Pangea: New Art from Africa and Latin America

Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London (c) Rafael Gómezbarros, 2014

Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London
(c) Rafael Gómezbarros, 2014

The exhibition takes its name from the prehistoric landmass that once joined Africa and Latin America over 200 million years ago and endeavours once more to unite these two continents. It comes at a pivotal time when the eyes of a traditionally Eurocentric art market are turning ever more towards the southern hemisphere. Last year saw 1:54, the first contemporary African art fair in London, the success of which is evidenced by its forthcoming revival next month. As always, the Saatchi Gallery has its finger on the pulse and in its keen pursuit of art market trends presents us with the works of 15 artists from Africa and Latin America.

The first room of the exhibition houses Rafael Gómezbarros’ giant crawling ants, titled ‘Casa Tomada’. The Colombian artist’s ants have previously been exhibited swarming across several national monuments and this latest installation has been hugely popular with visitors, acting as an instant photo opportunity. Yet, look a little closer and the truth is somewhat more morbid. The ants’ bodies are formed of the casts of human skulls, held together by rags. Gómezbarros summons the ghosts of the victims of years of conflict in Colombia: the ants’ teeming and pullulating an evocation of the displacement of hundreds of Colombians.

Passing into the second room, we are confronted by the frenzied paintings of Aboudia. The artist, who originates from the Ivory Coast, works with a frantic sort of urgency and immediacy that mirrors the subjects of his paintings. The canvases tell the story of the escalation of violence in the city of Abidjan in 2011 and their dynamism has been compared by critics to the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Both artists look to the streets for their inspiration and both mix frantically scrawled words with jarring, menacing figures, functioning like distorted cartoons. His work has been rapidly gaining prominence in the art market, and interest in the artist has even spread to celebrities, including the American baseball player A-Rod who has already invested in some of Aboudia’s work.

Further on in the gallery there is a room hung from floor to ceiling in sacking. The layout of the gallery allows you to see it both from floor level and from a gallery above, giving interestingly different perspectives. From floor level, the effect is particularly impressive. It is the work of Ibrahim Mahama and is inspired by the role of trade in Ghana. The artist’s interest lies in the import and export of thousands of sacks every year and when seen together in such a quantity it is somewhat overwhelming.

Another highlight of the exhibition is the work of Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou. The artist, who comes from Benin, is the founder of the first photography school in Porto-Novo, his home city. His large colour photographs are set in the palatial rooms of a colonial mansion that has belonged to his family for several generations. In this setting Agbodjélou poses semi-nude women dressed in traditional skirts and ceremonial masks. The series has been compared to Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) and there is certainly a likeness in the confrontational stare from the angular masks that echoes the gaze of Picasso’s figures. Indeed, Picasso was famously greatly inspired by his first contact with African masks to create the painting.

However, not all the work displayed is as exceptional and in particular Antonio Malta Campos’ large, abstract paintings left me cold. Yet the exhibition is ultimately a fascinating glimpse of what these artists have to offer. It seems very likely that many of them will be back exhibiting, and being bought privately, in the UK very soon.


September 2014

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