Heterosis is our second exhibition of new works by Belgo-Malian artist Thiemoko Claude Diarra. After his ground-breaking solo titled Anatopia which we showed in Brussels last year, the self-proclaimed re-animist returns with a deeper investigation into the mutations of our cultural identities in the age of (de)globalisation and the recent pandemic that rocks our world.


His claim is simple and based on fact. Our cultural diversity makes us stronger, both more resilient and intellectually and emotionally richer for it. While the Brussels-based visual artist was on lockdown for the better part of this year due to the measures put in place by governments to handle the contagion by COVID-19, the aftermath of these unprecedented steps already threatened to converge towards a more fragmented society. As the blame game is only starting to unfold, the hunt for the usual suspects (and who’s gonna pick up the bill) will soon exacerbate and polarize our opinions, so as to serve power grabbing political agendas fuelled by fake news and conspiracy theories. Like a modern-day Nganga, Diarra therefore chose to call upon the spirits to be reborn into new beings so they may guide us and prevent us from reproducing the mistakes of the past. There is no doubt that our civilizations have been sublimated by openness, cross-cultural exchange and our working together side by side, rather than individually. The artist’s new body of work investigates such cultural synergies linked to the notions of hybridity.

Hybridity is central to the artist, in his life as well as in his work. It nourishes new perspectives for artistic expression and cultural comment and, while also playing on our perceptions of time and death, his drawings, skin pyro-engravings and taxidermy sculptures once again dwell on another fundamental question for the artist: how do we look at (African) art?

One could easily argue that we were drifting away from our old gods to embrace a new pantheon of technologies, stardoms and consumer products, when the coronavirus came ringing long forgotten bells. What now about our salvation? What about our legacy? Is this a time of reckoning? Or is this the moment when we change course and create that better world we are longing for? All these resurrected questions could push us to look within ourselves, to know our community and together determine a new direction. Thiemoko Claude Diarra’s new bestiary is a call to welcome that change, to embrace the unknown for a while, so we may create what does not exist, invisible bridges to a new world.

Although Diarra is not a militant artist, his work since 2017 focuses on artistic dialogues that are centred around the visible and the invisible, the spiritual and the rational, as well as the way we conceive art and its purposes. Brought up between Brussels and Bamako, his mother a Belgian nurse, his father a traditional Bamana sculptor, Thiemoko’s reality is dichotomous. But in it, the scientific never invalidates the spiritual, rather the opposite, they have become osmotic. His personal journey is the realisation that one can be several and that although society tends to label us, we are all plural. His work champions this biodiversity, expressed in a playful cultural form, as the salvation we should be looking for.

Only by blending the spiritual and the rational, which have been enemies for so long, can we enter his Anatopia, an anatomical utopia of multi-cultural spirits who re-animate the material world we live in and help us make sense of it, to find a new balance, a new path.

I personally consider this new ensemble of work as a cultural necessity to prevent us from embracing the lurking shadows of a smaller world. It is surely just another trigger of thought to help us come to terms with what we are going through, a natural philosophical vaccine against ignorance and evil, but I choose to trust the witchdoctor and take his red pill.

As the famous French playwright Jean Racine wisely wrote: “Life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel.” In those terms, Diarra’s world is surely tragicomic.


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