World Bank Gives Visitors A Glimpse At Africa
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Coming up, another installment in our Winter Sipping series, a special treat for all of you chocaholics. We'll have that in just a few minutes.
But first, I'm actually at the World Bank, but I'm not here to talk about economic policy. I'm here to talk about art. The bank is currently hosting an extensive exhibit of contemporary African art called "Africa Now! Emerging Talents From a Continent on the Move," and it might just be the next big thing.
Here to talk about the exhibit is curator Marina Galvani and Petros Ghebrehiwot. He's an artist from Eritrea whose work is among those featured. Thank you both for joining us and taking time to show us some of the exhibit.
Ms. MARINA GALVANI (Art Curator, World Bank): Thank you very much, Michel. It's a pleasure.
Mr. PETROS GHEBREHIWOT (Artist): Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: Marina, first of all, what is the World Bank doing exhibiting art? Is this something that you do often?
Ms. GALVANI: Yes, actually, the World Bank has an art program that has been established in '97, and we have been featuring many artists from all over the world, but this is the first time we have something on this magnitude.
MARTIN: This is - and speaking of magnitude, this is a very large exhibit.
Ms. GALVANI: Yes.
MARTIN: You have something like 150 artists represented from how many countries?
Ms. GALVANI: We have 300 artworks, 164 artists from 34 countries. So it's really massive.
MARTIN: And why did you decide to focus on contemporary art?
Ms. GALVANI: We focus on contemporary art because we think it's a very important engine for change, for thinking differently in the current society. For this is - and we are talking about "Africa Now!" - what is going on now in Africa. And for many people, the image of African art is a traditional and classical art, which is wonderful. But we wanted to show that this - there are a lot of cutting-edge artists out there that only need a platform.
MARTIN: Petros, tell us about this piece, if you would. It's a beautiful piece. It's a sculpture. Tell us more.
Mr. GHEBREHIWOT: It's produced from clay, it's a fire clay, and I call it "Revival." And all the message I want to convey from this pieces Africa when people are coming as communities and there is a lot of conflicts and so many hardship that the communities face, and it is about coming and coming together and working together, standing. As you can see, there is a broken pieces, and then you can see also standing pieces. So it is all about how African people can work together beyond the hurt and damage that they face all the time.
MARTIN: In fact, it looks like a town or a community, like a village. And you can't - and part of it looks to be in ruins but much of it is intact. And what you can't tell is the story that there was destruction and now revival, as you say, or is there something about to happen?
Mr. GHEBREHIWOT: No, this is not about something to happen, but it is something happened already, and then going beyond the hurt and damage that's the consequence of conflict and everything because African people general, especially from the place where I came, Eritrea, that's full of conflict and war and a lot of bad things that happen. So this is about something that happens, but instead of being hopeless and focusing on what happened, it's just thinking about how to overcome all the damage and go beyond that and come together.
When you see the pieces, there is no space between them. It's just coming together and then standing. I think this is very important for me how I describe standing is - that means there is no war. Because in war, there is nothing you see that's standing vertically because it has to be damaged. But in this one, the buildings are standing, and it is a positive message for me, the standing by itself.
MARTIN: What does it mean to you to be in an exhibit like this?
Mr. GHEBREHIWOT: For me, I just want to show that people have to be hopeful to work for something better. And instead of learning from the past and then thinking from today for tomorrow to just work together, you know.
MARTIN: That's great. Marina, how do you decide what kind of pieces to choose for an exhibit like this?
Ms. GALVANI: Oh, this is a very tricky question. I can say, for "Africa Now!" we received hundreds and I reviewed hundreds and hundreds of portfolios over two and a half years.
MARTIN: But what are some of the criteria that you're looking for? I assume you want regional representation as well as the representation of genre. You know, I would think you would want some painting, and you also have fashion included in the show, as well.
Ms. GALVANI: Yes. Exactly. The kind of artist we have been picking had to have the criteria to be emerging, which doesn't mean to be young. It means only that you're not so known outside of the border of your country, or if you were a master, your work has been influential for many other generations. We try to give a little advantage to women because we have fewer women artist and so we wanted to give a space especially for them. And the fourth point is the World Bank, being an international organization and multicultural, has certain topics that cannot be discussed. For example, we couldn't show anything that was discriminatory against a specific group or a religion. We cannot show nudity, again, for the multicultural...
MARTIN: Really? You could not show nudity at all.
Ms. GALVANI: No, unfortunately.
MARTIN: Did that inhibit your ability to select certain pieces? Many people like to work in nudity. In fact, it's traditional. That's a traditional for...
Ms. GALVANI: Yes, yes.
MARTIN: For some cultures.
Ms. GALVANI: That is a problem. But as I said, we are a multicultural organization. We have to respect other people's customs.
MARTIN: That's interesting. Shall we move on and see another piece?
Ms. GALVANI: Naturally. Sure, it's a pleasure.
MARTIN: OK, let's do it.
(Soundbite of footsteps)
MARTIN: And now we've moved to another floor, and Marina is going to tell us about another piece. Tell us about this - there's a lot of photography on this floor.
Ms. GALVANI: Yes. Actually, this is a section of the exhibition dedicated to photography. We try to work only with young photographers from all over the continent, and some of them are really amazing. I particularly like the work of this one, Lolo Veleko(ph) from South Africa. I met her by now six years ago, and at that time, it was really something new to have a woman photographer in South Africa. During the apartheid, there were no women photographer at all. And finally, David Golbrat(ph) created - who is a very famous male photographer - created a center to form a younger generation of photographers, and out of this, around 40 women photographers came out, and some of them are really well established and Lolo is one of them.
And Lolo was explaining to me this - see this - this is a photo. It's a portrayal of a friend of hers reading a Chinese newspaper in the Chinatown section of Johannesburg. The photo is treated to look bluish, but the concept, which I find very brilliant, was about identity, what does it mean to be a black South African because she's - Lolo is black. She works in Johannesburg but she grew up in a township outside Johannesburg. When she moved to Johannesburg, she was a victim of much physical and emotional violence because she was said she was not black enough to be there. Clearly, it was mostly for economic reason because there was a lot of unemployment, et cetera.
So she started to explore the concept of what does it mean to black and she made these series. One of these is this photo. Another one is about eating vegetables. She is a vegetarian, you're not black enough, and so on. So I thought this was brilliant. She's a brilliant lady.
MARTIN: And what do you hope people will draw from this exhibit?
Ms. GALVANI: On a larger scale, I would like people to think to break cliche and to think about all the exciting things that are happening. Another thing is I want to offer a platform for many of these artists. They don't need help. We need only a platform and a window. And you can see the quality is such that they're already selling. Almost everything in the exhibition has being sold, so this is my hope.
MARTIN: Marina Galvani. She is curator of the exhibit "Africa Now! Emerging Talents From a Continent on the Move." It's currently being seen at the World Bank. We were also joined by Petros Ghebrehiwot, one of the artists featured in the exhibit. To learn more about the exhibit, you can go to our Web site, the Tell Me More Page at npr.org. Marina Galvani, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Ms. GALVANI: My pleasure, Michel. Thank you to you and your team.
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