Marrakech is a hub of arts-related activity this February. On the 24th, 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair launches its first edition on the continent, and on the same day the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden opens a special exhibition and programme, Africa Is No Island. Curated by Afrique in visu, the latter exhibition is a physical embodiment of everything the photography platform has been working towards since it was started a decade ago online with the mission to develop a professional network for photographers across the continent and the wider diaspora.
Featuring more than 40 established and emerging photographers, the exhibition brings a personal selection of artists from the platform’s network into contact with MACAAL’s Collection Lazraq – a contemporary collection with a strong focus on Moroccan work. “After 10 years, we wanted to do something big that showed everything we’d done with the project,” explains one half of the platform, Jeanne Mercier, who founded Afrique in visu with photographer Baptiste de Ville d’Avray in Mali after noticing a lack of infrastructure in the African photography community.
Connecting photographers from different countries, the website served as an aide for professionals, no matter what field of photography they were working in. Over the years, it has nurtured the careers of hundreds of artists through articles, exhibitions, portfolio reviews and workshops, as well as acting as an indispensable resource on the diverse approaches to photography evolving on the continent and beyond, drawing writers, publications, institutions and curators into the mix.
Ten years down the line, the duo decided to round up their activities into a publication and major exhibition that would bring their vision into collaboration with various institutions. Featuring artists that have grown up with Afrique in visu, the idea is that Africa Is No Island can travel to other institutions worldwide to respond to different collections and create new encounters and connections, MACAAL being the first stop and the Fondation Zinsou in Benin the next.
“It will never be the same exhibition,” explains de Ville d’Avray. As the curators note, “Africa is not an island but rather a connected territory, full of possibilities.”
Harnessing the ethos of the platform, Africa Is No Island works to liberate African photography from reductive labels and a singular photographic history. Organised into three sections, looking at representation, history and geography, it features a constellation of nationalities, approaches and cross-cultural encounters, offering a small glimpse into this “connected territory” whose representation was for a long time held captive by iconic images and stereotypes.
Mercier likens the exhibition to a “kaleidoscope narrative” that viewers are invited to wander through. Tradition is reimagined through a contemporary lens in Namsa Leuba’s exploration of Guinean rituals through a western aesthetic, while national and family archives provide ample material to work with for a number of artists, including Sammy Baloji and Lebohang Kganye. Baudouin Mouanda takes us to the heart of Congo’s social scenes; artists Mohammed Laouli and Katrin Ströbel cast their eyes further afield onto the wave of migration between Europe and Northern Africa that is reshaping the present; and history is traced around the globe in Nicola Lo Calzo’s investigation into the contemporary legacy of slavery.
Rethinking borders and histories is at the core of the Afrique in visu project. “It’s why we invited projects that deal with African identity but not just in Africa; in can be in Europe, it can be anywhere,” says Mercier. “For us, this kind of project is very symbolic of what we wanted to say.”
The exhibition runs 24 February to 24 August, its opening coinciding with that of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair (24-25 February), staged at La Mamounia, a luxury hotel complex housed in a former royal estate. Set up by Touria El Glaouie, who was born and raised in Morocco and whose father is a leading Moroccan artist, the fair has so far run five editions in London and one in New York.
“Morocco has one of the continent’s most dynamic art scenes, not to mention the significant Marrakech Biennale, which made our decision on where to expand the fair easy for us,” says the founding director.
Africa Is No Island is on show at the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden from 24 February-24 August. The 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair is open from 24-25 February at La Mamounia macaal.org afriqueinvisu.org 1-54.com/marrakech
This article was first published in the February issue of BJP, which is available via https://www.thebjpshop.com/