We Face Forward Festival

On yet another wet and rainy summer afternoon I headed down to Manchester Art Gallery to check out primarily the new display of photographic works but got way more than I bargained for.
I started on the ground floor where I was greeted by a sculpture entitled “A Sleek Dry Yell” by Haroon Mirza where sound and visuals form part of the sculpture, which is made from recycled/upcycled materials into new instruments: a bucket of water, a digital clock flashing 12:06, a small chest with lights inside, a keyboard and old speakers covered in two pence coins along with a screen projection, it’s described as lo-fi, redundant analogue technology, it makes for an intriguing sound scape that fits well with the disjointed visuals.  In conjunction with this the gallery was hosting an event with Richard Strange and Haroon Mirza performing live and DJing as part of their new Thursday Lates  – the new late night openings coupled with them now opening Mondays as well, brings the gallery into the twenty-tens along with most other major city galleries (and about time).

Next we headed to the top floor to check out the We Face Forward Exhibition, part of the We Face Forward Festival of West African art & music taking place across various venues throughout the city – We Face Forward is also part of the London 2012 Cultural Festival of over 12,000 events across the UK to celebrate the Olympic Games.

The Exhibition challenges you with the bold statement to ‘forget everything you think you know about African art’ which annoyed me slightly with their  ‘don’t succumb to stereotyping of African art whilst we simultaneously try to fool you into the stereotyping African art by our clichéd promotional material’, that coupled with the first pieces of art you see when you walk in the gallery: bright colours, textiles and recycled materials was exactly what I expected.

However the pieces that stood out for me most was exactly the kind of art I didn’t expect, all three artists that really grabbed by attention were photographers. First up was Hélène Amouzou, who takes black & white photographs in an empty room, with her belongings,often with a suitcase. The images; dark, misty, soft self portraits appear to show the movement of someone or something within the room, and look at times ghostly and ethereal  – the series of Auto portraits in We Face Forward were taken during the time Amouzou was seeking asylum in Belgium.

© Hélène Amouzou

Next up was Abraham Oghobase, with the series Untitled also black & white photography, along with performance, in these photos he looks like he is caught mid air jump or energetic pose in front of  buildings graffitied with classified adverts. He describes these as ‘my engagement with one such wall of classifieds serves to question the effectiveness of such guerrilla marketing”

© Abraham Obhobase

The next two artists who grabbed my attention were both working in what I would call the ‘social documentary’ genre and both in colour.

Nyaba Léon Ouedraogo documents the young Ghanians who work 7 days a week salvaging copper and other sale-able materials from a  10 square  km of electronic graveyard  aka landfill exported from Europe & North America in his series entitled ‘The Hell of Copper’ which has been shortlisted for the Prix Pictet 2012

The Hell of Copper
© Nyaba Leon Ouedraogo

finally the last artist that struck me was Nyani Quarmyne based in Accra, whos photographs for Climate Change: “We Were Once Three Miles From the Sea” contain a series of portraits of people living on a strip of land in Ghana where the sea is erroding the land. Quarmyne’s photos document the people as they ‘try to combat the encroachment of the sea’

© Nyani Quarmyne

“The fishing village of Totope, near Ada, Ghana, pictured on 9 March 2010, is disappearing as the encroaching sea and worsening coastal erosion bury villagers’ homes in sand. Trapped between the sea and a lagoon, the village has nowhere to go.”

So that was my round up of the We Face Forward Exhibition, there was of course lots more to it, that’s just what stood out for me, after this I headed downstairs for the exhibits I’d originally come for – the Focal Points gallery of Art & Photography.
The focal points gallery hosts some very well known photographs such as Sarah Lucas’ self portrait with Fried Eggs which was a part of the Sensation exhibition of the 90’s.

Self Portrait with Fried Eggs 1996
© Sarah Lucas – Self Portrait with Fried Eggs 1996

Jananne Al-Ani – One of a Pair ‘s two portraits of the same group of women, one in western clothing and one in middle eastern clothing part of her works looking at the roles of women and identity.

© Jananne Al-Ani

OK so I’m not going to spoil the rest of the exhibition by giving a blow by blow account of every art work in there, as that would spoil the surprise, but there’s plenty of familiar artists such as  Richard Billingham, John Coplans and Thomas Demand to keep you entertained along with less well known works.

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