Watching this, I couldn’t help but recall the late French writer/director Chris Marker’s 1953 French film essay (which he co-directed with Alain Resnais) titled “Les Statues meurent aussi,” or “Statues Also Die” – an award-winning 30-minute work on African art from years past, and the effects colonialism has had on how that art is perceived.
And because the film was considered by some to be a critique of colonialism, the second half of it (in which the film argues that colonial presence has compelled African art to lose much of its idiosyncratic expression, in order to appeal to Western consumers, with a mention of how African currencies had been replaced by European currencies) was censored in France until the 1960s.
For their part, it’s been said that, according to Resnais, the original intent was not to make an anti-colonial film, but rather just a film about African art. However, their research opened them up to realities that they weren’t previously aware of, with respect to European (white) colonial perceptions of African art, which then affected the rest of their research, and thus the overall direction of the film.
In this series titled “African Masters,” courtesy of The Africa Channel – based in the UK (not to be confused with the other Africa Channel carried by a few cable providers here in the USA), audiences are taken on a journey across the globe, to learn about the various stories behind African art scenes, revealed through in-depth interviews with world-renowned artists including El Anatsui, Yinka Shonibare and Yusuf Grill,o and key players in the art world like André Magnin (French Curator and Art Dealer) and Bisi Silva (Curator at the Center for Contemporary Art in Lagos).
The new 6-part series created by The Africa Channel was created to illustrate how this vibrant art scene is emerging as a dynamic global force. Stops along the way include visiting studios in Senegal, galleries in New York, artistic residencies in Nigeria and auction houses in London, to start, following a flurry of major exhibitions (like African Art, New York; the Avant-Garde, MOMA; and Exploring Hidden Histories at the V&A, London), to bring to television the story of an arts space that’s at once as old as man, yet burgeoning and contemporary.
The series producers gained access to some of the world’s most renowned African artists, taking audiences behind the scenes to see how artists really work in their own studios, revealing their methods, their inspirations, sharing their sometimes controversial views on today’s art world, and more., whether you’re an expert on art of the continent, or have never set foot in a gallery before.
Watch episode 1 – titled ‘Revelations’ – below.
This episode looks at some historical landmarks in the development of contemporary African art. Also, see how the West denied the value of African art for generations, despite celebrated figures like Picasso clearly drawing inspiration from many designs and forms from the continent.
The episode asks: What does being African mean to today’s artists? How does their heritage and identity shape their work? Should art even be defined in this way and do artists accept being labelled or categorized? (I’ll publish other episodes as soon as I can get my hands on them):