Palais de Tokyo, the incredible space dedicated to contemporaneity and its problems, located in that beautiful building poised between rationalist purism and rhetorical grandeur, after a small make-up, on November 26 2021 reopened its doors with a very articulated exhibition offer with great impact and involvement. Three exhibitions can be visited until February 20: “Ubuntu, un rêve lucide”, “Aïda Bruyère, Never Again”, “Jonathan Jones, San titre (territoire originel)”; while three other initiatives will continue until March 20: “Sarah Maldoror: Cinéma Tricontinental”, “Maxwell Alexandre, New Power”, “Jay Ramier, Keep the fire burning (gadé difé limé)”.
We focus on the “Ubuntu” project, curated by Marie-Ann Yemsi. The word Ubuntu derives from the Bantu languages of sub-Saharan Africa and indicates an ethics or ideology that focuses on loyalty and respect in relationships between people, but also indicates the sense of belonging and bond and sharing. Its etymology is divided between the Zulu word “Ubuntu” and “Unhu” from the Shonas in Zimbabwe or “Utu” in Swahili, a language spoken in South Africa.
The exhibition therefore speaks to us of concepts not very present in Western culture or let’s say of a West devoted to the frenzy of modern times, given that respect and loyalty or agreements signed with a handshake were current practice in our recent past, today overcome by the desire to cheat others and to throw bins even at first degree relatives.
This request for “a humanity in reciprocity” (Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, “I am what I am by virtue of what we all are”, invoked by the word Ubuntu) ultimately urges us to support and help each other, to take awareness not only of rights but also of duties, forgetting selfish claims and privilege, precisely what the West is sick of today and is found even more so in the times of the pandemic generated by Covid-19.
This notion or philosophy of brotherhood, in its philosophical and spiritual dimensions, can be considered as one of the rare characteristics of African societies that have survived six hundred years of slavery, colonialism and imperialism of all kinds that have destabilized the smallest communities and undermined traditional structures for the transmission of knowledge. Rooted in many African languages and cultures, Ubuntu thought remains active in the conception of the place of the individual in its community, but also in the bonds between peoples, structuring a conscience and a vision of the world in the interdependence of the relationship.
This concept thus irrigated the thinking of liberation movements in the African postcolonial experiences from the 1960s, fueling, for example, the aspirations to build an African socialism. This thought arises in the contemporary literary and poetic productions of the continent and its diasporas, from Aimé Césaire to Vumbi-Yoka Mudimbé, Edouard Glissant, Alain Mabanckou, Yanick Lahens or Léonora Miano to name just a few French-language authors. In musical creation, Fela Kuti or Mariam Makeba remain legendary spokespersons for this thought of unity and brotherhood.
But the contemporary reality, truly fragmented and boneless, also informs us of political failures, bloody conflicts and violence in particular against LGBTQI + communities and women, and this must be acknowledged. However, the Ubuntu philosophy is currently being brought back into vogue by intellectuals, activists and producers in all fields of contemporary creation through new dynamics of reassembly of thoughts and imaginations that cross all continents, as in a desire for redemption and re-appropriation of their own roots. In a world that has become uncertain, lost, closed in identity tensions and populated by violence, this philosophical thought is not just an abstract idea to be studied on encyclopedias and the exhibition intends to testify these dynamics of recomposition of the world populated by lucid dreams, collecting the proposals of about twenty artists whose works resonate with the Ubuntu philosophy, intended as a resource, a space to invent, pretend or mediate the real world.
Imagined as a polyphonic space, the exhibition allows artists to weave subtle links between form and their ideas from multiple subjects, points of view and positions. The highlighting of some of the most urgent issues of our time, such as the unequal distribution of wealth and powers, migratory crises and territorialization processes, the colonization of territories and bodies, situations of oppression, the transformation of our relationship with nature participates in a process of abandonment and invokes a spirit of resistance.
The exhibition intends to contrast geographical boundaries and consider a unique space: that of the reflections proposed by the artists through subjective narratives capable of transforming our imagination to contribute to a new intelligibility of the world.
The exhibition itinerary begins with the works of Joël Andrianomearisoa and Jonathas De Andrade and then continues with those of Serge Alain Nitegeka, Frances Goodman, Lungiswa Gqunta, Nolan Oswald Dennis, Michael Armitage, Meleko Mokgosi, Bili Bidjocka, Daniel Otero Torres, Ibrahim Mahama, Kudzanai Chiurai (in collaboration with Khanya Mashabela and with the participation of Kenzhero), Richard Kennedy, Sabelo Mlangeni, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Grada Kilrada and conclude with that of Turiya Magadlela.
Ultimately, a rich and very articulated path.
Jonathas de Andrade, Suar a Camisa [Working up a Sweat], 2014. Collection of 120 shirts negotiated with workers, wooden supports, variable dimensions. Exhibition view, “Museu do Homen do Nordeste” 2014-2015, Art Museum of Rio (Brazil). Photo Eduardo Ortega, courtesy of the artist & Vermelho gallery (São Paulo)
Michael Armitage, #mydressmychoice, 2015. Oil on Lubugo bark cloth, 149.9 x 195.6 cm. © Michael Armitage. Photo © White Cube (George Darrell)
Frances Goodman, Endless Hours, 2020. Faux-ongles en acrylique, mousse, résine, silicone, 85 x 130 x 120 cm. Courtesy de l’artiste & SMAC Gallery (Le Cap, Johannesbourg, Stellenbosch)
Richard Kennedy, Prophetess 3, 2020. Sculpture, acrystal et acrylique, 45 x 33 x 26 cm. Photo Matthias Kolb, courtesy de l’artiste & Peres Projects (Berlin)
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