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Contemporary art beyond the comfort zone

media The Beer of Five Cities brewed for Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh as part of his contribution to the Prince.esse.s des Villes exhibition, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, June 2019 Rosslyn Hyams/RFI

Young French curators Hugo Vitrani and Fabien Danesi brought together 50 artists from three continents outside Europe in an effort to push the boundaries of contemporary art beyond a Western-oriented comfort zone.

As rampant urban expansion continues on all five continents, an art exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris 'Princes and Princesses of the Cities' captures the sense and senses of urban energy, in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Visual Afrobeat

Emeka Ogboh is a Nigerian artist living in Germany whose work hinges on the sounds and smells of the city.

At the Paris exhibition his "Lagos State of Mind - One" is one of the conceptual works on show.

His space-consuming piece consists of one loudspeaker on each of four walls in a sombre room where the centre is occupied by a spotlit yellow people-mover taxi known in Lagos as a Danfo.

Visitors can climb in and out of the van and imagine they are in a busy area in the West African hub.

Face on with a Lagos Danfo installation by Emeko Ogboh at the Prince.sse.s des Villes Exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, June 2019 Rosslyn Hyams/RFI

Refreshing contemporary art

After one year exploring the art scenes in Dacca, Lagos, Manilla, Mexico City and Tehran, exhibition curator Hugo Vitrani is convinced that this exhibition is essential for anyone who is interested in contemporary art.

"The most exciting thing about mounting this show was to look at places where the Western artworld is not looking. It was really something fresh. Because we are the new periphery of the world, and if you don't want to stay on the sidelines, I think you need to go to this exhibition to have a first look at what is going on elsewhere."

Luciano Calderon's graffitti in situ at the Palais de Tokyo, June 2019, welcomes visitors to Prince.sse.s of the Cities exhibition. Rosslyn Hyams/RFI

The exhibition is eclectic, the themes are chosen by the artists, not by the curators, and reflect the reality of the cities.

Curator Hugo Vitrani and associate curator Fabien Danesi, for the exhibition "Prince.sse.s des villes", in front of a photo by Stephen Tayo, Okada Boys, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, June 2019 Siegfried Forster / RFI

No boundaries for Mexico City's artists

Mexico City-based American artist Chelsea Culprit presents a series of cement, ceramic and wood sculptures of sex or club workers. They are among several sex or gender related studies as a theme chosen by artists from all the five cities.

One of Chelsea Culprit's female workers against one of her tarpaulin backdrops at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, June 2019 Rosslyn Hyams/RFI

Political, economic, environmental and media issues worry The Biquini Wax Collective based in Mexico City.

Their 'Sa la na, a yuum, iasis, laissez faire, laissez passer' is inspired by the North America Free Trade Agreement, Nafta.

"Sa la na, a yuum, iasis, laissez faire, laissez passer", by Mexico City based Biquini Wax collective, in Prince.s.esse.s des Villes Exhibition Palais de Tokyo, Paris, June-Sept. 2019 Rosslyn Hyams/RFI

Using the 1993 'Free Willy' film which starred an orca whale, known in Mexico as Keiko, the name of the real whale, they look back to try to grasp what underlies issues that Mexico and the US face today.

Daniel Aguilar Ruvalcaba, a member of the Biquini Wax Collective says that in  Willy-Keiko's fate they saw a mirror of the Mexican economy. "After it was liberalised, it couldn't survive".

Also refreshing the artists and visitors alike, Emeka Ogboh designed a five-city beer to be custom-brewed for the exhibition "as a way of connecting all the different cities," explains Vitrani.

The exhibition runs till 8 September and is a window on what's happening outside the Euro-American art scene, served up in an intense and seemingly chaotic layout. Some works may assault the senses and betray sadness or fear, but they reflect another dimension in their bright colours and toy-like appearance.


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