Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University presents "After the End: Timing Socialism in Contemporary African Art"

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Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University presents "After the End: Timing Socialism in Contemporary African Art"
Filipe Branquinho, Jorge Macate, Padeiro (Jorge Macate, Baker), 2011. Courtesy the artist.

NEW YORK, NY.- Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery is presenting After the End: Timing Socialism in Contemporary African Art, on view from June 15 through October 13, 2019. This exhibition is the first in North America to explore aesthetic responses to the history of socialism in Africa and its aftermath. After the End is curated by Álvaro Luís Lima, a Ph.D. candidate in Columbia’s Department of Art History and Archaeology, where he specializes in modern and contemporary art from Africa. Beginning this fall, he will join the faculty of the School of Art + Art History at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

After first gaining their independence from colonial powers throughout the mid 20th century, young African nations underwent a wave of upheaval brought on by the end of the Cold War, including the toppling of socialist governments. The need to reimagine national narratives gave rise to a generation of artists seeking to make sense of the dramatic shifts they witnessed in their countries. After the End features works by some of these artists: Filipe Branquinho, Filipa César, João Costa, Ângela Ferreira, Kiluanji Kia Henda, Julie Mehretu, Nástio Mosquito, Kebedech Tekleab, Mezgebu Tesema and Yonamine. In their paintings, photographs, sculptures, and installations, they examine the rise and fall of socialism in such countries as Angola, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique.

The layering of time and space in Julie Mehretu’s 2006 painting, Palimpsest (old gods), is especially evocative of After the End’s theme. This monumental work (60 by 84 inches) expands Mehretu’s rendering of contemporary life through a multitude of temporal fragments emerging from historical references. The artist described her work as “story maps of no location” in Sarah E. Lewis’s magazine article Unhomed Geographies: The Painting of Julie Mehretu. When she was a child, Mehretu and her family left Ethiopia and its failing socialist regime and moved to the United States, a displacement that has made location, identity, political crisis and revolutionary aesthetics central to her work.

Ângela Ferreira’s 2008 installation, For Mozambique (Model no. 1 of Screen-Tribute-Kiosk celebrating a post-independence Utopia), nearly two stories in height, looks back at the idealistic atmosphere of the mid-1970s, the early years of Mozambique’s socialist regime. The work documents the intense artistic and political experimentation of the period, a historical moment that sought to stretch itself forward.

“There is no single African socialism, which is why the selection of works in the exhibition do not share a unified narrative about African socialism’s past, present or future, said curator Álvaro Luís Lima. “Instead, various residues of socialism are scattered through the space. They invite ongoing interpretation of a political project that remains unsettled”.

Jennifer Mock, the Wallach Gallery’s interim director, said, “Purposefully open-ended in its presentation and interpretation, After the End challenges us to see how a shared history can be visualized in multiple ways. We are very pleased for the Wallach to have the opportunity to share and make this work available to our public—the Columbia community, Harlem and all of New York.”

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