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Material Matters: New art from Africa

Material Matters: New Art From Africa

Introduction by Curator Sally Couacaud


ICAIO aims to give Mauritians a unique opportunity to experience, appreciate and learn about contemporary art from the Indian Ocean region through the presentation of exhibitions of work by artists and guest curators.

The first exhibition to be organized by a guest curator Material Matters: New Art From Africa is a group show selected exclusively from the private collection of ICAIO’s founder Salim Currimjee.  

The Collection is particularly strong in contemporary art from the African continent and especially South Africa which in recent years has seen a veritable explosion of young, dynamic artists whose work is garnering world-wide acclaim. In researching the Collection for this exhibition I was struck both by the strength and vitality of their art and by the diversity of materials that they have deployed in the exploration and articulation of the ideas and issues that drive their creative agendas.

Material Matters: New Art From Africa therefore attempts to give an insight into the work of some of these artists as well as the wide range of materials they utilize to amplify and give expression to the concerns that underpin their art.   

These concerns speak to and of multiple histories, some particular to South Africa – indeed some of which have parallel resonances in Mauritian history and culture, while others have universal pertinence:  histories of politics and power – of suppression, rebellion and violence; histories of gendered identity, work and sexuality – of exploitation and pornography; and histories of cultural representation – from the traditions and materials of ancient cultures, to the hierarchies of Western art and modernism with its divisions between ‘high’ art and ‘low’ craft, through to the ubiquity and power of today’s media images and their viral circulation through the internet.

In expressing their particular concerns the artists have drawn on a plethora of materials to develop potent visual vocabularies that on the one hand draw us into a more intimate engagement and appreciation of their work but at the same time evoke multiple references and associations that challenge us to see beneath and beyond simplistic interpretations: body fluids, earth, dung, cowhide/hooves and hair, buttons, ribbons, thread, hessian sacking, paper, canvas, shoes, books, magazines, paintbrushes, furniture, hosepipe, rubber, oils, inks, wood, polystyrene, steel, neon lights and more….

At times manifesting an excess of pertinence, at other times seemingly in contradiction to the heart of the matter at hand these works from Africa with their imaginative use of materials allow us to shift into the realm of the immaterial – of ideas and emotion, of association and memory, and at the same time provide us with powerful and poetic metaphors of the human condition.







Sally Couacaud

Sally Couacaud is a contemporary art curator who has spent most of her adult life living in Mauritius and Sydney. She has been Director, Australian Video Festival, Director, Artspace Visual Art Centre, and Curator, Sydney Open Museum and since 2001 has worked as an independent curator.

She has curated numerous exhibitions and public art projects in Australia, New Zealand, Japan and USA and has been visiting Africa since 1967.

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