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Issue 226

Madagascar’s Visions of the Self

At Hakanto Contemporary, Antananarivo, a group show attempts to portray a Malagasy identity through figurative and conceptual work

BY Rebecca Anne Proctor in Exhibition Reviews | 24 FEB 22

In Desperate (2020), a photograph by Viviane Rakotoarivony, an elderly Malagasy woman stares sorrowfully towards the ground. Wrinkles of perplexity crease her forehead as she stands against a bright-red wall, indicative of the auburn clay houses that populate Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. The work, part of Rakotoarivony’s ‘Tomorrow’ (2020) series, was reproduced as a poster and displayed on a wall in downtown Antananarivo – alongside images by photojournalist Rijasolo – as part of ‘Ny Fitiavanay / Our Love / Notre Amour’, a group exhibition currently on view at Hakanto Contemporary, an independent non-profit art centre founded by Malagasy artist Joël Andrianomearisoa and launched in February 2020.

For reasons unknown, the posters were destroyed by Antananarivo city-dwellers. Rakotoarivony’s haunting portrait now hangs on a wall inside Hakanto Contemporary, where the main exhibition unfolds. The 26 Malagasy artists in ‘Ny Fitiavanay’ – a title taken from the national anthem of Madagascar – are nearly all self-taught. Their work, presented in a range of media, explores notions of Malagasy identity.

Hakanto Contemporary, Notre Amour, installation view, 2022
‘Ny Fitiavanay / Our Love / Notre Amour’, 2022, installation view. Courtesy: © Hakanto Contemporary, Madagascar

Spread over several interconnected rooms within an industrial complex owned by Hakanto’s sole funder, Hasnaine Yavarhoussen, the gallery occupies an unexpected site, more akin to an outlet store than a space for contemporary art. Still, the mystical, surreal and poetic qualities of the artists’ works sing in urgency as they grapple with their past and present.

Nation (2021), a diptych by the artist Vonjiniaina, presents several red- and black-coloured human hearts, representing her tenuous love for her home country. Nearby, works from Malala Andrialavidrazana’s ‘Figures’ series (2015–ongoing) explore the permutations of globalization since the 19th century in photomontages of precolonial maps, bank notes, stamps and record sleeves. La Solitude d’Une Ile (The Solitude of an Island, 2021) by Rina Ralay-Ranaivo – a short black and white video picturing a mundane street scene in Madagascar – contemplates the sadness inherent in a changeless daily routine. Adjacent are photographs by French artist Philippe Gaubert, shot in 2002 during the capital’s popular uprisings. 

‘Actually, here in Madagascar, in Antananarivo, right now, I feel free to choose the beauty, this trivial powerful “nothing” which can inspire a humaneness time,’ writes Ludonie Velotrasina in Untitled (2021), a wall-mounted, text-based work. In a similar attempt to transcend mundanity, photographer Joan Paoly captures the abstract forms cast by harsh beams of light falling across obscure backgrounds that distort an everyday scene (Lights and Spaces, 2020).

Nation, Vonjiniaina, 2021
Vonjiniaina, Nation, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 97 × 130 cm each. Courtesy: © the artist and Hakanto Contemporary, Madagascar

In the last gallery is Femme Hova (1911) by Antoine Ratrena, a classical painting of a native Malagasy girl wearing a lamba, a traditional Malagasy garment. Although the work was painted during French colonial rule of the island nation, which ended in 1960, the expression on her tanned face is one of tranquillity. In the decades following Madagascar’s independence, the nation has struggled to define its national identity, undergoing periods in which it attempted to erase its French influence. The work’s golden ornate frame is European – perhaps a metaphor for the Malagasy identity of today, still informed by its colonial past while searching for ways to solidify its own myriad cultures and influences.

Tinged with nostalgia and desperation, the works in ‘Ny Fitiavanay’ offer an honest picture of Madagascar today, veering towards mystical and ethereal representations, to capture the vulnerabilities of this enchanted island as it attempts to forge a new future.

Ny Fitiavanay / Our Love / Notre Amour’ at Hakanto Contemporary, Antananarivo, runs until 16 March.

Main image: ‘Ny Fitiavanay / Our Love / Notre Amour’, 2022, installation view. Courtesy: © Hakanto Contemporary, Madagascar

Rebecca Anne Proctor is the editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar Art Arabia. She is based in Dubai.