We Face Forward is a season of contemporary art and music from West Africa, celebrated across Manchester’s galleries, museums, music venues and public spaces, from 2 June to 16 September as part of London 2012 Festival.
The exhibitions, concerts, events and community activities recognise both the historic and contemporary links between Manchester and the various countries that make up West Africa. They will explore ideas of economic and cultural exchange, environment and sustainability, and the place of tradition in contemporary culture.
The core of the season is a city-wide exhibition of contemporary art from the region, the first major collaboration between Manchester Art Gallery, Whitworth Art Gallery and Gallery of Costume, Platt Hall. It will feature painting, photography, textiles, sculpture, video and sound work from a wide range of internationally acclaimed artists, including Georges Adéagbo, El Anatsui, Romuald Hazoumè and George Osodi. The exhibition will also be the first major display in the UK of work by emerging artists such as Lucy Azubuike, Emeka Ogboh, Charles Okereke, Nyani Quarmyne and Victoria Udondian.
New, large-scale installations have been commissioned from Barthélémy Toguo at Manchester Art Gallery, and from Pascale Marthine Tayou at Whitworth Art Gallery.
The Gallery of Costume will show work by three esteemed Malian photographers, Malick Sidibé, Abderramane Sakaly and Soungalo Malé, whose archives are being preserved by the National Museum of Mali. Their extraordinary studio and social portraits will be shown alongside West African dress from the gallery collection, photographs by Hamidou Maiga and contemporary fashion pieces from British-Nigerian designer Duro Olowu.
A music programme, curated by Band on the Wall and The Manchester Museum, will feature world-renowned acts including: AfroCubism, the new international supergroup formed by Eliades Ochoa of Buena Vista Social Club and Toumani Diabaté; one of Africa’s biggest stars, Femi Kuti, performing with his band Positive Force; a multi-media concert by Niger
supergroup The Endless Journey (Mamane Barka and Etran Finatawa); Angelique Kidjo; Jaliba Kuyateh; Kanda Bongo Man and many more to be confirmed. Taking place in music venues and galleries across the city, the season will open with AfroCubism at Bridgewater Hall on Sunday 3 June.
Exhibitions and events will also take place at The Manchester Museum and the National Football Museum. The city is hosting nine football matches during the 2012 Olympics and the National Football Museum will present African artists for whom football gives a means to explore protest, politics and social engagement.
The Manchester Museum is working with the African Caribbean Carers Group to present a re-interpretation of the Anansi spider stories using the Museum’s natural history and anthropology collections. The programme will be launched with Big Saturday: Manchester Anansi Spider on Saturday 2 June where the story will be performed by the Men’s Room community group, working in partnership with the Royal Exchange Theatre Company.
A summer-long creative programme will engage with a range of people right across Greater Manchester. Modelled on the highly decorated taxi-buses that ferry people across Dakar, Accra and Bamako, an art bus will take creative activities out beyond the participating galleries and parks to other locations across the city.
To draw the different locations together, artist Meschac Gaba has been commissioned to design an artwork which incorporates the flags of all the West African nations. This colourful motif will be on display at participating galleries and venues.
The title for the season is taken from a speech by Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, made in 1960. Stating his resistance to Cold War super powers, Nkrumah’s full quote is “We face neither East nor West: we face forward.” The festival takes its direction from Nkrumah’s statement of independence, deriving inspiration from his sense of West African cultural dynamism.
Dr Maria Balshaw, Director of Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester City Galleries, said: “Manchester’s connections to West Africa are part of its industrial and trading history. This exhibition brings the dynamism of West African art today to Manchester, as the world comes to the UK for the Olympics.”
Ruth Mackenzie, Director, London 2012 Festival, said: “I am particularly delighted that this exceptional exhibition of art from West Africa will be part of the London 2012 Festival programme bringing once in a lifetime opportunities to experience culture to people across the north west.”
2 June – 16 September 2012
City-wide exhibition of leading contemporary artists from West Africa
Major new installations commissioned for galleries and parks
Concerts by world-renowned musicians such as AfroCubism and Femi Kuti
Further exhibitions of fashion, photography, football and storytelling
African art bus to tour creative activities around Greater Manchester
For more information: www.wefaceforward.org