12 January – 11 February 2022
Messums London presents its first contemporary photography show by artists Nii Obodai and Justin Keene. Through a selection of delicately composed and ethereal images, this exhibition allows us to consider within an aesthetic language our relationship with nature and read cultural history through the environment. In the photographs taken by Nii Obodai and Justin Keene, the land figures as a sentient being and a character in its own right.
Exhibited alongside each other for the very first time, Nii Obodai and Justin Keene belong to two generations of photographers exploring the marks of history in today’s African landscape while questioning their own notions of home. Collaboration is central to their work, oral stories and testimonies narrated by inhabitants translated into their image-making. Their work reflects on people’s relationship with the land, mining and extraction as instrumental factors in the colonial and economic history of Ghana, Mozambique and South Africa respectively, and interrogate what the future might behold.
At time outsiders, at time insiders, both photographers’ intimate explorations of Africa as a post colony intrinsically shape the content and form of their images and the stories they choose to tell. In both of their works, the strongest points are quietly spoken.
Land as a Conscious Being with Nii Obodai
recorded on Friday 14 January
Land as a conscious being: Nii Obodai presents ‘Big Dreams’ and ‘Paradox of Paradise’.
Scratching the Surface with Justin Keene
recorded on Friday 21 January
Justin Keene and Dr Julie Bonzon discuss Justin’s series ‘Walls in the Riverbed’.
Contemporary African Photography in Focus
Friday 4 February, 2pm
Online talk Nii Obodai and Justin Keene will be in conversation with Stephanie Blomkamp of Oath Magazine.
Based in the UK, Justin Keene (b. 1989) directs his photographic lens on South Africa, where his parents lived. Across his lyrical and poetic imagery, Keene explores concepts of identity and representation, as well as his conflicting relationship with this country, its colonial legacy and the so-called ‘born free’ generation. In the series It Must Be Built From Ashes, Keene reflects on South Africa as a post colony— exploring past and present effects on social and physical landscapes. His current body of work, Walls in the Riverbed, examines colonial archives depicting South Africa’s early diamond mining industry — using his personal connection with the topic to interpret representation of imperial legacies.
Justin Keene’s work has been included in selected exhibitions, notably the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery in London, LensCulture Exposure Awards, Sony World Photo at Somerset House and the Photo Vogue Festival in Milan.
Nii Obodai (b. 1968) has had an extensive photographic career over the last two decades, deploying the medium to record and document the ‘unseen’ and every day in Africa. Photographing in black and white, his contemplative images bring attention to the remains, traces, and scars of the past on the land, especially in Mozambique and Ghana, where Nii Obodai grew up. In his series Who Knows Tomorrow, Nii Obodai explores his relationship with Ghana, the country of his father, by retracing his father’s steps, hopes and aspirations, and translating his own emotions into images. Big Dreams tackles gold mining in Ghana, and the relationship between this country and the world economy. Created in Mozambique, his most recent project, Paradox of Paradise, explores the environment as a living and mythological space bound by oral and historical stories, as well as narratives of self-determination.
Nii Obodai’s work has been exhibited internationally, notably in the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Moesgaard Museum in Denmark, the Addis Ababa Festival in Ethiopia, the Alliance Française d’Accra in Ghana and the Bamako Encounters in Mali.
In 1998, Nii Obodai co-established Nuku Café in Accra, which evolved into Nuku Studio and later the eponymous Nuku Photo Festival, Ghana’s first photography festival.