FEB 11 - APR 16




Thiemoko Claude Diarra

(Mali / Belgium, 1974)

Born in Mali in 1974, Diarra lived between Bamako, Brussels and Dakar. His father is a Bamana sculptor and his mother was a nurse from Belgium. Thiemoko Claude Diarra sits right at the crossroad of these two cultures, between the sacred art of his ancestors and the heritage of those who advanced Western medical science through the centuries.

His most recent expansive project, Anatopia, is an absurd scientific analysis which brings new life into classical African art. Far from the usual vectors of anthropological, social or cultural studies of traditional African art, Anatopia looks at this immense heritage from an artistic point of view. By surgically dissecting Malian, but also Congolese or Ivorian statues, the artist aims to create an infinite cabinet of curiosities which challenges viewers to think and re-think their understanding of (African) art, like a mirror distorting reality so we may better grasp its reflection.

Diarra’s sculptures, drawings, painted photographs and installations are like a mad cocktail of impressions blended from the improbable encounter between a Baoulé beauty, Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), an anonymous Belgian colonizer and Berlinde de Bruyckere (1964), whose work the artist admires. A protégé of surrealist artist Jean-Michel Folon (1934-2005), Diarra also worked in fashion and started his career by painting tales in miniature on watches and on canvas.

Through an ensemble of artistic series like Bastards, Cultural Shock, Comparative Animism, Lost Power Relics and Vesalius’s Dream, Anatopia appears to be the long-awaited final bridge between classic and contemporary African art. On this bridge, like an explosive modern Nganga (spiritual healer), Thiemoko Claude Diarra creates his visions of Europe and Africa, their past and the future they hold for each other. This artistic communion is further investigated in his most recent series: Hunting Trophies and Heterosis.

FEB 11 - APR 16  




For his first show at DE ZWARTE PANTER, in collaboration with BLAACKBOX, Thiemoko Claude Diarra chose to develop a new series of works exploring further notions of labelling, of identity, and of polymorphism within the context of Western post-pandemic social dynamics.

Body Geometrics is a new expansive series developed over several media, including paintings and sculptures, but also drawings and video art, and culminating with a performance which will take place at DE ZWARTE PANTER during the opening.

In continuity with his previous series developed within an artistic universe of curiosities he calls ANATOPIA, Diarra decided to artistically represent social trends that he identifies as potentially restrictive, dissecting them with his usual sense of humour and of the absurd, undoubtedly inherited from a long line of Belgian surrealism. Growing up as a non-French speaking migrant upon his arrival in Brussels as the age of ten, despite being half Belgian, the artist was regularly confronted with labelling, stigmatisation, or plain racism. If times have changed since the early eighties, some human behaviour has remained alarmingly the same. During discussions we had about the inspiration for works like Metissopluripod, LGBTQIA+, or 25, Diarra explained how he thinks contemporary labelling dynamics are in effect oversimplifying identities that are consistently evolving, blending and being fundamentally plural, in contrast with an inherited concept of sociology, used to group people together based on their perceived or held identity.

But well beyond this late trend of over-identifying ourselves based on hashtags and social media profile bluffing, what the Belgo-Malian artist wants us to activate here is our genuine desire to be more interconnected through our multiple identities and shared beliefs, our passions and concerns, all the while recognizing we are ever morphing bodies, endlessly reinventing ourselves as we learn to cohabitate. Only when we recognize that we are much more than what we appear can we truly move passed the segregated societies that were inherited from the 20th century.

In his performance titled Layers, Diarra will metaphorically reinterpret the birth of contemporary identity, by literally getting rid of all the waste, of all the trash, for lack of a better word which does however exist in French: les encombrants, literally the stuff that we do not need anymore and that blocks us from moving on.

In this new exhibition, which as often takes the half-formed shape of a cabinet of curiosities, Thiemoko Claude Diarra invites the visitor to take the time to discover what could be. By presenting him with a pantheon of reinvented beings, the keen observer is drawn to playfully consider alternatives to the way we are trained to think by mainstream media and society. Art changes the way we look at the world. “So why should I restrain myself ?!”, claims Diarra. Let us embrace the possibilities that artistic creation lays down for us. We are after all the generation of the image. Increasingly, images are replacing words, forcing us to consider how poorly educated we are in deciphering the image, and the way images are being thrown at us.

Equally dear to Diarra’s heart is the dual representation of the scientific and the sacred. As in his striking Vesalius’s Dream series (2018), Body Geometrics reveals a desire to decorticate, an urge to define, while simultaneously elancing the powerful mystic of that sacred, which can never be quantified or explained. What an absurd ride it must be then to see through both eyes of Thiemoko Claude Diarra! To which I imagine he would reciprocate: what matters most is the journey, the goal is merely a choice.

In his Bastards and Heterosis series, respectively 2018-2019 and 2020, Diarra was already impressing upon us his magnifying glass of the scientific approach to interpret the sacred. What he does today with his body printing on canvas follows similar principles. The endeavour this time is to capture, artistically, what secret ritual masquerades of West Africa aim to represent: ancestors and mythical spirits reincarnated through movement, masks, and costumes. Moreover, while doing so, Diarra declines multiple faces (literally) of who he is. And often, we are left to watch a body aching, a soul hurt, an identity which could be tearing apart under our very eyes as it does in the darkness of Francis Bacon’s canvases. Yet, this furious force could also be shaping into a new form, truly reborn.

How then must one meander into the artist’s labyrinthic mind?

On the main wall which is presented in the fashion of an overcrowded 19th century academic salon lies a central piece to enter this exhibition, a video titled The Metamorphosis, in which Diarra transforms his ancestral heritage into altered matter to forge his new identity. This unusual self-portrait testifies of how much in flux the concept of identity can be, like a furious phoenix adapting to the world around it, far from any typecasting imposed by modern society.

As 2022 certainly exhibited, it is a profound challenge to live together in a world divided by nations and histories. Yet, we recognize that only together can we find a sustainable way to continue living on this planet. Far from being abstract concepts, these ideas are fundamental in the artist’s practice since 2017. Being together will require that we change the way we look at everything.

Who better than uncompromised artists to show us how to?

Klaus PAS
February 2023