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Think big, UK museum educator tells local acts

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A United Kingdom museum educator, Tempe Nell, has challenged artists in the country to be more creative with their work and use it for pointing out the wrongs.

Nell said this on Thursday at Jacaranda Cultural Centre (JCC) in Blantyre when she hosted a lecture and discussion on Contemporary African Diaspora Artists.

Holding a degree in Art History from Cambridge University, Nell has built her career on working to make art accessible to all areas of society, both within the UK and abroad and regularly delivers academic lectures, tours and workshops with the aim of opening up the arts industry.

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“The world is finally beginning to get very excited about the incredible talent of African and African Diaspora artists,” she said.

Nell added: “As artists, you must ride this wave: challenge yourselves, look at as many other artists as you can, use your art to challenge what you think is wrong in the world. Think big.”

Nell said she is passionate about African artwork and Contemporary African Diaspora Artists, and has been in the country attending a cultural course at Kungoni in Dedza.

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Nell’s lecture was free and attended by an audience largely constituted by those within the creative industry.

She said contemporary artists are now global artists, explorers within a network of global image—and that national identity must be understood within this context.

Nell encouraged artists in the country not to think of themselves as Malawian artists, but as artist on a global scale.

Nell also outlined the challenges of emerging onto the global art scene and she lamented the emphasis that is still being offered to European and American contemporary artists over those from the African Diaspora.

She said change is afoot observing that non-European art is beginning to gain more attention in the West in both galleries and in the study of art history.

Nell further noted that the imbalance is also being challenged and redressed by many artists from the African Diaspora such as Sam Ofili, Yinka Shonibare, Mickalene Thomas, Samson Kambalu and Mohau Modisakeng.

She said Shonibare, for instance, submitted an installation work to the 2017 Venice Biennale, entitled A British Library and that the work was a collection of books covered in batiks and zitenje, with names on the spines.

“In the centre of the room was a computer, where viewers could research the names on the spines; each name was a great African individual who has contributed in some way to British history,” Nell said.

She said the work reclaimed and corrected the white historical narrative that is so often accepted in Britain.

There was a discussion at the end which brought several comments and questions from the gathering.

Ethno-musician Waliko Makhala emphasised the importance of education in the creative industry while artist Theophany Nammelo commented on how literature and visual art could be woven together to create more powerful messages.

Artists also agreed that there was need for them to consolidate their voices to bring out concrete results.

JCC and Maison de la France Deputy Director, Daisy Belfield, said the centre was open to artists for free.

“JCC is a free space and those in the arts industry should continue to use it as a platform to discuss and collaborate,” Belfield said.

Meanwhile, Belfield has said JCC has several activities lined up indicating that on the theme of World Art, their next exhibition is from Jumoke Sanwo, an installation artist from Lagos, Nigeria.

Belfield said Sanwo jetted into the country on Sunday.

According to Belfield, Sanwo is currently installing ‘Silence des Femmes’ in the JCC Upper Gallery, an evolving exhibition which has been across the world, including to the Venice Biennale and The Auction Room, London, Addis Ababa and New York.

The exhibition will open with a formal cocktail on March 19.

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