HERITAGE

14.05.2021 - 14.07.2021

From 14 May to 14 July 2021, Melbye-Konan Gallery presents the group exhibition HERITAGE, featuring paintings by first-generation Ivorian artists alongside works by contemporary international artists exploring the theme of cultural and colonial heritage in Africa. In particular, the exhibition pays tribute to the artist Michel Kodjo (1935-2021), one of the greatest of the first generation of Ivorian painters, who passed away in March of this year. As early as 1957, three years before Côte d'Ivoire's independence, his works were shown in a solo exhibition at Abidjan City Hall, marking the beginning of a new era in art.

Ivorian contemporary art, which until independence had aligned itself with European (especially French) art, found its own norms in the advent of the 1960s and reflected the socio-political aspirations of a people in search of identity. Historically, it begins with the colonisation and founding of Côte d'Ivoire after the Berlin Conference of 1885, which decided on the division of Africa into European occupation zones. On March 10th 1893, the République de Côte d'Ivoire (R.C.I) was granted the status of a French colony following the decree of the French government. This founding act marks both the beginning of European culture in Côte d'Ivoire and the origin of its contemporary art.

After the declaration of independence in 1960, a national art scene emerged in Côte d'Ivoire, fostered by the art institutions established by the government, such as the École des Beaux-Arts and the National Institute of Arts in Abidjan. The first generation of artists in Abidjan, the so-called "École d'Abidjan,” includes Michel Kodjo, James Houra, Samir Zarour Stenka, Frédéric Bruly-Bouabré and James Kokobi. Within this group, two contrasting styles unfolded in the 1970s: one of classical figurative art and the other of the Vohou-Vohou aesthetic, which is characterised by a contrast to academic teaching. Most internationally renowned Ivorian artists are still trained at the École des Beaux-Arts in Abidjan.

The first part of the exhibition is dedicated to the first generation of artists from Côte d'Ivoire. The works of Michel Kodjo (1935-2021), James Houra (1952-2020) and Samir Zarour (born 1942) deal with themes of the cultural and colonial in terms of both content and style. Michel Kodjo's works engage with concepts of mysticism and African symbolism. Kodjo elegantly blends the traditional with the contemporary, creating an unprecedented body of work. Portraits in bright colours in a chequerboard pattern are typical of the work of the multi-award-winning artist James Houra, reminiscent of the traditionally woven kita or kinté pagne. Samir Zarour (born 1942), the first Ivorian artist to graduate from the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, narrates scenes from everyday life in Africa in his figurative realist paintings.

The second part of the exhibition shows the young generation's interpretation of the theme of heritage and presents works by four artists in dialogue. In his portraits, the Ivorian artist Yéanzi questions the concept of identity and origin as well as the associated form of amnesia caused by colonisation and its significance for identity formation. In her works, the Nigerian artist Vivian Timothy deals with the forgetting of African culture and history, social injustice and stereotypes. In his "Série Bleu", Serges Aboua addresses aspects of the architectural and urban heritage of African cities and their effect on the individual. The works of the German artist Anna Belén prove that a change of perspective is possible. In her works on sailcloth, she deals with the history of the city of Hamburg in relation to the continent, given its historically close connection to Africa through its trading and port activities.

Furthermore, the exhibition aims to encourage conversation within the framework of current postcolonial discourse, and invites different perspectives from Africa, Germany and the diaspora to be heard.