Inspiration Art

Heaven, Hell, Purgatory revisited by African Artists

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Opening March 20th
The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory revisited by Contemporary African Artists
Curated by Simon Njami
At MMK / Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt / Germany
Duration March 21 – July 27, 2014

All Africa.  In The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory revisited by Contemporary African Artists, the MMK will serve as a stage for Dante’s Divine Comedy on 4,500 square metres of exhibition space.

In this early fourteenth-century epic, which combines central notions of Christianity with religious concepts of antiquity, the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) explores theological, philosophical and moral issues which have lost nothing of their social and political topicality to this day. His work forms the foundation for the exhibition developed by curator Simon Njami in cooperation with the MMK and to be presented subsequently at four further venues worldwide.

On three floors, one each devoted to heaven, hell and purgatory, works in a variety of media will be presented: paintings, photographs, sculptures, videos, installations and performances. A large number of the works will be conceived specifically for the MMK interior and premiered by the show. Taking their own widely differing cultural and religious backgrounds as a point of departure, the artists will examine individual thematic sequences of the Divine Comedy. In some cases the otherworldly realms will be visualized as godless places brought to life by the power of imagination; in other works they will be associated with ideas of divinity, hope or loss.

Against the background of the many Africa-related exhibitions of the past years, the MMK perceives the need to investigate the significance of African art not only in the post-colonial context but also with regard to aesthetics. The exhibition will accordingly not be limited to historical or political depictions; on the contrary, it will set its sights on poetry and art as expresive means of conveying and communicating the unspoken. The exhibition concept transports the universal issues of the Divine Comedy, an incunable of European literature, into the present and places them in a transnational contemporary context.


Please read the interesting MMK-notes interview with one of the artists, Ethiopian photographer, filmmaker and curator, Aida Muluneh. Her work from The 99 Series, 2013 has been chosen for the exhibition poster. Here’s an excerpt. 

The exhibition’s point of departure is Dante‘s “Divine Comedy”. In the run-up to the exhibition, how relevant was it for you to actually engage with Dante’s work?

Aida Muluneh: I don’t remember exactly when but it was a few years ago that Simon Njami mentioned to me that he was planning a show based on the Divine Comedy. Initially he told me to work on a collection based on paradise but eventually, I guess to provoke me in my creative process and knowing my personal life all too well, I was assigned with inferno. Coming from a place like Ethiopia, where religion is a way of life and a culture for us, it was interesting for me to see church paintings that depicted “hell”. Hence, since the exhibition is based on Dante’s body of work, it was relevant to understand his work in order to draw inspiration for how I perceived the inferno.

How do religion and ethics feature in your artistic practice? And consequently, what do the terms heaven/hell/purgatory mean to you personally?

Aida Muluneh: In my photography, my main focus is obviously to document what I find interesting, and in my fine art photography, I find myself always drawn towards my personal experience of growing up like a nomad and seeing many different cultures. It’s not necessarily religion or ethics but more dealing with emotions, struggles, life, love, loss and so forth. Hence, when I think about heaven and hell, they are not something that is in another world but rather ever-present in this world, we don’t need to die to find them.

What is the work exhibited at the MMK about?

Aida Muluneh: Inferno is made of history, not only of a country but of self, of exile, of bloodshed, of loss, of mourning, of bitterness, of broken hearts and broken wings. The inferno is not down below; it is here, ever-present, next to us, in our memories and in our minds. It is made of delusions, of prostration, of hiding behind masks to validate our existence and hidden agendas; it’s a mask we wear to fool ourselves and others in an attempt to get ahead, yet we are void in our survival. We live in the gray cold existence, uncomfortable like the dirty snow of western winters or like the polluted skyline of what we call Ethiopian modernity. Pulled between the past, the present and the future, we wrap ourselves with forgotten heritage and dream of looking towards the future, but we are stuck looking into the past. …

The exhibited artists

Jane Alexander (*1959 Johannesburg, South Africa), Fernando Alvim (*1963 Luanda, Angola), Ghada Amer (*1963 Cairo, Egypt), Joël Andrianomearisoa (*1977 Antananarivo, Madagascar), Kader Attia (*1970 Dugny/Seine-Saint-Denis, France), Sammy Baloji (*1978 Lubumbashi, Congo), Berry Bickle (*1959 Bulawayo, Zimbabwe), Bili Bidjocka (*1962 Douala, Cameroon), Wim Botha (*1974 Pretoria, South Africa), Zoulikha Bouabdellah (*1977 Moscow, Russia), Mohamed Bourouissa (*1978 Blida, Algeria), Nabil Boutros (*1954 Cairo, Egypt), Edson Chagas (*1977 Luanda, Angola), Loulou Cherinet(*1970 Gothenburg, Schweden), Lawrence Chikwa (Lusaka, Zambia), Kudzanai Chiurai (*1981 Harare, Zimbabwe), Dimitri Fagbohoun (*1972 Cotonou, Benin), Franck Abd-Bakar Fanny (*1971 Ivory Coast), Jellel Gasteli (*1958 Tunis, Tunisia), Pélagie Gbaguidi (*1965 Dakar, Senegal), Kendell Geers (*1968 Johannesburg, South Africa), Frances Goodman (*1975 Johannesburg, South Africa), Nicholas Hlobo (*1975  Cape Town, South Africa), Mouna Karray (*1970 Sfax, Tunisia), Amal Kenawy (1974 – 2012 Cairo, Egypt), Majida Khattari (*1966 Erfoud, Morocco), Kiluanji Kia Henda (*1979 Luanda, Angola), Jems Koko Bi (*1966 Sifra, Ivory Coast), Abdoulaye Konaté (*1953 Diré, Mali), Nicène Kossentini (*1976 Sfax, Tunisia), Ndary Lo (*1961 Tivaouane, Senegal), Ato Malinda (*1981 Nairobi, Kenya), Pascale Marthine Tayou (*1967 Yaoundé, Cameroon), Julie Mehretu (*1970 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia), Myriam Mihindou (*1964 Libreville, Gabon), Nandipha Mntambo (*1982 Swasiland), Aïda Muluneh (*1974 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia), Hassan Musa (*1951 El-Nuhud, Sudan), Wangechi Mutu (*1972 Nairobi, Kenya), Mwangi Hutter (*1975 Nairobi, Kenya and *1975 Ludwigshafen, Germany),Youssef Nabil (*1972 Cairo, Egypt), Lamia Naji (*1966 Casablanca, Marocco), Moataz Nasr (*1961 Cairo, Egypt), Cheikh Niass (*1966 Dakar, Senegal), Maurice Pefura (*1967 Paris, France), Zineb Sedira (*1963 Paris, France), Yinka Shonibare MBE (*1962 London, England), Guy Tillim (*1962 Johannesburg, South Africa), Andrew Tshabangu (*1966 Johannesburg, South Africa), Minnette Vári (*1968 Pretoria, South Africa), Dominique Zinkpè (*1969 Cotonou, Benin)


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Please visit Aida Muluneh’s Facebook page.