Paradise, Hell, Purgatory: African Artists Interpret the Divine Comedy

Aida Muluneh, The 99 Series Part One, 2014. Per gentile concessione dell'artista

On 20 March the MMK – Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt/Main in Frankfurt will be inaugurating The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory revisited by Contemporary African Artists, a project curated by Simon Njami which transposes Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy into the form of an exhibition, through the work of more than 40 of the main contemporary African artists. It is a large event that will be on show at the MMK until 27 July and thereafter in another four important international museums (watch the trailer). lettera27 and Moleskine are partners of the project and will be accompanying it in the next legs around the world.

Curator Simon Njami and artist Bili Bidjocka are also the creators ofEcriture Infinie, a travelling art project  in celebration of handwriting and the pleasure of transferring thoughts from the mind to the page, an enormous notebook invites visitors to leave a handwritten message as if it were the last time they would ever write by hand. Njami and Bidjocka have also contributed to the Moleskine Detour project, as has South African artist Nicholas Hlobo, whereas Jems Koko Bi and Pascale Marthine Tayou feature in another travelling art project involving Moleskine notebooks: AtWork, produced by lettera27. Local communities are engaged in workshops and interactive installations, which serve to create points of cultural exchange, creative experimentation and the circulation of ideas.

Over the course of the next months the contemporary art platformContemporary And, which is the media partner for the exhibition, will be publishing in-depth analysis and interviews with the artists taking part (here is the first article with artist Guy Tillim). Other analysis will be produced by lettera27 in collaboration with Doppiozero. These will include Elio Grazioli’s interview with curator Simon Njami that will be published in the coming weeks by Doppiozero.

The set-up for this first leg of the project will cover an area of 4,500 square metres in the museum, and will be divided into three levels, corresponding to Paradise, Hell and Purgatory. Each level hosts works produced specifically using different languages and media: painting, photography, sculpture, video art, installations and performances. In addition, a series of meetings, workshops, talks and screenings have been organised for the entire duration of the exhibition (see the full programme).

Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy represents one of the cornerstones of Western literature as it laid the foundations for much of contemporary knowledge in the spheres of theology, philosophy and morality. In its blend of Catholic orthodoxy and classicism the poem also expresses the deep roots of Italian culture and more generally the cultures of Latin origin. Njami’s project brings together artists from heterogeneous cultures to contemplate the wisdom and traditions expressed by Dante’s masterpiece and the rich imagery it generates. Every artist was asked to reinterpret a passage from the poem and give shape to abstract ideas and concepts such as infinitude, presence or absence of the divine, beauty and hope.

The triad Paradise, Purgatory and Hell can also be interpreted as a metaphor for each artist’s creative process, which progressively crosses these three states of the soul and intellect in the production of the work of art. The exhibition also intends to restore the focus on African authors as pure artists, beyond the geographical connotations that often just reveal the legacy of post-colonial issues and have little to do with their work. In fact, The Divine Comedy exhibition aims to give African authors their voice back and allow them to take the public on a journey through the exhibition, where each artist will accompany them for part of the way with their own unique vision.

Artists featured 
Jane Alexander, Fernando Alvim, Ghada Amer, Joël Andrianomearisoa, Kader Attia, Sammy Baloji, Berry Bickle, Bili Bidjocka, Wim Botha, Zoulikha Bouabdellah, Mohamed Bourouissa, Nabil Boutros, Edson Chagas, Loulou Cherinet, Lawrence Chikwa, Kudzanai Chiurai, Dimitri Fagbohoun, Franck Abd-Bakar Fanny, Jellel Gasteli, Pélagie Gbaguidi, Kendell Geers, Frances Goodman, Nicholas Hlobo, Mouna Karray, Amal Kenawy, Majida Khattari, Kiluanji Kia Henda, Jems Koko Bi, Abdoulaye Konaté, Nicène Kossentini, Ndary Lo, Ato Malinda, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Julie Mehretu, Myriam Mihindou, Nandipha Mntambo, Aïda Muluneh, Hassan Musa, Wangechi Mutu, Mwangi Hutter, Youssef Nabil Lamia Naji, Moataz Nasr, Cheikh Niass, Maurice Pefura, Zineb Sedira, Yinka Shonibare MBE, Guy Tillim, Andrew Tshabangu, Minnette Vári, Dominique Zinkpè.

Image: Aïda Muluneh, The 99 Series, 2013, © Aïda Muluneh.