African artists in Europe

CONTINENTAL SHIFT - A CROSS-CULTURAL JOURNEY is a joint project set up by four museums in the Dutch-Belgian-German border region. The project focuses on the works of Asian, African and Latin American artists who live and work in Europe. One of the participating museums, the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht, will present an exhibition of African artists who are part of a generation that developed under the continuous influence of Western art centres and modern art history. These artists present alternative models, maps and stories to dominant European opinions and views of art - the products of their shifting between the African and the European experience. The themes they address range from the social value of art, the post-modern city, alienation, hybrididity, and cultural and economic globalisation to national, ethnic and sexual identity. The work of these artists brought all these issues to the foreground in the nineties. The exhibition will run from 21 May to 10 September.

The different works that make up the exhibition all show a desire to touch reality, offering a response -and not for the first time in the history of art - to the wish for directness and authenticity. By deconstructing boundaries, creating new, personal spaces and longing for a more intense form of observation, artists attempt to bring reality closer, to approach it with more accuracy and honesty in their work. This does not, however, mean that they fall back on a naive belief in the "imitative" function of art. Artists who have been joined together under the motto "For R>EAL" do not specifically desire to explore reality by means of imitation; after all, there is no one reality or truth. What they mean to do is to use their works of art to develop strategies that represent possible ways of dealing with the modern world. The artwork is no longer a fictional construction that acts like a window on the world, but encompasses a kind of intermediate space where we can discover similarities between the real and the simulacra, between fact and fiction. Instead of emphasising the differences between art and reality, their work emphasises the similarities. Art is "For R>EAL", or perhaps even more real than our reality.

The artists
The artists whose work is on display at the Bonnefantenmuseum differ radically from the first generation of "cultural nomads" who came to Europe, such as Wilfredo Lam and Roberto Matta. With the exception of Yinka Shonibare (UK - London, 1962) these artists were all born in Africa. The participating artists are: Fernando Alvim (Angola - Brussels, 1963), Ghada Amer (Egypt - New York, 1963), Andries Botha (South Africa, 1952), Mary Evans (Nigeria - London, 1963), Meschac Gaba (Benin - Amsterdam, 1961), Kendell Geers (South Africa, 1968), Everlyn Nicodemus (Tanzania - Brussels, 1954), Olu Oguibe (Nigeria - New York, 1964), Barthélémy Toguo (Cameroon - Düsseldorf, 1967) and Ina van Zyl (South Africa - Amsterdam, 1971). From the very start of their artistic careers, these artists learned to navigate between local and global, national and international views. What is most striking is that they have not confined themselves to interpreting their hybrid cultural memory through the fine arts alone. Olu Oguibe, for example, is not only an artist but also renowned as a curator, the editor-in-chief of Nka (the most important journal on African art) and the winner of the prestigious African prize for literature for A Gathering Fear (1992).

The artists, who left Africa either voluntarily or involuntarily, belong to a world in which the old boundaries of space and time have disappeared, the legacy of global expansion, the democratisation of travel and new communication technologies. All these things have led to hyperactivity and a highly complex reality in which different "worlds" meet. In her astounding wall decorations, executed on a grand scale, Mary Evans analyses the power of cultural codes in our modern European reality, adding much irony and humour to her interpretation. She created a special installation for the exhibition entitled "Scope"; here, she explores typically Western ways of perceiving, receiving and representing. Two other artists who make us aware of how culturally determined the Western way of looking and imagining is are Ghada Amer and Yinka Shonibare. Using typical, everyday means of expression, Amer has designed a feminine, erotic language in her embroidered paintings that is suppressed in the Arab tradition. One of the better known works in the exhibition is "Double Dutch" (1994) by Yinka Shonibare. It consists of fifty paintings that explore the ideology of the post-colonial world and the politics of the art market. In short, it is a work that addresses a theme that is indispensable in an exhibition about contemporary contributions by non-western artists to the developments in modern art in Europe.

In addition to Yinka Shonibare's somewhat older paintings and works by Ina van Zyl and Andries Botha which have been exhibited elsewhere, CONTINENTAL SHIFT in Maastricht will also include new works produced especially for the exhibition. Meschac Gaba will present a new "department" of his museum project "Museum for Contemporary African Art"; Fernando Alvim has been asked to produce a work that offers an understanding of the artist's own field of work and that encompasses much more than what is normally meant by the label "visual artist"; Everlyn Nicodemus shows apart from her series "From the book 'Room'" new three-dimensional collages or "nettings"; Kendell Geers has produced a new video installation and Barthélémy Toguo has conceived a new, gallery-filling wall installation called "The Unfinished Theatre".

Marjorie A. Jongbloed, Cologne.

An exhibition catalogue entitled "Continental Shift" will be available in German with French, English and Dutch translations. The catalogue will be published by Modo Verlag Freiburg and will include essays by curators David Galloway, Gregor Jansen, Marjorie A. Jongbloed, Annette Lagler and Wen-i Yang, and further essays by guest authors Jean-François Lyotard, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Bruno Latour, Arjun Appadurai, Dabine Grimm, Carlos Basualdo / Okwui Enwezor, Giaco Schiesser. Approx. 280 pages. Catalogue price during the exhibition: 30 euros.

For information about the joint project and the various exhibitions, please visit

Meschac Gaba will stage a performance in the Bonnefantenmuseum's Grand Café during the opening event on 21 May.

The pressconference will take place in Maastricht on 17 May at 3.00 p.m. in Maastricht