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Kebedech Tekleab: Creating an Ethiopian Narrative in America

In art on August 23, 2009 at 8:39 pm

serenitySerenity, 1993 © Kebedech Tekleab 

GetAttachment.aspxKebedech Tekleab is one of the foremost Ethiopian artists today. While her “interest on human conditions globally” has inspired much of her work, her own personal narratives and her love of literature, music, drama etc. are equally great sources of inspiration. Tekleab’s pieces have been acquired by the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center and the Embassy of Ethiopia, among notable others. She is currently a professor of Foundation Studies at the Savannah College of Arts and Design in Savannah, Georgia.

Tekleab first collaborated with E. Ethelbert Miller, literary activist and author of the recent memoir The 5th Inning on The Handprint Identity Project–an exchange between artists and poets. What follows is a conversation between two artists and friends.

EM: When creating new artwork how important is memory and vision?

KT: I find this question interesting. If it deals with the issue of time, then memory and vision try to bridge the past, the present, and the future. It is true that there are times when creating new work one might depend on personal or social memories. The existing objective condition might also be the source of inspiration, or subjective ideas may serve to create visionary directions.

In my work, the demarcation of time dissolves, the new truth could be old and the past may exist in the present. It is the moment of personal discovery that marks time—either in the form of pure memory or in the active form of the present continuous.

For example, Robert Motherwell’s, “The Elegy to the Spanish Republic appears to be a piece that has a time print on it. It is about a specific social condition in Spain, however, it is also a phenomenon mankind has passed through. What is equally important and new could be the aesthetics itself, the concept of the art, the way Motherwell thought about his work in terms of what it is instead of what it means. The idea of what is abstract and what is real became sufficiently important for him that he defended his non-objective piece as something real.

More on Tekleab’s conversation with Miller.

Read the rest of this entry »


Women, Art and Islam

In art on July 3, 2009 at 7:49 pm



Perspectives: Women, Art and Islam at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA) lives up to its title, aptly providing deep insight into five disparate lives shaped by Islam, the West, and everything in between. With roots in Bangladesh, Algeria, Pakistan, Morocco, and New York City, the artists utilize family photographs, spiritual poetry, Quranic verses, and personal accessories to shed insight into the personal conflicts of Muslim women who face religious pressures to fulfill social expectations at the expense of personal aspirations.

Terrorism and the treatment of women have largely defined Islam in public discourse in recent years. In response, Perspectives challenges the notion of Islam as a monolithic, misogynist, unimaginative and atavist faith. This is no small task, yet it is achieved with a remarkable fusion—from modern photography, painting, installation and video to traditional Islamic crafts like tilework, ceramics and calligraphy.

The exhibition space itself, a series of large rooms and intimate corners, provides disparate experiences. The artwork’s power may well be what it does not openly express, but perhaps, quietly hints.

Pakistani-American artist Mahwah Chisty dims the lighting of her wire-suspended installations and projects Kufi script through a pool of water. More subtle is Safaa Erruas’s (Morocco) spine-like wall installation of cotton and a thousand needles, “Moon Inside Me,” which bathes in whiteness and light. Next door, Brooklyn-born Nsenga Knight fills a corner with sounds of her video interviews of African-American Muslim women converts; the sounds and images bounce off a wall piece with silk-screened words from the writings of Ibrahim Abd ar-Rahman, a West African prince abducted into slavery.

Algerian Zoulokha Bouabdellah appears in a sequence of self-portrait photographs with couscous pots covering in turn her eyes, ears and mouth as if to say see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Finally, Chisty completes the full circle with a wall of colorful paintings displaying Islamic words and epigrams in interlaced calligraphic designs of the Kufi style. It is Chisty’s inclusion of materials, such as coral grains and glass, that push this traditional art into the present. 

– Mohamed Hassim Keita

Anish Kapoor, oh so sublime

In art on December 20, 2008 at 1:18 am


Photo: AFP

Anish Kapoor, Indian-born artist and visionary (in every sense of the word) currently has a solo show, “Memory,” at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin, Germany. In a recent review of one of Kapoor’s monumental pieces, “Cloud Gate,” art critic Meenakshi Thirukode writes:  

“On its surface the viewer sees the reflection of the phallic skyline, the clouds above and himself; as if the sky, earth and the human soul have been conjoined in a transcendent communion…It is not just joy that generations of Kapoor’s audiences have experienced but, fear, tranquillity and a sense of awe standing in front of the Maya or “cosmic illusion” that are his sculptures. It is an experience anyone could partake in regardless of one’s cultural, social or religious conditioning.” 

Read more at The Hindu 

would you trust this man with your daughter?

In art, off the wall on December 17, 2008 at 2:08 am

“Would you trust this man with your daughter?” If you said no, then you just turned down Nelson Mandela–Nobel Peace Prize winner, humanitarian, global change maker, etc., etc., etc.,–as a future son-in-law. Shame on you.

I attended the opening of “Marlene Dumas: Prints + Multiples” at the Kyle Kauffman Gallery last night and was immediately taken with the provocative question scribbled under Portrait of a Young Nelson Mandela. Dumas, who grew up in South Africa under apartheid, turns racial (and dating) profiling into art.

Since she doesn’t care too much for labels I won’t attempt to categorize her, but I will say that like Portrait, much of Dumas’ work is provocative and controversial.

In conjunction with the Kauffman’s exhibit in Chelsea, MoMA is displaying a more extensive collection of Dumas’ work that reflect “themes of race, sexuality, and social identity…to create a unique perspective on important and controversial issues of the day.”

– Grace A. Ali

art: Wangechi Mutu’s ‘Cuff Love’

In art on October 15, 2008 at 1:00 am

Absolutely Stunning!  Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu is breathtaking in nude-black-white-gold. She is one of three artists commissioned to create jewelry|art for the Whitney Museum’s annual gala on October 20. Mutu deserves a multi-page spread in the next all-black issue of Vogue. Better yet, give her the cover! 

She’s wearing the bracelet she fashioned in the photo above.  

But like any monumental piece of bling, Mutu’s bracelets, which are like those seen in north and central Kenya and in the past were often worn permanently as external, protective bone structures, can be interpreted as both shackle and adornment. “I wanted to create a sheath that ran the length of the wrist and arm,” Mutu says, “that seemed as restraining and heavy in appearance as it was porous, shimmery and handsome.”

Cuff LoveThe New York Times, October 5, 2008

Photo: Ruven Afanador|The New York Times

the art of “the politics of fear”

In art, notable on July 21, 2008 at 10:16 pm

Last week, the New Yorker cover proved that to reveal how ludicrous right wing propaganda is, you don’t have to do anything except pile it on top of itself. But the satire did not stop there. In the tradition of the cleverest satire, the cover used “outrage” as a tool to play with our perceptions of who we think ourselves to be, and what we consider funny.

A few years ago on a gorgeous October morning in New York, I was walking down Crosby street and happened to pass by Housing Works Used Book Cafe. Glancing at their store window, I was shocked to find a copy of Ann Coulter’s book “How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)” displayed proudly in this haven of progressive thought. What??? How could Housing Works Used Book Cafe want to sell Ann Coulter? What was the world coming to? I fumed inside. I wanted to throw up. Then I stepped back to look at the larger picture (literally) and found that Read the rest of this entry »

art: The Iraqi Century of Art

In art on July 19, 2008 at 2:28 pm

“Mohammed al Hamadany’s 25-panel painting Night of Fire…is the most ambitious statement yet to come out of post-invasion Iraq (of course, there are very real limits on what can come out of post-invasion Iraq).

The artist himself has described the work as offering “an Iraqi perspective of ‘Shock and Awe,’ and ” a mediation on the brutality unleashed by the invasion.”

Night of Fire is not just a belated echo of Western styles, but also reads as something of an elegy to Iraq’s own avant-garde, with its unique triumphs and struggles.” 

Excerpted from: Ben Davis, The Iraqi Century of Art, artnet Magazine

Image: Mohammed al Hamadany’s Night of Fire