Seydou Keita's 'Bamoko', 1949-1964, featured in 'Les Visitants' at CCK. Photograph by Baya Simons

The title Les Visitants is actually meaningless. So Kuitca tells us in his introduction to the current exhibition at CCK. The French for ‘visitor’ is ‘visitaur’. Les Visitants, then, refers to the ‘poetic game describing a force of exchange’ which works through the 500 pieces, 23 artists and 2 floors of the CCK. The exhibition is hard to summarize and categorize, being not so much curated as envisioned out of the Cartier Foundation’s collection of 350 contemporary artists. The show should be conceived of as “a domino or a chain” said Kuitca in an interview with La Nacion. “I see an artist as a piece that coincides with something on one side and not on the other”.

The connections that Kuitca invites us to make between artists are startling, and often difficult. For instance, leaving Seydou’s breathtaking collection of portraits of Malian people in the 1950s, the next face we see is Kate Moss’s.

Seydou Keita's 'Bamako', 1949-1964. Photograph by Baya Simons.
Seydou Keita’s ‘Bamako’, 1949-1964. Photograph by Baya Simons.

This is somewhat jarring. Seydou’s portraits are mostly of pairs – twins, couples, best friends, siblings – and almost all subjects stare directly into the camera, steely eyed. Repeatedly, two pairs of eyes met my own single pair, and I could not help but start to feel scrutinized, challenged by the direct gaze. With this sudden self-awareness (why do i feel challenged? What are the other people in this room feeling?) I became conscious that the only people of color in the room were behind the glass of the picture frames. Seydou’s ‘Bamako’ turns the observer into the observed.

To then be confronted by a coy looking Kate Moss in the next room, surrounded by strands of pink hair – ‘like the tentacles of an octopus’ – not only invites reflection on different ways of taking portrait photos, but also requires the observer to comprehend these vastly different worlds (the politically charged and the seemingly a-political, black artist and white artist) within one space – a difficult task.

Jergen Teller's Kate Moss. Photograph by Baya Simons.
Jergen Teller’s Kate Moss. Photograph by Baya Simons.

Despite the gender imbalance in the selection of artists (only 7 out of 23 artists are women, a disparity that should no longer be acceptable), the female voice echoes loud and clear through the maze of rooms. Patti Smith can be heard reading David Lynch’s disturbing ‘poetic fable’ about an antelope crossing a city, while J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere’s photographic series ‘Hairstyles’ showcases Nigerian women’s hair as ornate sculptures,  everyday works of female art:

'Hairstyles' by J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere, 1968-1985. Photograph by Baya Simons.
‘Hairstyles’ by J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere, 1968-1985. Photograph by Baya Simons.

And for me, Nan Goldin’s ‘Ballad of Sexual Dependancy’ sits at the heart of the collection, as a glorious, intimate portrayal of female friendship and Queer culture in the 80s, set against a soundtrack of James Brown, Maria Callas, and The Velvet Underground. The openness of the images – portraying drug use, the AIDS era, prostitution – is entrancing, and on a quiet Wednesday afternoon, the old cinema chairs lined up in front of the projector remained full for the entirety of Goldin’s photo sequence.

With more works by Wolfgang Tillmans (Germany), Agnès Varda (Belgium), Adriana Varejão (Brazil), Francesca Woodman (United States) and Nobuyoshi Araki (Japan), the number of pieces displayed reaches a daunting 500, and indeed the only critique I can levy against Kuitica is the scale of the project: its big; too big.

But this must be a conscious choice, for scale is necessary if one is to capture the vast multiplicity of experience, as Kuitca does in Les Visitants.

Les Visitants is free for all | Open now until December 3rd | Wednesdays to Sundays | 1pm until 8pm |