In Conversation with Curators Larry Ossei-Mensah and Dexter Wimberly: Highlighting Africa's Diversity with New Exhibit 'No Such Place'

In Conversation with Curators Larry Ossei-Mensah and Dexter Wimberly: Highlighting Africa's Diversity with New Exhibit 'No Such Place'

Larry Ossei-Mensah and Dexter Wimberly. Photo by Sherridon Poyer.

Larry Ossei-Mensah and Dexter Wimberly. Photo by Sherridon Poyer.

Currently on view at Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art, is the exceptional group exhibit No Such Place, a show that casts a refreshing light on the prevailing mindset of contemporary African art.  Generally speaking, much of the Western world still continues to view African art through a 'primitive' or 'tribal' lens, No Such Place helps dispel those myths in an effective and thought-provoking manner.  The premise of this exhibit is to magnify the rich diversity found within Africa, and broadcast these artists' distinct voices.  The show is comprised of eight,  multi-generational, African artists each practicing in various mediums, and all living and working in the U.S. including: ruby onyinyechi amanze, Modou Dieng, Brendan Fernandes, Derek Fordjour, Sherin Guirguis, Vivienne Koorland, Wura- Natasha Ogunji, and Adejoke Tugbiyele. Each artist draws upon current global culture, along with personal experiences, thus contributing to the larger conversation of 'Africaness' in a contemporary era. Gallery Gurls talks to co-curators Larry Ossei-Mensah and Dexter Wimberly for deeper insight on the significance of this show. No Such Place is on view through April 3, 2015 at Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art in New York City. Please visit the No Such Place Tumblr as well for additional information. 

Gallery Gurls: In the press release for 'No Such Place', independent curator and museum director Bisi Silva intelligently states, 'There is so such thing as contemporary African art – there is only contemporary art from Africa’. I found this statement highly profound and powerful despite its simple, straightforward delivery. What resonance does this idea hold for you both curatorially? Did this help form a foundation for the concept of the show?

LOM/DW: The quote from Bisi Silva (independent curator and founder/director of the Centre for Contemporary Art in Lagos, Nigeria) really embodies the premise of the exhibition. Although they are categorized as ‘African,’ the 8 artists in the show are influenced by a global culture that can be seen in their choice of materials and the range of subjects they explore in their work. It’s fair to say that these artists draw as equally from their cultural upbringing as they do from art history in a manner similar to artists from the West or other parts of the world. We want to make the point that their work shows a range of ideas and definitions of "place."

In the End (As One), In the End, In the End (We Become), all 2013, Brendan Fernandes. Screen print on fabric, each edition 1/6. Photo credit: Adam Reich. 

In the End (As One), In the End, In the End (We Become), all 2013, Brendan Fernandes. Screen print on fabric, each edition 1/6. Photo credit: Adam Reich. 

Are you able to expand on your collaborative process as curators? What did your research entail? What was the thinking behind the final artists chosen, selection of the gallery, and timing of the show?

This exhibition is our second collaboration. In 2013, we co-curated the exhibition, Crossing the Line: Contemporary Drawing and Artistic Process at Mixed Greens Gallery. We began work on No Such Place over a year ago, starting with a much longer list of artists, but eventually selecting a final group based upon the quality of their work and how they reflect the diversity of voices we hoped to highlight through the show. There are always dozens of studio visits and planning meetings involved to organize an ambitious group exhibition of this nature. The crux of our collaborative process necessitates a continuous sculpting of ideas, concerns and points of view in order to ensure that the final product presented satisfies our curatorial objectives.

Regarding how we came to work with Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art. As we met with various galleries about the exhibition, we found that Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art understood the nuances and opportunity that providing a platform for an exhibition of this nature would present. 

With respect to the timing of the exhibition, one just has to examine the selection of artists made by Okwui Enwezor (Director of the 56th edition of the Venice Biennale) for the Venice Biennale to see that No Such Place serves as a building block for a larger conversation percolating in the collective consciousness.

"The crux of our collaborative process necessitates a continuous sculpting of ideas, concerns and points of view in order to ensure that the final product presented satisfies our curatorial objectives."

Folding, 2014, Derek Fordjour.  Coal, iron, clay and burlap.  Image courtesy of Derek Fordjour.

Folding, 2014, Derek Fordjour.  Coal, iron, clay and burlap.  Image courtesy of Derek Fordjour.

Several of the eight chosen artists work in more than one medium, what made you both decide to showcase for example Adejoke Tugbiyele’s sculptures as opposed to her videos, or Wura-Natasha Ogunji’s works on paper as opposed to her videos, etc? Were some works from the artists more directly related to the territory you were exploring?

Early in the process we decided that we would not include video. It was a practical decision based upon the number of artists we'd selected, the layout of the gallery space, and experience we wanted viewers to have when visiting the exhibition. We were drawn to these artists because their work shows a breadth of interests in terms of materials, disciplines, subject matter and intent. It has become quite common for artists to use "non-traditional" materials to create their work, so the challenge is to go beyond the novelty of unusual materials and to dig into the quality of execution and overall mastery. That said, many of the materials used by the artists in the exhibition are loaded with significance. For example, the work of Nigerian artist, Adejoke Tugbiyele is exemplary in this respect. Her figurative sculptures made from found materials allude to traditions of craft and the history of sculpture, but Tugbiyele also explores contemporary representations of the body by LGBTQ individuals, whose voice has long been denied, throughout the world.

Past/Future, 2015, Adejoke Tugbiyele.  Straw hat, palm stems, bathing nets, perforated metal, brass wire, and copper wire. Photo credit: Adam Reich.

Past/Future, 2015, Adejoke Tugbiyele Straw hat, palm stems, bathing nets, perforated metal, brass wire, and copper wire. Photo credit: Adam Reich.

What are your goals with this exhibition? What would you like the public to walk away with?

Our goal is to challenge pre-conceptions about what defines contemporary African art. We are seeking to initiate a nuanced discussion about "Africaness" in the context of contemporary culture.

the garden palace and the folly of innocence, 2014, ruby onyinyechi amanze.  Pencil ink, pigment, enamel, photo transfers, and spray paint. Image courtesy of ruby onyinyechi amanze.

the garden palace and the folly of innocence, 2014, ruby onyinyechi amanze.  Pencil ink, pigment, enamel, photo transfers, and spray paint. Image courtesy of ruby onyinyechi amanze.

"Our goal is to challenge pre-conceptions about what defines contemporary African art. We are seeking to initiate a nuanced discussion about "Africaness" in the context of contemporary culture."

Larry, you are curating another upcoming group show that can be seen at Rush Arts in New York City next month, can you elaborate on the artists involved and the exhibition’s concept?

The exhibition is entitled NEW YORK STATE OF MIND opening at Rush Arts Gallery in Chelsea on April 9th and is on view until May 16th. NEW YORK STATE OF MIND  is group exhibition featuring five artists - Kevin Bright, Michael Paul Britto, Mitsuko Brooks, Jennifer Mack and Ronny Quevedo. The initial catalyst for the show was inspired by the online showcase of New York City artists Curate NYC that I was invited to be a guest curator forin 2013. The experience sparked a desire to take the online experience offline in the form of a gallery exhibition that builds on Rush Arts' mission of creating a platform for emerging artists to have their work be seen. Influenced by NYC as a source material, this exhibition explores the rhizome of ideas related to cultural identity, displacement, process and what it means to be a working artists in New York City in 2015. The exhibition further underpins the importance of celebrating emerging artists as an integral part of the cultural ecosystem that makes the New York City art scene so unique.

Follow Larry Ossei-Mensah and Dexter Wimberly on Instagram: @youngglobal & @dexterwimberly

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