DUBAI: A gigantic installation composed of a wood-and-sheet metal framework onto which have been placed dozens of metal barrels and variously sized plastic bottles is stationed on the ground floor atrium of the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al-Maaden (MACAAL) in Marrakech. Titled Lluvia (Rain) (2019) by Colombian artist Daniel Otero Torres, the work acts like a waterfall with water travelling across the structure until it fills up the basin from which it emerges. It stems from the artist’s encounter with the Emberá community, on the banks of the Atrato River, where he was studying their system for recycling rainwater. Torres’ work is a meditative reflection on one of the world’s principal concerns: The scarcity of basic needs.
This strange fountain is the first work you encounter as you enter “Have You Seen A Horizon Lately?” the museum’s latest exhibition curated by Marie-Ann Yemsi, exploring a collection of stories by a global group of artists hailing from Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Latin America investigating subject matter related to post-colonialism, feminist discourse, the environment and gender. The exhibition’s title bears the same name as a song by activist-artist Yoko Ono and illustrates participating artists’ reactions to the increasingly precarious socioeconomic conditions of today’s world. Featured artists include Brazilian Maxwell Alexandre, Emirati Farah Al-Qasimi, Columbian Felipe Arturo, Moroccan Amina Benbouchta, French Gaëlle Choisne, Nigerian Rahima Gambo, Japanese Akira IKezoe, Angolan Kiluanji Kia Henda and French-Canadian Kapwani Kiwanga.
At the helm of MACAAL are Moroccan art collectors and father-and-son duo Alami Lazraq and his son Othman Lazraq, who serves as the museum’s president. It celebrated its soft opening in 2016 and officially opened to global audiences in February 2018 alongside the inaugural Marrakech edition of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair of which it continues to be associated. “For Marrakech’s growth within the international art scene, these interactions must continue to be realized,” said Othman.
“We have done eight exhibitions at MACAAL and all of them were international shows, but this one in particular was important as it allows the museum to reinforce its position as a global museum where the dialogue engaged goes beyond the African continent and its diaspora,” he added. “In the exhibition are works by brilliant artists from Africa, such as homegrown Amina Benbouchta and Rahima Gambo, yet presented alongside equally talented peers from further afield. We want the artworks to transcend national borders.”
All works, spanning the mediums of photography, painting, and large-scale multimedia installation, respond to predictions of the world’s imminent collapse with the belief that new realities can be nurtured through collective transformation.
Many of the artworks on display use their surrounding environment and society as a starting point. For example, in the vibrant work of Brazilian painter Maxwell Alexandre’s installation of drawings, Afro-Brazilian figures dressed in urban fashion, rap, dance, and convene in the streets of Rocinha, Latin America’s largest favela, located in the artist’s hometown of Rio de Janeiro. His works, displayed on the walls, tables and aligning the staircase as one walks to the second floor, are found on a vibrant yellow mustard paper. The figures seem to pulsate before the viewer with the rhythm and power of daily life found on the streets of Brazil. Through his figures Alexandre refers to oppression and discrimination through scenes of confrontation by appropriating popular figures from black culture, such as Beyoncé and Jay-Z or superheroes like Black Ranger and Misty Knight.
Upstairs is a gigantic in-situ installation covering one of the gallery floors made of white and brown sugar by Colombian artist Felipe Arturo. The sugar can be smelled from the stairways and grows stronger as one approaches the work. Displayed for the first time in 2013 in Cali, Colombia, the work, entitled Trópico Entrópico, is at once fragile and powerful in its message. Arturo took inspiration from the pattern of a black and white mosaic created during the 19th century to evoke what is called “The Meeting of Waters,” the confluence between the dark Rio Negro and the pale sandy-colored Amazon River, which flow side by side for six kilometers without mixing. The meeting of the two rivers has become in a metaphor for cultural assimilation brought forth by colonialism. The work is thus an effort to conjure up the idea of “the colonization of the American continent as a slow process of cultural entropy.”
The viewer is then led into another adjacent gallery space via the sound of woman’s voice whispering soft indecipherable phrases — once again the interactive qualities of the works in the show lure one from one space to the next. Amina Benbouchta’s installation Éternel Retour du
désir amoureux (Eternal Return of Desire) (2019) oscillates between the world of dreams and the unconscious, the real and the imaginary. The work comprises a wooden bed made in an Art Deco style above which hang playful neon forms of a chair, heart, cloud and unforgettable high-heeled shoes, similar the appearance of a child’s mobile. The sound piece that accompanies the work is the voice of a woman speaking of feminine desire and the fantasies and taboos of Moroccan society. There’s something endearing and slightly fearful about the piece — it prompts the viewer to stay with it as if waiting for a human being to appear. No one arrives. We are left with the voices, the whispers and the empty bed dispelling thoughts related to the unspoken feelings of frustration, excitement and longing.
Downstairs is Kapwani Kiwanga’s moving work Flowers for Africa (2013-ongoing) that reveals bouquets of flowers on variously sized pedestals. The long-term project explores colonial histories and draws on the iconographic archives of independence ceremonies in African nations to reactivate floral arrangements that at one time served as décor for important events. Through the work Kiwanga intends to pay tribute to the struggles for independence that gripped the African continent over the course of the 20th century.
The exhibition ends on a powerful note with the work from whence it takes its title. HAVE YOU SEEN A HORIZON LATELY? appears on a giant billboard outside of MACAAL. Stationed in the grass, the work takes its name from the title of a song from Yoko Ono’s 1973 album “Approximately Infinite Universe.” It recalls the artist’s peace campaigns, like War is Over (If You Want It), that were launched in 1969 in twelve cities around the world with John Lennon.
Ono’s conceptual work resonates as much today as it did so many decades ago. It is inspired by the deep desire to obtain a higher state of consciousness through art. As Ono has stated: “What art can offer…is an absence of complexity, a vacuum through which you are led to a state of complete relaxation of mind.”
Have You Seen A Horizon Lately? runs until July 19, 2020, at MACAAL. You can find more information at macaal.org.