Curating between continents

Over the bank holiday weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting the We Find What We Seek show, curated by Kensu Oteng. I have to say, this was one of the warmest and welcoming exhibitions I’ve experienced.

Consisting of four emerging artists from West Africa, this show highlighted how art, antiques and curatorial opportunities can bridge continents. This group exhibition included Ben Agbee, James Mishio, Theophilus Tetteh and Jimas Ametonou. With antiques hailing from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burkina Faso, Namibia and Nigeria.

This space felt activated, not only by the art but also by the team. James Mishio’s Dance With Me and Theophilus Tetteh’s Holiday at Labadi were closest to the window near the entrance to the gallery, so naturally, conversations started here.

The figure in Tetteh’s piece appeared deep in thought — perhaps contemplating next steps? The facial expression in this piece reminded me of Michelle Obama, although I’m not sure if this was intentional.

Mishio’s Dance With Me inspired a debate on whether the figures had just met or if they knew each other. It was great to hear a range of perspectives in response to this question. And how the reading of form and techniques used by Mishio led to our different outcomes.

As I looked towards the end of the gallery Tetteh’s After Party immediately caught my attention. The figure emulated a throwback to where getting ready to go out was such a ‘normal’ thing to do. But also, a throwback to another time — perhaps the 90s — considering the glittered top and hooped earrings. Again the figure features a band across the eyes, as seen in Holiday at Labadi. I was told this symbolises our inner superpowers. I wondered what these figures superpowers were?

Ben Agbee’s use of scale really played on the title of their piece Knowledge. The figure appears large in comparison to the dog and plant. The open book is empty and I wonder what knowledge would be documented here? And whom it would be passed on to?

By the time I made it down to Jimas Ametonou’s Eggs of the World and Blue Quest, Kensu Oteng had arrived at the gallery. To paraphrase, Oteng explained that these pieces featuring children were inspired by Ametonou’s observation of children who were working. And for Ametonou, these pieces were imagining where these children would rather be, than working? It was quite a powerful backstory that added depth to my own imagination of these scenes.

Whilst there were no interpretation panels, the decision to actively engage with visitors led to real-time interpretations and reflections between strangers. Impromptu questions and further insights about the works featured as part of the conversation. It was invigorating. I felt like I was in a seminar that I actually wanted to contribute towards. It is these types of encounters that reinforce my interest in the role of conversation, as a mode of enquiry. If there was no conversation over the weekend, my interpretation of the work may have been completely different.

Big thanks to Nana and Kensu for chatting with me during my visit!

Galleries and other cultural institutions could learn a lot from how this show was curated…

This is Kensu Oteng’s first curatorial project. As an independent curator and dealer of art and antiques, Oteng’s ‘commitment to the dissemination of ideas led him to connect with contemporary artists, whose public outreach has been limited’ (Coningsby Gallery, 2021)

We Find What We Seek is on at the Coningsby Gallery until Saturday 5 June 2021. Make sure you get down there before then!

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Lisa @Heritage_io

Lisa @Heritage_io

Hi I’m Lisa | Based in Brum, UK | Curator | Blogging to challenge the idea that history, art, culture and heritage is irrelevant| Twitter & IG: @heritage_io