Magazine launch: giving space to voices

"Contemporary And" is dedicated to the diversity of contemporary art from Africa and the Diaspora. On Thursday, they present their new issue.

Flavio Cerqueira, I told you…, 2016. bronze and books Photo: Flavio Cerqueira / Goodman Gallery

Akinbode Akinbiyi is a chronicler of urban life. Like a flâneur, he moves through the streets of mainly African megacities, Lagos, Cairo, Johannesburg, Kinshasa, capturing everyday scenes with his SLR camera: people waiting and passing by, double-decker buses, billboards, intersections, seemingly trivial things that translate the rhythm of modern life into poetic images. Currently, you can see them at documenta14 in Kassel – and in the latest print issue of Contemporary And.

Akinbiyi was born in Oxford in 1946 as the child of Nigerian immigrants, studied in Nigeria, England and Germany, now lives in Berlin and travels back and forth between the continents for his work as a photographer, author and curator. Akinbiyi’s biography is typical of the artists presented on Contemporary And and again not, because she is only one of many.

Berlin-based art historians Julia Grosse and Yvette Mutumba founded Contemporary And in March 2013 with the support of ifa as an online magazine for African contemporary art both on the continent and in the diaspora. On the one hand, to offer these underrepresented positions a platform, on the other hand, to give expression to their diversity.

All too often, the label "African art" is still used to refer to a wide variety of concepts and art movements that have little more to do with each other than a geographical detail in the biography of the artists. Grosse and Mutumba wanted to counteract this, hence the name "Contemporary And".

Platform Africa: panel discussion and launch of Aperture Magazine #227: ifa Gallery, Linienstrasse 139/140, July 20, 7 p.m., info: www.ifa.de

"It was clear to us that we didn’t want the reference to Africa in the title," Mutumba explains. "Each and every one of the artists at Contemporary And is first of all contemporary and many other things: maybe he or she was born in Johannesburg with parents from Zimbabwe, now lives in Berlin, has a gallery in Milan or residency in Hong Kong; or born in Addis Ababa and never got out of Addis. All of these are African Perspectives."

This diversity is also reflected thematically at www.contemporaryand.com. A look at the table of contents: Among other things, an interview with Afro-Portuguese theorist and performance artist Grada Kilomba is listed, reviews of the second Johannesburg Biennial as well as documenta 14, essays on Kanye West’s forays into art, on an Afro-Brazilian theater collective from Sao Paulo that deals with the situation of black trans people, and what role images of racist violence play in MoMA’s collection.

The texts come from correspondents from all over the world, because: "The location Berlin is unimportant for us, the network is crucial," says Grosse. They wanted to give their authors, regardless of whether they came from Johannesburg, Dakar, Cairo, Oslo or London, a voice, the voices a space.

The texts come from correspondents around the world

It all started with the online magazine, but Contemporary And has since grown beyond that. Since 2014, Mutumba and Grosse have published a print edition twice a year. Each has a main theme; the current one appeared for documenta 14 with a focus on education. This year they published their first book, "I am built inside you," with Sternberg Press.

Contemporary And hosts critical-writing workshops in various African cities. In addition – and with this Mutumba and Grosse then emphasize the importance of Berlin as a location – they set up the reading room "Center of unfinished business" in the ifa Gallery at the end of March, as part of the year-long exhibition cycle "Untie to Tie," not as a kind of handbook, but rather as an extension of the exhibitions.

Collected together is a selection of books that deal in various ways with the discourse on colonial legacies in today’s world. On the shelves, for example, are novels by Alexander Pushkin, whose African origins are hardly known, art historical survey works, speeches by Malcom X, books on the Occupy movement, on African photography.

Some of the books come from the collection of the educational association Each One Teach One from the African Quarter in Wedding. There are always new books coming in; 15 books have just been loaned to Kassel for the documenta; in exchange, some from the library of Lucius and Annemarie Burckhardt will soon be loaned to Berlin.

In general, it is quite desirable to work with the books and even to leave comments on Post-its. University seminars have already been held in the Reading Room, and now four more events are to follow, the first this Thursday.

The current issue of the photography magazine Aperture, published in collaboration with Contemporary And, will be presented: a glossy magazine, but very much in the spirit of Mutumba and Grosse’s concept. "Platform Africa" functions like cartography for places that shape African photography, the network of African photographers, in all its facets.

This text appears in taz.plan. More culture for Berlin and Brandenburg every Thursday in the print edition of taz.

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