April in Paris, promises songstress Ella Fitzgerald on an evergreen jazz standard she recorded with Count Basie in 1956, is a time of chestnuts in blossom, holiday tables under the trees and feelings no one can ever reprise. Well, yes, maybe back then.

This spring, just to mix things up, the Gallic capital is also offering up assassins on the Champs-Élysées, mandatory bag searches at Les Halles, a febrile presidential campaign on television and icy weather blowing in from the north.

The glum mood is to some extent mitigated by a warm glow of African cultural sunshine at the city’s many cultural institutions.

The Africa-themed festivities kicked off in late March with two events: a showcase of African photography, drawing and painting organised by the Paris-based Cameroonian curator Simon Njami at La Villette, and a special focus on contemporary African art overseen by the German-Cameroonian art consultant Marie-Ann Yemsi at the Art Paris Art Fair.

Held in the Grand Palais, a haughty neo-classical building on the Champs-Élysées, the art fair’s special focus section included work by locals Billie Zangewa and Mohau Modisakeng. News flash: Modisakeng’s career is in full blossom.

Not only is he due to appear on the South African Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in two weeks, his still-travelling 2016 Standard Bank Young Art Award exhibition opens in Johannesburg at the end of this month. And yet, Modisakeng is noticeably absent from the line-up of export-quality South African artists at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in what is arguably Paris’s biggest celebration of African creativity.

Last week, this ritzy art museum and cultural centre designed by architect Frank Gehry, launched a trio of Africa-themed exhibitions at its premises on the northern tip of the Bois de Boulogne parkland.

“It is indeed time to give voice to African artists, inviting them to share their vision of the state of the world, of humanity and of possible paths forward,” stated Bernard Arnault, the luxury goods mogul who is France’s richest man and the prime mover behind the showpiece museum.

The Louis Vuitton Foundation’s three exhibitions, which are carolled under the rubric “Art/Afrique, le nouvel atelier” (Art / Africa, the new workshop) and are on view until 28 August, offer a scattershot sense of African art since 1990.

Italian businessman Jean Pigozzi ’s collection of mostly West and Central African drawing, painting, sculpture and photography is in many ways the anchor show, visually as much as intellectually. Beautifully installed in the basement, “The Insiders” offers visitors a selection of eye-popping works by 14 artists, including the splendid Malian portraitist Seydou Keita and Congolese narrative painter Cheri Samba.

Image: Cheri Samba

The South African exhibition, which is titled “Being There” and features 19 artists, doesn’t lack for big names either. Jane Alexander, David Goldblatt, William Kentridge, David Koloane and Sue Williamson all have work on the show.

Image: William Kentridge

Alexander’s contribution, a processional installation composed of 27 dog-like humanoids marching to the orders of a tiny dog-like monster, is titled Infantry with Beast. It is paired with a selection of Koloane’s drawn, painted and filmed interpretations of suburban dogs. Goldblatt’s contributions, including recent photos of the Fees Must Fall movement, do little to lift the mood. At first glance, it appears that the show’s in-house curators were determined to export our national mood.

Image: Jane Alexander

Things shift gears upstairs, where a younger generation of South Africans, who came to prominence after the hullabaloo of the 1990s and its many South Africa-themed shows, emerge as bulwarks of this country’s new art-ocracy. Four names stand out: Nicholas Hlobo, Zanele Muholi, Kemang wa Lehulere and Athi-Patra Ruga, all born between 1972 and 1984, and grouped in a large room together.

Image: Zanele Muholi

Hlobo’s Ndize (Tail), a 2010 sculptural piece made of recycled rubber, leather and silk thread, introduces a much-needed burst of colour after the sombre hues preferred by the oldies. Lehulere’s wall drawing, Cutting Corners, made mostly from chalk but including forms carved into the museum’s masonry, is hands-down the best work on show.

Image: Kemang wa Lehulere

Ruga has seven tapestries, including a compelling self-portrait first exhibited in Cape Town three years ago. Titled Uzukile the Elder (2013), the work confidently holds its own next to a selection of Muholi’s widely seen – even in Europe – portraits of black lesbians.

Not to be outdone by Samba, who wore a khaki military uniform to the opening, Muholi fashioned a vertical tower made of hair extensions. Ruga, who nowadays sports a buff physique, wore a tight-fitting blue shirt and improvised bowtie.

“This room is my favourite,” he beamed. “And not because I’m in it. I’m looking at masters here, and having visions of the future which are feeling good.” Fancy that, an upbeat South African. Treasure them.

© Wanted 2016 - If you would like to reproduce this article please email us.