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We face forward: Art from West Africa today

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Location: Manchester Art Gallery; Whitworth Art Gallery; Gallery of Costume, Manchester

Manchester’s two main galleries will collaborate for the first time on a major exhibition of contemporary art drawn from West Africa, which forms part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

Taking place in three locations across the city – the Whitworth Art Gallery and Park, the Manchester Art Gallery and Platt Hall (Gallery of Costume) – the exhibition will feature painting, drawing, photography, textiles, sculpture, installation, video and sound work from a wide range of practitioners whose work is internationally acclaimed, but relatively little seen in the UK.

Manchester has strong historic links with West Africa that go back to the barbarity of the transatlantic slave trade and the industrial revolution. The city’s galleries evidence these links in their collections, which include the remarkable indigo-dyed Malian boubou robe and the ‘Manchester-made’ African textiles at the Whitworth, and the Nigerian and Ghanian textiles at the Gallery of Costume.

The title of the exhibition is taken from a speech by Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, made in 1960. Stating his resistance to Cold War super powers, Nkrumah’s full quote is “We face neither East nor West: we face forward.”

While acknowledging the past, this wide-ranging exhibition will focus on contemporary connections and ideas circulating today. Internationally important and resonant, the contemporary art in We Face Forward foregrounds fresh perspectives and reflects on the globalised nature of cultural production. The exhibition will be informed by three critical themes: the politics of economic and cultural circulation, the question of energy and environmental sustainability and the place of tradition in contemporary culture.

Confirmed artists include: Hélène Amazou, Mohamed Camara, Aboubakar Fofana, Meschac Gaba, Romuald Hazoumè, Abdoulaye Konaté, Nii Obodai, Nnenna Okore, Emeka Ogboh, Abraham Oghobase, Amadou Sanogo, Malick Sidibé, Pascale Marthine Tayou and Barthélémy Toguo, with a number of others shortly to be confirmed.

170,000 people are expected to attend the free exhibition. No ticket is needed to attend. We Face Forward: Art from West Africa Today will be accompanied by a multi-faceted programme of elated music, performance and fashion that will engage audiences across the city throughout the summer.

More information: We face forward exhibition.

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