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Reversed Safari

A cura di Alessandro Romanini

Yulia Aksenova.

The Manege Central Exhibition Hall (St. Petersburg), Triumph Gallery (Moscow), and Béton Center of Visual Culture (Moscow) are pleased to present Reversed Safari. Contemporary African Art. The exhibition will open on July 13, 2023.

The project will showcase a wide array of contemporary African art and its main artistic movements that have been developing over the past 60 years after the countries of the continent gained independence. The title of the exhibition refers to the need to reconsider the established one-dimensional view of African art.

The first large-scale exhibition of contemporary African art in Russia will bring together the works of (…) African and (…) Russian artists, African artifacts from the collection of the V. D. Polenov Educational Initiatives Fund, as well as books, essays, and photographs of exhibitions that revealed the originality of African art to the Western audience.

Reversed Safari represents a variety of mediums, among which are painting, sculpture, photography, and comprises over 300 exhibits, including 9 video installations and 3 large-scale installations created specifically for the project. These works explore colonial heritage, mechanisms of cultural interaction, everyday life, and the search for identity and the practices of self-determination. In the exhibition space, they will enter into a dialogue with traditional African art. The works of Russian artists visualize the changing perception of the African region.

“Visitors of the Manege will be able to see different facets of contemporary African art, observe the dynamic transformation of local culture, and develop a new approach to the art of this region. The goal of the “reversed safari” is to show the similarities and sometimes intersections of “culture zones” that have been repeatedly excluded from the process of generation of knowledge, to avoid bias, and to find traces of ourselves and our own experience in the reflection of African artistic practices.”

Anna Yalova, Director of the Manege Central Exhibition Hall

The collection of Eddy Novarro, Brazilian photographer and collector of African art, was transferred to the collection of the Polenov Educational Initiatives Foundation in 2003. It was important for the curators of the exhibition to update this unique collection of African artifacts, which ended up in the collection of the State Museum. Vasily Polenov, like many Russian artists, traveled a lot, visited the Middle East, including Egypt, and brought various objects and artifacts to the estate. The collection of African art in the estate of V. D. Polenov is a continuation of the interests and hobbies of its owner.

“Until the middle of the 20th century, the art of African countries was perceived as an ethnographic or anthropological element, devoid of aesthetic value, and in recent years it has sometimes been considered a way to inform the Western audience of the realities of a different culture. Such a view reinforces stereotypes about Africa and forces us to perceive the artists solely through the prism of their ethnicity. When we say “reversed”, we mean our way of working: we gave artists the freedom of self-presentation.”

Alessandro Romanini, curator, one of the world's leading experts in African art

“The exhibition will feature works by contemporary Russian artists dedicated to the cultural heritage of Africa. The tradition of turning to other cultures, borrowing and aesthetic processing of languages and codes of various civilizations has always been characteristic of Russian art, which seeks “its own” in “alien”, and often perceives foreign as a powerful resource for the reproduction of self-determination strategies.”

Yulia Aksenova, curator

The Reversed Safari exhibition in the Manege will become one of the most significant events in the framework of modern cultural exchange between African countries and Russia. It will be the key cultural event of the second Russia-Africa Summit, which will be held in St. Petersburg on July 27–28, 2023. Different in mentality, artistic specificity, and development in the cultural, economic and political sphere, the countries of Africa and Russia will present their understanding and vision of contemporary art and the world as a whole.

At the exhibition, the Manege team will present an extensive educational program that includes guided tours, art mediation, lectures and discussions, as well as additional events for different audiences, including children and teenagers, and inclusive activities.

The project was created with the support of the Committee for Culture of St. Petersburg.

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