Manthia Diawara

  • the films of Abderrahmane Sissako

    TODAY, ABDERRAHMANE SISSAKO is one of the most celebrated of Africa’s filmmakers, yet he remains something of an outlier. His cinema might best be thought of as free verse rather than narrative cinema, in which every shot is subjected to the teleological necessity of the story, for his images are composed with an uncommon freedom and the way in which they relate to one another and to the film as a whole is typically indeterminate, ambiguous, or suggestively metaphorical. Sissako’s recourse to a poetic language as his signature contribution to African cinema—generally considered a cinema of

  • Dak’Art Biennale of Contemporary African Art

    With new director Babacar Mbaye Diop and four international curators at the helm, the Eleventh Dak’Art Biennale promises to be a departure from previous editions. This year, 119 African, diaspora, and international artists will be presented in a constellation of five exhibitions organized around such themes as “Producing the Common” and “Cultural Diversity.” The biennial isa legacy of Léopold Sédar Senghor, the first president of Senegal, whose 1966 First World Festival of Negro Arts brought artists from

  • ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD: THE ART OF KADER ATTIA

    COMMON GROUNDS

    The hyphen in lieux-communs (common-place) is a crazy root that pushes you beyond the edges. A forward moving root that keeps you in place.

    A JAGGED EXPANSE of grayish-white concrete blocks stretches toward a placid sea. In the pale, caustic sunlight, the blocks cast stark shadows, as do the young men who appear here and there, precariously perched, staring across the water. This clearly man-made yet hostile landscape, the setting of Kader Attia’s photographic series “Rochers Carrés” (Square Rocks), 2008–, appears too bizarre to be real. But in fact the photos—shot from a

  • Seydou Keïta

    SEYDOU KEÏTA WAS SEVENTY-EIGHT years old and long retired when he died last November. His future as an artist lay in his past as the photographer from Bamako, Mali, who managed to portray his subjects with all their dignity, dreams, and fantasies. Thanks to his signature studio technique, his use of props, and his facility with makeup, his work always ensured that his sitters became true Bamakois: bourgeois noblemen and -women, civil servants invested with the authority of the colonial administration. It was only at the end of his career that the world discovered Keita’s images justes and

  • Bob Thompson

    The opening of the Bob Thompson retrospective at the Whitney looked a bit like a Harlem Renaissance black-tie gala, as various luminaries of the black culturati—the Baraka family, Ed Clark, Camille Billops, Ted Joans, Jane Cortez, Mel Edwards, and Stanley Crouch—graced the event with their presence. Thelma Golden, the curator of the show, brought her guests together in a celebration of the intoxicating colors and fluidity of Bob Thompson’s paintings that was further enlivened by the rhythms of a live jazz combo.

    It is said that post-bop jazz and Beatnik poetry are essential to any

  • MAKE IT FUNNY: THE ART OF DAVID HAMMONS

    DAVID HAMMONS’ ART PROVOKES EXTREME REACTIONS. Some consider him a genius, a high priest of postmodernism; others dismiss him as arrogant and overrated, even a charlatan. Hammons himself is notorious for trapping people into hating him. He doesn’t hide his contempt for the art market, often making objects that disappear as quickly as they are completed, like snowballs, or working with items that are unsuitable for the museum environment, like chicken wings and barbecued ribs. He frequently keeps his work secret, rejects most invitations to exhibit, and generally won’t discuss its meaning (his

  • MOVING COMPANY: THE SECOND JOHANNESBURG BIENNALE

    It was with a certain feeling of vindication that I boarded the plane to attend the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale last October. Visiting Nelson Mandela’s homeland for the first time can confirm one’s belief in the victory of democracy over dictatorship, of open societies over closed systems. It means that finally I too, a West African, am free to go to South Africa, and am free to give my opinion on directions in contemporary art there. For this Biennale is tied to the end of apartheid, and it owes its specificity to what deputy president Thabo Mbeki calls the African Renaissance.

    My first surprise

  • TALK OF THE TOWN: SEYDOU KEÏTA

    With exhibitions at the Cartier Foundation in Paris and San Francisco MoMA, gallery shows in LA and New York, and the publication of an unusually successful collection of studio portraits, SEYDOU KEÏTA seemed to go overnight from an obscure photographer whose negatives languished in a Bamako, Mali, darkroom to an art-world phenomenon. In the following pages, Manthia Diawara looks beyond the succès fou to examine the historical context of these images and to ask what makes them so compelling.

    WHEN AN EXHIBITION OF Seydou Keïta’s photographs opened recently in SoHo, I was intrigued by the statement

  • Chéri Samba

    Paris likes to brag about being the capital of African art, ahead of London, Tokyo, and New York. African art flourishes on the Left Bank: there are antique shops on Rue de la Seine, and this summer brought shows of Ouattara at Gallerie Boulakia at the Rue Bonaparte and a combined photography and mask exhibit entitled “Les Dogons” on Rue des Beaux-Arts. The Musée National des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie recently showed 276 traditional pieces from Nigeria—a stunning exhibition including some of the most beautiful Igbo masks I have ever seen along with Benin, Yoruba, and Ogoni statutes and masks.