Blanton Museum surveys contemporary African art with the exhibit ‘Making Africa’

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A diverse cast of designers and artists came together to break down preconceived notions of what it means to be African.

“Making Africa,” an exhibit showcasing hidden African artists, will be open for viewing until Jan. 13 at the Blanton Museum.

One of the goals of the exhibit is to end the stereotypical ideas which people might have about Africa, “Making Africa” curator Amelie Klein said.

“(When thinking of Africa,) we think of violence (and) we think of extreme poverty, but a lot of people dress up in the morning with nice business clothes and go to work,” Klein said.

The exhibit features over 120 artists and designers from 22 countries ranging from Egypt to South Africa. The works are just as diverse, ranging from a utilitarian but beautiful set of chairs to a looping video of a musician destroying a graffiti image of a piano. The exhibit was put together to showcase African art to people who might not be well informed about that art scene.

Joshua Prupes, a computer science sophomore, said he enjoyed discovering the new artists.

“It’s different than traditional art,” Prupes said.

Even though the pieces are from a different continent, many pieces focus on issues which are immediately familiar to many students. For instance, Fabrice Monteiro’s “The Prophecy” is a set of photographs each depicting a specific ecological disaster — such as a forest fire — with giant sculptures made out of plastic bags and containers looming in the foreground.

Another piece, Gonçalo Mabunda’s “Harmony Chair,” examines gun violence and functions as a critique of military dictators. The piece mimics the thrones which dictators sit on, but instead of being built like a typical seat of power, the chair is built out of defunct weapons such as rockets and rifles.

“There are so many works in this show that speak not just to a local situation, but a global one and that’s part of working away from these preconceived notions of Africa and the limited concepts of ‘African concern,’” assistant curator Claire Howard said.

Many of these works deal with the painful colonial history of Africa and how Africans are fashioning their identity after that period. Some works examine the complicated history of Africa and Europe through a particular type of fabric called Dutch Wax. The fabric is associated with African fashion but was in fact produced in the Netherlands as the name suggests.

“It’s a product that was not selling elsewhere but has found a market in Africa. For the generation of artists and designers represented here, it’s something that carries a lot of freight because it is something so bound up in identity but remains a colonial product,” Howard said.

Rather than encompassing Africa’s past and present, some pieces in the exhibit focus on Africa’s future. Ikiré Jones’ “Lagos 2081A.D.” illustrates the Nigerian state of Lagos transformed into a utopia in the near future. The photograph/collage is a collaboration between an illustrator, visual artist and architect to show Lagos both in way that is familiar in the present but also deeply optimistic about the future.

“It’s a bold concept, an Africa that is hegemonial, an Africa that puts us in awe and admiration,” Klein said.