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Book: Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent
Compiler: Simon Njami
Reviewer: Patience Bambalele
African contemporary art is big on the continent, but it would be a big mistake to think it is a new thing.
This is the main treatise in the book, Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent that has recently been published.
Featuring 85 of the best African visual artists, the book reflects the authenticity of the continent's contemporary art.
An exhibition featuring most of the works in the book is on at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. Regarded as one of the biggest art exhibitions to be staged on African soil, Africa Remix consists of installations, photography, sculptures, paintings, videos, drawings and designs by African artists.
Cameroonian culture and art expert Simon Njami researched and handled the entire project.
The book tackles African contemporary art, exploring themes such as life in the cities and land in rural areas. There is a serious debate on issues of identity and history, religion, spirituality, emotion and sexuality.
Njami, who is based in France, believes it is impossible to comprehend fully that which is African in terms of art.
"It's like placing a bet that cannot be won," he says.
But you can define African contemporary art because of its engagement with life, its need to grasp the past and its instinctive drive. The question that seems to bother Njami is how people think about Africa.
Historical traditions andmovements that have shaped the formation of the arts in Africa reveal a complex reading of African arts. African contemporary art was developed in the early 1990s; initiated by black intellectuals in the cities of northwest Africa.
And the history of these debates date bck to the independence of many African countries when the new states tried to define their own aesthetic.
Though the last decade has witnessed an interesting evolution in the approach to African art, the same theoretical stumbling blocks still stand firm. Some artists have managed to make progress for themselves on the international circuit, but that is not enough.
It is time to tackle serious issues facing Africa - such as the land disputes in Zimbabwe and unresolved apartheid issues in South Africa.
Njami believes that another concept that has been propagated about African art and that needs to be interrogated is the notion of authenticity.
There is an aesthetic form inherent in African art that is untouched by the veneer of civilisation; more potent because it taps into the essential forces of life.