Africa Now at MMCA, Seoul

During the korea trip, I visited the MMCA, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul. I went to this museum on the my very first day in Seoul, but ended up liking this museum the most for its amusing and thought provoking exhibitions- Africa Now, Low Technology and Political Patterns. 

What I found interesting about this public building was that the inside was surprisingly new and modern in contrast to the very traditional and classical facade. I really liked how the walls were arranged so that the visiter can see on which floor each exhibition was located in. 

The Africa Now exhibition is all about showing the "true" africa outside of all the stereotypes that people may have about the continent. The exhibition displays contemporary African art, something that I had never really seen or been exposed to in Beijing. Some of the works were about racism and what it's like to be African today, perhaps in America or any other place outside of Africa. Many of the works were also about urbanization in Africa, the clash between the rich traditions and unique customs that have been preserved for years and years and the rise of technology and importing of the Western culture. 

the Alphabet for Democracy series by Anton Kannemeyer 

the Alphabet for Democracy series by Anton Kannemeyer 

"Say! If you speak English..." by Anton Kannemeyer 

"Say! If you speak English..." by Anton Kannemeyer 

"A black woman" by Anton Kannemeyer 

"A black woman" by Anton Kannemeyer 

Anton Kannemeyer's comics were one of the things that left me with very deep impression. Kannemeyer is a comic artist from South Africa, and he draws comic strips that often ironically depicts the stereotypes of African people and the bias we have towards them. There is a lot of dark humor and subversiveness behind the comical cartoon and creates  a very sarcastic tone. I think the simplification of the images in the cartoon form emphasizes how we tend to oversimplify Africa and create an image of what it should be and dismiss African people as a culture-less, uncivilized people. 

The comics reminded me of the books I read in my English class last semester (we actually focused on African and African American authors like Chinua Achebe and Toni Morrison) and the class discussions we had about white man's burden and the characterization of Africans as primitive people. In particular, the pieces about positive denotations and connotations associated with whiteness and the negative denotations associated with blacknesses reminded me of Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, and how the whiteness becomes the standard of beauty for people in the town. Throughout the novel, Pecola, a young black girl, is obsessed with the idea of becoming white and having white features such as blue eyes because she thinks if she becomes "beautiful," then people will start treating her in a much better way. These comic strips illustrate a  how we idealize whiteness. 

These masks looked like decorative wooden traditional African masks from far away, (the kind that my dad used to collect back in Japan,) but they are made of industrial materials like metal pipes. The metal parts look like parts of old bicycles or automobiles. 

I thought the way the artist arranges the parts to make the masks look like decorative masks in the first sight but still manages to keep the crudeness and the rawness of the material is very skillful. I liked the right mask in the photo pictured above- I love how the pipes are heading to all different directions!

"Little Rich Girls" by Yinka Shonibare, Mbe

"Little Rich Girls" by Yinka Shonibare, Mbe

This installation was also one of my favorites from this exhibition. Its basically many beautiful print dresses hung from the wall. The dresses are hung from blue hangers that resemble those at huge American supermarkets like Walmart or Target. The dresses are beautiful but the way they are presented in negligent and careless way undermines the beauty and the culture represented by those dresses and create a very vivid juxtaposition. 

Also, the shape of the dress resembles that of Victorian dreses- the way the skirt comprises layers and layers of frill. The work looks like the girls' dress section in Walmart or something except that the dresses are made out of traditional African prints. 

I think this work also relates to that whole debate about whether cultural appropriate is "wrong". On one hand, wearing something that appropriates patterns from traditional fashion from a culture seem to help promote or show support for the culture but on the other hand, it could disrespect or undermine the beauty of the original culture. And there is the whole thing about freckle make up and models wearing accessories to make themselves look more "exotic" or whatever. I feel like there isn't a clear distinction between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation anymore.. 

before going to this exhibition, I didn't know what contemporary African art could look like. It's something that I had never come across in Japan or China so I was really happy to be able to see this new kind of contemporary art. I am keeping an eye out for African art exhibitions in China because I would definitely love to learn more about the art there.