Ayọ̀ Akínwándé and Athi-Patra Ruga
Curated by Natalia Palombo and Isabel Moura Mendes
12 April - 30 August 2019
Factoria Habana, Cuba
13th Havana Biennial 2019.
Inside Out is the first presentation of Nigeria-based artist Ayọ̀ Akínwándé and South African artist Athi-Patra Ruga in Latin America. Encompassing sculpture, photography, video and sound, the work of two artists is brought into the same space and in dialogue with one another for the first time.
Akínwándé created new work on site using research from an existing body of work, a long-term engagement with the crisis in Southern Kaduna, between nomadic cattle herders and farmers in host communities, which escalated across a number of states in the middle-belt region of Nigeria. The research methodology mirrors that of the wider curatorial framework and departs from the saying “Achio tu’wu wa liyen ufu dan tu’wu Ntiyong’ – which loosely translates as “a problem can only be known by the person affected” by the Takad people, one of the 50 cultural groups in the southern part of Kaduna state, Northern Nigeria.
Ruga exhibits an existing video work titled ‘Over The Rainbow' from the Queens in Exile series. This series centralises poignant themes of sexuality, dystopia and queerness, often framed within post-apartheid South Africa. The work embodies a very specific experience to explore colonial history, post-colonial present, and his personal experiences as a queer Xhosa man.
The exhibition strikes through particular external representations of a continent. The work opens up conversations about the politicisation of crisis in mainstream media by re-imagining history and the present in light of celebration and resilience. In centralising the nature of human-beings in crisis, the exhibition poses questions around authenticity and appropriation.
The exhibition is supported by Factoria Habana, Oficina del historiador de la Ciudad OHC, 500 Aniversario de La Habana, XIII Bienal de La Habana, Ministerio de Cultura República de Cuba, Consejo Nacional de las Artes Plásticas, Fundación Caguayo, Many Studios, Glasgow City Council International Office and Diversity Arts Forum.
Havana Biennial: April 12th – May 12th 2019
Exhibition open: April 12th at 11:30 am, closing August 30th 2019
O ́Reilly 308 e/ Habana y Aguiar, La Habana Vieja. Cuba
+(053) 7 864 9518
Inside Out encompasses two exhibitions: a presentation of existing work by Athi-Patra Ruga - Over the Rainbow from Queens in Exile Series (2017 Single Channel HD Video 9 min 20 secs Edition of 10 + 2 AP, Audio, Colour); and Southern Kaduna, a new body of work by Ayọ̀ Akínwándé.
I’m not a journalist, I’m not in search of the ‘truth’ – no one knows what that word means these days (the information age) and neither has it been the foundation of which this current world was built. While it is said that “history is written by the winners”, I will say that “truth resides with the losers”.
On 5th March 2016, about 500 people were said to have been killed when “killer herdsmen” attacked 10 communities in Agatu Local government in Benue State, Nigeria. While the official numbers were less, there were little to no coverage of the attacks in mainstream media and images and video footage shared on social media became the resource material in engaging the crisis. While I wasn’t able to gain access to Benue, I eventually got access to Southern Kaduna, where the crisis also affects farming communities. The crisis is often referred to as the “Farmers vs. Herdsmen” clashes and it has claimed the lives of thousands of Nigerians since 2014.
Through this installation I’m trying to create a visual language for the ‘truth’ - to tell the story of the crisis and the daily reality of the people most affected, the perpetrators unknown, the victims unheard.
In this body of work, the mass grave is a space more alive than the cemetery. It acknowledges people whose breath was intercepted, people who are real witnesses, but can only testify in the afterlife. The mass graves in Southern Kaduna are becoming part of the landscape; they are on farmlands, in houses, in religious spaces.
On my second trip to the region, I was taken to a number of small graves. They are scattered across communities that have been attacked by “unknown gunmen” or “killer herders”, “armed bandits” or “terrorists” - depending on who is saying it. I was told to take photographs but I knew that I couldn’t. These graves don’t look like graves. The photographs will be seen as propaganda. There is an established aesthetics of what a grave look like, and the world we live in, speaks in pictures. I observed these ‘graves’, mounds of earth with leaves placed on top. The contrast of the green leaves: a symbol of life, against the brownish ground: a symbol of death - is profound. Of course, in time, those people buried in the graves, on farmlands, will give life to those who will be born in the future.
I recall speaking with one of the chiefs in the village. I said to him “these people deserve befitting burials”. The chief explained, “we must bury them in the place they were killed. We believe that if we bury them in the traditional way, the circumstances will repeat itself”. You see, ‘belief’ is at the core of human existence, and it would be colonial to challenge that.
I wanted to “see” for myself. But ‘seeing’ is multi-layered. I have been preoccupied with ways of seeing this story - how do I present it, in what context do I frame my experience.
Nigeria is not at war. But thousands of its citizens have been killed in states like Borno, Yobe, Benue, Kaduna, Zamfara, Nasarawa, Plateau. These people are humans, their voices buried in graves - some marked, others unmarked, across the country. But what is war? Who defines it? Who labels it? War, crisis, conflict, dispute… Who even establishes the perpetrators? And who cares?
God bless the dead.
Ayọ̀ Akínwándé is a contemporary artist born and based in Lagos. Akínwándé’s practice is multi-disciplinary, experimenting with lens based media, installation, sculpture, performance and sound to explore concepts of identity, duality and the multi-faceted layers of the human reality.
His artistic process involves constant monologues and dialogues on socio-political realities in his environment while the subsequent presentations incorporate architectural processes in a spatial detailing and sectioning of these ideas and thoughts to evoke both intimacy and the monumentality.
Akínwándé co-curated the 2017 Lagos Biennial and was also a participating artist at the exhibition held at the Nigerian Railway Museum. He was selected for the 2nd Changjiang International Photography and Video Biennial and was part of the “Chinafrika-under construction” exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Arts, Leipzig.
He is a contributor to the book “ASIKO: On the Future of Artistic and Curatorial Pedagogies in Africa” by the Centre for Contemporary Arts Lagos. His works and writings have been featured in Art Africa, Dienacht Magazine, PoetsArtists, Contemporary&, The Sole Adventurer, SomethingWeAfricansGot and other journals and publications around the world.
Akínwándé is a 2018 ArtX Prize finalist and a Top10 finalist at the 2018 ABSA L’Atelier Art competition with his work forming part of the exhibition at the ABSA Gallery. In 2019, Akínwándé will undertake three prestigious residencies: Place Publique (Darling Foundation) in Montreal, Canada; Hangar in Lisbon, Portugal; Factoria Habana for the 2019 Havana Biennial in Cuba.
Athi-Patra Ruga is one of the few artists working in South Africa today whose work has adopted the trope of myth as a contemporary response to the post-apartheid era. Ruga creates alternative identities and uses these avatars as a way to parody and critique the existing political and social status quo. Ruga’s artistic approach of creating myths and alternate realities is in some way an attempt to view the traumas of the last 200 years of colonial history from a place of detachment – at a farsighted distance where wounds can be contemplated outside of personalized grief and subjective defensiveness.
The philosophical allure and allegorical value of utopia has been central to Ruga’s practice. His construction of a mythical metaverse populated by characters which he has created and depicted in his work have allowed Ruga to create an interesting space of self reflexivity in which political, cultural and social systems can be critiqued and parodied.
Ruga has used his utopia as a lens to process the fraught history of a colonial past, to critique the present and propose a possible humanist vision for the future.
Recent exhibitions and performances include: Art Afrique, Louis Vuitton Foundation, Paris; Over the Rainbow, Performa 17, New York; Women’s Work, IZIKO South African National Gallery, Cape Town; An Age of Our Own Making, Holbaek, Denmark; Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community, Boston Centre for the Arts, Boston; AFRICA: Architecture, Culture and Identity at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; Imaginary Fact at the South African Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale; African Odysseys at The Brass Artscape in Brussels; Public Intimacy at the SFMOMA, San Francisco; The Film Will Always Be You: South African Artists on Screen at the Tate Modern in London; and Making Africa at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.
His works form part of Private, Public and Museum Collections here and abroad, namely: The Zeitz MOCCA ; Museion – Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Bolzano Italy; CAAC – Pigozzi Collection ; The Wedge Collection, IZIKO South African National Gallery.
Isabel Moura Mendes is a Portuguese Cape-Verdean arts and cultural manager, with a strong practice in international cultural relations, artistic exchange and African film curation. She is currently acting as Arts Partnership Manager with the British Council Arts team in Edinburgh, as well as one of the lead programmers for the Film Africa Film Festival in London.
With a background in journalism and media, Isabel has collaborated with various cross-arts, film training and international arts exchange programmes across the US, Europe and the African continent. She holds an MA in Arts & Cultural Management from Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she is based.
For the last 8 years, Isabel has developed practice in African & Lusophone cinema & arts curation, namely programming for festivals such as Africa in Motion (Edinburgh), Film Africa (London), and Africa Mostra-se (Lisbon). She has attended important African film platforms such as FESPACO (Ouagadougou), ZIFF (Zanzibar), Luxor African Film Festival (Egypt), and Afrikamera (Berlin).
Natalia Palombo is an arts producer with focus on contemporary visual art and film. Her research is centred on critical and convivial conversation in the arts, addressing issues of access to creative and cultural activity, expectations within arts practice, and creative outcomes in areas of regeneration. She works collaboratively in her practice, building partnerships and links to traverse critical subjects and activity within the sphere of contemporary art, its market, institutions and independent art spaces.
In 2011, Natalia co-founded The Telfer Gallery, and sat on the curatorial team until 2013. From 2013 – 2016, she worked in a freelance capacity as an arts producer collaborating with organisations internationally, including; British Council, World Design Capital, Pidgin Perfect, Mother Tongue, Hospitalfield, British Council Nigeria, Connect ZA, The Ar(t)chive, Bushveld Labs, Department of Arts and Culture South Africa, National Film and Video Federation (South Africa), Ministry of Arts and Multiculturalism (Trinidad and Tobago), Visiting Arts. During this period she was also part of the managerial and directorial team at Africa in Motion Film Festival.
In January 2016, she took up the position of Managing Director at Many Studios, where she is also curating a multi-disciplinary arts programme in the east end of Glasgow.