The rich art of Africa goes on show to dispel 'caricature' of a dark continent

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The Independent Online

For decades Africa has been caricatured and simplified, presented as a "troubled continent" renowned more for its wars and diseases than as a source of culture. But next year, African artists will be given a London platform to showcase the best of their continent's art, the result of a massive programme of co-operation between the capital's art houses.

For decades Africa has been caricatured and simplified, presented as a "troubled continent" renowned more for its wars and diseases than as a source of culture. But next year, African artists will be given a London platform to showcase the best of their continent's art, the result of a massive programme of co-operation between the capital's art houses.

The festival, Africa 05, will involve 42 leading museums, galleries, concert halls and cinemas - many working together for the first time - to display contemporary African painting, sculpture, photography, film, music, literature and fashion. Led by the British Museum, the South Bank Centre and the Arts Council of England, the programme aims to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to the venues over 12 months for the nation's largest celebration of African culture.

Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said the aim was "to remind people that African cultures are many, rich and complex". Augustus Casely-Hayford, the programme's director, said the idea originated from a similar - though far smaller - Africa 95 programme, when the Royal Academy held an exhibition about Africa.

"It was fantastic," he said. "You could see African art displayed without the ethnography for the first time - people were engaging with it as art, at last. Suddenly it was obvious there was an African art history which had been neglected."

Mr Casely-Hayford said the organisers hoped to create "sustainable change in the way the art world - and the public - thinks about Africa". He added: "We don't want this just to be about one year." The festival is aimed to coincide with next year's political focus on Africa. During the 20th anniversary of Live Aid, Britain will be holding the G8 chair and the EU presidency, and No 10's Africa Commission report will be published.

The programme launches in February with Africa Remix at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank, Britain's largest exhibition of contemporary African art. The "eye-popping" and wide-ranging collection will have work as diverse as painting, sculpture, photography and video installations.

Roger Malbert, senior curator at the gallery, said: "African art is [usually] caricatured as timeless, tribal and traditional, as outside and removed from the contemporary world.

"We want to destroy that caricature and show there is worthwhile and interesting art happening on the African continent. It's about looking at the work on its own terms."

Other exhibits include a fashion show at the V&A, film at the NFT and Whitechapel Gallery, ancient Tanzanian tools alongside contemporary sculpture at the British Museum, a performance by the hip-hop artist MC Solaar at the Royal Festival Hall, and street festivals in Carnaby Street.

Michael Lynch, the chief executive of the South Bank Centre, said the aim was to challenge stereotypes, attract more diverse audiences into galleries and draw attention to the continent's problems. "We want to open people's minds to the richness, variety and excitement of African culture. The wider political message is, this is contemporary Africa; the world cannot afford to ignore it."

ART

Traditional images of Africa are heavy with cultural symbolism: animals, gods and other spiritual influences. Picasso, Matisse and Braque were all influenced by it. Big names on today's art scene include the Congolese painter Cheri Samba, above, and John Goba, from Sierra Leone. Samba depicts sex, Aids and social injustice in paintings such as J'Aime La Couleur, above. Goba's sculptures are rooted in mythology and have contorted features. Contemporary African artists are concerned with identity, often expressing their ideas using traditional sculpture or paintings using natural pigments.

FILM

The popularity of African film outside the continent has been growing since the 1990s, primarily because of international film festivals in New York, Los Angeles and the Netherlands. As the industry struggles to find its feet, women such as Fanta Regina Nacro and the Nigerian Branwen Okpako are emerging as stars. Nacro's Un Certain Matin (1992) was the first fictional film directed by a woman in Burkina Faso. Okpako's Dirt for Dinner (2000) and Valley of the Innocent (2003), above, were big successes in Germany. Many directors have studied abroad, which has brought an international dimension to their work.

MUSIC

African music took off internationally through high-profile collaborations such as Paul Simon's 1986 Graceland, which featured South Africa's Ladysmith Black Mambazo, above. The Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour formed one of Africa's most famous bands, The Super Etoile, which developed a modern African pop style. N'Dour, probably Africa's best-known musical export, has recorded music with Peter Gabriel.

LITERATURE

The continent began writing its own literary history two years ago when scholars and critics announced a definitive list of Africa's finest 20th-century books. The top spot was taken by Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian, for his 1958 novel Things Fall Apart. It is largely through his vision that African literature found its own voices. These include the Nobel winners Wole Soyinka, above, (1986), from Nigeria and the Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz (1988).

FASHION

The grand-homme of French couture, Yves Saint Laurent, spent his childhood in Africa and took inspiration for his clothes from the experience. He was the first to marry global trends with the traditional Western look and to bring African fabrics and style to Europe. A group of African designers have sprung up in his wake. Britain's best-known black designer is Ozwald Boateng, left, who reveals African influences in his vivid use of colour alongside sharp tailoring. Musicians such as Erykah Badu and India Arie have made the African headscarf fashionable. Africans have been in demand on the catwalk for years, with supermodels including Iman, of Somalian origin, and Alek and Liya Wek, from Sudan.

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