Davis Hall! Join them on Monday, February 4th, for a magical evening of stories, shared live at the beautiful Marian Anderson Theater as five storytellers take the stage and share a true, personal story from their life: joy and...

2 hours ago
@TheMoth is coming to Aaron Davis Hall! Join them on Monday, February 4th, for a magical evening of stories, shared live at the beautiful Marian Anderson Theater as five storytellers take the stage and share a true, personal story from their life.