“What first drives your existence, what gets you out of your cave and beyond what you’ve already seen and what you already know, is the need for another. Eiher way, for or against, only another allows you to construct yourself. So the other really ought to be thanked. Without another, closed within yourself you would have no presence in the world.” These are the words used by curator Simon Njami to introduce I is An Other / Be the Other, the contemporary art exhibition we had the pleasure to preview yesterday at GNAM – Galleria Nazionale di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome.
Words that, nowadays more than ever before, remind us of the importance of embracing otherness in order to build our identity, our self. “A show that invites us to step out of ourselves for a moment and feel, with body and soul, the thrill of being the other,” goes on Namji, art critic, Artistic Director of the edition 12 of Dak’art, the Dakar Biennale (Senegal, 2016), of the Recontres de Bamako for ten years, curator of the first African pavillon of the Venice Biennale in 2007, and co-founder of Revue Noire, a quarterly printed magazine dedicated to African contemporary art, published from 1991 to 2001.
The artworks on display—paintings, sculptures, installations, videos, photography—highlight an artistic research that crosses mythology, visionary elements, irony, and results in different interpretations of reality.
Among the works of the artists exhibiting we had the pleasure to admire Nick Cave’s Soundsuits, wereable sculptural forms based on the human body, intricately composed of a vibrant assortment of second-hand materials. Simultaneously sculptures, costumes and musical instruments, the Soundsuits emobdy the full range of human emotions. Some, covered with a pelt of dyed twigs with basket for heads, resonate sadness; other burts with joy and humor.
Maurice Prefura’s The Silent Way stages La Divina Commedia, a sort of labyrinth made of white floating empty pages that form its walls and hold visitors prisoners. Crossing this labyrinth, however, one realizes that there are visible inscriptions on the pages which can only be seen from certain angles, “as if in a rite of initiation”. Once out of the labyrinth, one meets Beatrice.
A labyrinth leading nowhere, a labyrinth not fisical bu mental, like Beya Gille Gacha’s Venus Nigra sculpture, a black beaded Venus which “doesn’t represent a gathering of African miths, but raher of all the myhs of the world.”
Both artworks look at Bili Bidjocka’s tryptych. “Initiation returns in his works and brings us to Purgatory, to Hell, and to Paradise in no particular order, a journey where each of us is free to choose our own temporality.”
“I do not want people to come to this show looking for Africa. I want them to come in and think about themselves,” said Simon Njami during the press conference presenting the exhibition. “I don’t know what Africa is, we all have something to do with Africa. Here I just brought some contemporary artists.”
“The show doesn’t just bring African myths together, but all the myths of the world. Because ‘the other’ does not exist, regardless of political and ideological discourse: that other brandished like a bogeyman or a red cloth inf front of a bull. It’s a fantasy we jealously protect, which by dint of being told and retold—like an old story whose origins we can not recall—suddenly becomes the truth,” the curator said.
“For an Italian audience, the mistake would be to play the origin card at all costs, insisting on difference instead of seeking similarity. The artists on this show are all of African heritage, so they no longer need to assert it. They can leave that task to others, to those who, in order to feel alive, have an absolute need for contrast, story against story, as if what we call stories were not ultimately a diversion created to distract human beings from the essential.”
“It’s not a show with a message,” Njami said. “My invitation is to cross it, to consider the artworks as a single score. Each one of us is not what we actually represent: when I go back to my country of origin, Cameroon, I am considered Swiss and not Cameroonian because I was born there. The other? It doesn’t exist.”
Speaking of Italy, Simon Njami discussed how “fascinating” our political life is, always full of surprises. “I don’t know what government you’re going to have, but a strange disease is spreading around Europe. The real crisis is to think that it’s always the other’s fault. Populism wins here as it does in France. Italy is just more spectacular.”
According to the director of the National Gallery, Cristiana Collu, “This exhibition is the most important of the season. It doesn’t look at the news, it doesn’t compromise, it doesn’t ask for anyone’s permission, nor does it tell stories through someone else’s voice, but with the voice of those who have lived. It deals with themes such as the other, otherness, and differences, topics that the Galleria Nazionale has always shed light on, especially in the last two years.”
The other artists of the show are Igshaan Adams, Jane Alexander, Theo Eshetu, Phyllis Galembo, Paulo Kapela, Majida Khattari, Kutala Chopeto, Mehdi-Georges Lahlou, Wilfredo Lam, Ato Malinda, Owusu-Ankomah, Patrick Joël, Tatcheda Yonkeu.
The exhibition opened March 20th, and will run until June 24th at La Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome, from Tuesday to Sunday (8.30 am / 7.30 pm)
Cover Image | The Silent Way (2013) by Maurice Prefura; Venus Nigra (2017), by Beya Gille Gacha
Images | Johanne Affricot e Marco Brunelli
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