Exhibition In Brilliant Light
Wereldmuseum Leiden launches the exhibition In Brilliant Light on 21 December. The contemporary artworks of 32 artists showcase the richness and diversity of art from Africa and its diaspora. Guest curator Azu Nwagbogu combines masterpieces from the museum’s art collection with recent work by contemporary artists outside the museum’s collection. In Brilliant Light shows how artists from Africa and its diaspora, undeterred by colonial ideologies, critically examine the world around them and find inspiration in the promise of new worlds and shared dreams for a new society.
African and diaspora artists are increasingly represented in exhibitions, fairs, and biennials around the world. However, this has not always been the case. African art, exhibited in ethnographic museums, may have inspired European artists in the early 20th century, but in the eyes of many, it was considered primitive art. This false dichotomy between the continents followed the structures and ideas of the colonial system.
CONTEMPORARY ART COLLECTION OF THE WERELDMUSEUM
For decades, the Wereldmuseum has been building a collection of visual art from Africa and the African diaspora to provide a global perspective on art. By following artists over the long term and collecting their work, a collection unique to the Netherlands has been created. The exhibition In Brilliant Light brings these works together. Guest curator Azu Nwagbogu – known for the African Artists’ Foundation, Buro Stedelijk, Lagos Photo Festival, and others – selected works from the museum’s collection and complemented them with recent work by other contemporary artists. The artworks engage in a dialogue across a variety of themes, presenting a fresh perspective on the African continent.
Azu Nwagbogu: “While the first generation of modernist artists sought a new cultural authenticity within a postcolonial world, contemporary artists draw from history and mythology to shape new visions of Africa and its diaspora.”
Artistic imagination is essential in addressing the topics tackled by Wereldmuseum Leiden in this exhibition. With boundless creativity, the artists broach topics such as globalisation, emancipation, and migration. They envisage new worlds, drawing inspiration from history, heritage, folklore, and spiritual traditions. For instance, Yinka Shonibare and Sanford Biggers reference colonial mindsets in their work by blending European and African artistic traditions. They reverse roles and draw attention to the Eurocentric thinking that still influences opinions about African art, thereby questioning themes such as cultural exchange, appropriation, hybridity, and authenticity. The work of WonderBuhle (South Africa) highlights the significance of spirituality in the work of many African artists and reflects a deep connection with his community.
Other artists provide, implicitly or explicitly, diverse perspectives on the influence of colonialism and its relation to current social issues at play around the world. Ibrahim Mahama, Sammy Baloji, and Cercle d’Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaises (CATPC) expose the devastating impact of colonial exploitation through their work. Artists Kiluanji Kia Henda and Hélène Amouzou delve into the growing tensions surrounding African migrants in Europe today. Their work prompts reflection on the global challenges humanity currently faces.
With technical virtuosity, the artists depict their personal experiences. Cuban artist Belkis Áyon, with her now world-famous graphic work, challenges the 20th-century patriarchy in Cuba. These masterpieces from the museum’s collection are combined with work by Marie-Claire Messouma Manlanbien, who portrays alternative forms of womanhood in our modern world.
The exhibition also explores the important role artists play as catalysts for change, reshaping histories. Diaspora artists in Europe and America explore their culture, traditions, and heritage in this globalised world where cultural boundaries are constantly changing and blurring. James Barnor’s colourful photographs from Accra show proud Ghanaians on the eve of independence. And his photos from London give a unique glimpse into the lives of people from the diaspora living in London, beautifully capturing the cultural connections between Ghana and Great Britain. Bodys Isek Kingelez’s futuristic models of utopian cities reflect his vision for his country post-independence. Through these and many other artists, In Brilliant Light showcases the strength, diversity, and creativity of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. Each artist in the exhibition relates in a unique way to their cultural history, creating new perspectives on the future and the past. Through their own visual language and a variety of themes, they claim visibility for Africa and the diaspora – for its people and its cultures, and their place within the global art system.
Kwame Akoto/Almighty God, Hélène Amouzou, Joseph Tetteh-Ashong/Paa Joe, Belkis Ayón, James Barnor, Mary Enoch Elizabeth Baxter, Sammy Baloji, Sanford Biggers, Seyni Awa Camara, Cercle d'Art des Travailleurs de Plantation Congolaise (CATPC), Assane Dione, Victor Ehikhamenor, Ben C. Enwonwu, Johnson Eziefula, Kiluanji Kia Henda, Nermine Hammam, Jon Henry, Bodys Isek Kingelez, Abdoulaye Konaté, Erik Kpakpo, Sthenjwa Luthuli, Ibrahim Mahama, Tshibumba Kanda-Matulu, Wonder Buhle Mbambo, Marie-Claire Messouma Manlanbien, Nandipha Mntambo, Emeka Ogboh, Yaw Owusu, Patta, Masaego Johannes Segogela, Twins Seven Seven (Olaniyi Osuntoki), Mariam Souali, Malick Welli, Yinka Shonibare CBE RA
Azu Nwagbogu is an internationally acclaimed curator. In 2007, he founded the African Artists’ Foundation (AAF), a nonprofit based in Nigeria that promotes African art and artists. He led the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art in Cape Town, is the founder and director of the Lagos Photo Festival and initiated Art Base Africa, a virtual place to explore contemporary African art. He is also a co-curator at Buro Stedelijk, a space for emerging artists and designers affiliated with the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and curator of the Benin Pavilion for the 2024 Venice Biennale.
Azu Nwagbogu: “The Wereldmuseum has been building a collection unique to the Netherlands for years. By following artists and systematically collecting their work, the museum offers a platform to many artists from Africa and its diaspora.”
With its scientific orientation and collection history, Wereldmuseum Leiden focuses on global cultural histories. The themes encountered here include religion, indigenous ways of life, the struggle for independence, and the redress of historical injustices. But they also cover better-known histories, such as those of the Aztecs. The exhibitions encourage us to reflect on what it means to be human, our connection with the world around us, and how we relate to each other. A contemporary art exhibition like this is a first for Wereldmuseum Leiden, but it is in alignment with the museum’s mission as it provides a contemporary African perspective on important global themes.
In Brilliant Light can be seen from 21 December 2023 to 3 November 2024 at Wereldmuseum Leiden.