African Metropolitan Architecure is a fascinating exhibition ‘encapsulating’ Africa’s urbanscapes. Conceptualized and curated in a highly innovative and unique way, it is the result of a 10 year ongoing project by David Adjaye the renowned London based architect. The project began as an informal excercise ‘to piece together fragments of memories’ documenting where he was born [Tanzania] and grew up as a child – his Ghanaian father’s diplomatic career took him to many countries in Africa. Adjaye’s personal history, his training as an architect, his interest in urban spaces and his desire to interrogate the image of Africa as underdeveloped, all led him to visit every capital city in Africa (all 53 of them) and document each through photographic imagery – all except Mogadishu which is still in a state of war. Each city is represented in a framed set of photographs – recording monuments, civic buildings, informal settlements, alleys and boulevards, modern corporate buildings, public sculpture, suburban homes.
With NO identifying label or text to ‘anchor’ each individual image, the images speak to each other in a conversation which is slippery, tantalizing and thought provoking. Each set of framed images is identified only by the name of the capital city and the country and, because of the curatorial concept, the geographic terrain. Adjaye has grouped each city according to one of the 6 geographic terrains in Africa:
- 1. Desert (Yellow) with cities such as Cairo, Dijbouti, Karthoum
- the Maghreb (Red) the northern slopes of the Atlas mountains and the coastal plains with cities such as Algiers, Rabat, Tripoli
- The Sahel (Orange) – the area on the southern edges of the Sahara: Bamako, N’Djamena, Ougadougou, Niamey
- Mountain and highveld (Purple) : Addis Ababa, Kigali, Lusaka, Maseru, Mbababane, Windhoek, Nairobi,amongst others
- Savannah and grassland (Green) : Dakar, Gabarone, Mogadishu, Antanananaio, Pretoria, etc
- Forest (Blue); where most of the west and central African capital cities are located
The introductory exhibition text notes: ‘Ranging from informal and colonial to the modern and visionary, Adjaye has documented colonial outposts that turned into modern cities such as Nairobi, as well as old Souks, which grew into contemporary cities such as Tripoli and planned symbolic Nation building captial such as Abuja.’
This truly is a fascinating exhibition and the best news is that it has been turned into a 7 volume book due to be published next year by Thames and Hudson. Each geographic terrain wil have its own volume with a final volume of collected essays from people who live in the various regions. I for one can’t wait for this publication – thank you David for an inspiring and thought-provoking way of looking at Africa.