Holding moments in your hands

Graphic by Joseph Valdez

“Mo(ve)ments: African Digital Subjectivities,” a new art show presented through the AFRICA SALON Contemporary Arts and Culture Festival at Yale this week, showcases the work of contemporary African artists through the medium of technology. When I walked into the show’s opening reception on Tuesday afternoon, the second floor of the Yale School of Art was dimly lit. Projections of artworks and landscapes spanned across the walls. The digital art seemed new and strange to me, and yet the space and people in it were comfortable. There was music playing from a small speaker, children were dancing, and featured artists were casually exchanging dialogue with those who came to see their work. The exhibit space welcomed me in.
Visual curator Efe Igor sought to create a digital sphere that could give onlookers a peek into a slice of contemporary African art. Particularly interested in digital art, Igor explains that with the world’s increasing access to the internet, digital art can create a sense of intimacy. With internet access and a mobile device, a person can hold a “moment” in her hands — a photograph, a recording, or a video that was created half a world away. With an intimacy that transcends cultural and geographic distance, the digital art in “mo(ve)ments” allows for an immediate engagement with art. Igor explained to me that, “mo(ve)ments explores the everyday, and how we understand every moment in cultures that are not our own or to what we are accustomed. It creates a space for racialized artists to record and share new narratives from their own perspectives, and it allows viewers to acknowledge and celebrate these differences.”
Although every artist in the exhibit uses digital media, each shares a different story through varied digital channels. Kent Andreasen, who has lived in Cape Town for most of his life, uses Instagram to share his photography. A set of his photographs is projected onto a wall in “movements.” Andreason’s art, vibrant and sharp in color, includes images of cityscape and mundane objects, such as a street sign warning of the presence of sheep, that often go unnoticed by daily passersby. When I asked him if posting on Instagram trivializes photography, Andreasen asserted the opposite. Using the internet as a vessel for art allows for large audiences to see his artwork, especially in a place like Cape Town where the number of mobile device users is rapidly increasing.
Another artist with featured work in the show is Nicola Brandt, who is from Namibia and of German-English descent. Her work is displayed on three adjacent computer screens, with the two flanking screens displaying identical images of Namibian landscape. The center screen plays a video following the narrative of two Namibian women describing horrors of colonization. Her work focuses on colonial amnesia—for those who have inherited the legacies of European colonizers, what is the responsibility to engage and remember? She grapples with the idea of landscape traditions, featuring wide open spaces that could be colonized. Brandt uses photography and videography to capture places that have suffered certain traumas from colonization. Even though the land may not visually reflect this trauma. those who inhabit the land now still feel it deeply.
Also displayed in the show is the work of 2ManySiblings: Kenyan brother and sister pair Oliver and Velma Rossa. Their art ranges from photography to fashion and design. But for “mo(ve)ments,” they are sharing a photography series called “Projected Fragment,” done in collaboration with Joseph Chege. Different lights and projections shine upon the profiles of individual figures against a wall.
“There is a rising of a transitional, contemporary African movement. For a long time, inspiration has been sourced from Africa, but it hasn’t been acknowledged that it is ours by international countries,” Velma Rossa said. “Now we have digital and visual platforms where you can actually see that some of the inspiration that has long been used by Western countries is from Africa.”
Even though scope of the work in the show spans the continent of Africa, each artist approaches Africa through a personal lens. Andreasen cautioned that, “It’s irresponsible to speak of African art as a whole because it is so diverse. There is so much going on and so many complexities to deal with. A lot of regions in Africa get their stories told for them and not by them.”
AFRICA SALON brings in a range of African artists and showcases their complex and vocal work. Head curator Ifeanyi Awachie states, “At Yale, we didn’t have any extensive program on African culture. I wanted to create AFRICA SALON as a festival in particular, because we as an academic institution sometimes don’t consider that other experiences can facilitate learning. There is something about attending a concert, or hearing an author read their own work, or seeing a piece of art in person that is an immediate experience. It’s a visceral experience that can convey realizations and learning in a way nothing else can.”

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