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AFRICA REMIX - Exhibition at Museum Kunst Palast, Duesseldorf 2004

Inteview with Dr. Claudia Banz, Project Manager of the exhibition

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 A wonderful collection of contemporary African art is on show at the Museum Kunst Palast, Duesseldorf, Germany from 24 July till 7 November 2004. The exhibition titled 'Africa Remix' is arguably the most comprehensive display of African talents in the world of modern art. In an interview with AFRITOPIC, the project head of the exhibition, Dr. Claudia Banz talks enthusiastically about the initiative, the discussions/arguments and the collective efforts leading to the success of the project.

Afritopic: Who initiated the idea for the exhibition?

Banz: The initiative developed some years ago from dialogues about projects with focus on Africa conceived by the general director of the museum and a colleague. The idea started to take shape as discussions included artists and members of other sectors of the museum.

Afritopic:  How was the concept developed?

Banz: Through the dialogues, collaboration with equal rights was formed between all 4 sectors of the museum. We held meetings to discuss how the project could be realized.  From the discussions, we collected ideas, opinions and all types information that might be helpful. The ideas were analyzed at meetings and modifications as well as new suggestions were made. Meanwhile, potential sponsors for the project were sighted and the curators sought. The process of holding meetings, gathering ideas, modifying or discarding ideas went on for several months. We sometimes had heated arguments ensuing from individual preferences and views on the scope or the content of the exhibition.
Alexander, Jane (South Africa). African Adventure, 1999-2000
 We had discussion and project partners from France, England and The Netherlands among others. Most of these people have extensive experience in art history, ethnology, colonial-Africa topics and related fields. Those with affinity to francophone countries lobbied for more artworks from former French colonies, those with relationships to England wanted to see more works from English speaking countries and discussion partners with particular tastes tried to have more artworks of their favourite artists represented. 

Through combined efforts of all, we gradually developed an acceptable concept for the exhibition. The concept was based on 3 themes, namely, Body & Soul, History & Identity and City & Land. An international team of curators was built and the Cameroonian, Simon Njami was appointed as the main curator. Njami traveled extensively to meet artists, select artworks and commission some works for the show. It was really tough to achieve a relatively balanced mixture of different artists from different African countries. But I believe that the result is commendable

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Samba, Cheri (DR Kongo). La monde vomissant, 2004

Afritopic: In general, people refer to African sculptures, in particular African masks in discussions on African art. Was this topic an issue at the meetings?

Banz: Yes indeed. We were aware that this is the notion of African art that the general public has. But as the word 'Remix' suggests, we want to show how African art has evolved over the years through the works of contemporary African artists. We want the show to serve as a provocation. We want the public to see and be informed that there are diverse forms of African art.
Musa, Hassan (Sudan). Great American Nude, 2002
 
The expressive forms of African art range from drawings, paintings, photographic prints, installations and implementation of different media including modern video techniques. Yes, African art encompasses sculptures but not limited to sculpturing.

We do not intend to forget or depart with the older generation of African artists. The works of the elderly graphic artist Bouabre and the sculptor Jackson Hlungwani testify to this. But we do want to present modern African art in its creative diversity. In selecting the artists/artworks we tried to have a blend of acclaimed, renowned and popular as well relatively unknown but highly gifted young artists. We are of the opinion that this approach is necessary to give young artists support and exposure to the global art community.

In all, works of 88 artists from 25 African countries are presented on 3 floors of the Museum Kunst Palast building. The works include drawings, paintings, photographical prints, films, videos, music, installations, sculpture, fashion and furniture design. This exclusive aspect of the exhibition gives the general public a better insight of contemporary African art, which many believe was not achieved by the last DOCUMENTA 11 in Kassel, Germany 2002.

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Afritopic: So far, what sorts of feedbacks have you received from visitors about the exhibition?  

Banz:  The feedbacks have been generally positive. Many visitors with pre-conceived ideas of what they expect to see are surprised at the exhibition. The surprise induces the need for discussions and anxiety to know more about the artists and the works on show.

Kingelez, Bodys Isek (DR Kongo). Ville de Sete en 3009, 2000
 It is quite interesting to listen to opinions and views of visitors who are confronted for the first time with this collection of African art. Most of them are ardent and excited. Some visitors question the image of poor Africa created by the media in comparison with the richness in fantasy and material composed into works of art by African artist. In general, Africa is perceived as a continent beleaguered with problems, diseases and hunger. Many even believe that no artist can work and make a living in Africa. It feels good to be able to explain to the public that there is other side of Africa to the image of Africa projected by the media.
El Anatsui (Ghana). Sasa, 2004

Afritopic: Realizing the project is a long process. How did you cope with the stress involved?

Banz:  The process of realizing the exhibition is long and demanding. But it was fantastic working with people with different backgrounds and artists with high imaginative power. We were like a family and had a lot of fun. We helped each other and take decisions together. We decide the optimal place to present an installation, hang a framed photographic print or display a video art. It was an exceptional experience. 

Mwangi, Ingrid (Kenia) . Down by the river, 2001

Afritopic: You seem to be naturally inclined to organizing/taking part in cultural activities. Do you have a background or interest in the field?

Banz:  I studied archeology and have worked on some cultural/ethnic projects. I worked for Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of World Cultures), which is a leading organization for cultural relationship/activities in Germany. I stayed in India for a while working on a project. I have not been to Africa, but I would love to, as soon as the opportunity arises. I am interested in working/participating in cultural projects. Art in all its forms enables intercultural contacts. I would like to continue working in this field.  

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Some artists' works>
Ntakiyica, Aime (Burundi). WIR - Spanier, 2003

Afritopic: What is your opinion about the development of such exhibition as the 'Africa Remix' and the public in Germany in the future?

Banz: 'Africa Remix' is first of its kind in Germany. The exhibition shows a collection of contemporary African art that is new to the German public. 

Mthethwa, Zwelethu (South Africa). Untitled, 2003

In a way it serves to show the general public the other side of Africa and at least make the visitors think over the popular cliche about Africa. I hope that more of such exhibitions are organized, showing the creativity and activities going on in the continent. Hopefully, with time, the public would develop an objective view about Africa. This educational aspect, is the valuable side effect of exhibitions.

Afritopic: Thank you for the interview. Banz: Nice talking to you. You are welcome.

 

Exhibition Details

Curatorial Team

Simon Njami:  Main curator. Lives in Paris

Jean-Hubert Martin: General director, Museum Kunst Palast, Duesseldorf

Marie-Laure Bernadac: Advisor on contemporary art at the Louvre, Paris; Curator, Centre Georges Pompidou

David Elliott: Director, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo

Roger Malbert: Curator, Hayward Gallery, London

Alfred Pacquement, Director, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

 

Venues/Dates

museum kunst palast, Duesseldorf / Germany: 24 July - 7 November 2004

Hayward Gallery, London / United Kingdom: 10 February - 17 April 2005

Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris / France: 15 May - 20 August 2005

Mori Art Museum, Tokyo / Japan: February - May 2006

Afritopic 2004

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