With the contemporary art scene on the continent flourishing, The Culture Trip suggests some of the people worth watching.
Kudzanai Chiurai, Zimbabwe
Exiled from Zimbabwe after producing an unflattering portrait of the country’s president, Robert Mugabe, Kudzanai Chiurai, the first black artist to get a BA in fine arts at the University of Pretoria, has become an important figure in African art. Chiurai uses dramatic multimedia compositions to confront pressing issues from government corruption, conflict and violence to xenophobia and displacement. Based in Johannesburg, Chiurai’s work is a mixture of digital photography, editing and printing, painting, and, more recently, film. His latest work entitledThis is not Africa, this is us is a three-part exhibition in Rotterdam and The Hague until 29 March 2014.
Tracey Rose, South Africa
Born in Durban and currently living in Johannesburg, Tracey Rose is an established contemporary multimedia artist and feminist, best known for her bold, provocative, narrative-less performances, video installations and photography. Rose confronts the politics of identity, including sexual, body, racial and gender issues. Her themes often convey her multicultural ancestry and experience of growing up as a mixed-race person in South Africa. She skilfully combines popular culture with notions of sociology to evoke powerful emotions and illustrate the disparities of South Africa’s political and social landscape. Rose has held solo exhibitions in South Africa as well as in Europe and America and has participated in a number of international events, including the Venice Biennale.
Meschac Gaba, Benin
Meschac Gaba is perhaps best known for his Museum of Contemporary African Art, a travelling exhibition inaugurated at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in 1997. Created in the form of a nomadic museum, Gaba’s extraordinary project consisted of 12 exhibition rooms set up in various European art institutions over a period of five years in an ingenuous attempt to create a space for African art. In 2013, the Tate Modernpurchased and showcased Gaba’s entire ‘museum’. With a natural talent for expressing his ideas through the visual arts, Gaba’s museum depicted subjects from fashion in the Summer Collection Room and food in the Museum Restaurant, to excessive overproduction of food in the Draft Room. Employing local craftsmanship with a European flair, Gaba’s works vary from paintings and ceramics to installations, using a range of materials such as paint, plywood, plaster, stones and decommissioned bank notes.
Nastio Mosquito’s Desabafo de um Qualquer Angolano.
Nástio Mosquito, Angola
A multimedia and performance artist working across music, videos, spoken word and a capella, Nástio Mosquito flirts with African stereotypes in western contexts. Often portraying himself as the central figure of his art, Mosquito’s work makes powerful political and social statements, slightly discomforting at a first glance. Past exhibitions include the 9 Artists show (2013) at the Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis, and Across the Board: Politics of Representation at the Tate Modern in London in 2012.
Julie Mehretu, Ethiopia
A key young African artist with a growing international exposure, Julie Mehretu’s large paintings draw on elements of aerial mapping and architecture. With an underlying calligraphic complexity, her energetic pieces represent accelerated urban growth, and densely populated city environments and social networks of the 21st century. Mehretu creates each painting by adding consecutive thin layers of acrylic paint on canvas and then finishing it off with delicate superimposed marks and patterns using pencil, pen, ink and streams of paint. She portrays a compression of time, space and place, independent of historical significance. From constructivism and geometric abstraction to futurism, Mehretu describes her paintings as “story maps of no location”.
El Anatsui, Ghana
One of Africa’s most influential sculptors, Ghanaian El Anatsui is at the forefront of contemporary artists of his time and has received considerable international attention for his work. A professor in sculpture at the University of Nigeria, Anatsui’s preferred media are clay and wood which he uses to create objects expressing various social, political and historical concerns. In his later works, he has turned to installation art and sewing. Using unconventional tools such as chainsaws and power tools, he has reshaped and given new meaning to materials such as railway sleepers, driftwood and aluminium bottle tops. In an interview, Anatsui said, “the amazing thing about working with these metallic fabrics is that the poverty of the materials used in no way precludes the telling of rich and wonderful stories.”
Ibrahim El Salahi, Sudan
Often referred to as the godfather of African modernism, Ibrahim El Salahi has created visionary artwork for more than five decades. Former diplomat and undersecretary of the Sudanese ministry of culture in the 1970s, El Salahi was imprisoned for six months without charge after being accused of anti-government activities. An articulate and avuncular figure, El Salahi has developed his own unique art history, pioneering on many art fronts such as being one of the first artists to elaborate Arabic calligraphy in his paintings and the first African artist to get a Tate Modern retrospective. Elementary forms and lines dominated his early artwork, and over the years his work has taken a meditative and abstract turn, with a strong emphasis on lines, and use of black and white.
Sokari Douglas Camp, Nigeria
Nigerian-born Sokari Douglas Camp has broken into the male-dominated field of sculpture to become one of the first generation of female African artists to attract the attention of the international art market. Originally from a large Kalabari town in the Niger Delta, Douglas Camp’s work is greatly inspired by Kalabari culture and traditions. Employing modern sculptural techniques with the predominant use of steel, she creates large, semi-abstract figurative works, adorned with masks and ritual clothing, reflecting her close relationship to her homeland despite having lived in London for many years. Douglas Camp has had numerous solo and group shows all over the world and permanent collections of her work can be found in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, and the British Museum in London.
Abdoulaye Konaté, Mali
A prominent contemporary art figure in Mali, Abdoulaye Konaté artwork is a striking combination of installation works and painting. After pursuing a degree at the National Art Institute of Bamako, Konaté completed his painting studies in Cuba. Most of Konaté’s large-scale work is based on textiles, a readily available and cheap medium in Mali. Treating textiles as a limitless palette, Konaté dyes, cuts, sews and embroideries scraps of cotton and traditional bazin fabric to produce his signature monumental tapestries. Konaté’s major works have focused on the political tensions in the Sahel region, and, since the start of the millennium, on the devastating impact of Aids in Mali.
Chéri Samba, Democratic Republic of Congo
A leading contemporary African painter, Chéri Samba’s later work often features himself as the main subject. Samba started his career working as a billboard painter and a comic strip artist and gradually moved to painting on sacking fabric, as canvas was too expensive. He began to use the comic style of word bubbles to add commentary in his works, which became recognised as a signature of his style.
Via Afritorial as featured in The Culture Trip