The Museum of African Design (MOAD) is excited to present its first full-length exhibition, opening on Thursday 14 November at 7:30 PM and running through 9 February. The group exhibition is an exploration of nostalgia in five African countries; Senegal, Nigeria, Algeria, Benin and South Africa.
On view Nov 14 – Feb 9
This exhibition tells the stories of bygone eras – positioning them firmly within present day narratives. Through architecture, construction, cartography, photography, communal archives, and historical reenactment, each artist and participant has a conversation with a past through which they did not live by juxtaposing design elements with those of today.
The exhibition title comes from Jacob Dlamini’s 2009 Native Nostalgia, in which he probes the ethical justification for fond memories of a childhood in a South African township during Apartheid. How, he asks, can a black South African reflect on something so deplorable with nostalgia? The works in this show represent a related form of nostalgia: the nostalgia (and positive yearning) for a troubled time through which one did not live.
For example, Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou reflects on the narrative of Benin’s capital, Porto Novo, through the traditional role of women, ceremonial masks, and the Aguda architectural style largely brought back from Brazil by slaves who were deported from there after the early-1800s slave revolts. The design of his family’s mansion – from pre-colonial times – as well as the women’s fabrics, masks, and topless dress, contrast with the peeling paint and ornate Portuguese-style woodwork.
Meanwhile, I See A Different You’s 1975 Mercedes 280E (W114) is parked in the middle of the gallery, a physical specimen of design that the trio drives in their everyday life. Rather than bask in the glory of contemporary vehicular stylings, the three “Born Frees” use their camera with one foot firmly planted in the past associated with their childhood in Soweto and the politics of a time they did not live through.
These juxtapositions are reflective of a broader trend toward nostalgia. Many collectors and artists are fascinated by the colonial archive. Yet, this younger generation of artists is re-creating their own imagined memories. For South Africans in their early twenties and younger, the nation is defined more by the post-1994 intersection of Mandela-style reconciliation and rapid globalization than it is by the struggle against Apartheid. Perhaps because they did not live through the darker days of Apartheid, twenty-somethings buy domestic worker outfits for parties and listen to house music alongside older Marabi jazz.
Native Nostalgia explores both why young African artists are interrogating the continent’s difficult past, while also probing whether it is possible to be nostalgic for something one has not directly lived.
Nigeria Nostalgia Project, Lagos
With over 20,000 Facebook group members supporting its goal of “giving base to national pride and a foundation for a sustainable future”, the Nigeria Nostalgia Project (Nigeria, 2010- ) has amassed seemingly countless user-submitted analog photos from 1960-1980. Wedding, graduation and family portraits submitted by those in Nigeria and the diaspora pay homage to what some consider the heydey of Nigeria. In addition to digitally memorializing a collective Nigerian narrative, the NNP archive disrupts the international eBays and auction houses that have swept up family collections elsewhere on the continent.
Hillbrow / Dakar / Hillbrow, The Trinity Session, Johannesburg
Stephen Hobbs and Marcus Neustetter are based adjacent to the Museum of African Design, but their work over the last two decades has taken the two around the continent. In 2006, before leaving for a two-week residency in Dakar, the duo went into Johannesburg’s notorious Hillbrow neighborhood. After having sought out a number of Senegalese immigrants, they asked each to draw maps of Dakar pointing out personally relevant places (family, landmarks, neighborhoods). Upon landing in Dakar, Hobbs/Neustetter used only these informally drawn maps as their guides to the city. The two relied on the memory of their counterparts in Hillbrow, of their lives in Dakar, as a guidebook through which to experience the city. From the immigrants in Hillbrow and those whom they met in Dakar, the two learned about the elaborate and symbolic Senegalese tea ceremony, which they have since used as a conversational device in discussions around urban change – with francophone immigrants in Paris and again in Hillbrow, problematizing nostalgia for home, and nostalgia for the ceremony itself, in the context of exclusion and xenophobia.
Demoiselles de Porto-Novo, Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou, Porto-Novo
In this series, Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou (Benin, 1965- ) comments on the narrative of Benin’s capital, Porto Novo, through the traditional role of women, ceremonial masks, and the Aguda architectural style largely brought back from Brazil by slaves who were deported from there after early-1800s slave revolts. The designs in the women’s fabrics and masks, as well as the topless village-style dress, contrast with the peeling paint and ornate woodwork of the subjects’ surroundings. That those surroundings are Agbodjelou’s own grandfather’s house, built in the 1890s, adds personal overtones to the work. The title references Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, a painting of nude Spanish prostitutes, two of whom are wearing African masks. Agbodjelou’s nostalgia thus inhabits the liminal space between contemporary and ancestral, home and foreign, rural and urban, citizen and subject.
I See a Different You, I See a Different You, Johannesburg
The South African collective I See a Different You’s Vuyo Mpantsha and twins Justice and Innocent Mukheli have written, “Not only did we inherit wisdom from our forefathers, but style.” The trio from Soweto portrays South Africa as they see it. Often, that vision incorporates explicit references to events that occurred before their time but that nonetheless had a profound influence on the place where they grew up. For example, an image of a school boy sitting at a government-issue desk in the middle of a Soweto street titled “1976 June 16 / Orlando” could not more explicitly draw a direct line between the youth of the Soweto Uprising and the youth of today. One part respect for elders and one part nostalgia, I See a Different You’s appropriation of past design affords their work a grounded but thoroughly modern texture.
280E, I See a Different You, Johannesburg
I See A Different You’s 1975 Mercedes 280E (W114) is parked in the middle of the gallery, a physical specimen of design that the trio drives in their everyday life. Not only is the car iconic across Africa, as a symbol of durability, but the collective have photographed themselves with the same model in Dakar and Nairobi. A 1975 Mercedes 240D (a smaller engine version of the same car) was donated by a Greek taxi driver to the Mercedes-Benz Museum Collection with 4.6 million kilometers (2.85 million miles) on the odometer – the highest mileage Mercedez-Benz known to date.
Extra Muros 1, Amina Menia, Algiers
Amina Menia (Algeria, 1976- ) is a mixed-media artist from Algiers. Her Extra-Muros (2005- ) is a series of site-specific installations around Algiers that interrogate the “confiscated spaces, confiscated memory and lack of freedom” in the public milieu. Recreated here, Extra-Muros 1 comprised temporary scaffolding around a restored Ottoman building at the foot of the Casbah (the city citadel – a UNESCO World Heritage Site). The scaffolding at once supports and facilitates renewal, interrogates the Islamic architecture, as well as protects and reinforces structural constraints on individual thought and action. As such, it is a physical manifestation of a constrained and constraining nostalgia. Because many of the works in the Extra-Muros series were not able to be realized, the series itself has become an example of the impediments within Algerian society.
Native Nostalgia is the first appearance for Amina Menia, the Nigeria Nostalgia Project and I See a Different You in South Africa. Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou was shown by the Jack Bell Gallery London at the 2012 Joburg Art Fair in Sandton.
The exhibition is curated by MOAD’s Director, Aaron Kohn, with curatorial support from the Trinity Session and Philip Sandick.