Under the theme “Minds Rising, Spirits Tuning,” the 13th edition of the Gwangju Biennale will be held from April 1 to May 9, 2021.
Curated by Defne Ayas and Natasha Ginwala, this edition will examine the spectrum of “community spirit” in the age of emerging super-intelligence and will see an impressive participation of artists from African countries and the diaspora.
History of the Gwangju Contemporary Art Biennale
Founded in 1995 in the Jeollanam province of South Korea, the Gwangju Biennale is a platform for the dissemination of cultural values. As a showcase for the democratic uprising of students against the military dictatorship in 1980, the Gwangju Democratization Movement, the oldest contemporary art biennale in Asia, aims to pay tribute to this uprising of the South Korean people and thus keep the flame of democracy alive.
The biennale known for its long tradition of art and culture also has a therapeutic purpose through artistic and aesthetic expressions with the aim of healing the wounds of the traumatic history of the May 1980 uprising.
A 13th edition under the symbol of innovation
To mark this edition with a special seal, the duo in charge of the artistic direction has worked on challenging projects in different regions to reconsider the history or situation of these regions using transdisciplinary frameworks or multiplexed contexts. To this end, the biennial is launching various programs including an exhibition on the Minds Rising editorial platform, and a series of public forums “GB Talks Rising to the Surface: Practicing Solidarity Futures“.
This edition will highlight new initiatives including: the Pavilion Project, a collaborative project with foreign art institutions: Kunsthaus Pasquart of Switzerland and the Taiwan Contemporary Culture Lab.
The empowerment of art vis-à-vis the West remains an important issue that has given rise to many initiatives. The oldest biennial of contemporary Asian art is committed to presenting a frame of reference free from Euro-American domination, putting the spotlight on plural aesthetic projects, especially with Africa and its diaspora.
A strong presence of African art torchbearers in Gwangju
In the perspective of becoming the crossroads of the arts of the world, the Gwangju Biennale has always known the participation of artists from African countries and the diaspora. Better, Okwui Enwezor, of Nigerian origin had been appointed artistic director of the 7th edition of the biennale.
At this 13th edition that starts in the coming days, several African artists by their diversity: visual artists, musicians and dancers are announced. These include the Sierra Leonean Abu Bakarr Mansaray, the Franco-Beninese Emo de Medeiros, the Moroccan Farid Belkahia, the Egyptian collective Nasa4Nasa, the Ivorian Ouattara Watts, the Senegalese Seyni Camara, and the South African Siyabonga Mthembu, etc.
Theo Eshetu, a pioneer of video art, who has highlighted African culture throughout his artistic career will also be present, as well as the African-American artists Jacolby Satterwhite, Trajal Harrell, Vaginal Davis, the Afro-Brazilian Sonia Gomes and the Haitian Gerard Fortuné.
Abu Bakarr Mansaray: An art that rebuilds Africa
Shaken in his childhood by the civil war that plunged his country into a socio-economic and political situation that was not very bright, Abu Bakarr Mansaray went into exile in Holland where he devoted himself to very large drawings and projects aimed at the recovery of the country and the African continent.
Self-taught, Abu Bakarr Mansaray was born in 1970 in Tongo, Sierra Leone. The now influential artist interrupted his studies in 1987 to settle in the capital city of Freetown. It was here that Abu Bakarr decided to devote himself to art. “Learning to reverse the march of a country sinking into civil war” is his leitmotif.
He will study alone in the textbooks of chemistry, physics, electronics, mathematics and self-proclaimed: “Professor“.
Working tirelessly on the development of automatic, mechanical and electrical machinery, he later succeeded in making machines to produce fire, light, air, water, cold, movement and sound. And that’s not all!
In his work as an artist, the man who found refuge in Holland reinvents a technique widespread in Central Africa to make decorative objects and / or toys based on wire. In search of perfection, Abu Bakarr is inspired by this same technique to create modern tools with impressive functioning.
The invented tools have allowed him to create drawings made of calculations, diagrams and comments with pencil, ballpoint pen and colored pencils conceived as works of art in their own right.
“I like to make strange drawings with a lot of complications and also to design complicated machines with scientific ideas that sometimes exceed the human imagination (example: the machine I designed called “Extinguisher of Hell” and “Nuclear phone discovered in Hell“: he says…
Emo de Medeiros: For the conquest of the honors of the century
Living between France and Benin, Emo de Medeiros is a multidisciplinary artist who advocates through his works the crossbreeding between the Western and African worlds. He creates a meeting between traditional creations and those of new technologies.
The artist who is inspired by the pictorial, musical and literary works of authors such as: Leonardo da Vinci, Fela Kuti, Miles Davis, Walter Benjamin, Henri Michaux, James Baldwin, and Bob Marley, believes that the place reserved for African artists, is an “ambitious attempt“, and that it is high time that Europe honors Africa.
The diffusion of the Internet on the African continent favors, according to the analysis of the artist-philosopher, the emergence of new trajectories, the establishment of new relationships to the detriment of old cultural and commercial logics not very favorable for the continent.
This new trend will make Africa a reference in terms of art and Emo de Medeiros intends to position himself on the international scene. His objective is to: “To make the art of the XXI century and rise to the highest level of perfection in artistic production“.
Inspired by a tradition of the nineteenth century specific to Afro-Brazilians settled in Benin, the Franco-Beninese artist produces a work entitled “Kaleta-Kaleta“. Composed of dances, songs and music, Emo de Medeiros transforms this audiovisual art into a sound and visual installation to offer art lovers and other spectators the possibility to stage themselves with masks of superheroes and mangas from different countries’ traditions.
He has some great surprises in store for the Asian and world public through this biennale. It is perhaps the place for him to “make the art of the 21st century“, of which he dreams.
Seyni Awa Camara: The Legendary African Sculptor
Seyni Awa Camara, the Senegalese-born earth magician, will also take part in the 13th edition of the Gwangju Biennale. She will, as usual, enhance not only the image of women, but also and especially that of the African continent.
Far from the turpitude of the community, the Senegalese artist lives in a small village lost in the heart of the forest, from where she shapes thousands of characters, men, women and animals of all kinds.
Having learned the traditional techniques of pottery from her mother, the Casamance potter soon set herself apart from the handicraft production by her fertile imagination. She is constantly working to perfect her art. Her anthropomorphic works are imbued with a mysticism inherent to the mischievous spirits and animistic practices that characterize village Africa. The artist who was initiated to art by the genius of the forest has a reputation that transcends the borders of the African continent.
Characterized by the sincerity of the emotions she communicates through her works, Seyni Awa Camara is an authentic, spiritual, mystical creator who is linked to the first generation of the Dakar School.
The works of the Bignona potter have made their way. Unclassifiable, she was born around 1945 in Casamance, but her famous sculptures have been shown in many museums of modern art in the West, in the United States and in many biennials, including Venice in 2001.
Ouattara Watts: the painter of the cosmos
In love with culture and fine arts since his childhood, Ouattara Watts was initiated very early in the rituals surrounding the Poro religion of his environment.
Today, a renowned visual artist, he has been able to realize his childhood dream. At the 13th edition of the Gwangju Biennial, the Ivorian artist will defend the colors of the African continent and make his art speak again with sustained colors, forms, signs and hypnotic symbols.
Trained at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Ouattara Watts had a chance encounter in 1988 that determined his new artistic direction.
Under the spell of the works of the Ivorian artist, his colleague Jean-Michel Basquiat sympathized with him. Sharing the same cultural values, philosophical and African spiritualities, the two artists agreed to a trip to New York, where Ouattara Watts now lives and works.
This friendly and artistic relationship will be broken in 1988 by the early death of Jean-Michel Basquiat. It is from this painful separation, that the artist decides to make a name and a place for himself by his talent alone. Ouattara Watts will quickly reorient his artistic research, to adopt a body of work in its own right led by a thread that braids together ancestral, modern and contemporary traditions. The Paul Rebeyrolle space, which will notice the quality of his creations, welcomes them and presents them to the public.
The cultural season “Africa 2020” and the continuation of the great retrospective devoted to Jean-Michel Basquiat by the Fondation Louis Vuitton, reveal more of the skills of the Ivorian artist who fuses opposites, organizes the balance of extremes, harmonizes the chaos of the world: This cosmic unity.
The public of the biennial of Gwangu will discover the multicultural identity of the artist who will once again deliver works full of lyricism and spirit.
Farid Belkahia: The contemporary renaissance
Dead at heart, but alive in his works, the name of Moroccan painter Farid Belkahia, who died on Thursday, September 25, 2014 in Marrakech is on the list of African and diaspora artists expected at the Gwangju Biennale.
The artist, during his lifetime had, through his works the merit of imposing the idea of a painting independent of the colonial heritage and establish contemporary values that will influence generations of artists in Morocco; making his presence posthumously at the 13th edition of the Gwangju Biennale.
Born to a father who was a collector and dealer of Moroccan art objects, his taste for art was passed on to him by his artist friends. Already handling the brush at the age of fifteen, the artist Farid Belkahia then young painter taught as a teacher in Ouarzazate.
Having attended the School of Fine Arts in Paris, the Moroccan artist is interested in the works of Georges-Henri Rouault and Paul Klee, before embarking on further training in Czechoslovakia where he studied with a scholarship the creation of theater sets.
Former director of the School of Fine Arts in Casablanca, Farid Belkahia uses several mediums including copper, lamb skin, cut wood, natural dyes and reappropriates the ornamental motifs and Berber signs.
A greater African representation in the next editions
In the perspective of making African art shine, the presence of a larger number of artists from the continent and the diaspora would be desirable for the next editions. This will give a favorable echo to the influence of the artistic and contemporary African world.