VILLA ROMANA - HOME
VILLA ROMANA - HOME

Upcoming

19 Oct                     30 Nov 2018

Sarenco L’Africano
and the Italo-African Fusion of the 1980s and 1990s

We warmly invite you and your friends to the opening of the exhibition on Friday,
19 October at 7.30 pm.

Opening hours: Tuesday to Friday 2 to 6 pm and on appointment


 3-Kanal-Video/Audio, 113 min

Sarenco L’Africano (Aziz Sarenco Sharif, Mau Mau Sarenco Gitaj), La platea dell’umanita, 2001

 3-Kanal-Video/Audio, 113 min

detail, Sarenco L’Africano (Aziz Sarenco Sharif, Mau Mau Sarenco Gitaj), La platea dell’umanita, 2001

 3-Kanal-Video/Audio, 113 min

Abdallah Salim, Me in my Village, 1993; Kivuthi Mbuno, both untitled, end of the 1990s

 3-Kanal-Video/Audio, 113 min

John Nzau, Human share river water with animals, 1998; Amadou Makhtar Mbaye (TITA), Teatrino, 1990s

 3-Kanal-Video/Audio, 113 min

Abdallah Salim, Mambrui, 1993; George Lilanga, Jitahidini mmalize halafu niwape maziwawengine, 2003, Leo watu wanafuraha kutuona, 2003

 3-Kanal-Video/Audio, 113 min

documentation of the correspondence for the Venice Biennial 2001


As part of the exhibition, a talk by art historian Agnes Stillger will take place on October 31, 2018:
From the hotel to the global art market. Complex interdependencies between export production, creative exchange and the search for cultural identity in the art scene in Kenya.

In 2001 Harald Szeemann invited the Italian artist Sarenco, who died in February 2017, to participate in the 49th Venice Biennale. In the Corderie dell’Arsenale Sarenco exhibited a group of life-size figural wood sculptures that he had had produced in Kenya, his second home, as well as over 300 painted text-tableaux. Szeemann also asked Sarenco to propose a series of African artists for the Piattaforma del pensiero (Platform of Thought), which formed the centrepiece of the Italian pavilion. At the conclusion of the Biennale, a collector consortium from Prato /Florence /Verona purchased Sarenco´s Biennale contribution. The collector and art dealer, Carlo Palli, whose focus lies in the art of Fluxus and visual poetry, had already been introduced to the paintings and photographs of African artists in the 1980s and 1990s by Sarenco and had subsequently integrated them into Italian collections. A selection of the remaining works by Amadou Makhtar Mbaye, Kivuthi Mbuno, George Lilanga, John Nzau, David Ochieng, Abdallah Salim, Johnny Kilaka, Peter Martin, Almighty God and Maurus Malikita will be exhibited and recontextualised in the Villa Romana together with Sarenco’s wooden sculptures. 

Sarenco – also known as Sarenco L´Africano, Aziz Sarenco Sharif and Mau Mau Sarenco Gitaj – settled in the tourist resort of Malindi in the 1980s, where he married several times, invited numerous artist friends from Europe to join him, and promoted a lively exchange between this new Mecca of contemporary art in Kenya and the collecting scene in Europe and the USA. His network, which included the critics and curators Achille Bonito Oliva and Enrico Mascelloni as well as his colleague, the artist Armando Tanzini, had a considerable influence on the perception and reception of African, so-called authentic art in Italy. The ripples of the Italy-Malindi connection’s influence worked their way into the creation of Kenya’s first national pavilion at the Venice Biennales of 2013 and 2015.


Sarenco and the Avant-Garde Utopia of the Swahili Coast
by Agnes Stillger

The following essay was written in order to contextualize the exhibition Sarenco L´Africano and the Italian-African fusion in the 1980s and 90s organized at Villa Romana in Florence (19 October - 30 November  2018). It is supposed to shed light on the interconnectedness of a network of artists, curators and collectors gravitating around the Italian artist Isaia Mabellini (1945 - 2017) – known as Sarenco – and his activities in Malindi, Kenya, after 1986. Seventeen years after the presentation of an ensemble of figurative wooden sculptures, produced in collaboration with artists and artisans in Kenya, at the 49th Venice Biennial (2001), questions about the quality of Sarenco´s relationships with African artists, the repercussions for the local art scene and perception in the global art market, are restated. According to the art historian Christian Kravagna, a heterogeneous global art history can best be illustrated via moments of contact, through the concrete analysis of complex individual examples of interaction while considering the colonial and postcolonial power relations.1

Africa in the global art world: An introduction
Sarenco´s turn towards forms of popular contemporary art production in Africa, especially in Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa in the 1980s, can only be fully understood in the context of institutional debates on contemporary non-Western art around the same time. The British magazine Third Text, founded in 1987 and published by the artist and critic Rasheed Araeen and the Institute of International Visual Arts (Iniva) together with the theorist Stuart Hall, was pushing ahead the debate on a postcolonial cultural identity in non-Western countries. It called for a non-hierarchical and polycentric perception of art, and thus an elimination of the distinction of exhibition venues into modern art museums and ethnological museums. Both disciplines, art history and ethnology, are faced with the task of rethinking the concept of culture through increasing deterritorialization and migration.2 From the landmark exhibition Magiciens de la terre in 1989, curated by Jean-Hubert Martin at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, which for the first time included art from all continents, almost 30 years have passed since the reorganization of permanent collections in the international art museums. Only recently have there been  a number of notable global approaches, such as Hello World. Reorganization of a Collection in Berlin (2018), or Postwar: Art between the Pacific and the Atlantic, 1945-65 in Munich (2017).  However, already after 1989, the first important exhibitions responded to Magiciens de la terre’s approach of predominantly equating African with authentic and autodidactic in contrast to Western academic art. According to its critics, the failure of Magiciens de la terre was to mystify the production of art in non-Western cultures and to remove it from the questions of power and privileges. When comparing present historical and material conditions of African countries for example, it has to be taken in consideration what they achieved within the limitations when entering the postcolonial world. Susan Vogel´s Africa Explores. Twentieth Century African Art, held in New York in 1991, tried to understand Africa´s experience from the African perspective and identified five styles of art ranging over traditional practices, collective memory and Western influences, under the categories traditionl, new functional, urban, international and extinct art.3
Clementine Deliss and five co-curators produced Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa in 1995 at the Whitechapel Gallery in London: a collaborative exhibition project in which each of the selected curators developed a separate section dealing with the art of a specific region from. The exhibition revealed a heterogeneous picture instead of following the habitual African stereotype, equal to non-contaminated by Western training, which had been well-marketed in private galleries in Europe. In the catalogue of the show, the Kenyan critic and curator Wanjiku Nyachae states, "East African artists are interested in what is happening abroad, but the majority of artists literally cannot access, and /or affort to engage in, debate and experimentation."4 In countries like Kenya, national economics and political development had impact on the provision of materials and on formal art education. According to the Nigerian art historian Chika Okeke-Agulu, the classification of art from Africa calls for focus on complex contexts, "between colonial politics and culture and African modernity and between colonial education and the foundation of modern art."5 Which means there is a conscious turning to tradition in the decolonization phase, as an act of self-discovery and a rejection of Western orientation. That´s why picking up traditional techniques, styles and materials has its justification as a contemporary expression. Countries where training opportunities were limited, including Kenya, had more self-taught artists and more popular forms, such as sign painting, didactic painting for organizations and public authorities, and last but not least tourist art or airport art. They represent challenges to the Western concept of contemporary art, but are the result of a postcolonial reality. Africa Remix. Contemporary Art of a Continent by Simon Njami, held in 2004 at the London Hayward Gallery, presented 88 artists with productions from the past ten years placing art design, fashion and literature alongside each other with the intention to overcome also a Western seperation of art and crafts.

Malindi Artist´s Proof and the avant-garde vision
Sarenco first traveled to Kenya in December 1982 to spend a holiday in Bamburi, north of Mombassa, where he created his first African work, the Polyptych The Kenya Poem. Several stays in this region were followed in 1986 by the first trip to Malindi. In 1986, Malindi Artist´s Proof was to have been inaugurated there by the German Fluxus artist Joseph Beuys, who died earlier the same year. Sarenco continued  the initiative and settled in Malindi. Malindi Artist's Proof included artists such as Richard Onyango, Abdallah Salim, Cheff Mwai, John Nzau and David Ochieng (Onyango). Sarenco saw Malindi Artist´s Proof not as an ideological movement, and still less as a school, but as a free community of artists and friends who came together in Malindi to work and live according to the Fluxus motto of the unity of art and life.6 A number of Italian artists were the first guests: Aldo Mondino, Guiseppe Desiato, Eugenio Miccini, Ugo Carrega, Giovanni Fontana and Ignazio Moncada. Later visitors were Grazia Azzali (1990), the American Fluxus artist Emmet Williams and Ann Noël 1990 and 1992, Pierre Garnier (1991), and regularly, Julien Blaine, a poet and founder of the Doc (k) magazine.7 A writer connected with Sarenco explained the role of the place for visiting artists:

"It is enough to listen to certain of the protagonists or read through their writings (for example Eugenio Miccini’s Opere africane) in order to understand that these visits were very similar to periods of initiation into happiness, in other words into another and new way of working. Of course, in all of this - on the beach or in bed, eating or working - there is to be found the best way of knowing Sarenco the African and his most important lessons."8

The invited artists were close to movements like Neo-Futurism, Fluxus and Visual Poetry. The commonality lay in the freedom of expression, political content and addressing real daily life with a Dada attitude. Above all else, the interplay between various disciplines such as magazines, performance, film, the creation of networks and collaborative work was decisive.9 In the period considered here, Kenyan art showed qualities that dovetail perfectly with Sarenco’s concept of art: it had a strong symbolic and mythical imagery, expressionist and naive traits, but at the same time was highly political, often satirically commenting on political events. It referred to corruption, food shortage, industrial dumping or urban and rural life. The visual narration and concrete prose was more pronounced than in art from West Africa, and painting was more of a means of implementation than dealing with painting itself.10 Most artists Sarenco had a certain interests who represented a kind of originality, in the sense of integrating modern elements or even inventing new styles, as for example Sunday Jack Akpan´s cement tomb sculptures, dealing with new materials and new topics. Richard Onyango of Malindi Artist’s Proof like many self taught artists has paid attention to buses, cars and other symbols of modernity but his signature paintings are a series about a white woman called Drosie, and his brief involvement with her. The patronage has exposed the artist to a new experience, the intervention has even been crucial to his artistic repertory and ultimately. Another major artist of Malindi Artist’s Proof Cheff Mwai worked with photography, a medium just about to being recognized by local artists as an artistic tool around this time. The Italian curator Achille Bonito Oliva, famous for his seminal work providing a dogmatic superstructure for Arte Povera, La Transavanguardia Italiana, became an important collaborator of Sarenco’s, in retrospect, he explains the emerging interest in African art as a transavantgarde movement that has its roots in the multicultural idea of the 1980s. The authenticity and originality of self-taught artists such as Esther Malangu from South Africa, Kivuthu Mbuno from Kenya or Seni Camara from Senegal, all without contact with Western academies and workshops, correspond to Oliva’s ideal of a simple but spirited African art.11

Networks and art for export
Disregarding the commercial aspect, Malindi Artist´s Proof is poorly understood. The collaboration with Sarenco followed the model of employing artists on above-average salaries, in return for which they provided their entire production to Malindi Artist´s Proof.12 According to the Kenyan curator Nyachae, the painters used standardized screen dimensions and the sculptors usually worked in series.13 The concept is similar to that of Ruth Schaffner, who ran the successful Watatu gallery in Nairobi since the 1960s. She supported the families of the artists, who were paid well above average, also by providing school fees and materials. In return she expected total loyalty from the artists and exclusive representation.14 With the economic incentives a strong European patronage has begun to shape the art works produced.
The coastal town of Malindi had already been a tourist center since the 1970s. Relatively inexpensive long-haul flights from Western Europe made a holiday on Kenya’s coast possible for everyone. Tourists from Germany could even head directly to Malindi Airport, which was designed for DC-9 aircraft. Tourists enjoyed the beaches, marine life, safaris and the Swaheli ruins. Another reason for the popularity for Germans, Swiss, Italians and British, as the magazine Tourism Management stated in 1996, was that the tourism industry was largely operated by compatriots.15
Art and tourism are closely related in Kenya, both the production of wood carvings, so-called tourist or airport art and newer forms such as sign painting were popular souvenirs and decorative objects. The popularity of the coastal region for foreigners led to internal migration, including labor migration from Uganda and Tanzania, as the tourism industry in general, and art in particular, provided a lucrative work opportunity. One of Kenya´s most internationally renowned artists, Kivuthi Mbundo, is a prime example of this: "His story," according to anthropologist Susan Vogel, "is a typical Kenyan story, as a safari cook, he soon discovered that there was money to be made selling pictures to tourists. He was drawing full-time by his early thirties and has made a living from his art ever since."16 The government did not care about cultural promotion of the arts, Kenya also lacked exchange and criticism among artists at that time, in a scenario characterized by strong competition and with the taste dictated by holiday guests and expatriates.17 In his important book The Invention of Africa, the theorist V.Y. Mudimbe criticizes tourist art as the questionable continuation of exotic imagery in contrast to Western aesthetics.18
The artist Sarenco laid particular emphasis on his role in conveying contemporary art from Kenya to international institutions and art markets outside Africa. According to him, after having organized three solo shows with Richard Onyango, whose studio was on his property, people began to realize for the first time that there was contemporary painting in Kenya.19
Among the collectors who regularly came to Sarenco's house were from Fürth, Germany, Bernd Kleine-Gunk, and from Paris André Magnin, representative of the most important European collection of African art, the Pigozzi Collection of the Simca heir Jean Pigozzi. From Italy the curators Achille Bonito Oliva and Enrico Mascelloni came regularly to Malindi.20 Also important for the Malindi art scene were the Africa Dream Hotel of Giulio Bargellini, a famous art collector and owner of the African Dream Village, who invited Italian sculptors to Malindi in 1988 to create art with their Kenyan counterparts. Armando Tanzini´s The White Elephant Hotel was another important center and is still home to an open-air sculpture park with works by various artists and Tanzini's own works. Nyachae, too, attaches some value to mediation, but argues "...it is important to emphasize, that they did not create talents, rather set them free and in some instances simultaneously reduced them to technical craftmanship."21 Western price structures made the art works usually unaffordable for Kenyans, even for the elite. However, the galleries also ensured the international recognition of artists such as George Lilanga, represented by gallery Watutu, through participation in the first Africus Biennial in Johannesburg in 1995 and at the Dakar Biennial in 1996. Sarenco's Malindi Artist's Proof group was invited by curator Nyachae to the important show Seven Stories in London, also in 1995, not without reflection on the issue of the development of the scene in Eastern Africa.22 Work by the artists of Malindi Artist's Proof was exhibited in several galleries in Italy, including the Fabricca Sarenco in Verona, the Galleria Spazia in Bologna and the gallery of Franco Riccardo in Naples.
In the introductory essay to the catalog of the "Africa Nera." Hic sunt leones, exhibition, held in 2006 in Naples, the authors – the gallery owner Franco Riccardo, curator Enrico Mascelloni and Sarenco – talk about the special connection between Italy and the contemporary African art scene:  With its non-systematic cultural system Italy has welcomed contemporary African art, unlike more institutional-based countries like France, the UK and Germany. According to the authors, the most important private galleries and collectors are to be found in Italy while in other European countries the postcolonial guilt trips blocked the institutions. They also feel that the significant multicultural enlargement brought about by the Magiciens de la terre exhibition of 1989 is not to be criticized. What they do attack in particular is the Africa Remix exhibition by Simon Njami, which, like other exhibitions after 1989, is regarded as of NGO quality. Furthermore, the private galleries in Europe are disparaged as second-rate and not comparable to the enthusiasm in Italy.23
The Italian-African merger is ambivalent: despite its somewhat questionable business ethics, it has been a catalyst for growth in the numbers and reputation of artists related to the ideals of the Italian patrons and brokers.

One for many: L'Africano at the 49th Venice Biennial, 2001
At the 49th Venice Biennial in 2001 the artist Isaia Mabellini presented figurative wooden sculptures, and painted and engraved wooden tableaux under the pseudonym Sarenco L'Africano (the African Sarenco). What is referred to in the Villa Romana exhibition as a fusion was reflected here in a collaborative work, created with artists in Sarenco´s circle and was presented on behalf of all parties under L´Africano.24 Is it pure cultural appropriation? References to different techniques and styles, as well as the proximity to certain artists gravitating around the Malindi Artist's Proof, is clear. Susan Vogel reminds the viewer at Africa Explores, that the role of the African artist is different, he is more likely "the transmitter of forms received from a distant (authoritative) sources."25 In the case of the work presented in Venice – with the anonymous craftsmen – this could only be the Western construction of the role of the traditional artist in an African country, and would mean a paternalistic approach reminding the African artist of his cultural traditions.
Central to the presentation in the Italian pavilion were fifteen life-size painted wooden figures. One of the characters embodies Sarenco sitting on a wooden bench, next to the Kenyan journalist David Njaci. There is a wooden plaque explaining the scene: David Njaci tells the poet Sarenco the story of the Mau Mau war of independence in the forests around Mount Kenya between 1952 and 1963. The future president, Jomo Kenyatta, stands aloof from a group of Mau Mau guerilla fighters, recognizable by their long hair, at whose feet a dead man lies. He admires the fighters. The text continues with a list of the men, among them Cheff Mwai, one of the most important artists of Malindi Artist´s Proof. In the background, another figure can be identified as a Japanese, who according to the text is an international representative. Oliva sees this work as embodying Sarenco's claim to translate visual poetry into three-dimensional representation.26 Three hundred wooden panels, most of them carved and painted in Malindi, hang close to the walls. They can be divided into different series, open book pages with beach scenes, framed text panels commenting film medium, sculptural images of fishing boats. As well as a number of daily newspapers, Kenya Times, The Standard and The Nation, which – partly in Swahili and, partly in English – comment on historical political events, such as the 1990 assassination of foreign minister Robert Ouko, who campaigned against corruption. Another 36 panels each bear the words "Africa Independence Poem" with the name, the year of independence and the geographical outline of the country. Another series of 53 panels imitates the format of license plates. In his preface to the catalog of the exhibition, Achille Bonito Oilva explains the concept of the art work: "Visual poetry is constructed literature: wood, painting, collage, canvas – an anthology of African materials, of Sarenco's texts since 1963, and of the creative front he has created with Kenyan artisans and artists."27 Sensitivity to Kenya's struggle for independence and, more generally, to the decolonization of African nations would have led one to expect the names of the artists participating in the exhibition to be indicated somewhere to avoid a neo-colonial trap of cultural appropriation.
The curators Salah M. Hassan and Olu Oguibe commented with an exhibition outside the official format titled Authentic /Ex-centric to the usual presentation of the authentic and non-Western art presented under the term African. Conceptual art positions, i.a. by Yinka Shonibare (Nigeria), Godfried Donkor (Ghana), Willem Boshoff (South Africa) and Zineb Sedira (Algeria) represent art that is on a par with Western art production and cannot be reduced to the authentic.28 It is interesting that in an essay in the magazine African Arts about the exhibition concept, the two authors cite Sarenco without question as Kenyan, and place the sculptures on a level with those of the Nigerian, Sunday Jack Akpan. Where Sarenco positions himself in this debate for a classification of the contemporary, becomes clear in the foreword to the catalog of an exhibition in Fürth, Germany, in 1996, where he attacked young artists in Europe and the US as "lifeless zombies" pursuing a bureaucratic career within the point of view of capitalist society. His conclusion is:  "There’'s no life today, no art, outside of Africa."29 As Sarenco sees it, contemporary art in Africa is equivalent to non-Western, - he speaks of the other qualities of Kenya´s art: "The things we love are amusing, spirited and simple. Things made to play with and to live with."30

Aftermath: Kenya Pavilion in Venice and the Malindi Biennial
The effects of the Malindi Connection of Italian protagonists were far-reaching. Kenya´s first national pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennial (2013) featured works by two Kenyan artists - Kivuthi Mbuno and Chrispus Wangombe Wachira. Other artists on display were the Italian artist and Sarenco´s collaborator  in Malindi Armando Tanzini, the Italian-Brazilian artist César Meneghetti, and eight artists from China: Fan Bo, Luo Ling & Liu Ke, Lu Peng, Li Wei, He Wiming, Chen Wenling and Feng Zhengjie. Curators were a team from Italy: Sandro Orlandi and Paola Poponi.31 The dominance of Chinese artists for a representation of Kenya was repeated in the following 56th Venice Biennial in 2015. Six out of eight selected artists were of Chinese origin, without any reference to Kenya. On Facebook, the Nigerian curator Olabisi Silva, who had been a member of the jury for the 2013 Biennial, called the presentation of Kenya "shambolic".32 A petition appeared on the online platform change.org aimed to preventing a repeat of 2013:

"Due to multiple failures in our systems, local and international platforms where Kenyan Artists and our socio-creative infrastructure can gain capital have been poorly managed, misrepresented and outrightly appropriated."33

Kenyan artist Michael Soi, who comments in his works on the growing social relationship between Kenya and China, responded with the painting The Shame in Venice. In the British Guardian Soi mentions a number of artists from the current art scene in Kenya and its diaspora who would have been suitable for the Kenya pavilion: "The likes of Wangechi Mutu, Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga, Peterson Kamwathi, Paul Onditi, Richard Kimathi, Jimmy Ogonga, Jim Chuchu… I could go on and on. That Kenyan pavilion is as phony as a three dollar bill."34 Curator Poponi, who again was the selected curator for the 2015 national pavilion of Kenya, defended her selection, by stating that it reflected the theme of the biennial, All The World´s Futures. She further stated, that presenting art from another part of the world could benefit Kenyan artists to reflect on identity and cultural production. She went on to claim that in addition two artists from Kenya were present: Yvonne Amolo, who actually lives in Switzerland, and the then 72-year-old Italian Armando Tanzini, who represented Kenya in both years, 2013 and 2015.35 The internationally acclaimed artist Wangechi Mutu was at least outside the national display in 2015. In an entry on his Facebook page Tanzini replied to the allegations:

"I love Africa, I love it with its endless qualities and its anful defects, I love it because it´s innocent and poor, I love it like I love all my neighbors, also the rich one, but the poor – uncomfortable – are signals. Why don´t we turn our head to this forgotten world placed under Equator? Why don´t we try to help them to make concrete the huge richness of their land and their souls? Not as missionaries, but as smart and sincere managers, ready to give and receive. I´ve been working with them for 30 years, testing several irrational economies such as tourism, agriculture, handcraft, estate activities and so on. I discovered that only magic of creativity could face those economic appalling emergencies, especially in artistic and scientific fields."36

As explained by Gregory Warner in an online article on National Public Radio (npr), a non-commercial US radio platform, in 2013, Tanzini bought the pavilion for several hundred thousand dollars for Kenya to provide a representation of the country. For the 2015 edition there were also other private investors but no government funding was forthcoming. The compromise, Tanzini continued, was to sell exhibition space to Chinese investors. Finally, at the 57th Venice Biennial in 2017, a different picture emerged. Under the title Another Country, works by Arlene Wandera, Mwangi Hutter, Paul Onditi, Peterson Kamwathi and Richard Kimathi were featured in the Kenya national pavilion. Curated by Jimmy Ogonga, with the consultation of the curator Simon Njami, Kenya presented itself at the Scuola Palladio on Giudecca Island. Ogongo commented in an interview with The Art Newspaper: "This time the Kenyan Pavilion has basically no money. It may not be the grandest exhibition, but it is ours."37

Since 2006, Malindi has its own biennial. According to the curator Enrico Mascellino, contrary to the capitalist dictates of the biennial industries, the artists be presented here are less concerned with the art market than with addressing social aspects of art. Sarenco too saw the Malindi Biennial as the answer to the underrepresentation of East African contemporary art on a global scale, not intended to be the eastern pendant of the Dakar Biennial but an event that would discover its own needs.38 The fourth edition of 2012 /3 – and so far the latest to date – focused on artists from China, reflecting an undeniable reality in Kenya:, the immense influence of Chinese investors. While the biennial´s orientation geographically focuses on investors, it repeats the positions of African artists' from the early stages of the Malindi Artist's Proof, giving the impression that there has been no development in the art scene in East Africa since the 1990s.


1 Christian Kravagna, Für eine postkoloniale Kunstgeschichte des Kontakts in: Texte zur Kunst 91, 2013, p. 111.
2 Tobias Wendl, Zur Synthese ethnologischer und kunsthistorischer Zugänge am Beispiel der Kunst Afrikas in: Kritische Berichte, Bd. 12 /2, Universalität der Kunstgeschichte, ed. Matthias Bruhn, Monica Juneja und Elke Werner, 2012, p. 93.
3 "Traditional art, which was primarily practiced within ethnic groups and aimed to fulfill a particular purpose, such as masks used in certain rituals." Vogel defines further "New functional art as a new, eclectic form of this traditional art, making use of all kinds of materials and motifs. Popular art or Urban art represented the artisanal, commercial work by self-taught sign painters and graphic designers, while International art stood for the works of urban academic artists. Finally, by Extinct art the curator defines traditional art of the past, stored both in collective memory and museum collections."
Julia Friedel, Exhibition histories. Africa Explores, 2017.
https://www.contemporaryand.com/de/magazines/africa-explores/ (last retrieved 14.10.2018)
4 Wanjiku Nyachae, Concrete narratives and visual prose in: Clementine Delisse, Seven Stories. About Modern Art in Africa, London, 1995, p. 162.
5 Chika Okeke Agulu, Postcolonial Modernism. Art and Decolonization in Twentieth Century Nigeria, Durham and London, 2015, p. 21.
6 Sarenco and the Malindi connection (1986 - 1996), exhib. cat., Verona, 1996, p. 9.
See also a description of the Kenya Poems: http://www.provinz.bz.it/katalog-kulturgueter/de/suche.asp?kks_priref=30007614 (last retrieved 14.10.2018).
7 Ibid.
8 Istituto Italiano di Cultura Nairobi, unknown author, Ali Baba and the 40 artists. Or how to approach Malindi, 12/29/2006.
https://iicnairobi.esteri.it/iic_nairobi/en/gli_eventi/calendario/biennale-di-malindi.html (last retrieved 12.10.2018).
9 Ibid.
10 Johanna Agthe, Wegzeichen. Kunst aus Ostafrika 1974 - 1989, exhib.cat., Museum für Völkerkunde Frankfurt, 1990, p. 49.
11 Achille Bonito Oliva, Transafricana. Works by Mikidadi Bush, Seni Camara, George Lilanga, Esther Mahlangu, Kivuthi Mbuno, Peter M. Wanjau, exhib.cat., curated by Achille Bonito Oliva, Verona, 2010, p. 11 ff.
12 Nyachae, 1995, p. 184.
13 Ibid.
14 Sidney Littlefield Kasfir, Contemporary African Art, London, 2000, p. 79.
15 Isaac Sindiga, International tourism in Kenya and the marginalization of the Waswahili in: Tourism Management, Vol. 17, No. 6, 1996, p. 428.
16 Susan Vogel, Africa Explores. 20th century African Art, exhib.cat., New York, 1991, p. 191.
17 Nyachae, 1995, p. 189.
18 "African tourist art and its contradictions (is it an art?) in which sense and according to what kind of aesthetic grid (?) are just an ad vallem consequence of the process which, during the slave trade period, classified African artifacts according to the grid of Western thought and imagination, in which alterity is a negative category of the same."
V.Y. Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa. Gnosis, Philosophy and the Order of Knowledge, London, 1988, p. 12.
19 Sarenco and the Malindi connection, 1996, p. 9.
20 Kasfir, 2000, p. 22.
21 Nyachae, 1995, p. 163.
22 Ibid., p. 183.
23 Franco Riccardo et al., "Africa Nera". Hic Sunt Leones. Protogonisti dell’arte Africana Contemporanea, exhib. cat., Napoli, 2006, p. 22.
24 Achille Bonito Oliva, Sarenco detto anche il poeta, exhib. cat., Milan, 2001, p. 12.
25 Susan Vogel, 1991, p. 51.
26 Achille Bonito Oliva, 2001, p. 11.
27 Ibid, p. 12.
28 Salah M. Hassan, Olu Oguibe, "Authentic /Ex-Centric", at the Venice Biennial. African conceptualism in global contexts in: African Arts, Vol. 34 /4, 2001, p. 65.
29 Sarenco and the Malindi connection, 1996, p. 10.
30 Ibid.
31 https://universes.art/de/biennale-venedig/2013/tour/pavilions/ (last retrieved 14.10.2018)
32 "Full of chinese and italian artists with some kenya artist in a dark room. A monumental embarrassment to the country and to the continent that should not be allowed to happen again."
https://www.facebook.com/olabisi.silva/posts/740818092705171?pnref=story%5D (last retrieved 14.10.2018)
33 https://www.change.org/p/government-of-kenya-ministry-of-sports-culture-and-the-arts-kenya-renounce-kenya-s-fraudulent-representation-at-56-venice-biennial-2015-commit-to-support-the-realisation-of-a-national-pavilion-in-2017 (last retrieve 14.10.2018)
34 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/15/venice-biennale-china-kenya-outrage (last retrieved 14.10.2018)
35 Gregory Warner, Why Are Chinese Artists Representing Kenya At The Venice Biennial?, npr, 30.03.2015. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2015/03/30/396391120/why-are-chinese-artists-representing-kenya-at-the-venice-biennale?t=1538775491315&t=1539254961972 (last retrieved 14.10.2018)
36 Ibid.
37 Ibid.
38 https://iicnairobi.esteri.it/iic_nairobi/en/gli_eventi/calendario/biennale-di-malindi.html (last retrieved 14.10.2018)


Isaia Mabellini, alias Sarenco (1945 - 2017), born in Vobarno near Brescia, lived and worked in Verona, Italy, and Malindi, Kenya. After completing a philosophy degree in Milan, he became one of the exponents of visual poetry in Italy in the mid-1960s. Sarenco, together with Paul De Vree and Gianni Bertini, founded the magazine Lotta Poetica in 1971 (until 1986). He published over 40 books and 15 films. His works were and continue to be included in numerous international exhibitions: in 1972 he exhibited at Documenta in Kassel and in 1972, 1986 and 2001 his works appeared in the Venice Biennial.


with the generous support of

back