Chiselled features

29th September 1995 at 01:00
Jane Norrie on what's on in the regions. For three weeks last month, 21 artists from every part of Africa - plus two British and one American sculptor - came together at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park for the international sculpture workshop which launched Africa 95.

They surprised even the organisers by their dedication, hard work and commitment. "As they were shown round the studios for the first time, many peeled off, picked up a hammer and set to work right away," said one.

A selection of the sculptures now makes an exciting exhibition at the Sculpture Park at Bretton Hall, near Wakefield, while an open weekend allowed visitors to meet the artists.

Key motifs at the heart of Africa 95 are collaboration and the exchange of ideas. From talking with the sculptors, it seemed that the workshops had exemplified these aims. The young Zambian artist, David Chirwa, for instance, said: "I enjoyed the opportunity of working with tools that I hadn't worked with before, also the chance to see how other people worked."

For Frances Nnaggenda, a university teacher from Uganda, it was "a great experience", in particular, "the opportunity of visiting Britain for the first time; meeting fellow artists from Africa whom I've heard about but not had the chance to meet; seeing the work of great artists like Henry Moore; sharing tools that were new to me."

Recurring comments referred to pleasure in the shared experience and in the freedom to experiment, while the American Willard Boepple summed the workshops up as "a symposium where the language was work".

The resulting sculpture, which will be on view until October 29, is charged with a sense of energy and commitment. These are probably the only unifying factors. Otherwise, as you might expect from a group coming from widely differing cultures, it is marked by diversity. In wood, clay, stone, metal, paint and found objects, each of the artists has found a way of expressing his or her concerns, whether primarily formal or expressive, born of tradition or of mainstream international art.

Andre Diopf, from Senegal, for instance, made use of a truncated tree to produce his own satirical Ecological Tree, with beer cans springing from its trunk whereas Hercules Viljoen from Namibia used a seemingly wispy tracery of beech to support oak "clouds". Egyptian Gamal Abdel Nasser's rakish assemblages in bright vibrant colours conjure reclining women from the slightest of found objects. The Zambian Flinto Chandia's stone sculpture, on the other hand, is monumental.

Some of the most distinctive works, at least to my Western eyes, transform accustomed materials in ways that are rich and strange. The Moroccan, Ikram Kabbaj, for instance, produces clay vessels adorned with small shards of clay. They soar upwards but are slightly askew, giving the feeling that something fragile and precious has been achieved after great effort. Moitshepi Madebal from Botswana showed an openwork wooden structure which was equally arresting. Containing an interior figure and with an exterior figure in relief, the piece symbolises the rituals surrounding a healing tree.

Until December 10, the Tate Liverpool is showing three artists who all share an interest in voodoo. Farid Belkahia from Morocco paints with natural pigments on to stretched sheepskin; Cyprien Tokoudagba, from Benin, deals in emblems of voodoo deities; Touhami Ennadre, a photographer now living in Paris, portrays extremes of human experience.

Also in Liverpool until October 14 at the Bluecoat Gallery, Cross-Currents focuses on new work from Senegal, one of Africa's most vibrant centres for contemporary art. Ranging from painting and sculpture to mixed media work, the show illustrates a wide diversity of approaches. These include Fode Camara's painted memorial to Goree, the former slave fort off the coast of Dakar.

Photography is a highly developed art in Africa. One promising exhibition coming up at The Impressions Gallery in York from October 7 to December 3 features large colour photographs influenced by the Yoruba culture of Nigeria. These are the products of a collaboration between the Nigerian photographer Rotomi Fani-Kayode and the British film maker Alex Hirst. In Birmingham, at the Midlands Arts Centre until October 29 an exhibition called Lost South African Photographers pays tribute to the social documentary work of photographers whose excellence, due to the restrictions of apartheid, went largely unacknowledged. The Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, meanwhile, will stage Siyawela: Love, Loss and Liberation in Art from South Africa, said to be a moving exploration of the changes in South Africa and including objects made by political prisoners and children who have witnessed township violence (October 21 to January 14).

Visitors to the exhibitions may be tempted to categorise the work they see by labelling it under the headings of familiar "issues" or styles rather than paying attention to the particular. The touring show New World Imagery: Contemporary Jamaican Art is intended to steer us away from any such preconceptions. It seeks to demonstrate that Jamaican artists have been moving away from a Eurocentric model and taking their sources from Africa and from Rastafari, Black separatism and island politics. Through neo-expressionist painting to video and photo-montage, eight artists reflect their "new world" identity. The show tours from Bristol (until November 12) to Southampton (November 23 - January 7), London (January 23 - March 3), Birmingham (March 7 - April 5), and Nottingham (April 12 - May 11).

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