West African art finds new direction in Manchester with We Face Forward

By Mark Sheerin | 14 June 2012
Colour photo of a sculptural installation of a trailer loaded down with clothes and household items
Romuald Hazoumè, ARTicle 14, Débrouille-toi, toi-même! 2005© Romuald Hazoumè. From www.wefaceforward.org
Exhibition: We Face Forward – Art from West Africa Today, The Whitworth Gallery, Manchester Art Gallery and The Gallery of Costume at Platt Hall, all Manchester, until September 16 2012

Manchester is the perfect host for a festival of West African Art and music. If the city were smaller it could not handle the breadth of work. Any larger and the citywide show would not have the impact which We Face Forward promises to make.

It is also tempting to compare Manchester’s keen sense of independence with that of Ghana in 1960 when the country’s first president Kwame Nkrumah made the proclamation which gives this show its name: “We face neither East nor West. We face forward.”

This was a bold claim to make during the cold war, and the 21st century superpowers still seem intent on carving up Africa’s natural resources. But trade and industry, also central preoccupations in the North West of England, are a central theme in a rangy display of contemporary art.

West African artists are beginning to make names for themselves. The current show includes Georges Adéagbo, Meschac Gaba, Romuald Hazoumè and George Osodi, along with a host of talents who are still emerging and could be ones to watch.

The art can be found at The Whitworth Gallery and Manchester Art Gallery. At Platt Hall’s Gallery of Costume you can also find photography from Mali. Malick Sidibé, Abderramane Sakaly and Soungalo Malé all feature.

  • Whitworth open Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm (12pm-4pm Sunday). Admission free. Manchester Art Gallery open Monday-Sunday 10am-5pm (9pm Thursday); Gallery of Costume open Monday to Friday 1pm-5pm (10am-5pm Saturday and Sunday).

Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.
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