AKAA, an incredible Parisian stage for African Stories

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Indigo Passage to Healing
“Indigo Passage to Healing”

AKAA, an acronym for Also Known As Africa emerged last year as a new and alternative platform to showcase African Art and Design in Paris. It was a success, drawing in over 15,000 visitors.

This year, 28 Galleries and 150 Artists were selected for the second edition that opened from Nov 10th to Nov 12th around the theme “Healing”. An invitation for the artists to deploy art to explore the continent’s wounds and woes, creatively narrate the traumas and find ways to transcend them.

There were impressive works of Art on show from both pioneering and emerging artists. Some performances and installations were nothing short of spectacular:

Dominique Zinkpe, of Benin, mimicking a sick Africa on a hospital bed, with a plethora of perfusions, bearing the name of international institutions, hanging overhead.

Dominique Zinkpe
Dominique Zinkpe Courtesy of Marie Doumerc

Jean Francois Bocle’s installation, The Tears of Bananaman, highlighted the plight of the farmers, and the weight they bear to meet the demands of a modern world. The ailments of the globalized world were laid out for all to see, inscribed in the skin of the banana.

The Tears of Bananaman
The Tears of Bananaman, Jean-François Boclé, Maëlle Galerie

“Indigo, Passage to Healing” :

Indigo Passage to Healing
Indigo Passage to Healing, Robyn Denny and Mamela Nyamza, Berman Contemporary

In a powerful installation and performance, the artists Robyn Denny and Mamela Nyamza revisited the multilayered history of Indigo.

Through the centuries, the history of the natural pigment became intertwined with that of the empire and its cohorts: slavery and colonization. The installation shed light on another legacy barely ever mentioned: the disappearance of women from the history books. The fabric of oppression and subjugation bearing traces of wars was redeemed through the installation and turned into a panel of remembrance that honors those erased by history.

The work of artists like Alexis Peskine, Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga and Boris Nzebo naturally connected with the theme of the fair.

Boris Nzebo has increasingly used his paintings to reflect on political issues. His selected painting for the fair was Enfants Soldats. Alexis Peskine was presenting his latest portraits made of gold covered nails, a continued exploration of the black experience. Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga’s spectacular Ndumo – The girls’ Dance, evoked the dance tradition in her native Kenya and in her San Antonio community. It was a dramatic invitation for dialogue and for searching for common grounds even amongst cultures that were seemingly so far apart.

Photography as a medium of artistic expression has been growing in Africa and incidentally, the selection in photography was one of the strongest of the fair. Across several galleries were a series of haunting, daring and breathtaking images that captured people’s experiences and history in the making better than words could ever do.

The Sacred Memory of the Divine, Aida Muluneh, 2017
AKAA Douraid Souissi and Nour Eddine El Ghoumari
Left: Alaa, Douraid Souissi, 2017 (Galerie AGorgi)
Right: Egyptian Elder, Nour Eddine El Ghoumari, 2016 (Loft Art Gallery)
Left: Details Ca va Aller, Joana Choumali, 2017 Right: Immortal, David Uzochukwu, 2015
Left: Details Ca va aller, Joana Choumali, 2017
Right: Immortal, David Uzochukwu, 2015

As a new platform, AKAA fair faces a series of challenges. With a growing international interest in African Art, AKAA now operates in an intensely competitive environment with attractive art events scheduled around the same time in the Middle-East and in Africa. The fair is also in a tricky position of being systematically compared to the pioneer fair 1:54 in London.

For any new fair, there is also a fine balance between the burning desire for inclusivity and the need to maintain a coherent artistic selection. At times unfortunately, inclusivity took precedence in this edition.

It is indisputable that the team behind the fair has weathered some of these storms well and has managed in 2 editions to establish AKAA as an incredible Parisian theatre where innovative, gripping and complex African stories can be staged. And we can’t wait to see what stories will be unveiled in 2018.

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