African Contemporary Art

By Rianna Wilson

When you think of African art, you probably think of traditional art like this:

And you’re technically not wrong. However, there has been a shift in African art. Artists are moving away from the traditional pieces and materials and methods of art-making and have developed modern art pieces that mesh the old with the new.

So what is African contemporary art?

The contemporary art scene of Africa is characterised by a dynamic list of creators, who interpret and capture socio-economic realities, political challenges, rich traditions and diverse beauty.

It is art created by artists from both the African continent and the African diaspora in the post-independence era. As countries throughout the continent declared independence, their art changed. We will look into these changes in a little more detail later on.It is important to note that the biggest change that was consistent throughout Africa is the type of art being created. We have seen a move from ‘tribal’ art from collective ethnic groups (as seen above) to more individualistic styles. Although art mediums and styles within countries may be similar, you are still able to see artist’s individual stylistic approaches. 

Let’s take a trip around Africa!

Senegal

In June 1960, Senegal declared independence from France. Their first president was the pro-African poet, politician, and African socialism advocate Léopold Sédar Senghor. When he came into power he invested 25 per cent of the state budget into developing the arts and culture industry. Art and creativity is an integral part of Senegalese life, Dakar is even known as the art capital of West Africa. They even host the largest and most well-known fashion show on the African continent, so you can see that creativity and art is integral to Senegalese life.

Senegalese Artist in Focus

Name: Omar Victor Diop

Artform: Photography (fine art and fashion)

About: Much of Omar’s fine art work focuses on important figures and moments in Black history

BLAM’s favourites: We LOVE his diaspora series, in which he tells the stories of lesser known Africans throughout the African diaspora. All the photos in the series are self-portraits which have been styled and photographed by Omar himself.

 

Museum of Black Civilisations

In 2018, Senegal opened the doors of the Museum of Black Civilisations. Another brain child of the late, great President Senghor, the museum’s aim is to promote histories and contemporaries of Black civilisations from around the world and take back those Black artefacts we see in Western museums and art galleries. 

We can’t wait to take a trip there!

South Africa

I am sure we are all aware of South Africa’s past (and present). In 1948-1994 South Africans lived under the apartheid system, this was where Black and other non-white people living in the country faced institutionalised racial segregation. During this time the art scene in South Africa flourished, however, Black artists still struggled to reap the benefits of this success. 

Then, and still to this day, Black artists in South Africa based their art on the inequalities they face and the realities of their lives.

South African Artist in Focus

Name: Nicholas Hlobo

Artform: Sculptures and performance art

About: Nicholas makes his art out of materials which can be easily sourced, such as ribbon, leather, wood, and rubber. 

BLAM’s favourites: We love Nicholas’ bold use of different materials in his artwork. They definitely make a statement!

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Ethiopia

Ethiopia has a very very long and rich history, it is most famously known for having the oldest African church system. This rich religious history is a major influence on the country’s traditional art form known as coptic art. This art form is still used often in the present day by many artists

However, in more recent times, there has been a shift in Ethiopian art. Despite resources being difficult to come by and artists having to rely on resources from abroad, paint, sculpture, and photography are the main forms of art created in Ethiopia. Many artists use their work to make political and social statements.

Ethiopian Artist in Focus

Name: Dawit Abebe

Artform: Paint

About: Dawit is known for painting his subjects from behind. His work is said to explore themes such as privacy and alienation.

BLAM’s favourites: We’re only choosing one painting from Dawit, that’s how much we love it!. The colours, the power, the simplicity. We could definitely see this painting on the walls of our office

That’s all for our trip around contemporary art in Africa, but it’s not the end of this post. 

We have also collated a list of contemporary art galleries around Africa for you guys.

We know, the BLAM UK blog is the gift that keeps on giving, and you’re welcome! Whether you are enjoying another ‘Detty December’, visiting family and friends, or doing a heritage and homecoming trip – exploring these museums and learning about the popular art of the country will offer visitors a unique insight into the social and political contexts on-ground.

Ethiopia

  • Alle School of Fine Art & Design
  • Guramane Art Center

Senegal

  • Galerie Atiss
  • Galerie Cécile Fakhoury

Ghana

  • Gallery 1957
  • Artists Alliance Gallery

South Africa

  • Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Norval Foundation

Nigeria

  • Lagos Center for Contemporary Art
  • Arthouse Contemporary

Uganda

  • Afriart Gallery

Zimbabwe

  • First Floor Gallery

Kenya

  • Banana Hill Art Gallery
If you ever visit any of them, let us know!
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