4 August 2011
Last updated at 09:08
An exhibition of four contemporary African artists has just opened at the Tate Modern, in London. Contested Terrains is the first major collaboration of the British gallery with an art institution from Africa. The show was co-produced by the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), in Lagos, Nigeria.
In his series Emissaries of an Iconic Religion, Nigeria's Adolphus Opara puts together portraits of Yoruba chiefs. He says that traditional religious practices in Nigeria are misrepresented.
The chiefs all appear to be very powerful individuals, and the photographs are somewhat reminiscent of colonial portraits by European artists.
"We have two predominant religions, Christianity and Islam. Traditional religions are not fully recognised. They are perceived to be fetish, to be evil. By working on this, I intend to make people aware that this is our identity, that this is where we started, much before we embraced Western religions," Opara said.
Tate curator Kerryn Greenberg told the BBC that, although the artists address different issues, "there are a number of points of contact between them. One is the role of research in their practice. They are all very interested in history and memory."
Sammy Baloji, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, discovered some black and white photographs of a mining company founded by the Belgian colonisers and digitised them. He then extracted images of some of the people and superimposed them onto recent colour photographs of the aging infrastructure of the mines.
Open your Eyes by Kader Attia, born in France into an Algerian family, juxtaposes archive portraits of First World War soldiers, whose faces had been reconstructed using basic surgery, with photographs of African masks and other objects that were repaired before being taken abroad.
"Many objects from Africa are in storage in ethnological museums, both in Europe and in America, and they are seldom shown because they have been repaired. They are considered defective. Here I am creating relations to show that these issues are perceived in a totally different way in Africa and in the West," Attia said.
Fetish VI, by South Africa's Michael MacGarry, shows an AK-47 rifle covered in nails, reminiscent of the Congolese Nkondi figurines used to ward off evil spirits. The artist says that, although the AK-47 is the most popular rifle in the world, it is in Africa that "it has had its most insidious and destructive presence."
The Ossuary, also by MacGarry, reflects on values and trade in Africa. According to the curators, "as the title suggests, these objects are carefully arranged like skeletal remains, an archaeology of the future."
"The Tate is a world institution and the CCA is a very functional space in Lagos. We are collaborating with the Tate in order to give more prominence to visual arts, especially for artists from Africa," CCA curator Jude Anogwih said.
Tate Modern has formed a partnership with Guaranty Trust Bank from Nigeria which will enable the gallery to do an annual project for three years related to the continent. "It's also providing an acquisitions fund so that Tate will be able to start acquiring works by African artists for the collection," Greenberg said.
Contested Terrains will run at the Tate Modern until 16 October. It will be shown at the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA), in Lagos, from 21 January to 3 March 2012. Interviews: Manuel Toledo, BBC Africa.