Out of Africa - artwork at Efie Gallery.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Efie Gallery, Dubai, is presenting an all-African art exhibition at its spaces (June 1 – July 1). Titled Ever-Present, the works of El Anatsui, Victor Ekpuk, J.K. Bruce Vanderpuije, Betty Acquah, Maggie Otieno and Yaw Owusu, are being hosted.
“As custodians of history,” says Ronald Osemudiamen Ekore in his curatorial essay, “African artists have played pivotal roles in shaping, translating, and proliferating localised cultural and social narratives.
They are storytellers in essence, conveying their communities’ collective triumphs, tribulations, and truths.” El Anatsui (born c. 1944, Volta Region, Gold Coast, now Ghana) is an internationally revered and multi-award winning Ghanaian artist. Known for his large-scale sculptures composed of thousands of folded and crumpled pieces of metal such as cassava graters and bottle tops, he transforms simple materials into complex assemblages that confronts the legacy of colonialism in Africa.
At Efie he explores the ever-changing nature of life and the crucial need for environmental conservation. His sculptures are collected by major international museums such as British Museum, London, the Centre Pompidou, Paris, the de Young Museum, San Francisco, the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, Abu Dhabi’s Guggenheim and the museum Kunstpalast, Dusseldorf. In 2015, he was awarded the Venice Biennale art exhibition’s Golden Lion Award for lifetime achievement.
Victor Ekpuk (b. 1964) is a Nigerian-born artist based in Washington DC. Ekpuk frequently explores the condition of identity in society. His artworks are in private and public collections, such as Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African Art, Newark Museum, The World Bank, University of Maryland, Hood Museum, United States Art in Embassies Art Collection and the Fidelity Investment Art Collection.
J.K. Bruce Vanderpuije uses photographs as windows to see into the urban landscapes of Ghana during its transformative era of independence. He provides viewers with portrayals of the bustling energy and cultural richness of his country at that point of time. His lenses capture the essence of the people, their traditions, and dynamic atmospheres, transporting the viewer to a time and place where history, identity - and hope - converge.
Betty Acquah (b. 1965) is a Ghanaian feminist painter. She uses the techniques of pointillism, oil painting and acrylic. Her work highlights the Ghanaian women she sees as the “unsung heroes of the republic of Ghana”. She describes how connections between community and tradition shape individual identity and expression.
Maggie Otieno is a full-time Kenyan sculptor based in Nairobi. She works in various materials, in both 2D and 3D. “I allow myself to be inspired by anything and everything,” she says. “I use these inspirations to speak to the audience in a language that can be used to interpret my work.” Her current medium is metal - with 300 year old distressed railway sleepers (it is on view at Efie). Through her choice of materials, she juxtaposes the resilience and beauty of African culture with the historical complexities and struggles associated with its colonial past. It provokes contemplation on the broader themes of African identity and the legacy of colonialism.
She has taken part in numerous exhibitions, workshops and residencies in Kenya, the East African region, Algeria, Nigeria, Netherlands, USA, Egypt and the UK. Born in 1992 in Kumasi, Ghana, Yaw Owusu’s desire to venture outside the traditional media of painting materialised while he was on a journey to the southern coast of Ghana.
While at the beach, he stumbled upon coins which had changed colour into shades of green, blue and red. Composed of copper-plated steel, the Pesewa, equivalent to a penny or shilling, had been first introduced by the Ghanaian government in 2007. But their value plummeted due to inflation and became obsolete. Intrigued by the effect that salt and water induced on the metallic pieces, Owusu negotiated with the Central Bank of Ghana to acquire thousands of Pesewa coins.
He began to research their history and was bewildered to learn that the coins had not been produced in Ghana, but by the Royal Canadian Mint - an offshoot of the Royal Mint of the United Kingdom, Ghana’s former colonial power. The realisation prompted him to use the coins as a device to explore Ghana’s economic and political independence and examine the shifting nature of value. He made his coins undergo organic and chemical processes to convey the impact of trade and time, which alter both the appearance and worth of the currency.
Creating sculptural tapestry with the coins (available at Efie), he has also compiled archival maps which show the way Ghana’s railways were drawn along regions where timber, gold and other natural resources were found. Owusu challenges our preconceived notions surrounding consumption, trade, and the underlying value systems that govern our societies, by utilising currency as an artistic medium.
His solo exhibitions have spanned galleries in Ghana, the UK and USA, in addition to a museum solo exhibition with ICA San Diego in 2022. Institutions such as Christie’s (UK), Sotheby’s Institute (USA), MACAAL (Morocco) have also included his artwork in group exhibitions. Owusu was awarded the prestigious Kuenyehia Art Prize for Contemporary Ghanaian Art in 2018 and the Pratt Institute’s Outstanding Student and Circle Awards in 2020. He has held residencies at Efie Gallery and Cope NYC (USA).
“Traversing the delicate ground between tradition and innovation,” concludes Ekore, “Ever-Present encourages viewers to embark on a profound exploration of the interplay between cultural heritage and the forces of globalisation.” Both he and the gallery invite readers to embark on their own personal African journeys of discovery.
It features 50+ galleries from more than 40 cities spread across 30 countries and five continents, coming together in their dedication to art of the Global South.
It aims to give local artists the opportunity to perform and express their art in Dubai on a regular basis.
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