In/Visible Series: What have been the setbacks, and breakthroughs in the last decade?

Another Africa, Vancouver, Canada 

Every month we present a Global Roundtable in which contributors are asked to respond to a specific question as it relates to one or more of ArtsEverywhere’s lines of Inquiry.

In spring 2016, Another Africa launched In/Visible Voices of Women, a long-term publication project. Conceived by Clelia Coussonnet and Missla Libsekal, it focuses on women artists operating within Francophone and Lusophone Africa. Read more articles in the series here.

© Nadia Kaabi-Linke, No One Harms Me Unpunished, 2010. Photo: Timo Kaabi-Linke, 2012. Courtesy of Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art and the artist.

© Nadia Kaabi-Linke, No One Harms Me Unpunished, 2010. Photo: Timo Kaabi-Linke, 2012. Courtesy of Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art and the artist.

What is holding back the agency of women today? Can we name the forces erasing or hampering women’s full participation in public life? However complex or varied the issues at hand may be, there is an urgency to reclaim spaces, address our histories differently, and open up dimensions.

What have been the setbacks, and breakthroughs in the last decade?

We asked 11 phenomenal women — intrepid academics, artists, writers, and curators — to join us for the 6-part Commentary Series of the In/Visible Voices of Women project. By fleshing out a diverse terrain of thoughts and opinions, they name some of the most pressing concerns faced by women at large, and the states of being invisible, and becoming visible come to light.

#3 What have been the setbacks, and breakthroughs in the past decade?

Malala Andrialavidrazana

Despite campaigns for an enhanced social balance, the escalation of inequalities undoubtedly figures amongst the most worrying failures in recent years. I am neither a business sector specialist, nor of anything else for that matter, and so I could not know how to explain the mechanisms that have led to this disaster. However, at my level, when I look at the cultural programming of different institutions — whether they are public or private, for or not-for-profit — I note that the visibility of male productions remains much higher than that of women. So beyond the precariousness induced by an entirely globalised system, I think we may deplore the lack of expression of half the world’s population in the cultural landscape (whose role should, even if only partially, be devoted to promoting diversity). Fortunately, the current generation of artists are not all defeatists because becoming aware of this situation is often the impetus for many individual, and collective initiatives that save the day. For example, the multiplication of digital research and documentation platforms, or the organisation of projects oriented exclusively towards professional productions of all kinds — as a kind of affirmative action. Nevertheless, the recurrence of these types of proposals can lead to a ghettoization — participants would have no other relationship aside from a shared gender affiliation. This is not only sterile, but harmful in the long run.

Malala Andrialavidrazana is a visual artist with a background in architecture. She is interested in notions of frontiers and interactions within cross-cultural contexts. Primarily through photography, she digs behind scenes in a succession of back and forth between private spaces and global issues to explore social imaginaries. She invents a language whose approach is resolutely turned towards History but whose engagement in the City remains active. In her collection of visuals, examining the in-between space in a multitude of heres and nows, she proposes an open frame where borders do not exist.

Angèle Etoundi Essamba

Islamic radicalisation in some regions of Africa, has led to setbacks in women’s freedom and rights. With regards to breakthroughs, the number of women in entrepreneurial spheres has significantly increased. Women are slowly taking up roles in politics. In Rwanda, for instance, 63% of women are parliamentarians. And, there are seven women Heads of State in Africa, which is a breakthrough compared to Western countries.

Angèle Etoundi Essamba (b. Cameroon, raised in France) graduated from the Photo Academy of Amsterdam where she lives. Since her first exhibition in 1985 in Amsterdam, her work continues to be exhibited in museums, institutions, art fairs, biennales and galleries in Africa, Europe, the United States, Latin America, Arab Emirates and Asia. Essamba’s work lies at the intersection of the social/gender and the artistic field. She joins the spirit of humanistic photography with a strong attachment to the values of communion. She is a committed artist involved in a reflection on the identity of the African woman. Keywords for Essamba’s work are: pride, strength and awareness.

N’Goné Fall

More female artists have been included in biennales, group shows and publications. Today nobody would dare produce a project without a single female artist. But there is still a long way to go. I have the disturbing feeling that sometimes female artists are included based on their gender, and not because of what their work has to offer theoretically, conceptually, aesthetically and/or philosophically.

When will we stop considering them as “a minority group”? Half of the world’s population cannot be a minority. The greatest achievement is the increased number of female artists, curators and gallerists since the turn of the millennium. Today, young women know that they can be an artist, a curator or a cultural entrepreneur. They are jumping into visual arts fields. This is quite a breakthrough compared to the 20th century. When I started as an art publisher in the early 1990s there were much fewer female artists, and less than 10 female curators for an entire continent, the vast majority coming from South Africa.

N’Goné Fall graduated with distinction from the École Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris. She is an independent curator, essayist and a consultant in cultural policies. She has been the editorial director of the Paris-based contemporary African art magazine Revue Noire from 1994 to 2001. Fall has edited books on contemporary visual arts and photography and curated exhibitions in Africa, Europe and the USA. She was a guest curator of the African photography encounters in Bamako in 2001 and the Dakar contemporary art biennial in 2002. As a consultant in cultural policies she is the author of strategic plans, orientation programmes and evaluation reports for national and international cultural institutions and art foundations. Fall has been an associate professor at the Senghor University in Alexandria, Egypt (master department of creative industries) from 2007 to 2011. She is a founding member of the Dakar-based collective GawLab, a platform for research and production on art in public spaces and technology applied to artistic creativity.

Tamar Garb

Speaking from the perspective of London, where I live, I perceive huge (but still insufficient) breakthroughs for women artists.

Big cultural institutions like Tate Modern have both internationalised their collections and provided high-profile platforms for women artists (under the brilliant stewardship of the newly appointed Director Frances Morris). In 2013, for example, a wonderful exhibition of Ellen Gallagher coincided at Tate with the first retrospective of Lebanese modernist pioneer Saloua Raouda Choucair, while Julie Mehretu had a monumental solo show down the Thames at White Cube Gallery. These kinds of shows in metropolitan European centres indicate shifts in the art market, the globalisation of the contemporary, and the critical fortunes of selected practitioners. Even the generally conservative (when it comes to sexual politics or postcolonial consciousness) Pompidou (Paris) put on its one survey show of women, “Elles” in 2012, although it is hard to see this as anything other than tokenism when feminism is side-lined from ‘business as usual’ rather than integrated centrally into ongoing institutional strategy and policy. (And the showing of women of colour or from Africa was paltry, to say the least, in this iteration of the Pompidou’s unadventurous history of collecting. That was supposed to be redressed by a celebratory restaging of the controversial ‘Magiciens de la Terre’ soon afterwards).

The elevation of a few does not mean that the working conditions and support-fabric of the many is improved. In fact, the opposite may be true. There is an increasing gap in our unequal world between the successes of the selected ‘stars’ and the challenging conditions under which most artists work, far from the limelight and privileged circuits of cocktail parties and sponsored symposia. This is as true in Europe as it is in Africa. It takes extraordinary creativity and ingenuity to find local circuits for making and showing in communities and alternative centres. So, whilst we embrace and celebrate the successes, we should not be fooled into thinking that the lives and livelihoods of the majority of artists who work, across the globe, in challenging circumstances, are much improved or enhanced by these.

Tamar Garb is an art historian and curator. She is Professor of Art History at University College London and was curator of ‘Figures and Fictions, Contemporary South African Photography’, (V&A 2011) and ‘Distance and Desire: Encounters with the African Archive’ (Walther Collection, Ulm, New York, Berlin 2013.14). Amongst her publications are ‘The Painted Face: Portraits of Women in France 1814-1914′ (YUP 2008) and ‘The Body in Time’ (Washington 2008).

Euridice Getulio Kala

“We” are “I” – the acknowledgement of the “I am”

My personal artistic setbacks have perhaps been points of breakthrough; well, this can sound paradoxical, however, if I do not see it in this light, then, I would not continue on my journey towards a practice that has the potential of being recognised, as somewhat fulfilled or successful — whichever one prefers to hold on to.

I have had a chance to work in the arts industry for 4 years, and that is where most women tend to commence and establish a sense of themselves most times due to the lack of real opportunities and mentorship available to us from the time one concludes their studies. Also it is generally not clear for the family how to support their daughter, sister, and friend artist in making concrete the task of becoming independent.

A [black] woman for as much power as she carries, at least on the continent, has only just recently been able to demonstrate increasingly that she is able to care for herself, without the intervention of a partner or family.

So, perhaps we can find strides there, or we can see more now.

Euridice Getulio Kala (b. Maputo, Mozambique, 1987) is an artist currently based in Maputo, who’s interested in historical cultural metamorphoses, manipulations and adaptation across the period running between the late 1400s and the early 1900s, converging most times with the contemporary context. Kala employs her personal narratives and further delves into her interests, which includes her life in Johannesburg, having been a married woman and being feminist. She works with various media to achieve the finality of her ideas, from performance, video, sculptural-lyrics, installations and photography. Kala was trained as a photographer, and has shown her work in South Africa, Maputo, Amsterdam, Dakar (Off), Apt, Lisbon, Douala and been awarded residencies, both on the continent and internationally.

Jessica Horn

There are always setbacks, especially when we start succeeding in changing society. However, I am optimistic because the past decade has seen contributions of African feminist activism bearing fruit in many ways. African women creatives have been a vibrant part of that. From musicians like the late maverick Zanzibari musician Bi Kidude to South African Thandiswa who started an all-woman band, African women continue to shake things up! Ghanaian musician Azizaa recently released a video for her song Black Magic Woman where she critiques Christian evangelism, speaking back against harassment by young men evangelists and reclaiming African traditional religion. It is a rare voice of questioning in a context where charismatic Christianity — with all of its problematic gender norms and ideas — is dominating many African societies. Somali-Kenyan poet Warsan Shire has helped give meaning to the current refugee crisis in Europe, with a line from her poem “Home” used as part of Amnesty International’s campaign. Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has become a global name with her treatise We should all be feminists sampled by Beyoncé and now being distributed to Swedish secondary school students. It is amazing to see how African women creatives are offering ways of understanding the texture and complexity of our lives and helping shape our collective imagination.

Jessica Horn is a writer, doer, interpreter of the ordinary; heiress of a lineage extending into the Ruwenzori Mountains of western Uganda and the shadows of New York’s Yankee Stadium. Horn has worked for over 15 years with NGOs, donors and the UN on the intersections of women’s health, human rights and freedom from violence. Jessica takes her passion to theorise, cultivate and engage love as a force for revolutionary transformation into activist and artistic spaces, including at TedX Euston Salon and co-curating the blog Our Space is Love. Her poetry pamphlet Speaking in Tongues is included in the Mouthmark Book of Poetry. Follow her on Twitter @stillsherises

Valerie Kabov

The breakthroughs have been the opening up of African contemporary art to the international community.

Valerie Kabov is the Director of Education and International Projects at First Floor Gallery Harare (Zimbabwe), which she co-founded in 2009. Valerie holds a Masters in Curatorship and Modern Art from University of Sydney and is a doctoral candidate at University of Paris 1, Sorbonne in Art History (Cultural Policy and Cultural Economics) and is a lawyer with more than a decade of practice in international transactions, with a focus on emerging markets and intellectual property. As researcher and educator, she has focused particularly on the relationship between local and the global in the art market, as well as cultural policy and audience engagement. Kabov is the founder of Art & Dialogue, a professional continuing education programme for curators and cultural practitioners focusing on building skills in engaging diverse/multicultural audiences, and the Editor at Large for Art Africa Magazine.

Marcia Kure

In the past decade there has been a large focus on contemporary African Art in and outside the continent, which has manifested in exhibitions, focused debates, and discussions. These have been phenomenal. But the problem I see is ghettoising it into a narrowly defined niche, thereby limiting its possibilities and denying the diversity that has historically been a part of the idea of Africa. We have to be conscious about how we frame the discourse about the continent, its art and artists, and the relationship of all this to the global art world. Questions like: What is African art?, Who is an African artist?, or the place of African artists who live and work outside the continent are important, but not because many institutions and individuals now invoke them in order to police the boundaries of this growing field.

Marcia Kure is a Nigerian artist who lives and works in the USA. She trained at the University of Nigeria and is an alumna of Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Kure’s work was shown at the 11thDak’Art, Senegal (2014) La Triennial, Paris (2013), International Biennial of Contemporary Art, Seville (2006), and Sharjah International Biennale (2005). A Research fellow of the Smithsonian Institution (2008), Visual Artist in Residence at the Victoria and Albert Museum (2014) and winner of Uche Okeke Prize for Drawing (1994). Kure’s work is in the collection of major museums in the United States and Europe. Her work was part of BODY TALK: Feminism, Sexuality and the Body in the Work of African Women Artists, WIELS Contemporary Art Center, Brussels, Frac Lorraine, France and Lunds Konsthall, Sweden (2015-16).

Ng’endo Mukii

We have had a couple of stalls on co-production agreements with other countries that could help increase the presence of international productions in Kenya. Our political instability and insecurity have pushed large productions slated to take place locally, into neighbouring countries and further south. Censorship of our own productions, and international platforms based on claims of the prevention of moral decay and terrorism in our country hinder the diversity of our content, and the maturing of our audiences.

Positively, there are more funding opportunities in, and outside Africa for our filmmakers. The interaction of art and film is being promoted on the continent, creating new opportunities to explore these visual media in creative ways. Steven Markowitz of Big World Cinema is currently developing Virtual Reality projects, with directors from different African countries. Through her organisation DocuBox Kenya, Judy Kibinge runs workshops and provides grants that have supported the production of several documentary films in East Africa – including the continued training and networking of local professionals.

On the Ides of March, a creature with a fiery afro was born. Small in stature and withdrawn in nature, she led a reclusive life on the green highlands of Kenya, overlooking the savannah seas. Receiving her primary education under the instruction of Catholic nuns, she left her home to experience the Century’s Superpower. She later passed many moons, prancing in the Queen’s country, nibbling on crumpets and searching through the dense fog. Today she can be found armed with a pressure-sensitive stylus, and a macro lens. She spends her time between Nairobi and Tsavo, animating little children, photographing dung beetles, and running away from scorpions. Ng’endo Mukii is a graduate of the Royal College of Art (2012) and the Rhode Island School of Design (2006). She works in Nairobi as an independent filmmaker. She is a Berlinale Talents and Design Indaba Alumni, and has received several accolades for her films

Mónica de Miranda

In the last decades, most of the problems encountered by Black or migrant women artists in Europe or America, were mainly related to gender, and race.

In Africa, these issues are as much a past as a present reality; artists based in the continent nowadays face problems related to gender, economic and social inequalities that affect female artists and their artistic production. Regarding women evolving within the diaspora, although there is always a feeling of anxiety to define one’s place, the last three decades have seen a growing feminist postcolonial movement emerge in America, Europe and Africa, allowing for different points of view to be integrated and voiced out.

Mónica de Miranda (b. Porto, Portugal, 1976, of Angolan descent) is an artist and researcher. PhD in visual art from the University of Middlesex (2014), she has received support from the Foundation for Science and Technology. de Miranda is one of the founders of the artistic residency project Triangle Network in Portugal and the founder of the Project Hangar (centre of artistic research in Lisbon, 2014). She has exhibited in Lisbon, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid, Dubai, Rome or Singapore, and was included in the 10th Bamako Encounters, the 14thBiennial of Architecture in Venice and the Bienal de São Tomé e Principe. She has participated in various residencies in Mauritius, London, Maputo and more.

Suzana Sousa

The past decade has been great for Angolan artists, both men and women. Thinking about female practitioners, the breakthrough would be the Ensa Art Prize 2014 won by Fineza Teta; it was the first time in a 20-year-old competition. The setback is a situation that is changing now, and that regards the master-apprentice systems set up by older artists to train younger artists that put many women aside.

Suzana Sousa (b. Luanda, 1981) is an independent curator and writer. Her recent curatorial projects include ‘Seeds of Memory’, Angolan Pavilion (Expo Milano, 2015) and ‘Love me Love me Not – Art from the Collection Sindika Dokolo’, Biblioteca Almeida Garreth (Porto, Portugal). Sousa contributes to Contemporary &, Art+Auctions (NYC), the Goethe Institute Magazine and Arterial Network/Arts in Africa. She is currently developing the cultural collective Pés Descalços with a group of Angolan independent spirits.

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