New Museum of Contemporary Art
Sokari Douglas Camp
Nanga Oly Christophe
Paul D. Miller
Odili Donald Odita
Pascale Marthine Tayou
Jose' Antonio Hernandez-Diez, the first major museum exhibition in the United States of works by this acclaimed Venezuelan artist. Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a group exhibition exploring the cultural impact of the famous Nigerian musician and activist who died in 1997.
JOSÃ‰ ANTONIO HERNÃNDEZ-DIEZ
IN HIS FIRST MAJOR MUSEUM EXHIBITION
The New Museum of Contemporary Art is pleased to present JosÃ© Antonio HernÃ¡ndez-Diez, the first major museum exhibition in the United States of works by this acclaimed Venezuelan artist. Organized by the New Museum and curated by Senior Curator Dan Cameron and Adjunct Curator Gerardo Mosquera, the exhibition will be on view from July 11-September 21, 2003. This presentation concludes a national tour that included the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art and SITE Santa Fe.
One of the most important South American artists to have emerged in the last decade, HernÃ¡ndez-Diez creates candid, poetic, and at times disturbing and irreverent multi-media installations inspired by the vernacular culture and traditions of his home country. HernÃ¡ndez-Diez is part of a new generation of Venezuelan artists who emerged in the late 1980s -at nearly the same time that Venezuelans began a public process of searching for a solution to the economic and social crises in their country-to challenge the aesthetic traditions that had dominated Venezuelan art since the 1950s. Using unusual materials culled from urban life-such as skateboards, sneakers, pool tables, fake nails, and pork skin-HernÃ¡ndez-Diez elevates street and domestic culture, while commenting on the harsh economic and political realities of South American life.
The New Museum exhibition will include fourteen works created by HernÃ¡ndez-Diez between 1991 and 2000, chosen to convey several overlapping themes that inform his work: technology and the body; marginality and vernacular culture; myth making; and an intimate, spontaneous, and enigmatic use of communication and industrial technologies. Examples of works dealing with each theme are outlined below.
Technology and the Body
A guiding principal of HernÃ¡ndez-Diez's early work is the discomfort of the human species caught between its animal state and something more exalted. In a 1991 installation titled San Guinefort [Saint Guinefort], the cadaver of a dog is locked inside a septic glass container. The viewer is able to reach his arms inside the glass case through rubber protusions in order to touch the dog's body. San Guinefort evokes South American Catholic faith and superstition-the proof of touch is considered a remedy for religious doubt-while introducing HernÃ¡ndez-Diez's interest in issues of mortality, which he subsequently explores in such works as Vas p'al cielo y vas Ilorando [ You Go To Heaven and You Go Crying ] and La Hermandad [ The Brotherhood ].
Marginality and Vernacular Culture
One of HernÃ¡ndez-Diez's most visceral installations, La Hermandad [The Brotherhood], 1994, comments upon the uselessness of a common urban pastime such as skateboarding in a country as troubled as Venezuela. La Hermandad consists of a room in which the dominant sculptural element is a large metal drying rack. Attached to the rack are dozens of makeshift skateboards created by attaching four wheels to a slab of fried pork. The skateboards are in various stages of decomposition, some dripping fat into troughs beneath. On three small tables are monitors showing the three stages of the skateboards' existence: birth (in a frying pan), life (careening through the street), and death (chewed apart by dogs). To learn that fried pork skin is a favorite snack among the disenfranchised classes in Venezuela only adds to the intimations of waste and uselessness.
S & M (Ella PerdiÃ³ un Dedo) [S & M (She Lost A Nail)] is the title for a series of current sculptural pieces. The works are gigantic women's fingernails, installed in different ways, sometimes together with large pieces of sandpaper. They establish a minimalist inclination in HernÃ¡ndez-Diez's art that nonetheless carries a wide spectrum of meanings. The title alludes to a famous Spanish B-movie actress of the 1960s and relates, both nostalgically and ironically, to stereotypes of mass media icons in South American culture.
Intimate, Spontaneous, And Enigmatic Use of Communication And Industrial Technologies One of the defining factors of HernÃ¡ndez-Diez's work is humor. At times, his humor is biting and sarcastic; other times, it is the playful and idiosyncratic humor of a child. For example, Que te Rinda el Dia [Have a Prodcutive Day] (1995) is an installation of several sets of unpainted pegboard furniture bearing what appear to be bite marks from a gigantic human mouth. To achieve this effect, HernÃ¡ndez-Diez employed a mechanical press adapted to actually bite the furniture. While his previous works were based mostly on video installation and often juxtaposed medical technology with religious subject matter, a mechanistic performative quality appears in this unexpected and playful example of HernÃ¡ndez-Diez's art.
About the Artist
JosÃ© Antonio HernÃ¡ndez-Diez was born in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1964. Currently, he lives and works in Barcelona, Spain. He has had solo exhibitions in New York, Madrid, Sao Paulo, and Caracas, and is increasingly represented in international exhibitions and biennials.
Over the last twelve years, JosÃ© Antonio HernÃ¡ndez-Diez has created a remarkably diverse yet conceptually consistent body of work. Vernacular culture and social issues inspire HernÃ¡ndez-Diez's work but his work also represents a reaction against stereotypical views of South American identity. He works from within his culture, breaking expectations to address popular culture and society in a poetic, indirect manner. Many of the works in the exhibition at the New Museum have never been seen before in the United States.
M E D I A P R E V I E W
Thursday, July 10, 2003
3-5PM with curators Dan Cameron and Gerardo Mosquera, and JosÃ© Antonio HernÃ¡ndez-Diez
July 11-September 21, 2001
The exhibition is accompanied by a fully-illustrated 96-page catalogue, featuring essays by curators Dan Cameron and Gerardo Mosquera, and critics Monica Amor and JesÃºs Fuenmayor.
The catalogue is made possible by ColecciÃ³n Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Caracas, and the Penny McCall Publication Fund at the New Museum of Contemporary Art. Donors to the Penny McCall Publication Fund are James C.A. and Stephania McClennen, Jennifer McSweeney, Arthur and Carol Goldberg, Dorothy O. Mills, and the Mills Family Fund.
Image: a work by JosÃ© Antonio HernÃ¡ndez-Diez
JosÃ© Antonio HernÃ¡ndez-Diez is made possible by generous grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, ColecciÃ³n Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Caracas, and from Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz.
Friday, July 11, 2003, 6:30-8PM
Conversation with the Artist
New Museum Senior Cameron talks with artist JosÃ© Antonio HernÃ¡ndez-Diez.
JosÃ© Antonio HernÃ¡ndez-Diez opened at the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art, Palm Beach, Florida (September 14 - November 17, 2002) and traveled to SITE Santa Fe, Santa Fe, New Mexico (January 25 - April 6, 2003). The New Museum of Contemporary Art is the last venue for this exhibition.
BLACK PRESIDENT: THE ART AND LEGACY OF FELA ANIKULAPO-KUTI
A group exhibition on view at the New Museum of Contemporary Art July 11-September 28, 2003
New York, NY (May 20, 2003) - The New Museum of Contemporary Art announces Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a group exhibition exploring the cultural impact of the famous Nigerian musician and activist who died in 1997. Thirty-four artists will examine and respond to this cultural icon through approximately forty works of painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, mixed media and sound installation, video, film, computer animation, and music. Guest curated by Trevor Schoonmaker, Black President will be on view from July 11-September 28, 2003.
Musician and activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti created Afrobeat, the infectious fusion of American funk and jazz with traditional Yoruba and highlife music. Through politically-charged lyrics, electrifying stage performances, and his counter-culture lifestyle, Fela preached against social injustice and corruption. Troubled by the political and economic corruption of Nigeria and the repressive governments of sub-Saharan Africa, Fela built a commune called the Kalakuta Republic, which he declared immune from Nigerian law, and created his own political party. At the height of his popularity in the mid-1970s, Fela took to calling himself the "Black President." Since his death in 1997 from an AIDS-related illness, Fela's status as a pan-African icon has continued to grow.
Black President is a critical multimedia exploration of the influence and artistic legacy of Fela. Artists included in this exhibition are from countries as diverse as Burundi, Cameroon, Chile, CÃ´te d'Ivoire, England, Germany, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and the United States. Some, like album cover artist, Ghariokwu Lemi, and photographer, Femi Osunla, were part of Fela's artistic retinue in Lagos. Other younger participating artists were not yet born. Their work speaks to the many sides of Fela-musical pioneer, political dissident, utopian visionary, consummate showman, husband to 28 women, and legendary lover.
Artists included in the exhibition are: Radcliffe Bailey, Bili Bidjocka, Sanford Biggers, Sokari Douglas Camp, Nanga Oly Christophe, Brett Cook-Dizney, Victor Ekpuk, Tim Evans & Jason Smith, Kendell Geers, Barkley Hendricks, Satch Hoyt, Alfredo Jaar, Marcia Kure, Moshekwa Langa, Ghariokwu Lemi, Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky, Adia Millet, Wangechi Mutu, AimÃ© Ntakiyica, Odili Donald Odita, Olu Oguibe, Moyo Ogundipe, Moyo Okediji, Senam Okudzeto, Ouattara, Yinka Shonibare, Pascale Marthine Tayou, IkÃ© UdÃ©, Obiora Udechukwu, Roberto Visani, Kara Walker & Klaus BÃ¼rgel, and Fred Wilson.
Several artists are contributing new works specifically for this exhibition. The following are some examples of these new works:
In The Afronomical Ways, Sanford Biggers (b. 1961 Los Angeles; Lives New York) creates a new zodiac system that reads as an afro-tantric sexual guide, complete with twelve sexual positions. Installed in the staircase leading from the mezzanine level to the second floor of the New Museum, The Afronomical Ways introduces Fela as a man of both sexual and spiritual prowess.
In a collaborative work, Golddigger, Klaus BÃ¼rgel (b. Radofzell, Germany; Lives Portland, ME) has transformed drawings by Kara Walker (b. 1969 Stockton, California; Lives New York) of bondage and slavery motifs, such as handcuffs, collars, and traps, into three-dimensional gold and jewel-encrusted objects. Tiny and precious, they strike a strange mixture of traditional West African lost wax casting, Akan gold weights, and today's objects of bling bling urban abundance.
Satch Hoyt (b. 1957 London; Lives New York) invites the viewer to step into a time capsule in his installation, The Shrine (The 27 Brides of the Black President), named after Fela's nightclub in Lagos. The exterior of the capsule is covered in red fabric that evokes the richness of Fela's costumes. Inside the capsule, Fela's music mixes with the ambient noises of African cities and women's voices, and with the smell of marijuana.
Marcia Kure's (b. 1970, Nigeria; Lives Atlanta, GA) History of Africa by Fela features fifty-nine panels, one for each year of Fela's life, including his final abbreviated year. Each panel is delicately painted with pigment from the kola nut, a substance used in Africa as both a dye and a friendship offering. Featuring distorted humanoid / animal figures, Kure's paintings suggest that Fela's history, as much as the history of Africa itself, is a confluence of the mythological and the real.
Adia Millet (b. 1975 Los Angeles; Lives New York) relates Fela's urban Afrobeat music to the urban hip-hop culture of New York through the visual medium of graffiti. In Swegbe and Pako, Millet translates the typically male-dominated graffiti genre into the stereotypically feminized domestic art of cross-stitching.
Wangechi Mutu (b. 1972 Nairobi, Kenya; Lives New York) provides a feminist critique of Fela's problematic relationships with women while at the same time acknowledging a respect and admiration for his courageous politics.
Mutu combines the critical and the humorous in her painting, Yo Mama, which portrays a woman stabbing a serpent with her spiked heels.
Roberto Visani (b. 1970, Faenza, Italy; Lives New York) sculpts guns out of discarded materials-crutches, scrap metal, crack vials, and brass instruments-collected from New York's predominantly black neighborhoods of Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant, and of the cities and towns in Ghana where Fela performed. For Visani, the gun carries associations as a tool of colonial domination, a weapon of contemporary urban destruction, and a unit of exchange for African slaves.
Fred Wilson (b. 1954 New York; Lives New York) strives to expose underlying cultural assumptions about race and ethnicity in his work. Because Why O? is a new piece that combines traditional Nigerian pottery with a sound installation of Fela's music.
In addition to interpretive works, Black President will provide a cultural and historical context for Fela's life and legacy through the display of original album cover art, listening stations, documentary film and video, photography, and other Fela-related artifacts. A special music room will provide a thorough examination of Fela's Afrobeat sound. The program will bring to light Afrobeat's earliest influences, its context within the global community of the '70s and '80s, focusing on the African Diaspora and other affected funk, rock and jazz musicians, as well as its legacy in modern music. In addition to Fela, featured artists will include E.T. Mensah, John Coltrane, Hugh Masekela, Roy Ayers, Tony Allen, King Sunny Ade, Tom Tom Club, Femi Kuti, Masters at Work, Common and others.
About Fela Kuti
Born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti in Nigeria in 1938, Fela studied classical music at the Trinity College of Music in London. There, in the early 1960s, he founded his first band, Koola Lobitos. While on a tour of the United States in 1969, Fela was introduced to the Black Power movement and to the teachings of such influential thinkers as Malcolm X and Angela Davis. Inspired by this trip, Fela created Afrobeat, combining a hard-edge and unyielding political content with a masterful orchestration of African percussive systems and his signature saxophone sound. When he returned to his homeland he opened a nightclub, the Shrine, and changed the name of his band to Africa 70 (and later to Egypt 80).
Fela lived and produced his music under persistent state persecution. His criticism of state corruption and repression led to several raids on his commune-the Kalakuta Republic-and to numerous detentions and jail terms. In 1977, soldiers set fire to Kalakuta and viciously attacked the occupants. Kuti suffered a fractured skull, arm, and leg, while his 82-year-old mother was thrown out of a window. She died a little over a year later.
Following this incident, Fela went into exile in Ghana, but was deported back to Lagos the following year. On arrival, to mark the anniversary of the previous year's pillage of Kalakuta and to reaffirm his embrace of Yoruba culture, Fela married 27 women simultaneously in a traditional ceremony.
In 1975, Fela replaced the Ransome in his name with Anikulapo, meaning "he who carries death in his pouch" (or "he who defies death"). In August 1997, Fela died of heart failure due to AIDS-related complications at the age of 58. During his lifetime, he recorded over 70 albums.
M E D I A P R E V I E W
Thursday, July 10, 2003, 3-5PM, with guest curator Trevor Schoonmaker and artists Viktor Ekpuk, Barkley L. Hendricks, Satch Hoyt, Ghariokwu Lemi, AimÃ© Ntakiyica, Olu Oguibe, Senam Okudzeto, and Roberto Visani
Black President is accompanied by a fully-illustrated 286-page exhibition catalogue with scholarship about the life and legacy of Fela. Contributions to the catalogue are by Biyi Bandele (Nigerian/British playwright); Jeff Chang (writer and music critic); Yomi Durotoye (Professor of Political Science and African Studies, Wake Forrest University); Vivien Goldman (writer, music and cultural critic); Olu Oguibe (artist, art historian, and independent curator); Moyo Okediji (artist and Professor of African and African-American Studies, University of Colorado); Trevor Schoonmaker (guest curator); Sharan Strange (poet); and Michael Veal (Fela's biographer and Assistant Professor, Music Department and African-American Studies, Yale University).
The catalogue has received support from the Norton Family Foundation. The catalogue is also made possible by the Penny McCall Publication Fund at the New Museum. Donors to the Penny McCall Publication Fund are James C. A. and Stephania McClennen, Jennifer McSweeney, Arthur and Carol Goldberg, Dorothy O. Mills, and the Mills Family Fund.
Black President is made possible in part by the Toby Devan Lewis Fund for Exhibitions of Emerging Artists, and members of the New Group.
Support for the exhibition is also provided by Altoids, The Curiously Strong Mints.
Thursday, July 17, 2003 6:30-8PM Conversation with the Artists
Conversation between guest curator Trevor Schoonmaker and artists Olu Oguibe and Senam Okudzeto (Second Floor Gallery)
Thursday September 4, 2003 6:30-8PM Critical Voices Series
Personal perspectives on Fela by panelists Vivien Goldman (music writer), Barkley Hendricks (artist), Wunmi Olaiya (singer/dancer), and Michael Veal (Fela biographer).
About the Fela Project
The Fela Project, founded in 1999 by Trevor Schoonmaker, is a multimedia project exploring Fela's life and legacy. Central to the project is Black President. Other activities of the Fela Project include a web site, concerts, documentary film, performances, and publications. A book of essays about Fela entitled Fela: From West Africa to West Broadway, will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in June 2003. For more information, visit http://www.felaproject.net.
About the New Museum of Contemporary Art
The New Museum of Contemporary Art, founded in 1977 and located in the heart of Soho, is the premier destination for contemporary art in New York City. With an annual schedule of dynamic exhibitions, the Museum presents the most innovative and experimental work from around the world. Debate and discussion about contemporary culture are encouraged through a broad range of educational programs, publications, performances, and new media initiatives. The New Museum recently announced plans to build a new, 60,000 square foot facility at 235 Bowery.
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