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1st June 2023 – 1st July 2023
Efiɛ Gallery, Dubai
United Arab Emirates

Installation View

Featured artists:
J.K. Bruce-Vanderpuije (1899-1989)
El Anatsui (b. 1944)
Victor Ekpuk (b.1964)
Betty Acquah (b. 1965)
Maggie Otieno (b. 1974)
Yaw Owusu (b. 1992)
“The timeless impact of Africa’s extensive historical wealth of tales and traditions cannot be understated. Informed by its remarkable ethnic diversity, the continent hosts a multitude of valuable and vibrant artistic customs. Each ethnic group brings forth a unique scope of artistic expressions—reflections of lived experiences rooted in ancient customs. From the precious metal sculptures of the Akan and the intricate beadwork of the Maasai to the ornate wooden carvings of the Yoruba and terracotta sculptures of the Shilluk, these artistic traditions hold both symbolic value and practical utility, serving as tangible links to the past and tokens of cultural preservation.
As custodians of history, African artists have played pivotal roles in shaping, translating, and proliferating localized cultural and social narratives. They are storytellers in essence, conveying their communities’ collective triumphs, tribulations, and truths. Through their artistic production, they breathe life and relevance into historical accounts, making them accessible and resonant to current and future generations.
These artistic manifestations, each imbued with its own unique symbolic significance, unearth a wellspring of influential elements that prompt reciprocal inspiration. African art has transcended geographical boundaries, leaving an indelible mark on artists around the world by forming the foundations for global art movements such as Cubism, Expressionism, and Fauvism. The ubiquity of African art across world history stands as a testament to the boundless creativity, profound spirituality, and distinct identity of its respective people and cultures.
Africa’s artistic traditions continue to evolve and adapt, reflecting the ever-changing dynamics of contemporary society and an increasingly interconnected, globalized world. Artists today draw inspiration from their rich heritage while incorporating modern influences and addressing current social issues. Engaging in dialogues that bridge the past and the present, they skillfully navigate contestations of tradition and innovation.
Ever-Present consolidates a captivating and thought-provoking collection of artworks that highlight the diverse landscapes and thematic intersections of contemporary African art across generations. Bringing together the works of six contemporary African artists, the exhibition offers a glimpse into the complex histories, traditions, and values that have shaped the artists and the communities they represent. The selected artists and artworks delve into profound themes and challenge conventional thinking in their respective works, exploring the connections between past and present, investigating how personal and collective histories continue to shape our understanding of the world.
El Anatsui’s innovative and experimental use of materials challenges conventional notions of art-making. His work—the result of an intricate and labor-intensive process involving collaboration and community engagement—acts as a provocation for thought and reflection on the transformative potential of everyday materials, the interconnectedness of cultures, and the power of collective action. In tandem, Yaw Owusu challenges our preconceived notions surrounding consumption, trade, and the underlying value systems that govern our societies. By utilizing currency as an artistic medium, Owusu not only captures our attention but also underscores the immense influence of storytelling and imagination in shaping our perceptions and understanding of economic and cultural dynamics. Both artists challenge conventional ideas in their works, prompting viewers to reflect and reconsider their perspectives on these subjects.
JK Bruce-Vanderpuije uses photographs as windows into the urban landscapes of Ghana during its transformative era of independence, providing viewers with intimate portrayals of the bustling energy and cultural richness that permeated everyday life. Through his lenses, he captures the essence of the people, their traditions, and dynamic atmospheres, transporting us to a time and place where history, identity, and hope converge. On the other hand, Maggie Otieno delves into the realm of communication by employing railway sleepers as a medium. Through her sculptures, Otieno captures the multifaceted and ever-changing nature of how we connect with one another. Her works serve as a tangible embodiment of silent conversations, inviting us to engage with both the artwork and the surrounding space. This interactive encounter elicits a personal and distinctive perception, interpretation, and overall experience for each individual who encounters her sculptures. Otieno’s masterful craftsmanship intertwines with the innate ability of her creations to evoke a profound sense of introspection and reflection, cutting across conventional modes of communication. While Bruce-Vanderpuije transports us to a specific time and place in Ghana’s past, Otieno provokes contemplation on the power of silent communication and the multitude of interpretations it evokes. Both artists, through their distinct artistic approaches, offer viewers opportunities to engage with and appreciate different aspects of human expression and experience.
Betty Acquah and Victor Ekpuk use art as a medium to explore and express the profound connections between individuals, communities, and traditions. Acquah delves deeply into the intricate and personal connections between community and tradition, highlighting their profound significance in shaping individual identity and self-expression. In her painting, she deftly navigates the complexities of exploring and representing her own identity whilst reflecting upon the multifaceted experiences of others within her community. Ekpuk skillfully weaves together Nigerian traditional motifs and symbols to create a vibrant and captivating visual language that transcends aesthetics. Through his paintings, Ekpuk conveys a profound message of interconnectedness, inviting viewers to contemplate the deeper meaning and universal significance underlying the materiality of existence. Their artworks present viewers with a deeper understanding of identity, interconnectedness, and the significance of shared experiences.
Shedding light on the continent’s vibrant cultural tapestry through a selection of artistic voices and ideas, the exhibition attempts to capture the essence of Africa. Traversing the delicate ground between tradition and innovation, Ever-Present encourages viewers to embark on a profound exploration of the interplay between cultural heritage and the forces of globalization. Each artwork offers a compelling display of the power of personal narratives intertwined with collective experiences and a nuanced perspective on the ever-evolving nature of African artistic expression.”
– Curatorial essay by Ronald Ekore