The Short Century
Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa 1945-1994
May 18 - July 29, 2001
A project of Museum Villa Stuck in co-operation with Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin.
Curator: Okwui Enwezor
Co-Curators: Rory Bester, Lauri Firstenberg, Chika Okeke, Mark Nash
Presented by the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin
From May 18 to July 29, 2001, the Haus der Kulturen der Welt will be showing the exhibition "The Short Century" in the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. The exhibition has already had enjoyed extraordinary success at ist first venue in Munich, having met with international media acclaim. The exhibition is curated by Okwui Enwezor, artistic director of Documenta 11. In Berlin, "The Short Century" will be shown for the first time in its entirety, being shown as it will be at its next destinations of MoMa/PS1, New York, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. With this exhibition, Okwui Enwezor encompasses the many faces of African Modernism and redefines Africa's place in the annals of 20th century history.
"The Short Century. Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa 1945-1994" examines the brief period of liberation from the yoke of colonialism from 1945 to the end of the Apartheid regime in 1994. In this "short century", the peoples of Africa won their independence from the European powers which had divided the continent among themselves in 1884/85 at the Berlin Conference, with the aim of total colonisation. When the first Ghanaian Prime minister, Kwame Nkrumah, spoke of the 20th century as the "century of necessity", he was describing both the path to emancipation and that of rebuilding African identities.
The interdisciplinary approach of the exhibition links historical documents with modernist and contemporary artistic standpoints, and confronts the creations of colonial and anti-colonial propaganda - film and photography, but also poster art, print media and textiles - from both private collections and government archives. This exhibition proposes that unique examples of artistic currents, from the Egyptian awakening to South African resistance art can now be seen in Germany for the first time. Architecture and town planning are shown here as an expression of a new, collective self-confidence manifest in the young African states, but also is a subtle excursus in to the politics of space.
The exhibits show personal and collective self-representations of an Africa undergoing urbanisation which is in constant dialogue with the major cities of Europe and North America due to its artists and intellectuals living abroad. Official representations of history are reframed by private pieces of memorabilia: family albums, shrines to memory, memoirs, fashions in dress and popular music take their place alongside traditional art and revolutionary pictures.
Visitors to the exhibition become witnesses of the time in a multimedia archive which provides new evidence for a "biography" of the African continent, which retrospectively outlines the interplay of culture, politics and art in building a new social space by Africans and for Africans. "The Short Century", however, not only shows the intellectual side of decolonisation, but also its collective memory. This memory belongs to the people on the street who have created the foundation for independence.
The tour the exhibition offers through the various thematic stages clarifies the extent to which the fine arts and architecture, photography and film, literature, music and theatre have contributed to a modern self-definition of the continent. In doing so, the important role played by those African artists, literati and intellectuals as modernisers of their continent, who were in continuous dialogue with the European avant-garde and the American civil rights movements, then becomes clear.
In this respect, the director Ruy Guerra worked closely with the European artists Jean Rouch and Jean-Luc Godard. The South African artist Ernest Mancoba was a co-founder of the COBRA group. The Ethiopian painter Gebre Kristos Desta lived and worked primarily in Germany. The Indo-Ugandan writer Rajat Neogy published works by Chinua Achebe, John Pepper Clarke and the Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka in his publication "Transition". Léopold S. Senghor and Aimé Césaire, co-founders of the Negritude movement, were publicly supported by Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, André Breton and Picasso. The meeting of Africa and modern European art is a story of interaction. While European artists became familiar with the formal elements in African sculptures and objects stored across Europe in the ethnology museums, African artists were stimulated by examples from European modernism. However, in doing so, they came up against historical and methodical hurdles which forced them to grapple with both issues of modernity and tradition simultaneously. These issues have been and still are now of fundamental importance for the aesthetic standpoint of modernist and contemporary African artists.
The question which runs through the whole exhibition is this one: how can African modernism realise its modernity? This issue is neither based on the ideology of a definition of artistic periods valid for all African regions and styles, nor is it based on mere recognition of and assimilation of an autonomous European modernism. The fine arts, the film oeuvre, photographs, documents, books, posters, textiles, the great variety of archive materials which have been brought together in this exhibition make it possible to experience these dialectics intensively. This provides a way of seeing which accords the African conception of the world the status it deserves, both within African cultural life itself and within the general modernism of the 20th century.
A project of Museum Villa Stuck, Munich, in co-operation with House of World Cultures, Berlin.
Museum Villa Stuck, Munich
15 Febr. - 22 April 2001
18 May - 29 July 2001
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
8 Sept. - 30 Dec. 2001
P.S.1 and Museum of Modern Art, New York
10 Febr. - 5 May 2002