African art experimentations at Tate Modern

I have decided to work less and see more art. So I squeezed two Tate Modern exhibitions into an afternoon, both of which end this weekend.

The first one I saw was by Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi, described as an African modernist. What is an African modernist? With my art knowledge coming mostly from exhibitions I saw in my adult years, I never came across the term. Is El-Salahi an African modern painter or does the term coin more? I hoped the exhibition would give me an answer. His opening painting reminded me Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon. Moving in the room, I saw very different styles: from precise ink lines in his early career, to which he will come back later, to the use of calligraphy. My favourite works of him are in room 3. Still thinking about the African modernist, his works are difficult to describe and categorise. El-Salahi uses calligraphy shapes to create a new abstract language. This results in wonderful works in restricted colour tones, recalling synthetic cubism’s limited palette. I haven’t found out what is African modernism but enjoyed his calligraphic abstract paintings.

The second exhibition was Meschac Gaba’s Museum of Contemporary African Art. The Benin artist first set up his museum in Amsterdam, then recreated in several institutions. The result is an eclectic mix of rooms, themes, and objects. I actually arrived to the show by the wrong entrance, by pushing the door of the final room of El-Salahi’s exhibition (despite a sign saying ‘no exit’) so my reaction was “where on earth am I?”. A museum shop in Gaba’s museum. A relaxation room where visitors can play or listen to piano. A game room with a giant chess game. Etc. etc. A different museum experience.

I went back to the office with a light mood and relaxed!


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