Pangaea: New Art from Africa and Latin America at Saatchi

Pangaea was the supercontinent which formed 300 million years ago and broke apart approximately 200 million years ago. At the time, Africa and Latin America were joined together and Saatchi Gallery reconnects them, looking at ‘New Art from Africa and Latin America’ in its Pangaea exhibition, showing 15 contemporary South American and African artists.

IMG_1131.JPGDetails from Rafael Gómezbarros’ ‘Casa Tomada’ (2013)

The most famous picture of the show, abundantly shared on social media, is Rafael Gómezbarros’ ‘Casa Tomada’ (2013), which occupies the first room of the exhibition and is commonly referred to as “ants”. I saw many pictures of those ants with children, including on Saatchi Gallery’s website. Looking at them from close, they are cast human skulls, which make the piece more interesting – but wonder why you would leave your children near them. The ants’ bodies and heads are held together by wood and they are covered in blood. The human skulls sadly reminded me of the Khmer Rouge regime that lead to the death of 2 million people in Cambodia. Closer to Columbia, where the artist is from, the installation addresses the millions of displaced immigrants in search of asylum, particularly the casualties of the armed conflict in Columbia. I noted that one of the materials used in the installation is coal from the Cerrejón mine, a large open-pit coal mine located in Columbia.

The rest of my article will focus on five other artists in Saatchi Gallery’s Pangaea exhibition:

– I came across Ivory Coast artist Aboudia at the inaugural 1:54 contemporary African art fair; his gallerist described him as the new Basquiat. What stood out to me was his use of a childish style to describe the war, notwithstanding the likely participation of children in wartime.

– Brazilian Antonio Malta Campos’s paintings reminded of Picasso’s hat figures. Also shown at Saatchi Gallery is his work made of street art on glass put together as an installation. He explores there the readymade concept, as the glasswork was taken from a temporary building.

– Benin’s Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou’s photographs were my coup de coeur in the show. You could argue that it is easy to have a half-naked woman, wearing an African mask and textiles but it works. The mansions that provide the photographs’ backgrounds are historical and the colonial setting of the artist’s family home.

– Columbian Fredy Alzate is in the Saatchi show with a ball made of bricks (‘Lugares en Fuga’), which, in my view, relates to the surrealists’ concept that art objects are not functional.

– Last but not least, London-based Columbian artist Murillo has also several works in the gallery. First approaching the works, I felt the same as in his South London Gallery (SLG) exhibition: trying to find associations between objects and doodles, what/is there a meaning… His works emphasise food and language, which are most important in the migration process – Murillo migrated from Columbia aged 10. Murillo refers to basic food (milk, chorizo), which is likely universal, like corn in the SLG exhibition.

IMG_1132.JPG Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou Untitled (Demoiselles de Porto-Novo series) 2012

I wondered again whether artists so-called and grouped under “Latin American art” and “Contemporary African Art” feel obliged to stay in their country’s borders. Some in the latter category do use African masks in their practice (Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou – Romuald Hazoumè, not in the Saatchi show) and African hairstyles in their works (Boris Nzebo – JD ‘Okhai Ojeikere not in the current show). Inversely, Aboudia was influenced by western Pop and Abstract Expressionism, Vincent Michea by pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, and Nzebo by pop art-associated artist Patrick Caulfield. So the answer is yes and no but whatever the response is, most artists at ‘Pangaea: New Art from Africa and Latin America’ are worth seeing, in my view. Until 2 November 2014.

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