It was nearly 2pm when a Belgian friend of mine and I came out of the train station “Gare Central” in Brussels. The first thing that attracted my attention was an immense crowd composed of people of different cultural backgrounds but also… the smell of waffles. Yes, on Belgian National Day (21st of July 2019), the centre of Brussels smells strongly of waffles.
Resisting the temptation of hot waffles was a real challenge but thinking about how much I would suffer later because of my dairy intolerance was enough to stop me grabbing one. On the other hand, I felt bad because my friend, being polite didn’t get one for herself despite my insistence.
Skipping the waffle bit, we crossed the road to the Brussels Centrefor Fine Arts “BOZAR” where a large poster of aKwele Ngon’s mask (Gabon) on a bright red background with geometric patterns announced the exhibition “Incarnations”.
“Incarnations: African Art as philosophy” is an exhibition created by the South African artist Kendell Geers in collaboration with the Congolese collector Sindika Dokolo.
Excited to immerse ourselves in the fascinating artistic universe of the exhibition, we walked straight to the main hall leading to “Incarnations”. At first, we thought the exhibition was free because there was no indication that a ticket was required to access its first room till one of the customer service ladies explained that to us.
- Where should we buy the ticket? I asked
- Probably near the main entrance, she said. It seemed like she wasn’t sure.
Walking all the way to the main exit, we saw a gentleman who seemed to be a receptionist. As he was standing by a desk with a computer we assumed he was selling tickets to the exhibition.
- How much is the ticket? My friend asked
- 10 Euro but unfortunately there is no ticket office in the building. You just have to cross the street and buy it from the opposite building ... it's really close, he advised.
- Seriously? I reacted. Is this not a way to discourage the public to visit the exhibition? Why didn’t the organisation think about selling the tickets just here? It would make the visitor’s life easier, I said.
- I understand your frustration but the show is beautiful and really worth it, he added.
We finally bought our tickets and went back to the young lady at the exhibition main door. Once inside, my eyes were inundated by the variety and the originality of all the different artworks but especially the presence of bright red wallpaper with geometric patterns adorning the walls of the palace of Bozar. The same one displayed on the large poster outside the building. According tothe Belgian newspaper,La Libre Belgique, it is just another way of the artist Geers to express the word “Believe” repeatedly. A simple but effective example to illustrate the powers of representations of a pattern built from scratch, as being African.
The exhibition is also filled by Works by Sammy Baloji, Nick Cave, Lubaina Himid, William Kentridge, Tracey Rose, Wangechi Mutu, Otobong Nkanga, Yinka Shonibare CBE, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Kehinde Wiley, …
Their artworks were exhibited in a series of rooms from floor, wall and ceiling accompanied by an explanation card next to them.
The exhibition reflects the diversity of the African artistic heritage, from an Afrocentric point of view and including the itineraries of slaves, colonialism and independence movements. As the Senegalese philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diagne stresses: "Ethnographic museums are a negation of art because they prevent the objects on display from really looking at us. Because ethnography is constituted, at its colonial origins, as a science of what is radically other, it is in its nature to fabricate strangeness, otherness, separateness".
All the works in the exhibition are borrowed from Dakolo’s private collection, one of the largest of its kind in the world.
After a tour of about forty minutes, what I retain of “Incarnations: African Art as philosophy” are the originalities within diversity between different artworks but also a fair balance between the modern and contemporary art and their aesthetic patterns. It is a fascinating time travel through art of the past and the present.
The gentleman who seemed to be a receptionist or maybe a security guard was right, it was worth it to cross the road. It was amazing! Hats off to the curator! The exhibition is on until September 2019.