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Posts Tagged ‘colonial’

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Photo: Cité Internationale des Arts
Emmanuel Sogbadji is one of the African artists whose work is shown at the new Togo museum, Palais de Lomé.        

Sometimes when I’ve been volunteering in ESL classes, I’ve caught the echo of African colonialism from languages that students try out on me because I don’t understand their native tongue. Somali and Eritrean students may know a little Italian, countries like Uganda and Zimbabwe speak English, people from such countries as Mali, Togo, and Congo know French.

Although multilingualism can be helpful in refugee language classes, I can’t help thinking the students wouldn’t have had to be refugees in the first place if the colonial powers hadn’t plundered Africa. I suppose that down the road, when the US starts welcoming refugees again, we’ll be getting people from Burkina Faso who know a little Chinese.

Anyway, because I had an English student from Togo who spoke French, I was not surprised to learn from today’s feature that Togo’s new national museum has French connections and a French name, Palais de Lomé.

Rebecca Anne Proctor writes at Frieze, “Festive scenes unfolded in Lomé’s botanical park in late November [2019], as drummers and colourfully clad moko jumbies, or stilt walkers, entertained guests – including President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé and artist Kehinde Wiley – at the inauguration of the Palais de Lomé, Togo’s first major contemporary art museum and the only entirely state-funded arts institution in Africa.

“This is a remarkable achievement for one of the world’s poorest countries, where almost 70 percent of the rural population lives below the global poverty line, according to a 2015 World Bank report. The new museum is also an unexpected signal of cultural openness by the historically repressive Togolese government. …

“The museum is housed in the colonial Governor’s Palace, constructed in 1905, which served as a base for the Togolese state after the country gained its independence from France in 1960. For the past 20 years, however, it sat empty, until an extensive restoration project – costing [$3.6 million] – was completed in November 2019.

“Occupying the palace’s stately banquet halls and residential quarters, the new institution is large enough to accommodate five simultaneous exhibitions and abuts an 11-hectare garden, displaying works by Togolese sculptors such as Amouzou Amouzou-Glikpa and Sadikou Oukpedjo – another first in West Africa.

” ‘Three Borders’, the most contemporary of these shows, delves openly into the turbulent history of the region. In Togolese artist Emmanuel Sogbadji’s painting ‘The Intercessor’ (2006), a tall, semi-abstract figure holds a long knife. Flanked by two men, he appears defiant in the face of an interrogation. …

“As Claude Grunitzky, a New York-based Togolese editor, told me: ‘Many creatives and artists have begun to return to Togo as “repats”, […] leading interesting projects and ventures in the creative industries.’

” ‘The Palais de Lomé is a newborn child, one we have been awaiting in Togo for so long,’ added Clay Apenouvon, one of the country’s most prominent artists, who protested against the junta in his youth before relocating to Paris in 1992. Apenouvon is setting up a second studio in Lomé, where he now spends several months of the year. Not all are so optimistic, however: a Togolese artist, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear for his safety, told me that the Palais ‘will just be for the state. It won’t help the people.’ …

“The museum’s current comprehensive public funding model distinguishes it from comparable institutions on the continent. … Half of the Palais de Lomé’s government funding is set to expire at the end of its first year, however, so [Sonia Lawson, the Palais de Lomé’s inaugural director, a former luxury goods executive for L’Oréal and LVMH,] intends to form a board of donors of African descent, who she hopes will acquire new works from the continent and its diaspora for the museum’s collection.

“As a state-backed initiative, the Palais de Lomé resembles public arts institutions in the Gulf region – such as the National Museum of Qatar, opened in 2019, and the soon-to-be-completed Zayed National Museum in Abu Dhabi – which aim to boost cultural capital and foster local arts communities while improving the public image of governments viewed as repressive.

“It remains to be seen whether Lomé’s newest museum will spur substantive change or merely serve a propagandistic function, but the signs thus far seem promising. With ‘Three Borders’, Togo is not only looking outwards – to its neighbours and the international art world – but reflecting inwards on its own difficult history. ”

More here.

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The uncle of my co-worker from Ghana is a very fine photographer who chronicled much of the last days of colonialism and the beginning of independence in his native land.

Another colleague was reading an article about the uncle’s new book in the Washington Post and thought, “Could they be related?” They are.

Nicole Crowder wrote at the Post, “In 1957, after over a century of colonization, Ghana gained independence from Britain. Just 30 years prior, in 1929, photographer James Barnor was born in the country’s capital Accra — then the Gold Coast colony — and over the course of a career that spanned more than six decades would become one of Ghana’s leading and most well-known photographers.

“Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Barnor created a definitive portfolio of street and studio portraiture depicting societies in transition: images of a burgeoning sub-Saharan African nation moving toward independence, and a European capital city becoming a multicultural metropolis.

“Ghana in the 1950s was experiencing a radiance of post-colonization as well as its ‘heyday of Highlife,’ a fusion of traditional African rhythms, Latin calypso and jazz influences that would soon spread across Ghana’s borders to West Africa and beyond. … Barnor captured all of this energy, playing at once artist, director, photographer and technician, by offering a well-rounded portrait of Ghanian life from many walks of life.

“On Oct. 8, Autograph ABP and the gallery Clementine de la Feronniere [released] the book ‘Ever Young‘ showcasing Barnor’s extensive archive, followed by a corresponding photo exhibition in Paris through Nov. 21.”

More at the Washington Post.

Photo: James Barnor/Autograph, ABP
Nigerian Superman, Old Polo Ground, Accra, 1957–58.

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Three cheers for quirky causes that, at a minimum, don’t do any harm and, at best, make a contribution to the world.

Simon Romero recently covered one such cause in the New York Times: “Shigeru Nakayama, the guardian of this ghost city in the Amazon rain forest, gazes at the Rio Negro, a vast blackwater tributary. From some angles, it looks less like a river than a sea, spurring him to remember Japan.

“ ‘Fukuoka got kind of cold during winter,’ said Mr. Nakayama, 66, who left the island of Kyushu in southern Japan with his parents and three brothers in the mid-1960s for a new life in Brazil. ‘We were farming people, trying to get ahead. Japan was reduced to ashes after the war. Life was still tough.’

“ ‘But Brazil was the land of our dreams,’ said Mr. Nakayama, squinting under the punishing midday sun as he leaned his wiry frame against one of the crumbling stone buildings of Airão Velho — a town so overgrown and forlorn it is now held in a labyrinthine embrace of tree roots and vines.”

He has made it his life’s work to “to care for the abandoned outpost. …

“ ‘I’m glad there’s someone taking care of Airão Velho,’ said Victor Leonardi, a historian of Amazonia at the University of Brasília who explored the ruins here in the 1990s. “It smelled of jaguar urine back then, but it was obviously a place of riches at one point, where people dined on porcelain from England and consumed Cognac from France.’ …

“ ‘Japan has turned into a new kind of prosperous country, and I guess that’s good for the people there,’ Mr. Nakayama said. ‘But that kind of life was never in the cards for me.’

“Mr. Nakayama acknowledged that shielding Airão Velho from the encroachment of the jungle was an uphill struggle. A glance around suggests that the strangler figs have the scales tipped in their favor. Amid the ruins, wasps hover; fire ants march; cicadas sing. …

“Nakayama feels the need to clean the graveyard, hacking away at the growth that threatens to devour the site once and for all. ‘For centuries, people lived and died in Airão Velho,’ he said. ‘They were the true pioneers, and I have to honor their memory by preserving this place. It is a matter of respect.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
Shigeru Nakayama has made it his life’s work to care for an abandoned outpost in the Amazon jungle.

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