An article – published on November 14, 7:02 PM

edited and translated for Orish’Art Studio by ASC

Also Known as Africa, this is the name of the contemporary African art fair which is now held every year in Paris, at the Carreau du Temple. Its second edition has just opened and will take place for three days.

Victoria Mann could have given up. Everything was already planned for the first edition of the contemporary art fair Also Known as Africa (AKAA) when, in November 2015, France suffered the horror of a series of attacks that dragged the country in two years of emergency state. The first edition of AKAA did not take place that year, but the determined young woman restarted the machine and AKAA finally came to reality in 2016, attracting some 15 000 visitors that came to see the works exhibited by around thirty exhibitors.

A commercial and cultural platform

From 10 to 12 November, As France has just come out of the state of emergency, it is the second edition of AKAA that is held at the Carreau du Temple, in Paris, with some 150 artists from 28 different countries. « It’s about providing a commercial and cultural platform, showing a plural, diverse Africa that is not locked in by the contours of the Continent » says Victoria Mann.

Akaa insta

Member of the selection committee, the curator Simon Njami sees for its part in the existence of two European fairs devoted to contemporary African art – AKAA and his big sister London, 1:54 – the sign of a long-term installation of this creation in the landscape: « The two fairs devoted to contemporary art  from Africa that have developed in Europe are the real markers of awareness because they operate in the economic reality and on a time which can not be that of fashion » he writes.

It would be foolish to confuse an initiative like AKAA with these modes that come and go

« These are private institutions that invest money that is not a grant. It reflects a commitment and belief that builds year after year in the real world of the market. It would be foolish to confuse an initiative like AKAA with these modes that come and go, according to the speed of the wind. »

With a budget of about 400,000 euros – stable compared to 2016 – the fair is primarily a commercial enterprise that offers exhibition spaces, rented between 345 and 390 euros per square meter, and intends to allow the sale works to collectors and institutions. In the previous edition, the latter were exchanged for sums ranging between 3,000 and 8,000 euros.

Groom the World

But like 1:54, AKAA is not just an art supermarket open two days a year. It clearly displays a strong intellectual ambition. « To get beyond the limits of the social orders, to live beyond borders, out of the familiar … To prefer horizontal paths rather than vertical ones, those who allow surprises, discoveries, unlikely meetings… » Says Victoria Mann in few words.

The artist heals us, kisses our voids and fills them with the hope of a new day

These surprises, these discoveries, these dialogues go through the « Rencontres AKAA », placed under the curation of the artistic director Salimata Diop who chose a very beautiful theme, « Panser » (trans.: Groom/ Heal) , which she develops as follows: « When we are blind , the artist grooms us and warns us of a threatening future: visionary in essence, he proposes an unexpected perspective. When we are uprooted, the artist grooms us and resuscitates our hereditary memories, he makes us our story. He caresses and comforts. When we look away, the artist grooms us, and pointing towards the mirror, he places us in front of our denial, and at the same time, facing our responsibility. The artist grooms us, embraces our voids and fills them with the hope of a new day. »

« Ca va aller »

From one gallery to another, from one tribute to another, the AKAA 2017 course holds the promise of this vade mecum. Selected for the Bamako Encounters in December, the Ivorian photographer Joana Choumali perfectly illustrates the therapeutic dimension of the artists’ work.

In Bassam, she used her mobile phone to take pictures of life, three weeks after the terrorist attacks. She then printed them on canvas, then embroidered by hand with colored threads. Unsurprisingly, the series is titled «Ca va aller  » (trans.: It’ll be fine).


Joana choumali – ça va aller

« This work is a way to express how the Ivorian people have to face their psychological suffering, she writes. In Ivory Coast, people do not discuss their psychological problems or their feelings. Post-traumatic shock is often considered a weakness or a mental illness. Very few people speak about their feelings, and each conversation is quickly shortened by a resigned “ca va aller”. […] Each stitch is a way to recover, to flatten out the emotions, the loneliness and the mixed feelings that I feel. »

Sewing and embroidery

To repair wounds, to weave relationships, to engage in dialogue, it would be possible to spin the metaphor for a long time: many artists – most of the time women – presented at AKAA use sewing or embroidery to produce striking works. This is the case of Zimbabwean artist Georgina Maxim, who exhibits her colorful dresses in the Sulger-Buell Gallery.

This is also the case of the German Marion Boehm, very influenced by her life in South Africa, who proposes, for ARTCO Gallery, large and worthy portraits composed from canvas to which she added photos, artificial hair, religious objects, newspapers. But this is also the case of Ana Silva, who works between Luanda and Lisbon: her paintings mix drawings and embroidery.

She is also a designer of clothes under the name of Ana Ester. The list could continue with the Kenyan Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga who creates a large dress from oxidized metal parts … The approaches differ, of course, but there is always a reparative dimension in these works. Many artists here are thinking about the world in a way to heal it.

naomi wanjiku gakunga

New Art History

Beyond that, AKAA does not forget to pay homage to precursors, or more precisely to those who did not wait for the existence of the fairs and the interest of the Western market to try to impose a very personal vision. Thus, a tribute exhibition is organized to honor the memory of the Senegalese sculptor-kinesitherapist Ousmane Sow, whose house-museum will open in Senegal on the occasion of the Dak’art 2018 and whose work should finally take up residence in Paris soon.

The Cameroonian artist Bili Bidjocka exposes for her part a monumental piece, Enigma55 # – I am the only woman of my life, produced in situ by the fair. Despite some regrettably small concessions to the need for exoticism of the public, we can finally say that here too, a new history of art is being written, shaking that which ethnocentric Europe finally begins to give up.

Watch this video on the previous edition of AKAA :

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