TRIAD is pleased to present SHIELDS, a project by Virginia Ryan and René Peña. SHIELDS has been selected and invited as foundation project by AKAA – Also Known As Africa Contemporary – art and design fair in Paris, 10-12 November 2017.
Virginia Ryan is a trans-national artist working in Italy and in West Africa. A graduate from the National Art School, Canberra, Australia (79) and a Postgraduate School in Art Therapy from Edinburgh, Scotland (94) she has worked within the disciplines of painting, photography, sculpture and installation, solo or in collaboration with artists, anthropologists and musicians since 1981. Virginia has made art in Alexandria in Egypt, Curitiba Brazil, Belgrade Serbia, Edinburgh Scotland, Accra Ghana, Abidjan and Grand Bassam, Ivory Coast.
Ryan’s work has often concerned displacement, migrations, memory, loss and transformation, and has involved multiple engagements with local artists and communities. She uses traditional western and contemporary visual languages, and often employs everyday objects to explore the extraordinary reality of today’s dynamic West Africa; mindful of her origins, in her mixed media practise her lived experience allows her to step outside the claustrophobia of the Eurocentric gaze.
At AKAA, TRIAD will exhibit a series of the artist’s sculptural works Bouclier Bassamoise 1, 2, 3. These three works make up the cycle BOUCLIERS (shields), which were produced in Grand Bassam in Ivory Coast in 2015. Grand Bassam was one of the first trading post sets up during French colonial rule. Grand Bassam was one of the first trading post sets up during French colonial rule. All the material was collected along the beach, along the same West African coastlines from where men and women were deported, as slaves, in order to create the ‘New World’: a human passage which culminated with thousands upon thousands working the plantations of the Caribbean Islands. By using washed-up objects deposited on the shorelines directly from the Atlantic Ocean, the intention is to meditate on the discarded objects and embodied memories carried by contemporary water-currents and to create further artistic/ geographic links between Africa and the Caribbean. The link with the Caribbean is also created by honouring the transformative act of using the abandoned object and giving it new life the through the creative process, a tradition strong in both the Caribbean and West Africa and in Voudou. The found objects have been ‘whitewashed’ as a sign of purity and the ceremonial/sacred. The artist states, “The Boucliers have been left in plywood containers, which travelled to Europe from West Africa in 2016. Black paint has been applied to the containers as a sign of mourning for the local people and tourists murdered in a terrorist attack on that same beach of Bassam on the 13th of March 2016, one of whom, Henrike Grohs, was a close friend of mine. The packing cases, the powerful sense of mourning present in the triptych is simultaneously a homage to all those who have lost their lives at sea, and continue to do so.”
René Peña is a Cuban visual artist specialising in photography. He was born 1957 in Havana and studied at the University of Havana. He is a self-taught photographer and he has exhibited his work both nationally and internationally. He is regarded as one of the most important Cuban artists of his generation.
He focuses on exploring human identity and individualism. His works present strong contrasts between black and white, subject and background, subject and object. The photography of René Peña is closely associated with his reactions to objects and situations happening to him. One of the characteristics of the artist’s works is the presentation of skin. As he states, “In my photography, skin represents human beings. Our flesh has been used in different ways, as grist for the mill, to barricade, and in lust. So, I have decided to make use of my own skin. I have polished it, washed it, and pressed it and, at the end, I have reproduced it to decorate rooms and galleries. It has become a trophy like deer antlers or rhinoceros horns. It can be used as patterns for wallpaper, carpets and tapestries. My work does not permit the recognition of an individual, only parts are seen but there are no fingerprints. These images do not culminate in a personal description. In one way or another we are all raw material for the same project.”