‘Africa is not a country’*
For the much-awaited reopening of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium—rebaptized AfricaMuseum (reopening its doors on 8 December 2018) —TLmag journeyed to the vast African continent to explore the artistic inventiveness of creative Africans on the local and international scale. This fascinating project was challenging, even impossible, considering the density of material in the many ‘Africas’: 54 sovereign countries, nine territories and two de facto independent states, each constantly changing, attempting in its own way to exorcise the colonial and post-colonial past and to achieve hyper-modernity. The ‘cradle of humanity’, the symbol of all self-proclaimed socially engaged causes, the laboratory for sustainability and the stage for cooperation in international development, this continent, historically ill-used and still shaken by contradictory forces, offers a land of contrasts and a powerful imaginary to the artists, designers, architects and photographers of this edition, whose representations of it are incomplete and subjective, of course, but also brilliant. These creators—who are, in a way, also ethnographers, explorers, ‘Magiciens de la Terre’**—all express themselves with their own words and media but have not forgotten the symbolic power of objects or the importance of scars and history. They overcome wars and crises by reinventing their methods of artistic expression, which push us out of our comfort zones. By defying clichés about Africanness, by cultivating mystery as well as humour, they produce universal, powerful and lively works. With an economy of means, they innovate using what exists already, play with Western references and codes and subscribe to a notion of luxury as pureness and immediacy. In recent conversations with the African American artists Stephan Burks and Howard Smith and artists from the African diaspora living in Belgium such as Sammy Baloji, Pascale Marthine Tayou and Aimé Mpane, to name only a few, I realized that their creative process is much more focused on handwork than that behind much Western art. ‘I make, therefore I am.’ Use of manual skills is not taboo, even for artists who may be both conceptual and in conversation with their own identity, origins, culture and ancestors as they relate to the world of objects. This issue offers a look at the universal power of artefacts, their sources and resources.
On the cover : Aimé Mpane, Congo Nouveau Souffle, 2017-2018. This monumental sculpture will be erected in the rotunda of the AfricaMuseum in Tervuren, officially reopening on 8 December.
*The Bystander Effect, Africa is not a country!, neon installation, 2016, Biennale Architettura di Venezia, Pavilion of Nigeria © Ola-Dele Kuku Projects, courtesy of LMS Gallery Brussels/Biennale di Venezia
**’Magicians of the Earth’, in reference to an exhibition of the same name at the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1989