“We Face Forward” at the Whitworth

2012-09-16 14.04.23

On Sunday morning we set out for Wakefield to visit the Hepworth Gallery where we intended to see the Richard Long exhibition that’s showing there until mid October. Heading down the M61 we started to see a message on the matrix signs telling us that the M62 was closed at Junction 21. I can never remember where these junctions are but it seemed ominous and it soon became clear that the closure was at Milnrow, which was on our route across to Yorkshire. Realising that this was going to introduce a severe delay we turned around. We weren’t very pleased, but our annoyance was soon put into perspective when we found out the reason for the closure. There had been a serious collision overnight and a young woman had been killed. It appears that she was a passenger in a car hit head on by another vehicle driven by some idiot who was well over the blood alcohol limit driving the wrong way down the Motorway.

Putting off the visit to the Hepworth (we should be able to get over later this week), but having been looking forward to a day out, I decided to head into Manchester and visit the Whitworth Gallery to see the exhibition of West African Art – “We Face Forward”. It was actually the last day of it’s run, so if we had gone over to Wakefield I would have missed it. The exhibition has been showing over a number of venues in Manchester since June, including the City Art Gallery which I’d visited earlier this year.

2012-09-16 14.05.02

Almost all of the Whitworth was given over to the exhibition, so there was plenty to see. It even overflowed into the park and the driveway up to the Gallery.

2012-09-16 14.03.28

As is usually the case with exhibitions where works are on loan, no photography was allowed of the exhibits, but there are some pictures on the exhibition website. As with most Contemporary art exhibitions, the exhibits were included paintings, 3D works, photographs and video.

There were several works by Amadou Sanogo, an artist from Mal, displayed in one of the rooms on the ground floor. They were large unstretched canvases painted with acrylics with some elements of collage. They were very colourful with abstract designs featuring human forms.

Nearby there was what I thought was a very powerful work, Purification (2012) by Barthélémy Toguo, who originates from Cameroon. It was a long narrow painting, 4 or 5 metres wide, featuring bloody human torsos with handwritten statements about human rights along the top and bottom edges. According to the exhibition website it’s

based on an interpretation of the sufferings experienced by various populations through deportations and genocides of the last century.

A series of works by the Nigerian artist, Lucy Azubuike, making up her Wear and Tear Series, (2011), were on display on the first floor. They were collages created from torn posters, pages from magazines and paint. In creating the works she allows them to be weathered by exposing them to the elements. At first glance they appeared to be random, abstract patterns. But standing back and concentrating on them for a few minutes, I started to see forms and images emerging – a flower bed, the surface of a river or lake, the vegetation in a dense forest, a large moon rising and dominating the sky. I though they were very effective and they reminded me of some of the collages by by Jacques Villeglé I’d seen at the Contemporary Art Museum in Nîmes that I’d visited in July.

The work that seemed to attract most attention from visitors was the installation created especially for the exhibition by Pascale Marthine Tayou. The World Falls Apart (Le monde s’effondre) 2012 occupied the room on the side of the building next to Whitworth park which has large ceiling to floor windows overlooking the park.

Pascale Marthine Tayou

Picture source: exhibition website

It was a mixed media installation comprising a forest of wooden poles extending from the floor almost to the ceiling. They were decorated with African masks and figures, and hanging from the ceiling there were bundles of goods inside sacks and large three dimensional diamonds made from metal rods. Some of the bundles had wigs attached to their undersides and looked rather like dead bodies. There were large photographs of paintings/collages hung on the walls.  The forest echoed the trees in the park outside the gallery that could be seen through the large windows. Some of the trees had diamond structures hanging from their branches, taking the installation outside the gallery into the park.

There were works on display from a number of other artists, but these were the ones I particularly enjoyed during my visit.

The Whitworth had also included a display of African textiles from their collection in the fist gallery on the ground floor. They were very beautiful with some intricate designs, patterns, stitching and embroidery.

After I’d had a good look around the Whitworth I headed up to the City Art Gallery to have another look at the works displayed there.

We Face Forward was a good opportunity to see Contemporary African Art which is generally poorly represented in the UK. Unfortunately it’s come to the end of its run. However, I found this video about the exhibition on the Tate website, which gives a flavour of what was on show.

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