“We Face Forward” in Manchester

While I was in Manchester yesterday I called into the City Art Gallery. At the moment they are showing works from West African artists as part of We Face Forward, a major season of art and music taking place at a number of venues across the city.

The idea for this exhibition grew from the many West African textiles in Manchester galleries; evidence of the historic links between West Africa and Manchester from the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the hosting of the Pan-African Congress in 1945. These links are also reflected today in the many people of West African descent who are Mancunians.

It’s bringing a little African colour to brighten up the miserable grey skies which are dominating our British “summer” so far. Having said that, it was quite a warm pleasant day with sun breaking through the clouds during our visit.
The City Art Gallery has devoted the main gallery on the top floor of the extension to the exhibition, featuring paintings, sculpture, photography, multi-media pieces and video art by artists from several West African countries, with other works scattered around other parts of the Gallery. The following works particularly grabbed my attention.
When the Heavens Meet the Earth by Nnenna Okore is made from hessian, acrylic and dye. It’s quite a large work, suspended from the ceiling and wall it seems to be floating through the air. I like this type of work where the shadows it casts on the wall and floor are as integral to the piece as the fabric itself.
Nnenna Okore
There were several works by the Senegalese artist Piniang. Three paintings, Flood in the Suburb 1 and 2 2011 and Power cut in the Suburb 2011are inspired by the ongoing problem of power shortages in Dakar, his home city. Almost abstract in style, the paintings incorporate some elements of collage. They were displayed very effectively in a room with a low lighting  level with spotlights highlighting the lighter blocks of colour which seemed almost luminous.


In the World But Don’t Know the World?” is an impressive large scale work by El Anatsui that dominates one of the walls in the gallery.Like fabric, hanging in folds, close inspection shows that it’s made from waste materials such as aluminium wrappings and bottle-caps

El Anatsui

In fact the use of “found” materials was a recurring feature in a number of the works on display. The Shape of Hanging Skin, by Amarachi Okafor, is a curtain made from the discarded scraps of synthetic leather from a Norwegian shoe factory. It was hung across one of the entrances to the gallery.

Amarachi Okafor

and outside the main gallery, hung on either side of the entrance into the original Gallery building from the extension, there were two very simple, but effective heads made from discarded plastic bottles by Romuald Hazoumè. His use of a few everyday materials to produce something easily recognisable reminded me of the bulls head Picasso created from a bicycle saddle and handlebars.

Suspended from the ceiling in the atrium in the extension, Obsessions,  is a new work by Aboubakar Fofana  commissioned for We Face Forward. It consists of a number of transparent linen panels on which mud has been used to paint symbols which are meant to represent writing.
These and the other works on display can be seen on the exhibition website.
We Face Forward is an excellent chance to see Contemporary African Art which is generally poorly represented in the UK. I’ll definitely be visiting the Whitworth to see the other main part of the exhibition before it finishes on 16 September.

5 thoughts on ““We Face Forward” in Manchester

  1. Pingback: Kora player in Manchester | Down by the Dougie

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  3. Pingback: “We Face Forward” at the Whitworth | Down by the Dougie

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