African Art Arrives At Tate Modern: Meschac Gaba And Ibrahim El-Salahi

Modern African art has often been neglected by many of the major European art galleries. Tate Modern has sought to rectify this by featuring two concurrent exhibitions showing us the variety and innovation to be found in contemporary African Art.

Ibrahim El-Salahi

Much like Choucair, El-Salahi is an artist who studied art in Europe and then on returning home fused this education with his native style to create his own unique brand of art. His Flamenco dancers have a touch of Picasso about them yet feel distinct from the work of any European artist, while traditional portraits feature Islamic calligraphy in their backgrounds.

El-Salahi went from working with the Sudanese government to political imprisonment and his art reflects his constantly changing circumstances with works covering primitivism, portraiture, surrealism and abstract art.

Our favourite works are those that toe the line between abstraction and realism such as the skeletal figures in the massive painting titled ‘reborn sounds of childhood dreams’ and the haunting and spiritual ‘funeral and the crescent’.

This is a subtle yet excellent retrospective showcasing the variety and ability within El-Salahi’s oeuvre.

Ibrahim El-Salahi: A Visionary Modernist is on at Tate Modern until 22 September. Tickets are £10 for adults, concessions available.

Meschac Gaba

From subtlety to an over the top exhibition, Gaba’s Museum of Contemporary African Art is the complete opposite to El-Salahi’s thoughtful retrospective. The artist has created what can be best described as an anti-museum within Tate Modern. Much like any museum, it sells t-shirts and has a sizeable bookshop but the similarities don’t extend much further.

This exhibition is at times an excellent satire on the modern museums to be found across Europe. The commercialisation of modern art institutes features strongly here with various currencies hanging off a tree and a chess board where one side of pieces is made up of dollar bills, the other Euros.

Visitors are encourage to use building blocks to create their own museums and to take on a slide sorting puzzle where they can complete or re-arrange the flags of various African countries, a political commentary on how European powers originally divided up Africa between them.

There’s lots more interaction to be had, including a piano to play upon. It’s noisy, kitsch and chaotic at times – all characteristics we don’t associate with museums.  This makes for a refreshing exhibition and though it didn’t manage to make us re-appraise our view of what a museum should be, it’s an entertaining experience.

Meschac Gaba: Museum of Contemporary Art is on at Tate Modern until 22 September. Admission is free.

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