An exhibition of contemporary Afro-Cuban Art opened at the Johannesburg Art Gallery on Sunday 23 May, and will remain on view until 29 August. Chosen and arranged by Orlando Hernandez, it is said to be ‘the largest and most diverse exhibition of its kind ever to be staged anywhere in the world.’ It acknowledges the impact of African art and culture, brought to the island, mainly by slaves, and focuses also on the common themes of race and religion.
There are 80 works on display. The 26 artists include two who have had works included in a recent exhibition held at the Tate Gallery, in Liverpool, and one who paints from his ‘government owned potato stand.’ All of them have a story to tell and a message to convey.
Many of the works reward contemplation and study, even if not immediately appealing. A theme begins to appear again and again. To me it is a message of the Dreams and Struggles of human beings over the ages, and particularly in specific situations – the halting, but relentless, seeking after the road from chaos to creation, from death to life, from darkness to light, from insignificance to relevance – even whilst others appear determined to force them in the opposite direction. And within that pain and desperation there are always moments of beauty, both tragic and glorious, to record.
I was drawn back to one particular painting – The Dream of Reason, by Armando Marino. It portrayed simple human freedom and the complex bondage of the mind in a significant way. Some dreams can turn out to be nightmares!
There is a very comprehensive guide to the exhibition, with colour photographs, available from the gallery shop. It contains information on the artists and their work, and would be extremely valuable as a reference both during a visit and afterwards. It is, initially, available at a reduced price. I enjoyed reading about the artists, and their backgrounds, as it opened up their work in a new way. It was also satisfying to have some impressions confirmed.
Also on display at the Gallery is the video installation by William Kentridge, entitled ‘I am not me, the horse is not mine’ (a Russian peasant expression used to deny guilt). It is based on the short –story by Nikolai Gogol in which a man wakes up one morning to find that his nose has gone! He goes in search of it only to discover that it is now of a higher rank than he is. 8 videos are screened simultaneously to loud and compulsive music. It is worth a visit.
Whilst you are there, have a look at the other galleries and exhibitions as well. There is a great deal on offer, and I discovered some interesting bronze statues, a portrait off Lady Florence Phillips, the driving force behind the gallery, and an amazing array of African head rests!
Art is said not to change the world but to start a conversation. Even if that conversation only starts within it is worthwhile having, whether or not one has liked the original message. However, I have always found that it keeps cropping up in other conversations elsewhere. Discussions take place, views are formulated, understanding is deepened and something grows.
In two days time tomorrow will be yesterday – make it worthwhile today
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