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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Charles Sekano - House of Women

February 10th –March 31st 2011 Talbot Rd, London

Charles Sekano in the 1980s

Born in Sophiatown, Johannesburg in 1945, Sekano’s youth was cruelly overshadowed by the consequences of apartheid. Sophiatown was destroyed by the authorities and his family forced in to tribally segregated districts within Soweto. This process of dislocation lead to the early death of his father and to his decision to flee South Africa and exile himself from the harsh and violent conditions that he found himself in.

It was in Nairobi in the 1960’s, amid the very real isolation of exile that Sekano forged himself in to both self taught artist and musician – and where he worked as a Jazz pianist in the multiracial, bars and nightclubs of this rough edged African metropolis. Here he lived life in the tradition of a romantic bohemian artist and musician, developing his own version of the three Rs – “the three Ps” – Painting, Poetry and Piano. Like Degas and Toulouse Lautrec before him – living amongst his, mostly female, subjects.

His artistic expression was and is informed by the sense of loss experienced after his family were uprooted and by the resultant severing of family bonds. Women, for Sekano, - those that he immortalises in his works - became his world and his artistic language.

In the words of Sekano in an interview from the 1980s:

“The whole idea is a symbolic relationship. Even the theme “Woman” seems to be remembering my mother, my sisters. I’m trying to live on a higher level with them because I have no communication to show that I am attached to them. They are inseparable from me. There is no border. This Woman theme is my landscape. The only piece of property I own. Woman is the only country I have.”

During his years of exile in Nairobi Sekano waged his own passionate war against the apartheid regime with paintbrush and crayon. The fact that he chose to include Caucasian women in his work was a starting point that surprised some of his peers. But for him colour itself began to symbolise freedom.

“I decided to destroy the apartheid in my thoughts by using colour, by breaking the colour bar. So I just fused everything. I made a red woman, I made a blue woman, a green woman.”

Whilst influences of Picasso and Braque’s Cubism , Toulouse-Lautrec’s and Henri Rousseau’s poster art are clear in his work, Sekano has always rooted himself in the realities of cosmopolitan urban Africa and drawn on Egyptian and San Rock art for inspiration. The nightclubs and bars of Kenya with their beautiful female clientele from diverse cultures across Africa were his subject matter and remain his inspiration. These are “spaces” where opportunism and desire intersect and coexist, often in surprising ways. Each work – be it of a single figure, a couple or a group, contains a narrative – keenly and economically observed. The story of the lure of the bright lights and the promise of escape from poverty and pain underlies many of the tableaux. Sekano is never moralistic, always humanistic – his works celebrate and preserve moments.

In 1997 Charles Sekano returned to a newly liberated South Africa with mixed feelings leaving behind a country he had grown to love, and re-entering a society that had largely forgotten him – the fate of many a returning exile.

Apart from two fine works from the late 1980s the paintings in this exhibition have been produced in the last two years and are part of a new body of work which the artist calls “House of Women”. Sekano has become fascinated with a “building block” mosaic style – where the women who have inspired him all his life are constructed from these geometric shapes referencing the notion of home and strength as well as musical notes.

Charles Sekano has exhibited widely in Kenya, Holland and Germany, Japan and the U.S.A., his most recent show was at the University of Pretoria in 2008. His works are in private collections across the world and in various museums including Volkekunde Museum, Frankfurt, and the Peabody Essex Museum, Massachusetts.

The works in this exhibition are for sale – for further information please contact Ed Cross at Ed Cross Fine Art or visit for the complete catalogue and pricelist.

Ed Cross Fine Art thanks Simon Russell for his generous support for this exhibition.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Witness: the Spectre of Memory in Contemporary African Art

Aminatta Forna with curator Ed Cross at WITNESS: the spectre of memory in contemporary African art, in the background a painting by Zimbabwe's Lovemore Kambudzi

What the critics say!

"If you are in Edinburgh go to this show. 23 Atholl Crescent - 5 mins walk from the Book Festival site. It's brilliant".

Aminatta Forna

Author of The Memory of Love, The Devil that Danced on the Water and other titles

"Africa's economy is fast moving out of the doldrums, and a new breed of wealthy would-be art patron is looking around at the bargains on offer.
Bonhams and
Philips now have auctions with an Africa theme, and are a good place to start. But if you want friendly expert advice, try Edinburgh, where Ed Cross's Festival exhibition has some magnificent examples of art worth enjoy, or as an investment, or both.

If you can persuade him to part with a 'not for sale' work by Lovemore Kambudzi you won't regret it, for this is sure to become an African classic.

True, prices seem high for relatively unknown artists - and I reckon it would take 15-20,000 before Ed and the owner might change their mind about a work that dominates the exhibition If they won't budge, buy up the remaining Donkey pieces, (by Peterson Kamwathi) with their sharp social comment and bitter humour.

Price? About £1500 each. In a couple of years they will be seen as a steal."

Michael Holman
Africa editor of the Financial Times 1984-2002
Author of the Fatboy and the Dancing Ladies

Monday, August 23, 2010

Brushes with Memory

Curating an exhibition in a place away from your regular abode is an experience I am familiar with but one that never fails to excite me. In many ways it is the perfect way to experience a place as you encounter both local people and other visitors in the space that you have staked out.

Witness: the spectre of memory in contemporary African art is my current exhibition here staged by Ed Cross Fine Art Ltd in the beautiful city of Edinburgh as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival. The show is at the English Speaking Union’s pleasant little gallery at 23 Atholl Crescent – in a lovely 18th century part of the city not far from Princes St. It features five artists – from four African countries: Soly Cisse from Senegal, Lovemore Kambudzi from Zimbabwe, Peterson Kamwathi from Kenya, Richard Onyango also from Kenya, and Dominique Zinkpe from The Republic of Benin. These are all artists I have dealings with – I have selected them because I love their work.

In this large and highly ambitious reduction Woodcut queuing figures from the abortive 2008 Kenyan elections can be made out amid a mass of ballot boxes.

Memory is the theme of the exhibition – its presence is felt in all acts of creation – but I am interested by the specific roles it plays with the five artists represented and here I will write about three of them. Both Peterson Kamwathi and Lovemore Kambudzi have consciously or otherwise assumed the role of guardians of memories for their respective countries Kenya and Zimbabwe. Kamwathi with his thoughtful, beautifully executed and focussed work. Each marking aspirations, disappointments and travesties of justice. His work grounded in his country but expanding out in to the wider world and referring back to the past almost as if he is painstakingly assembling a language with which to explain what it is to be a human or indeed an animal,

in this world of ours which worships at the alter of systems of leverage that deliver power and or wealth to the few usually at the expense of the many. Where corporate, individual or national greed are ever present and the sins of many a father apparent if one looks deep enough. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance – there is vigilance in Kamwathi’s work that would be dogged if it were not beautiful. Existing behind the unflinching record of human failings is a strong belief in the soul, a kernel within humanity in Africa or anywhere on earth, that must be protected, nourished and celebrated.

Lovemore Kambudzi from Harare works from memory and his own sketches – he paints what he sees going on around him – the good, the bad and the ugly, in most cases applying one colour at a time across often large canvasses. In 2008 during one of the lowest points in Zimbabwe’s recent history when water supplies failed, Cholera stalked the country and political oppression was particularly brutal, I suggested that he and his family come to Kenya to take shelter for a while – a few days later the message came from his wife – “Lovemore wouldn’t know what to paint in Kenya – there are some extraordinary things going on– he can’t leave now - he has to keep painting what’s happening”. Kambudzi has only one subject – the living breathing stumbling, tragic but often smiling, Zimbabwe. It’s a circus that he cannot miss – he must not only witness but record – and his recording is detailed and intense - the expressions on the numerous characters that pepper his works are very specific and acutely observed - even the extras in his “cast of thousands” works are individuals, often betraying their emotions through a hunch of the shoulders or the tilt of a hip.

No one would describe Richard Onyango as a political artist, yet whilst his subject matter – mostly his own life both real and imagined, is completely at odds with that of Kamwathi and Kambudzi; his work too, is profoundly informed by politics and social phenomenon. Like Kamwathi, Onyango is driven by a vision of a just Africa. Where people are able to play their part in society and live in dignity. In Onyango’s case it is an extravagant, unfettered Utopian vision. It is a world where very overweight women of all colour (and presumably men too?) can defy gravity and pole-vault majestically through the air or belt round athletics tracks in record time.

It is a place where people are accorded proper respect regardless of their colour or body type – where women are as powerful as men and more than capable of defending themselves if needs be#

(note the pistol on his late girlfriend Drosie’s belt and the sword on his new fantasy lover, Deborah Teighler once dubbed “the fattest woman in America”). It is an anti-obsolescence world where machinery, engineering and vehicles are revered and well maintained in to old age. It is also a place where people are aware that “dreaming” is a creative process – for Onyango believes that people get what they look for in life. You could say the artist is living proof of his belief in the power of the mind as it was his decision as a child to remember everything he saw (in the absence of a camera) that he attributes to his “photographic memory” and the ability to recall childhood scenes with a high degree of accuracy. Others might attribute it to a variety of autism (is this merely a neurotic and tedious need for labels?) but his clear recollection of his own decision to “record what he was interested in” is compelling.

Have a look at the catalogue of the exhibition...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Contemporary African art in St Louis Senegal

Anyone heading for Dak'Art 2010 in Dakar , Senegal are warmly invited to come to St Louis to see the show I am putting on there - this is part of the Dak Art Off programme and the St Louis 250 celebrations - it also coincides with The St Louis Jazz Festival which is a jazz festival to die for

Le nord, le sud, l'est et l'ouest
This exhibition brings together works from seven important artists from
Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania

Fathi Hassan – Egypt, Peterson Waweru Kamwathi – Kenya
Jems Robert Koko Bi – Cote D’Ivoire, The Late George Lilanga – Tanzania ,
Richard Onyango – Kenya , Charles Sekano – South Africa/Kenya,
Dominique Zinkpe – Benin

Charles Sekano - Two women – House of Women series – pastels on paper – 2009

This exhibition highlights the rich eclecticism inherent in the African continent and its art. It shows works from artists from seven countries (two of whom live in Europe) across different generations and educational backgrounds with works by the late master – George Lilanga di Nyama from Tanzania.

Fathi Hassan
Fathi Hassan (born 1957) is a Sudanese-Egyptian artist known for his installations involving the written word.
Of Nubian origin, Hassan took his diploma at the Naples Art School in 1984; in 1988 he was selected to represent Africa in the "Aperto '88" section of the Venice Biennale. He has exhibited in numerous galleries in Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Egypt, and New York City. Hassan has lived in Italy since 1979, working between Fano and Milan.
Hassan's work often emphasizes power relations and the relationship between the oral and written word; drawing upon his Nubian heritage, he places particular emphasis on the loss of language under the dominance of empire. Most of his scripts are based upon kufic calligraphy, but remain deliberately illegible and impossible to decipher.

Peterson Waweru Kamwathi
Peterson Kamwathi, born in Nairobi in 1980, is one of Kenya’s best regarded young artists and is now establishing himself as a major name in contemporary African art. His work combines subtle conceptual elements and rich content with technical mastery. His main body of work has been in printmaking where he is an acknowledged master of the woodcut process though more recently he has broadened his oeuvre to create several series of charcoal and mixed media works culminating in his “Sitting Allowance” installation which is almost epic in its scale documenting the grim realities of the bungled Kenyan 2007/8 elections
Kamwathi is participating in the 2010 Dak’art Biennale, he has been shown widely in Nairobi at the Rahimtulla Museum of Modern Art, and the Goethe Institute, Nairobi. He is currently in a residency at the Rijksakademie, Amsterdam and will take part in the Museum Africa exhibition - Currencies in Contemporary African Art, Johannesburg in May 2010.

Jems Robert Koko Bi
Jems Robert Koko Bi was born in Cote D’Ivoire in 1966 where he lived and studied until 1997 when he won the DAAD scholarship and commenced his art studies in Germany culminating in his position as master student with Professor Klaus Rinke in 2000.
Koko Bi is principally a sculptor using wood as his medium though it is his extraordinary drawings that are featured in this exhibition. His work is informed by the duality of his own life. He refers to this as a tension between time and space – time represented by the history of his country and continent and the space that he now finds himself occupying as an international contemporary artist – but with Africa and its history following him like a shadow. Koko Bi has been a frequent participant and prize winner at the Dak’Art Biennale.

The Late George Lilanga
George Lilanga (1932-2005 was Tanzanian of Makonde origins began his training as a sculptor in 1961 in Dar-es-Salaam; in 1973 he became associated with the newly founded Nyumba ya Sanaa (House of Arts),.
His playful figures are best understood as heirs to the Makonde shetani, the unruly spirits of Makonde cosmology. Similarly, the complexity of his paintings can be compared to the Makonde ujamaa (tree of life), which signifies unity and solidarity. At the same time, the vibrant inventiveness of Lilanga’s work also testifies to the profound revolution that marked the birth of individualization and personal talent in Africa.

Richard Onyango
Born in Kenya in 1960, Onyango’s work has featured in three major international African exhibitions Africa Now, Africa Remix and Seven Stories about African Art . Onyango’s work hovers between memory and fantasy. Gifted with near perfect recall he is able to remember and reproduce scenes from his childhood and later life in extraordinary detail.
Charles Sekano
Sekano, who is a South African citizen, spent the decades from the 1960s to the 1980s living and working as an artist and Jazz musician in his country of exile, Kenya. An unashamed colourist and admirer of women, he was represented by Ruth Schaffner’s Gallery Watatu until her death. He returned to South Africa after the end of apartheid and sank in to obscurity until his show at the University of Pretoria in 2008. Sekano lives by what he calls “The Three Ps” – Painting, Poetry and Piano.

Dominique Zinkpe
Dominique Zinkpè was born in 1969 in Cotonou in the Republic of Benin. He has participated in numerous exhibitions workshops and residences in Africa, Europe and South America. Zinkpe’s oeuvre is complex and wide ranging, spanning installations, drawings, painting, sculpture and video. There is a restlessness within Zinkpe that prevents him from confining his creative processes to one medium, but his paintings and drawings represent his most intimate work.

Curator: Ed Cross
Ed Cross is an artist, art dealer and curator specialising in contemporary African art. Ed has a Degree in Art History from Cambridge University and now lives and works in London after spending more than twenty years in East Africa working in publishing and the visual arts. His company Ed Cross Fine Art Ltd ( promotes and sells a number of the continent’s most important artists.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Contemporary African Art in Edinburgh

Richard Onyango Heavy Machines in the Garage Acrylic on canvas 2010
Here are some early details on a show we are putting on as part of the Edinburgh Festival

The spectre of Memory in contemporary African art

ESU – Scotland, 23 Atholl Crescent, Edinburgh EH3 8HQ
August 6th- 30th 2010
10am - 6pm

Kenya’s Richard Onyango can remember scenes from his childhood and more recent past with almost perfect recollection and then paint them in vivid detail. Aside from any innate gift of recall, this practice stems from a conscious decision made as a child when, lacking a camera but inspired by its power, he resolved to use his own mind as a recording device.

The camera is the most obvious recorder of history but in modern Zimbabwe photographers are more vulnerable to harassment than artists. Photography lacks the flexibility of painting, where all the components of a social phenomenon can be incorporated. Lovemore Kambudzi has been evoking the realities of life in Harare for the last ten years. The (decidedly unofficial) equivalent of a western “war artist”, he has emerged as the principal recorder of his country’s fate.

Peterson Waweru Kamwathi’s work is mostly linked to moments in the history of his country, Kenya. These may not be made explicit, but there is a sense in his work of recording history at an oblique angle. His work painstakingly records his country’s political aspirations and their realisation or subversion. And the grave consequences of political failure.

Soly Cisse is haunted by the happy memories of his childhood which seem to seep in to almost every canvas he paints in the shape of wild animals that he hunted in his youth - the animals appearing now to flee from modernity rather than the artist’s youthful pursuit.

For further information contact

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Website and the Bonham's sale...

I recently launched dedicated to the contemporary African artists that I promote - if you haven't already see it - please check it out and send me your feedback. Most of the works on the site are available for sale and can be despatched to you from London wherever you may be.

2010 should be a significant year for Contemporary African Art - and one of the major events on the horizon is Bonham's New York sale which will take place on 10th March at their offices on 580 Madison Avenue, New York City - check their website for further details though the online catalogue is not out at the time of this posting . The auction's charity is sponsored by Alicia Keys' Child Alive charity which will ensure major African American celebrity interest. See you there!