The House of African Art Launches in London

BY Rebecca Anne Proctor / Apr 8 2019 / 19:04 PM

Staging its first exhibition in March in East London, House of African Art (HAART) founder Maryam Lawal speaks to Jennifer Copley about its inaugural exhibition and her desire to foster new experiences for African art

The House of African Art Launches in London
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John Madu, Can't Wait (Before 4pm Series) (2018). Acrylic On Canvas, 76X126 CM

Founded by British-Nigerian Lawyer Maryam Lawal in 2018, House of African Art (HAART) staged its first exhibition from 21 - 26 March at Hoxton Arches in East London. Titled The Next Wave: The Power of Authenticity and Self-Validation, showcasing work by Àsìkò, Aurélia Durand, Ayesha Feisal, John Madu, Kojo Marfo and Emmanuel Unaji. “The idea is to celebrate fresh, new perspectives on artistic talent coming from the continent and break free from any stereotypical characterization of works by artists from Africa,” explains Lawal. As the first public exhibition to be mounted by the organisation, the show will introduce the identity of HAART and set the stage for future projects. The exhibition format is led by the idea of creating in Lawal’s words, “a platform which will look at how themes cut across different art forms and tie that together in a more cohesive way. For example, if an artist was inspired by a particular soundtrack when producing a body of artwork, that soundtrack will be playing.”

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Kojo Marfo, Peddlers Corner. Oil And Acrylic On Canvas. 100x70 CM.

HAART’s itinerant exhibition format will focus on pop up exhibitions accompanied by a public programme of performances, talks and events in various locations. Lawal hopes that this programme will “break away from the traditional gallery experience” as well as encourage audiences to “where possible, feel a part of the artistic process."

Correspondence with Lawal reveals something of her dynamic and open-ended approach to HAART’s programming. “The current focus is on contemporary work and artists who are relatively early on in their careers or mid-career artists,” she says. “HAART will be holding pop up exhibitions and events throughout the year which explore different themes and issues.

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Aurélia Durand, Deux Reines (2018). Acrylic On Canvas, 50x50 CM.

The Next Wave: The Power of Authenticity and Self-Validation traverses geographical and stylistic boundaries. Working in the medium of photography and mixed media, Àsìkò’s poetic imagery combines reality and fantasy in order to explore the artist’s experiences of identity, culture and heritage. Based in Copenhagen, graphic artist Aurélia Durand is interested in the complexity and hybridity of multiculturalism, informed by her childhood in Paris and La Réunion. Her vivid graphic imagery is a celebration of African and popular cultural influences. Multimedia artist Emmanuel Unaji also draws from popular culture. His collaged portraits reference an interest in Christianity, fashion and mass media source materials. With a background that saw the artist reject the formal university education system in favour of his own self-taught practice, Kojo Marfo has lived and worked in Ghana, New York and London, where he is now based. Marfo’s energetic and gestural paintings are richly coloured and intricately patterned, containing within them myriad influences from graffiti to African artefacts and Ghanaian spirituality. Based in Lagos, Nigeria, multidisciplinary artist John Madu’s choice of medium is driven by the concepts he chooses to address. An incredible colourist, the artist has experimented with various materials, from akwa ocha (a traditional cloth from the Delta state) to plexiglass. Ayesha Feisal’s contemplative and expressionistic paintings explore the human experience through the depiction of the human form.

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Ayesha Feisal, The Things You Don't Say, Acrylic On Canvas, 150x100 CM.

Lawal is driven by a longstanding personal passion for art. Fuelled by her own experience of the international art scene, and in particular the contemporary art scene in Lagos, Lawal hopes HAART will provide support and representation for artists from the African continent and diaspora. “Artists from Africa are still largely underrepresented on an international level,” she says. “I notice this when I read art market reports and while exploring art galleries in London or New York, or other established cities for art. HAART aims to redress this imbalance by showcasing the talent coming from the region.”

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Emmanuel Unaji, Evee And Serpent (2018). Acrylic, Ink And Collage On Paper, 60X85 CM.

The analogy of a house is important to Lawal, it evokes a warm and inviting meeting place where audiences and artists can come together in a new and informal way, she summarises. “Drawing on the concept of a house, HAART aims to create a welcoming, interactive environment in contrast to what can at times be perceived as pretence or elitism in the art world.”