Afritecture: Showing Architecture As the Most Visible Art Form.

February 22, 2015 2 comments
Ramzi_Towers

Ramzi_Towers

The relationship between art and architecture remains strong. For me, they are the same. Moreover, the value and credit of  creative professionals, particularly from the African diaspora is often underplayed, undervalued and misrepresented. The term ‘Western Architecture’ conjures up images ranging from Greek Temples to Post Modern high rises for many. However, African architecture tends to be viewed through a very narrow prism; a stereotypical hut is usually what comes to mind. Moreover, African architecture is rarely observed with reference to antiquity or to exemplary contemporary architecture. Unfortunately some African architecture is seen by some as predominantly non-African influenced and executed by external cultures . For example, Ancient Egyptian architecture despite history and this region’s origins as part of a larger Ethiopian nation of pyramid builders comes to mind. It’s fascinating to see the surprise look on some people’s faces on being informed of other pyramids  in Africa. We can explore and debate the way in which history is written as we know there can be bias in its recording. Moving forward, it is very important for me to highlight the efforts of Architect Livingstone Mukasa, currently documenting innovative, functional and sustainable designs emerging across the African continent. Livingstone kindly answered a few questions I posed to him regarding the Afritecture initiative:

Royal Netherlands Emabassy - Addis Ababa

Royal Netherlands Emabassy – Addis Ababa

Why did you start Afritecture.org ?

Afritecture as an idea is quite old. I have always been toying around with the concept of showcasing examples of successful architectural projects that had a strong African vernacular.  The website itself was launched in 2009.  The term Afritecture, implying Africa in architecture – rather than African architecture, came to mind almost immediately when I decided a web resource would be the best way to house these projects.

How long have you been collating resources of design and master planning projects from the continent?

The cataloging began while an undergraduate in architecture school.  I was thinking of ways to impart on my projects certain stylistic elements from my background.  I found much of the celebrated work we had to study bland and not representative of the world from which I came from, or the ways many people I knew lived and built their environments.  This was 20 years ago and I am still at it.

Africa’s social, political and economic development continues to have a rather distorted image in the media. How far do you feel you can support a more positive and progressive picture of what Africa is really like?

Hope City - Accra

Hope City – Accra

Architecture is the most visible art form.  Everywhere you go, you experience it.  And over the centuries Africa has contributed immensely to the architectural world, even as recently as the modernist era.   It is this recent influence that remains largely unknown, or under reported.

From the late 1800s, thousands of African sculptures began arriving in European museums in the aftermath of exploratory expeditions and colonial plunder.  The aesthetics of these traditional sculptures soon became a powerful and well-documented influence among avant-garde artists like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.  At the time, these artists didn’t understand the meaning and functional nature of these sculptures, but they instantly recognised the spiritual aspect of the composition and quickly adapted these qualities to their own efforts to move beyond the naturalism that had defined Western art since the Renaissance.  So art that was previously labeled and regarded as primitive anchored the modern art movement.

This influence soon transcended into architecture. Trailblazing European architects like Le Corbusier, one of the founders of modern architecture,  and De Stijl pioneer Theo Van Doesburg used well-organised geometric and cubical forms from African art and West African spacial organisation in much of their notable works giving rise to the International Style –  then considered unconventional, unprecedented and innovative.

Yes, [western] media has its preferences when it comes to reporting not only on the continent but also on communities of African descent wherever they may be.  But anyone curious about something knows not to seek information from a single source.  So it is incumbent on all of us with stories to tell to develop and maintain multiple sources of information that can, collectively, change the prevailing narrative.

For further information please visit  Afritecture.org

Rebuild By Design- At the Copenhagen Architecture Centre

This week I had the pleasure of visiting friends in Denmark to explore contributing to a very worthwhile project this autumn. Fingers crossed, there will be more to reveal shortly.

In the meantime, it was great to catch up with a number of exhibitions and events in Copenhagen including ‘Rebuild by Design.’

When Hurricane Sandy landed on the American East Coast it left behind chaos and destruction. ‘Rebuild by Design’ was a competition created to find solutions to repairing the damages and making the coastline more resilient to future storms. The exhibition presents a series of 10 solutions. Among the winning projects were OMA and Danish firm BIG who both provided innovative solutions to making the coast a safer place to live.

I was impressed with the many case studies included in the show such as New Meadowlands and Hoboken in New Jersey. I was most impressed with Hunts Point Lifelines, a collaborative project involving Penn Design, Barretto Bay Strategies, Buro Happold and McLaren Engineering amongst others. Hunts Point Lifelines sees jobs and the City’s food supply as critical resilience infrastructure, and communities as powerful integrators of economic, social and ecological potential to strengthen the whole, rather than the water’s edge alone.

The exhibition is supported by Realdania and is developed by  Rebuild by Design in cooperation with The Danish Architecture Centre. The show runs until 9th April 2015 but for further info please visit the Danish Architecture Centre website.

In Conversation with JA Neto of The Cult House

The Cult House

The Cult House

 

The year has started well with a number of opportunities to collaborate on very worthwhile community art projects. I’ve also been once again inspired by a number of artists featured in galleries and exhibitions. This included the recent Artrooms event at London’s Melià White House Hotel. One of the artist groups to feature in the show was The Cult House, a newly formed collective based in London and pioneered by Brazilian born JA Neto. I’ve been closely observing the Cult House’s activities over the last year, struck a rapport with a number of its artists and look forward to seeing its rise during 2015.

Why did you start the Cult House?

I tried to get out of the business world for while but, since living in London, I’ve recognised the massive interest and potential of public art events. Pretty much everything happens here. I found myself as part of an audience and not playing a decisive role in any of the art fairs and events platforms. I decided to create one that suits myself and serves all kinds of audiences- one that exists without the need to be part of an existing art collective and one that is fully accessible to the public as a whole. That is what The Cult House is progressively creating.

How do you distinguish yourself from other organisations and initiatives promoting art and artists?

We do not pick the artists based on what we can take from them or their style or art fields. The community is designed to help celebrate and spread art to a wider audience. We want artists willing to join our group to grow with us. Our criteria is very simple – if you are serious with what you are doing and working hard towards that, you can join us. We will help as much as we can, particularly if it is beneficial to promote what you’re doing for the whole community.

Progressively we are organising and partnering with different groups to create a variety of events from popup shows and exhibitions to music events and art fairs. You can check some of them on our website past events tab, where our artists are encouraged to participate and at the same time to build their own network. This is proving to be a fantastic formula. Immediately after our events we can see on our social media channels the interaction between the artists and the results of what they learn from each other. It’s very rewarding and gives us a solid base to keep going and develop more and better events.

Much has been said of the modern art and the industry. What’s your overall opinion on the industry, particularly in the UK?

This is a never-ending subject but in my opinion there are places for everybody in the industry! The goal is always to put the art out there, making it accessible to audiences and to give the opportunity for artists to be able to create more and more art! It doesn’t really matter where or if it is for a selected group because in this society people will always find their special place!

The UK art scene is centralised in London and a few other cities like many countries. The good thing here is everyday you’ll find new groups/activities/artists/events trying to get their ‘place in the sun’, making it possible for artists to survive and improve their work. The UK government has many ways to help and support good initiatives but it is not easy! If you have a dream and work hard towards that, in the UK there are more opportunities than in many other countries to succeed!

JA Neto (third left) with members of The Culthouse

JA Neto (third left) with members of The Culthouse

What are your plans over the next 5 years?

That’s a lot to answer but I will try to make it simple. We will soon celebrate our first year with so many success stories during this period; two pop up shows, our participation at ArtRooms,130 artists from 12 different countries, music events and our first collective exhibition coming out soon to close this first year!  Watch this space!

All those achievements have come without people asking what exactly are we doing; They’re simply trusting and willing to be part of a new movement. Now we are moving to a second stage of our project with the ultimate goal of making The Cult House a strong enough platform to make the difference in many artists life’s, careers and communities.

In the mean time we will keep building our community, promoting art and artists, creating a range of pop up shows and collective exhibitions taken nationwide.

For further information please visit The Cult House website.

Participation in Brick Lane’s Art in Mind Exhibition

Brick Lane Gallery

Brick Lane Gallery

I wish you and yours the very best for 2015. May the next year be a happy, healthy and prosperous one in all areas! Don’t just count your years, make your years count.

I’m looking forward to participating in shows in the UK, US and hopefully a few more in new locations. The year starts productively with my participation in the forthcoming Brick Lane Gallery’s Art in Mind exhibition. The Art in Mind initiative has for some time offered emerging and established artists the opportunity to showcase their work in this popular and widely recognised gallery located in a vibrant and dynamic area of east London.

The show features two groups of artists. The first part, entitled ‘The New Generation’ runs from January 8th -18th at the Annexe.

I feature in the second part entitled ‘Absolution’ from January 22nd to February 1st at the main gallery at 196 Brick Lane, London E1 6SA. If you are in For further information on the show please visit http://www.thebricklanegallery.com

Mirrors & Echoes at Tiwani Contemporary

I’m back in London about to enjoy the annual Jazz Festival and a number of art exhibitions opening over the next few weeks. I recently attended Tiwani Contemporary’s exhibition Mirrors & Echoes. This was my first visit to the gallery since it’s opening and I was pleased to see this collaboration by the talented artists Mary Evans and Emeka Ogboh.

Dialogue between Evans and Ogboh started from a radio broadcast during Art Dubai 2013, in which Lagos based Ogboh and Evans discussed the changing landscape of the Nigerian megacity. Evans left the city as a child but recalls her childhood and Ogboh’s current observations of his hometown form an interesting portrait of an ever-changing city, crossing space and time.

Mirrors & Echoes starts where the radio conversation ended, and further investigates notions of memory in relation to place, taking as its particular focus the interface between sound and image. Comprising paper cut-outs, video, sound and sculptural elements, this multi-faceted collaborative work creates an imaginary space based on the artists’ recollections and current experiences of Lagos. The show runs until December 20th 2014. For further information on the show and gallery please visit the Tiwani Contemporary website.

Art by the People, For the People

‘Art for the people, by the people’ is an unique exhibition that celebrates the ability for anyone with a modern smartphone or tablet to create memorable instant art or ‘insta–art’ as it’s fashionably called .  The photographic exhibition allows the visitor to ask what constitutes a professional photographer and what defines good photography? Fifty images of Queensland, Australia have been selected for this exhibition. The images were taken from a variety of instagrammers, many of whom participated in the world’s largest ever ‘instameet’ – a pre determined place and time where photographers/instagrammers collectively take photos.

The event took place in 88 locations across Queensland earlier this month with over a thousand people capturing images of Queensland. Visitors of the gallery are given the opportunity to vote on their favourite three pieces of art. All votes will be placed into a draw on the final day of the show and ten lucky winners will receive a framed print. Moreover, someone will also get the opportunity to win a flight to Queensland for a holiday.  The best of the images produced during the meet are now being exhibited in London, at a pop-up ‘Insta gallery’at Arts Galleries Europe, 18 Maddox St, London, W1S 1PL, until Friday 24th October. If you’d like to see more of the images produced at the Queenland insta-meet, search Instagram using the handle @queensland and hashtag #thisisqueensland

Peace Starts Here Exhibition

September 20, 2014 Leave a comment
Operation Rise Recipient Photo by Jeremy Fokkens

Operation Rise Recipient Photo by Jeremy Fokkens

I’m glad once again to be participating in the Peace Projects 2014 traveling exhibition. My image entitled ‘Peace Right Now’ will feature in a mosaic alongside the work of artists around the world. Confirmed exhibition dates and venues are

September 20 & 21 — Affair of the Arts, Culver City, CA

October 16 — Landmark Arts Building, Chelsea, NY

November 23 — The Whole 9 Gallery, Culver City, CA

The Peace Project is an international social movement powered by the belief that through creativity and community we can change the world – problems that were previously thought almost insurmountable can be solved and sustainable peace can be created in communities and countries around the world.

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