Celebrating 20 Years of African Art in NYC

Axis Gallery is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.  Founded by South Africans Lisa Brittan and Gary van Wyk, PhD., the gallery specializes in art from Africa, and by artists of African descent, whose works often have a social or political bent.  To celebrate the gallery’s milestone, they are mounting two thematic exhibitions, the first of which, Liquid State, is currently on view.

As its title implies, Liquid State, which features the work of six artists, is about change, transformation and slipping away…  Here are a few works that caught my eye:

Rally Welcoming SWAPO Leader, Sam Nujoma, after thirty years exile, Gideon Mendel, 2017, from the Damage series, Windhoek, Namibia, September 24, 1989. Giclée print from water and mold damaged negative on Epson enhanced matte paper

Photographer Gideon Mendel began his career documenting the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.  He created this image from a negative of photos he had taken in the 1980s.  That negative was subsequently stored in a box of transparencies and negatives in a friend’s garage, where they got wet and moldy.  He became fascinated by the effects of water on negatives and prints, seeing them as an invitation “to reflect on the idealism behind revolution and the outcomes that the march of history produces”.  The above print (which takes up one wall) of a welcome rally for SWAPO leader Sam Nujoma, is one of many works Mendel has created using images of past political struggles that have been damaged by water or fire.  

In that vein you’ll find another work from his Dzhangal series, as well as the “Water Chapters” from his Drowning World series, a looped video exploring responses by individuals, families and communities to floods in various locations, including the Philippines, Nigeria, India and the US.  Mendel’s work may make you reflect on the duality of water – at once a life and creative force, but one also capable of violent destruction.

flowernuit, Al Miller, 2017, oil paint on aluminum and resin

Al (Algernon) Miller is a Harlem-based artist and  Afrofuturist whose eclectic influences include jazz, Egyptian mythology, African beading and quilting,  landscape design, and technology.  This work, flowernuit is one of several at the gallery from his  Angle angle series, made with oil paint on aluminum and resin, that have a delicate but powerful feeling.

Katangais money copper, varying patination, variable dimensions

Sammy Baloji has created an installation based around his birthplace of Katanga, a resource-rich region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where mining has been the major industry and export earner for the country since the early 20th century.  On one wall, you’ll find a grainy large scale print of a black and white photo of the Singers of the Copper Cross, a boys choir in Elizabethville.  They are wearing large Katanga crosses – which resemble the St. Andrew’s cross – that were used as currency in pre-colonial times.  In a vitrine on the opposite side you’ll find 80 of these pieces (photo above).  There’s also a video, Tales of the Copper Cross Garden: Episode 1 that was commissioned for Dokumenta 14, featuring historic photos of the Choir and documenting how copper wire is made from ingots; in the background the soundtrack of a choral mass plays throughout.  This installation calls into question the relationship between currency, Christianity, colonialism and commerce.

There’s much more to see, so make your way over to Axis Gallery before this exhibit closes on October 21st.

The second anniversary exhibit will run from October 27th to November 18th.

Axis Gallery is located at 625 West 27th Street. 

Congratulations Lisa and Gary on your gallery’s first 20 years – here’s to the next 20!

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