Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Chris Ofili, "Afrodizzia"

Chris Ofili, "Afrodizzia", second version, 1996. Photo from Tate Britain

Using "Afrodizzia" (second version) by Chris Ofili merely as illustration of what I want to say below, is really quite unfair. Especially since this work lends itself very poorly to photographic reproduction.

It is a canvas filled with layers of lots of different stuff, like paint, cut out photos and elephant dung. And as you can see above, the frame itself also rests on balls of elephant dung. By using that rather untraditional material, Ofili quite blatantly plays with stereotypical notions of African culture. - Like he does when he spreads out images of faces with afro hairdos across a very colorful surface.

The reason why I'm showing this work today is that I want to say something about art and Advent. - Some connection, uh? Well, it's December 1 today, and Sunday was the first of the four last Sundays before Christmas, when we light purple candles. - Four of them in a wreath, and one more to be lit every Sunday.

This year we invited our friends who are originally from Ethiopia to come light the first candle and have dinner with us. So it's not really Advent I want to say something about, but the experience of getting to know Sara and Omar, who are refugees from Ethiopia, and their four children. They are Muslim, and sharing our Christian traditions with them, gave me a fresh perspective on those actions that I perform every year without really thinking about them.

Sara and Omar are great people that I would enjoy hanging out with in any circumstance. But sharing Advent with them and getting to take part in some of their ways and traditions, gives me such a valuable perspective on my own life choices (small and large). And it confronts me with plenty of stereotypical and generalized notions that I have about Africa. - For instance, I realize that Africa is so much more diverse than I tend to assume since I have never been anywhere on that huge continent.

So thinking about all this in relation to Advent, I searched my memory for suitable African art to go with it. But tellingly enough, the British artist Chris Ofili was as close as I got. I think it must have been his "Afrodizzia" (second version) I saw in the SENSATION show at Hamburger Bahnhof in 1998.

I do not know anything about African art, but Ofili's work does more or less the same as getting to know people from Africa: It highlights my prejudice.

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