African art space Efie Gallery opens permanently in Dubai's Al Khayat Art Avenue

Its first exhibition features a solo show by renowned Ghanaian artist El Anatsui

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Efie Gallery started as a participant in last year’s All Africa Festival, setting up a temporary pavilion at Burj Plaza in Downtown Dubai, where it featured works by African painters and sculptors, including the acclaimed El Anatsui.

The gallery’s entry into the UAE art network, with a permanent space in Al Quoz’s Al Khayat Art Avenue, is part of a larger push by Dubai Culture to grow and promote creative industries, underscored in large part by the announcement of Al Quoz Creative Zone in April 2021.

Meant to be a hub for businesses involved in visual arts, cinema, music and heritage, the zone covers an area that is mostly industrial. Currently, Al Quoz’s typical tenants, automotive workshops and companies using warehouses for storage, are being inched out of the neighbourhood to make way for cultural enterprises.

Efie Gallery’s location, Al Khayat Art Avenue, is only the beginning of newly developed quarters around the industrial area of Al Quoz. Using its neighbour Alserkal Avenue as a model, Al Khayat Art Avenue is converting a cluster of warehouses into white cube galleries and other art spaces.

A number of galleries, including a photography studio, are set to open at the new avenue in the coming months.

A hanging sculpture at the newly opened Efie Gallery in Al Quoz, Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

For its opening on Tuesday, Efie Gallery founders — Valentina Mintah and her sons Kobi Mintah and Kwame Mintah — have organised a solo show of Anatsui’s recent works titled Shard Song, showcasing new metal hanging and wooden sculptures from 2022.

Valentina, who is Ghanaian-British, is a technology executive who saw a gap in the regional market for African art. Speaking to The National in October, she said: “We don’t want African art to be an afterthought. We want it to blossom with the art scene here.”

The establishment of Efie Gallery is part of that mission, which includes highlighting not only current artistic production in Africa, but also its rich histories.

Curated by Mae-Ling Lokko, an artist and educator at Yale University, Shard Song features a total of seven works, some of which present new elements in the artist’s practice.

Mae-Ling Lokko, an artist and educator, curated Shard Song, the El Anatsui exhibition at Efie Gallery. Pawan Singh / The National

Among these is the introduction of tones of purple and pink, as seen in his 2022 sculptures Rainbow Hues and Keyboard for Life. Anatsui is often known for using reds and yellows, borrowing from the traditional Ghanaian kente cloth.

After the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the artist has settled in his native Ghana, though he had previously worked in his studio in Nigeria. This move has influenced Anatsui’s use of material, particularly the difference between the hardwoods available in the two countries. Wood from Nsukka typically has intrinsic colours of red, yellow and white, but the Ghanaian hardwood possesses lighter shades of yellow, allowing the artist to play more with pigment.

In these sculptures, made with the help of assistants who scorch the planks to create patterned impressions and scars, Anatsui is alluding to brutal colonial histories in the African continent.

Shard Song also features three hanging metal sculptures, including a rehang of Detsi, which was shown at the gallery’s temporary pavilion last year, as well new works from 2022, Profile of a Country and Prodigal Son, which are being shown in public for the first time.

Shaped like a landmass, though an unrecognisable one, Profile of a Country is made with white and green medical bottle caps and sutured together with wire. On one side, modules of blue, yellow and white flattened liquor caps appear to be encroaching onto the white shape.

'Profile of a Country' by El Anatsui, on display at Efie Gallery, is made with white and green medical bottle caps and sutured together with wire. Pawan Singh / The National

In addition to visual art, the gallery is also dedicated to promoting music, particularly old, rare and hard-to-find albums that may only exist in vinyl. Consequently, the second floor of the space houses Efie’s record gallery, which currently showcases a curated selection of vinyl records from Kobi and Kwame’s personal collection.

The brothers have been collecting records for the past two years and have managed to find rare albums during their travels around the world. Among them is an extremely rare record Prince of Space / Tanz der Leere from 1959 by Charles Wilp with the artist Yves Klein. It is a silent record, mimicking Klein’s minimalist visual works.

“We were interested in this marriage between music and art,” Kobi says, also saying that the gallery intends to promote many artistic disciplines.

“I realised that there was a world of music that only exists on vinyl,” Kwame says, explaining that records present a convergence of sonic and visual elements, with the cover art, as well as the importance of production.

The brothers are also collecting records of historical significance, including a vinyl of Ghanaian nationalist leader Kwame Nkrumah’s speeches titled Africa Speaks to the World. “Our history is very oratory, and a lot of it is passed on through songs and other oral traditions,” Kobi says.

A display of rare vinyl albums on the second floor of Efie Gallery. Pawan Singh / The National

Like visual art, records also have the appeal of scarcity and tangibility in an industry that is ruled by streaming services. “It’s a tangible ownership of work,” Kobi says. “There’s also this idea of passing it on from one owner to the next. It’s about the negotiation between collectors. Many collectors remember where they got their records and from who. There’s a connection to the music and the object.”

While the albums from the brothers’ collection are not for sale, a selection of other works are available at the gallery. In addition, Kobi and Kwame intend to invite other vinyl collectors to showcase their albums in the space.

Shard Song is on view until May 31. More information is available at efiegallery.com

Updated: March 08, 2022, 2:55 PM
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