The Evora Africa festival hosted at the historic Palace of the Dukes of Cadaval in Portugal aimed to celebrate the ever-expanding wealth of Africa's cultural heritage and uncover the many faces of a contemporary Africa, the continent of the future, where sacred rituals of the past merge with urban art of a vibrant, modern and changing world.
The main art exhibition, titled 'African Passions', took place at the Palácio Cadaval. The palace has been in the family of the festival's founder and director, Alexandra de Cadaval, for 600 years. Curated for the first time by André Magnin and Philippe Boutté, the show exhibited 16 contemporary artist in Portugal. Magnin forged his reputation and made his way to popularity by establishing and directing the Pigozzi Collection, which also focused on contemporary art from sub-Saharan Africa. The pair now run the Magnin, a gallery in Paris.
In addition to the art exhibition, the continent's musical and performance prowess will be highlighted in a memorable line-up of concerts and performances featuring storytellers, griots, rituals, folk dances and DJs. Festival director Cadaval hopes that in the future the festival, co-financed by the European Union's Portugal 2020 fund and private sponsorship, will become a biennial and perhaps even travel to India.
It is worth noting that almost all the artists showcased at Evora Africa live and work in sub-Saharan Africa and many had trouble travelling to the venue for the opening weekend. It is "more and more difficult to get visas [nowadays]", Boutté said in a statement. He went on to elaborate that while importing artworks to Europe is relatively easy, it has become increasingly more complicated for the artists to travel, especially after the "migrant crisis".
These are some of the artists featured:
Chéri Samba (Congo)
He is one of the most famous contemporary African artists, with works included in the collections of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Contemporary African Art Collection (CAAC) of Jean Pigozzi.
His signature style of combining painting with text was inspired by the use of "word bubbles" from comic-strip art, which allowed him to add not only narrative but also commentary to his compositions. However, his piece for the collection, titled "Bouquets de Fleurs au 3ème Age" (2016), an acrylic portrait of an elderly man flanked by flowers and brimming with life, lacks text and is merely an ode to age.
JP Mika (Congo)
The artist is known for his love of duality and use of colourful backgrounds and floral print fabrics. Recently he has been inspired by the La Sape dandy subculture and his allusions to Congolese sapeurs have led to depictions of himself in that style. This made his piece for the collection an easy choice: In "La Sape" (2014), the swaggering artist, dressed in a scarlet suit, leans on a giant paintbrush that resembles a sapeur's cane. He is standing on a globe split open like a luscious fruit.
Malick Sidibé (Mali)
The Malian photographer was notable for his black-and-white studies of popular culture in the 1960s in Bamako. Sidibé was featured posthumously and the pictures on show were all done before Sidibé died in 2016. The negatives of these photographs are with Boutté and Magnin, awaiting instruction from Sidibé's heirs, Boutté said in a statement.
Omar Victor Diop (Senegal)
The artist's interest in photography and design stems from the need to capture the diversity of modern African societies and lifestyles. On show at Evora Africa is his best-known series, Diaspora (2014), which, although sold out, was reprinted in entirety just for the exhibition - and will be destroyed at the end, Magnin said the statement.
Romuald Hazoumé (Benin)
He only uses recycled materials such as jerry cans to create his works. He is best known for his masks and the 'La Bouche du Roi', a reworking of the 1789 image of the slave ship Brookes. He has gone on record saying that his use of recycled materials is purposeful and targeted: "I send back to the West that which belongs to them, that is to say, the refuse of consumer society that invades us every day."
The artist has an installation made from his trademark jerry cans, titled Osa Nla (2015), installed in the palace's 15th-century church.
Esther Mahlangu (South Africa)
The matriarch of contemporary art painted the walls of the venue in her signature, world-renowned and colourful geometric designs that originate from Ndebele culture.
A mural unveiled by Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa in honour of legendary artist, uMama Esther Mahlangu. Photo: Nathi Mthethwa/Twitter
Other artists in the exhibition included: Amadou Sanogo (Mali), Billie Zangewa (Malawi), Filipe Branquinho (Mozambique), Frédéric Bruly Bouabré (Ivory Coast), Houston Maludi (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Klèmèguè (Mali), Marcel Miracle (Madagascar), Mauro Pinto (Mozambique), Phumzile Khanyile (South Africa) and Steve Bandoma (Democratic Republic of the Congo).
The Evora Art website describes the collection as follows: "Africa, once considered distant and mysterious, is now a chalice of hope, becoming "the future of the world". Our view has been shifted as we become more aware of its diversity, rich cultures and challenges. Art is everywhere, alive and not always in line with the criteria of "international art"... Africa is a land of unprecedented wonder, shouldering its originality in its differences. All the power and novelty of the artists' approach lies in the freedom they have granted themselves. This continent has not yet finished surprising us with its creativity and its stunning works of knowledge and invention."