Out of Africa: the Graham Foundation investigates sub-Saharan Modernism

Out of Africa: the Graham Foundation investigates sub-Saharan Modernism

We may all know our Le Corbusier from our Mies van der Rohe, but when it comes to modernist masterpieces in the African continent, there is an impressive body of work from that era that often gets unfairly overlooked. The Graham Foundation is set to change this, with its new exhibition, ’Architecture of Independence: African Modernism’, opening today in its handsome Chicago townhouse base. 

The architecture exhibition focuses on the international style’s journey through sub-Saharan Africa, especially looking into the 1960s and 1970s. Today the continent has a rich – and complex – history and legacy of modern buildings, explain the organizers. Most architects that helped build this heritage were from Europe, while only a handful of them were local, including Senegalese architects Cheikh N’Gom and Pierre Goudiaby Atepa. 

Exploring the theme using some 80 buildings from different countries and especially commissioned photography by Iwan Baan and Alexia Webster, this exhibition travels through Ghana, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, and Zambia. Many of these young nations gained their independence in the 1960s, calling upon the teachings of modernist architecture to help them express their brand new identities. 

Works span from sports facilities, offices and administrative structures, to cultural buildings, banks, housing and convention centers; some are in use, some have been adapted and some remain currently unused. These are depicted through a striking over-700 photographs as well as archival material, including historic photos, newspaper clippings, postcards, videos, architectural plans, and sketches.

This is a landmark show for the foundation, casting the net far and wide into what organizers describe as ’the most compelling yet under-studied examples of 1960s and 1970s architecture worldwide’. 

This exhibition is based on the book project African Modernism: Architecture of Independence by architect Manuel Herz, created in cooperation with the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany. 

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