Cyrus Kabiru, Macho Nne: Another Mask, 2017, digital C-print, 59 × 47 1⁄4". From “Material Insanity.”

Cyrus Kabiru, Macho Nne: Another Mask, 2017, digital C-print, 59 × 47 1⁄4". From “Material Insanity.”

“Material Insanity”

Far from the medina’s tangle of alleys, in the surreal surrounding of a gated golf resort lined with pomegranate bushes and orange trees, the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL) appears like a spaceship: The edges of a large brick cylinder meet two rectangular structures that resemble antennae. The exhibition “Material Insanity,” currently on view in the building (designed by architect Didier Lefort), features thirty-four artists, thirty of whom are from Africa. The curators, Meriem Berrada and Janine Gaëlle Dieudji, broadly conceptualized the show around metaphors of materiality. So, for example, Ibrahim Mahama’s Produce of Sea, 2017, a tapestry of scrap metal, tarpaulin, and jute sacks, tells the story of the transportation of cocoa and other commodities in Ghana. Similar recastings of material histories are invoked in a tapestry of toothbrushes and bottle caps titled Washen Again, 2019, by Moffat Takadiwa, and another of discarded plastic bags used to drink water, as is common across Nigeria, titled Crowd Commotion, 2017, by Olumide Onadipe. Raw materials such as couscous, false fingernails, engine oil, and yarn are employed in a diverse array of works, tracing their linear and imagined geographies. The auras of these objects make the exhibition a pressurized site of trauma and resistance.

Still, “Material Insanity” is paradoxically strongest when unencumbered by the material that it seeks to subvert. The show excels not in portraying a specific social condition, but when it spills off the walls and looks past the physical to grasp for the immaterial, inner workings of the postcolonial psyche. Take Humanoids Transcend the Altered State of Mind, for example, the opening-night performance by the South African trio Dear Ribane, which started in the museum and ended in MACAAL’s interior garden. Self-proclaimed “three-dimensional humanoids,” Dear Ribane’s members were dressed in architectural blue outfits (made from inflatable baby pools) with blue headgear and blue face paint. They orbited around one another, combining spoken word, dance, and music to evoke a spiritual, speculative, broken ocean in need of repair and ready to explode into clouds of cosmic dust.

Outside, at the museum’s entrance, is a site-specific installation, Fatiha Zemmouri’s La pesanteur et la grâce (Gravity and Grace), 2019, made up of rocks of varying sizes, some of which seem to float above the ground. The sense of astonishment and weightlessness is impossible to ignore. Cyrus Kabiru’s photographic triplet comprising Macho Nne: Mount Kenyon Music, Macho Nne: Amboseli Mask, and Macho Nne: Another Mask, all 2017, depicts the artist wearing sculptural spectacles made from electronic waste. His eyes obscured, he looks like an extraterrestrial. Hung close to the entrance, the work invites the viewer to consider vision itself and the layers of perception that filter what we see. Clay Apenouvon’s sculpture Film noir, cadre de survie, les passeurs (Film Noir, Survival Frame, Smugglers), 2019, involves a large golden frame from which reams of black stretch film hang onto the floor, some of them enfolding several scaled-down figures that look like pilgrims carrying loads of rocks tied up and wrapped in sheets of gold that are, in fact, emergency blankets.

One of the most radical works in the show, by the Congolese collective KOKOKO!, is Live Loop, 2018, a twenty-minute video of performers moving with giant puppets through the streets of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to the sound of handmade percussion instruments. We witness extraordinary dancing by differently abled folk who might previously have been regarded as freaks. The occult meets the ordinary in expressions of hysteria and pleasure, moments of collective resilience, references to ancestral ritual, and a desire to disrupt with new narratives. The messy complexity of such works offers other, intangible possibilities, making “Material Insanity” a deeply moving expression of the interpenetrability of matter and spirit.