Things Fall Apart — Red Africa season

04 February - 03 April 2016

Opening times: Wed - Sun, 12pm — 6pm

The highlight of the Red Africa season, Things Fall Apart will feature artists, filmmakers and groups from across Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. Drawing on film, photography, propaganda, and public art, the exhibition presents interdisciplinary reflections on African connections to the Soviet Union and related countries.

Curated by Mark Nash, the show gathers the responses of contemporary artists to different aspects of Soviet and related nations’ interests in Africa, particularly focused on ambitions to influence the development of political structures through film and art.

The exhibition reaches back to the beginning of the Soviet era through the work of Russian-American artist Yevgeniy Fiks. Fiks explores representations of black people in Soviet press and propaganda as early as 1920, which he presents through The Wayland Rudd Archive. The exhibition also re-examines relationships built during the height of the Cold War, including Tito’s 1961 visit to Africa.

Contemporary traces of communist street art and propaganda are captured by Jo Ractliffe and Kiluanji Kia Henda, revealing the lasting legacy of liberation struggles on the continent. In addition, the work of Onejoon Che critically examines the legacy of North Korea’s Mansudae Art Studio which produced socialist realist artworks such as The African Renaissance.

Our Africa by filmmaker Alexander Markov uses footage from the Russian State Film and Photo archive to expose the mechanisms behind the creation of of Soviet propaganda films that sought to record the expansion of 'glorious socialism' across the African continent.

Things Fall Apart is a collaboration with Iwalewahaus, University of Bayreuth, where it will travel in May 2016. The exhibition takes its title from Chinua Achebe’s 1958 classic of post-colonial fiction, seen by many as the archetypal modern African novel in English, which reflects on the devastating impact of colonialism in Africa. Our exhibition uses this association to focus on a similar loss of utopian perspective following the end of the cold war and collapse of the Soviet Union and eastern bloc.

Participating artists: 
Filipa César; Onejoon Che; Radovan Cukić and Ivan Manojlović (Museum of Yugoslav History); Angela Ferreira; Yevgeniy Fiks; Kiluanji Kia Henda; Isaac Julien; Stevan Labudović and Milica Tomić; Alexander Markov; Tonel; The Travelling Communiqué Group; Jo Ractliffe.


Film Programme

Accompanying Things Fall Apart, a series of curated films will expand on some of the themes explored in the exhibition. Many of these films present personal reflections or individual narratives on the ways political commitment and personal experience interconnect and ultimately affect communities.

Several of the films, including Abderrahmane Sissako’s Octobre (1993) and Kara Lynch’s Moscow Journal (1994–2014), focus on the experiences of African students who took up scholarships to study in Cold War Russia. Meanwhile, Sissako’s Rostov-Luanda (1997) demonstrates the difficulty of maintaining friendships in the post-Soviet era. The director draws from personal experience: When Sissako was a student in Moscow, he became close with an Angolan student, but the calamitous state of post-Civil War Angola made continued contact almost impossible.  This melancholic vision continues with Haile Gerima’s dystopian Teza (2008), in which the enthusiasm and hopes inspired by the Communist Derg’s ousting of Ethiopian Emperor Heile Selassie in 1974 soon turns to despair.

Some of the films in this programme can be described as essay films, which have a basis in documentary but feature personal reflections rather than traditional authoritative voiceovers. Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (1993) is a preeminent example, a fictionalized travelogue which documents a journey from Iceland through Africa to Japan. Along the way, there are sequences in post-independence Cape Verde, archival footage of the liberation of Guinea Bissau and reflections on the assassination of Amílcar Cabral, who led the movement. Cabral and his return to Cape Verde and Guinea is also the focus of film-maker Sana Na N’Hada’s O Regresso de Amílcar Cabral. In turn, N’Hada’s work figures in the artistic projects of Things Fall Apart artist Filipa César, whose interest in reestablishing militant African cinema is both a political and philosophical one. 

Marker’s Sans Soleil might also signify the beginning of what could be called “post-Communist melancholia”, a feeling which informs many art films of the period. 

Filmmakers: Abderrahmane Sissako, Chris Marker, Haile Gerima, Kara Lynch, Sana Na N'Hada.

For screening times and to RSVP please check our events page