Africa’s multi-dimensional environmental struggles are the focus of a well-received exhibition at the Tang Museum at Skidmore College, in Saratoga Springs.Environment and Object: Recent African Artincludes works by a number of preeminent and emerging African artists, including El Anatsui, Viyé Diba, Yinka Shonibare, Zwelethu Mthethwa and Barthélémy Toguo.
New York Times reviewer Holland Cotter recently praised the show for its topical engagement and seriousness, in contrast to the “stunted cosmopolitanism of the present New York art industry.” A point well taken, though the same prejudices may explain why the Times waited until June to review a show that opened February 5. Fortunately Environment and Object has a long run, remaining at the Tang until July 31, after which it travels to Virginia Commonwealth University in late 2011, and Middlebury College in Vermont in 2012.
Included are works in a variety of media, with differing levels or layers of political engagement. Several of the artists including Sokari Douglas Camp, George Osodi, Jerry Buhari and Yinka Shonibare address the environmental devastation and social disintegration brought on by decades of rampant oil production in the Niger Delta. Others address the legacy of mining in Congo and South Africa.
Many of the pieces incorporate found and recycled materials, from industrial waste to common household trash. Most notable is a site-specific installation consisting of thousands plastic soda bottles by Nigerian artist Bright Ugochukwu Eke with the help of Skidmore students.
Co-curator John Dayton noted that the exhibition “highlights situations that concern all of us, across many fields and in many places.” But the show is far more than the sum of its messages. Intellectually and aesthetically compelling,Environment and Object is a formidable survey of contemporary African art that will hopefully receive a large audience in the U.S.