5 to See: Arles 2021

5 to See: Arles 2021

Every summer since 1970, over the course of more than 40 exhibitions across the city, Les Rencontres d’Arles photography festival has provided springboard for contemporary creative talent. As the event returns for 2021, we’ve collated five shows to note – exploring masculinity, race and urban expansion.

Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili: Georgian Ornament

You wouldn’t know it at first glance, but the ethereal work of Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili (above left), on show at the Église des Frères Prêcheurs, is created from a 4 x 5-inch negative of a plastic bag. This image is then printed onto a translucent textile and draped in the the form of a curtain. The artist describes this plastic bag as a “future fossil” – an object that is at once delicate, decorated in patterns echoing those of Byzantine churches, and offensively non-biodegradable.

The New Black Vanguard

Curated by writer and Gagosian director Antwaun Sargent, this group show at the Église Sainte-Anne shines a light on a generation of artists, including Campbell Addy (b.1993), Tyler Mitchell (b.1995) and Nadine Ijewere (b.1992), whose work sits at the intersection of fashion and fine art. Visually arresting and conceptually compelling, their portraiture proposes a new vision of Black identity that is expansive and heterogeneous, depicting a multiplicity of bodies and experiences. Read full feature.

Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography

This exhibition at La Mécanique Générale brings together images by artists working between the 1960s and the present day. It considers the varying and continually evolving ways in which masculinity has been represented and constructed through photography and film over six decades. First presented at the Barbican Centre in London, it features artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe (b.1946-1989), Rotimi Fani-Kayode (b.1955-1989) and Catherine Opie (b.1961), exploring questions of gender, race and patriarchy, which have taken on renewed resonance in the wake of #MeToo.

Farah Al Qasimi: Imitation of Life

On display at the Église des Frères Prêcheurs are the vivid images of Al Qasimi (above right), who is originally from the United Arab Emirates. The photographs evoke the upper middle class milieu of her homeland, with a particular focus on women. Her eye is drawn to juxtapositions – the bright patterns of traditional garments jostle in the frame alongside contemporary technology. Al Qasimi’s distinctive style brings together a bright colour palette of pinks, blues and greens, and there is humour to be found here.

Africa State of Mind: Hybrid Cities

Africa has three megacities with more than 10 million inhabitants: Lagos, Cairo and Kinshasa. These populations are predicted to double by the end of the next decade. At Les Jardins des Voyageurs, curator Ekow Eshun invites us to consider the work of Emmanuelle Andrianjafy (b.1983), Girma Berta (b.1990), Guillaume Bonn (b.1970), Andrew Esebio (b.1978) and Hicham Gardaf (b.1989). The artists contemplate life in African cities at a time of rapid development, documenting a perpetual state of economic and social flux, characterised both by hardship and opportunity.

Les Rencontres d’Arles runs until 26 September. Find out more here.

Words: Rachel Segal Hamilton

Image Credits:
1. Dana Scruggs, Nyadhour, Elevated, Death Valley, California, 2019.
2. Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili, Vine, from the Georgian Ornament series, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and galerie frank elbaz, Paris.
3. Arielle Bobb-Willis, New Orleans, 2018.
4. Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Untitled, 1985. Courtesy of Autograph, London.
5. Daniel Obasi, Moments of Youth, Lagos, Nigeria, 2019.
6. Farah Al Qasimi, S and A on the Phone, from the Imitation of Life series, 2020. Courtesy of Third Line, Dubai, and Helena Anrather, New York.
7. Hicham Gardaf, Khouribga, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie 127.