As part of the London 2012 Festival, Manchester hosts the citywide exhibition of leading contemporary artists form West Africa. We Face Forward is an exhibition spread across three key venues; Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester Art Gallery and the Gallery of Costume, Platt Hall, showcasing major new installations commissioned for galleries and parks in Manchester. The exhibition features painting, photography, textiles video and sound work by 33 artists from 9 countries in West Africa.
Included in the show at Manchester Art Gallery is a stunning piece by one of Africa’s most celebrated artists; El Anatsui, In The World But Don’t Know the World. Alongside many pieces in this exhibition, his work is refreshingly visual whilst also loaded with associative potential. In using found materials to create work of an imposing scale the piece is both luxurious and yet humble in substance. Another highlight of the exhibition is the work by Barthélémy Toguo, also of a grand scale, his piece Redemption, inspired by the Bob Marley song, suggests the coming together of North and South and the unification of humanity. Similar concerns are also reflected in an additional piece situated in the Whitworth Gallery. A large watercolour drawing entitled Purification is both a celebration of suffering and of beauty, Barthélémy Toguo comprehends this piece as a purification following the injustices and suffering of the last century.
The show at the Whitworth encompasses a diverse range of work, some being primarily visual and others of a particularly conceptual content. With the historic links within the textiles industry between Manchester and West Africa, the Whitworth Gallery is an ideal location for such an exhibition; exhibiting African textile pieces form their own collection alongside new installations, reaffirming the historical association. The enchanting installation The World Falls Apart by Pascale Marthine Tayou includes an interior forest that escapes into the neighboring park permeating the gallery, generating wonderment and myth, whilst also alluding to links between the gallery space and the public realm plus the ambiguity between African objects of reverence and trade goods.
The We Face Forward exhibition raises concerns of a global scale particularly in matters of economic and cultural exchange, issues surrounding the environment and sustainability and questioning where traditions are situated within contemporary society.
The exhibition runs until 16 September 2012. For more information, visit wefaceforward.org.
Text by Georgina Wright.