Everyone perceives that it is through the work that one can get an idea of the experience or the true meaning of a sculpture from Africa. Thus, in front of a sculpture, whatever it may be, we should adopt on the one hand a mentality of renunciation, of total receptivity to what the conventional part of the work may recommend to us, and on the other hand, a more healthy and dynamic disposition to bring out the importance of the work by visualizing it now, at this stage, not as an absolute that is proposed to our thought alone, but in its relativity.
We need to think about African sculptures not only in terms of their outward appearance and from the perspective of aesthetics, but also in terms of the role they play in their social orders.
In the early years, just before the first world struggle, various artists living in Europe were struck by the singular plastic nature of African sculptures and masks.
This period when a few artists and novices discovered what was then called Negro art, including both Oceanic and African works, was also the period when the incredible developments that restored contemporary art, such as Fauvism and, some years later, Cubism, were conceived.
Moreover, it was exactly in this climate of transformation that individuals became enthusiastic about African sculptures.
Everything happened as if it was not a passing fad, but a lasting one, showing a significant interweaving between these flashes from distant horizons and the works, then resolutely opposed but now perceived, of artists who should be seen as the heralds of a movement that will influence all contemporary art – and, surprisingly, the representation we make of the world.
When we talk about sculptures, we often think of incredible artists like Auguste Rodin, Andersson or Giacometti. But many equally skilled women sculptors, whose creations are both unique and moving, have also contributed to the advancement of the art form in Africa and its dissemination.
Most African sculptures are made of wood, but there are also people who have worked with stone, ivory, clay and metals. Wood is used everywhere from Sudan to East Africa to make works of art or many objects of use.
For masks, delicate and light woods are most often chosen because they are easier to work with and less heavy to transport; for ancestor sculptures and furnishings, thick, fine-grained woods are used.
The works are always made in one piece, and the round, hollow state of the underlying block is sometimes found in the finished figure. The work is finished in a hidden way.
Until its actual sanctification, the ritual object has no value and can be cared for without special security measures. The statuette is represented with a huge blade (machete), the cutting being done directly, often without a model, by approximations and progressive final details.
It is the carving, which gives its shape, it is finished with an adze and then with a short blade; the final cleaning is obtained with rasp sheets. The sculpture on raw wood, most often of light tone, is falsely patinated with vegetable or mineral colors, oil and resins sometimes.
The masks are painted with vegetable colors. However, African stone works are practically all anthropomorphic. They come from Upper Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Angola. They are tutelary representations, observers of evolution, used again in funerary or agrarian religions.
Ivory has been used to make precious stones, furniture, majestic horns and sometimes small statuettes. It is an honorable and sought-after material, difficult to cut but retaining an extremely beautiful reddish patina. The most remarkable pieces come from the kingdom of Benin and Zaire.
The clay statuettes are excellent, but all the ceramic vessels are designed on themes that are generally emblematic. The manufacture of earthenware is extremely ancient in Africa: the destinations of Mopti in Mali, Ifé in Nigeria and the Sao country in Chad are testimony to this.
The statuettes found there are human; some date from the first century AD. The best known African works are the figurines found in Jos (a city in northern Nigeria), dated to the first millennium BC, which can be linked to the development of the Nok. The Agni pieces from the Ivory Coast and Mangbetu in Zaire are more recent.
Metals were also widely used, especially in the chieftaincies and feudal kingdoms: gold, in the Baule and Ashanti nations, for the production of decorations and certain multi-purpose objects; bronze, in southern Nigeria, with the exceptional works of Ifé and Benin, also worked during wax projection; iron, finally, fashioned in specific districts for purposes of taste and rigor, among the Dogon and Bamana of Mali, the Senufo of Côte d’Ivoire and the Fon of Benin.
Let us not forget that the artist whose primary vocation is the sculptor of a powerful chief or a sovereign who practices patronage: this is the situation at the court of the Oba of Benin in Nigeria, in the kingdoms of western Cameroon, in the Kuba kingdom in Zaire. The expert status of the sculptor was a non-innate function that could be achieved through expertise and specialized skills. Sculptors and founders were grouped into societies. The competent art movement also existed in social orders less concentrated than kingdoms, but still of very different levels.
If we consider today that, regardless of the time and civilization in which it is arranged, a plastic art is constantly linked to a specific representation of the world, there is almost certainly a connection between the presence of African engraved works and the general origins in the social orders in which they were created. If this is the case, there should be no limit to the type of work and its significance.
With this in mind, after our article on the 5 women who struggle with art through photography, we bring you these ten contemporary African women sculptors who bring a contemporary renaissance.
These contemporary African women sculptors are fully aware of what they bring to their art and have been driven by their current situation to create works of exceptional beauty.
Anna Boghiguian is an Egyptian visual artist born to an Armenian family. She focused on finance and political theory at the American University in Cairo while learning painting from artist Fouad Kamel.
When her family emigrated to Montreal, she continued her artistic training at Concordia University where she obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Arts and Music. It was at this point that she lost her hearing. Since then, the ear has been a common theme in her work, becoming at once a world apart, natural, social and tangible.
As an itinerant artist, Anna Boghiguian ventures to all corners of the continent, soaking piles of scrap paper with drawings. Possessed by the whiffs of urban communities and the tremors of the world, she nurtures a mix and match of collage, drawing, painting, installation, sculpture, and storytelling to make a psychological, profound, and current mapping of the world.
Her excursions largely feed her training, between the travel guide and the diary. Saturated with writing, her creation is crisscrossed with words, from individual stories or acquired from plays, newspapers, fantasy or authentic narratives.
Her work unfolds like a book that flies into space. This penchant for writing has led her to create delineators for various works, including sonnets by Constantin Cavafy, Giuseppe Ungaretti and Naguib Mahfouz.
In 2003, she published Anna’s Egypt, a journal in which she shares her memories and encounters with Egypt through texts, drawings and paintings.
At the heart of her practice, her movements lead to a deep and delicate reflection on the evolution of individuals and components such as salt, cotton, wax, through wars, upheavals, victories and migrations.
After forty years of plastic research on the edges of the art scene, Anna Boghiguian has enjoyed a great success since 2010.
Her expressionist work, hooking folklore and history, recent developments and proximity, is considered in the most important occasions, such as documenta 13, the Biennials of Istanbul, Sharjah and Venice or the Armenian pavilion of Venice, then in February 2019, she invests the Tate St Ives.
Susan Hefuna is an Egyptian-German photographer and visual artist who studied at the Kunstakademie in Karlsruhe and later obtained a degree in new media.
Her work, arranged at the junction of the two societies she immersed herself in, Germany and Egypt, is a quest for resistances and changes, endless successions, and focuses on dynamic patterns, like particles and modules.
Susan Hefuna works with images – sight and sound, photography, ink drawings and installations, layering and meshing them in depths that bring out an unlimited number of implications, from the important to the delicate.
Susan Hefuna has been exhibited in various museums around the world and for over fourteen years has been interested in the theme of mashrabiya, the openings of Islamic architecture, images of the in-between space upon which her own character rests. Each of her photographs is thus riddled and bound by an edge, where the ladies appear as shadows.
Essentially, her 1999 Windows series, advanced pinhole prints of unidentifiable structural perspectives, manages correspondence and separation, segregation and relationship. Susan Hefuna occasionally draws ink from named matrices in which overlapping lines give a sense of depth, as in her 2008 series Buildings.
Susan Hefuna returned to photography in 1999, working with old strategies and cameras. Her use of the Pinhole camera, from 1999, explores the old platitudes of exoticism.
Finally, she creates installations, sometimes frames made of palm wood, inside which she places various objects. In all of her work, Susan Hefuna focuses on the interconnections and references that converge in her own subjectivity.
Huda Lutfi is an Egyptian-born artist and history scholar. D. in History at McGill University in Montreal and then returned to her country where she studied until 2010 at the American University in Cairo. She presented a few courses there, including Sufism and orientation reports.
Immobilized following an operation, she began to make compositions from inventories and images she collected. She had her most memorable independent exhibition, “Women and Memory” at AUC in 1996.
History and direction intertwine in both her written examination and her creation, using various mediums such as collage, sculpture, painting, photography, installation and video.
Her self-taught practice was rewarded when she won the second prize at the Biennale of Women Artists of the Mediterranean in Marseille and Arles.
That same year, Huda Lutfi moved to Cairo and set up her studio at the “Townhouse Gallery”. She then participated in various exhibitions around the world.
Heiress of the artist Effat Nagy, she approached the Pharaonic, Coptic, Arab, African, European and Indian iconography. Expecting to work as a metropolitan paleontologist, Huda Lutfi discovers the city as if it were a palimpsest where layers of fugacity are superimposed to be exhumed.
Propelled by the reflexive reiterations (dhikr) of Sufi practice, Huda Lutfi’s work plays on comparative reverberations and frequently elicits an impact akin to enchantment, radiating on the one hand through the artist’s reflective mark, then through the incantatory force of her manifestations, and finally through the rapture of the individual who examines them.
In the 2000s, her methodology has evolved into an instrument of protest through which she communicates her assessment of human-controlled society and corporate globalization. Her mixtures of efficiently made dolls criticize the fall of local craftsmanship, overshadowed by accelerating globalization.
In her 2016 series, Magnetic Bodies, her installations of life-size models – the famous outlines of Cairo’s storefronts – challenge the gendered norms of urbanized spaces.
In 2011, her proximity to the struggles in Tahrir Square added to her participation in the events.
Directed by her perspective as a historian, she began filming social events and collecting the chronicled recordings. This work then became the basis for her 2013 series “Cut and Paste“.
In 2014, two videos from this endeavor won the formidable prize at the Alexandria Biennial of Mediterranean Nations. In her 2018 series, “Still,” the reuse and collection procedures offer visual and reasonable results that vary from the exteriority of the previous cycle, beginning a narrative of interiority.
Huda Lutfi deepens this inner journey with her 2019 series “When Dreams Call for Silence”. Going to the subconscious, she draws from her fantasies or from the works and diaries of surrealist artists. The title of this series is thus animated by the fantasies of the French-Egyptian surrealist writer Joyce Mansour.
Huda Lutfi’s work has been exhibited all over the world and we remember the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the British Museum in London, the Barjeel Art Foundation in Sharjah and the Museum of Art in Indianapolis.
Franco-Gabonese artist, Myriam Mihindou’s work knows no limits, literally or figuratively. From architecture, through the school of fine arts in Bordeaux, her preparation conveys some spaces of articulation.
Myriam Mihindou evacuates the subject of belonging to a particular culture or imaginary by playing on the porosities and connections with a training where the body is both the device and the screen of an idea, considered as the fundamental string of a soothing creation. Prior to this, travel and experiences support her work.
From Egypt to France, through Morocco, Gabon, Uganda or the United States, Myriam Mihindou is a true exote who, by moving and trying different things with explicit places and settings, leads a physical and memorial research. On site, Myriam Mihindou brings and overflows dialects, energies, narratives, scenes, bodies and materials that she will then infuse into her exhibitions and sculptures.
The performances, thought of as ceremonies, are snapshots of a testing of her body to overcome a wound, a brutality, a violation.
Myriam Mihindou walks on glass, covers her skin with needles, wraps herself in absorbent cotton, controls the ice; she makes exits from her own body to typify the ills she is trying to relieve or repair.
As a shaman, she uses her body to collect and channel the stories that contact and compose her. Between chronicles, symbols and ex-voto, photos, weavings and embroideries appear as material augmentations of ephemeral activities.
Myriam Mihindou is a highly attentive artist whose work is etched in a significantly humanistic impulse as she worries about bodies wounded by the battles for control, persecution and brutality that run through the human condition.
Myriam Mihindou’s work is diverse, where issues of race meet those of gender, orientation, language and class. She draws on her own knowledge and history to appropriately articulate the structure and lived experience of individuals who do not fit into the predominant community.
In this sense, thoughts of injury, compensation and flexibility are areas to be investigated.
Myriam Mihindou photographs bodies and joints to restore negative images. While the negative qualities emphasize the weirdness of the circumstance, they also mitigate its unforgiving nature.
Her work imagery is about coming out of oneself, therapy, renunciation with a plural reality and alludes to finding the stump of a tree that has just been cut down.
At times, his work summons an activity that suggests savagery, abduction, the inconceivability of resurrection, the eradication of a set of experiences and thus of a memory. The difficulty of individual and global memory, of the free encounter of the body, of dislodging, but also of any form of mastery over people, creatures and the living in general are the subjects around which Myriam Mihindou’s plastic and political idea is verbalized. Through her changing works, she tracks down a space of opposition and versatility.
Kenyan artist Magdalene Odundo’s creations have a stunning presence that mesmerizes any observer who discovers them.
Magdalene Odundo has built her exceptional vocation in complete freedom, drawing on a dominant ideal of ceramics in the service of a rich and current reappraisal of the unglazed earthen vessel, a subject she has long been passionate about.
His practice draws on many sources, but one of his main references is the faience production of Kerma in the Nile Valley, particularly the red and dark funerary vessels dating to the second millennium.
To be sure, Magdalene Odundo’s strategy is fundamentally African: she makes her vessels by pelleting and cleaning, and their final shade usually depends on the general flutter of the kilns during finishing.
Her series are made by age group and quickly reflect human characteristics. The strength and length of the inventive flow, which is sometimes extremely long, characterizes the constraints of her creation and decides the amount of work that is displayed in her exhibitions.
Magdalene Odundo has also explored different avenues regarding other pyrotechnic materials, including metal and glass, resulting in the important installation “Transition II” that she created between 2014 and 2019.
Everything she does is a continuation of her creative movement: her examination of the object on the planet, her commitment to both theoretical and useful schooling, her committed joint efforts in art education and art history in Kenya, and her curatorial work.
Magdalene Odundo’s works have been acquired by numerous collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and even the Nairobi National Museum of Modern African Art.
Despite her limited creative output, she has enjoyed four major gallery exhibitions, including at Hepworth Wakefield and the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich in 2019.
She has also organized several thematic exhibitions, including African Metalwork for the Africa 95 season.
Magdalene Odundo is Professor Emeritus at the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham, UK.
Her vocation has also been recognized with two high honors: she was named President of the University for the Creative Arts in 2018 and Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) for her outstanding commitment to art and education.
After growing up in London, Ndidi Dike moved to Nigeria where she graduated in 1984 with a degree in art from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where she concentrated under the guidance of some of the country’s greatest artists, including Uche Okeke and Obiora Udechukwu.
Although Ndidi Dike focused on painting, it was her work in the field of sculpture, usually reserved for men and which she chose to learn on her own, that earned her early acclaim.
Much of her early work consisted of multi-faceted wood assemblages, represented by curvilinear lines and images cut with modern electrical devices and decorated with pyrographic strategies.
A sculpture, for example, Ikenga, made in 1993 and shown in the exhibition “Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa” at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 1995, draws on a variety of impacts, including deep Igbo practices and their customary themes.
Creatively using materials that, while bearing traces of the past, have their place in the ordinary such as banana filaments, branding irons, metal dolls, coins and cowrie shells. In her early works, artist Ndidi Dike highlights her advantage in the multidisciplinary feel and historical context of social commerce, two subjects that would sustain her practice for over thirty years.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Ndidi Dike regularly exhibited his work in Nigeria and around the world, garnering consistent support from historians, curators and art authorities.
However, one of the defining moments of his career occurred in 2008 at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Lagos.
In an exhibition curated by Bisi Silva, she uses a range of non-literal methodologies that allow her to show the bewildering chronicles and waiting impacts of the triangular trade.
The exhibition includes a series of driftwood wall sculptures decorated with slave chains and various curiosities that evoke the material elements of the capture and exchange of slaves.
While this collection of works contains hints of his earlier work, the placement of two enormous boats suspended from the exhibition’s roof, one loaded with cane sugar, the other with dark red fluid, hints at another direction in the artist’s reading, represented specifically by the scattering and agglomeration of objects, stunning installations, and articulate conceptualism.
In the 2010s, Ndidi Dike investigates the detrimental effects of globalization by crossing the boundaries of the medium and appropriating a much larger space in his body of work.
In her installation “Trace – Transactional Aesthetics” conceived in 2015, Ndidi Dike places a hill of shoppers’ items in front of a huge composite photo of a Lagos market, examining the pictorial elements of usage designs in emerging countries.
Ndidi Dike’s advantage in overproduction and overconsumption is a central element of Constellations – “Floating Space, Motion and Remembrance,” his most memorable exhibition in Europe, held at the Iwalewahaus in Bayreuth, Germany.
Curated by Lena Naumann, the exhibition is based on Michel Foucault’s idea of heterotopia and consists of a large number of live installations and a video dealing with the real factors of relocation and financial imbalances between North and South.
In the wake of his participation in the 2018 Dakar Biennale, Ndidi Dike presents an incredible work at the 2019 Lagos Biennale of Contemporary Art.
“A History of a City in a Box” creating in 2019, one of his most notable creations to date, is presented as a city model made of colonial-era storage boxes, different types of land and recorded reports connecting to the historical backdrop of Independence House, an important but deserted structural landmark that served as the main work for the Lagos Biennale.
Sokari Douglas Camp
Nigerian sculptor Sokari Douglas Camp is considered one of the leading artists of the Nigerian diaspora in the world.
Her work is exhibited worldwide, including at the Setagaya Art Museum in Tokyo, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. and the British Museum in London.
Reflecting a desire to act in spite of political circumstances, her steel sculpture practice has led Sokari Douglas Camp to take control of open space by displaying her large-scale sculptures.
In recognition of her work, she was awarded the honorary title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2005.
Long established in the United Kingdom, Sokari Douglas Camp has made roads and public squares her preferred playground for developing her specialty, allowing her to establish an immediate relationship with passengers.
In 2006, Sokari Douglas Camp erected “Battle Bus“, a daily transport to the size of existence, in memory of lobbyist and essayist Ken Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues, killed by the government in the Niger Delta.
Sokari Douglas Camp planned this work to make their struggle felt forever and inscribed the walls of the steel transport with words from the dissident’s speech against oil taint.
Oil drums structure the base of some of his figures, or wreaths of flowers emerge from the fuel pipes. While these steel works have a light and unexpected personality, they nonetheless help us remember our singular obligations to the planet’s social and natural problems.
The artist’s preferred mode of dissent, steel never ceases to pay its tribute to versatility, even with the environmental woes that scatter populations.
In 2017, for the fifty-seventh edition of the Venice Biennale, Sokari Douglas Camp, teamed with composer Shirley J. Thompson, created a video restituting the figures of her commemoration to the annulment of slavery, resurrected by the presence of artists whose signals uncovered the transgenerational aspect of this restitution mission related to the slave exchange.
Her work has contributed significantly to the presentation and recognition of Afro-British art; in 2015-2016 she participated in the exhibition “No Colour Bar: Black British Art in Action 1960-1990” at the Guildhall Art Gallery in London.
Her work is infused with both her Kalabari heritage from the western Niger Delta, reverberated with Caribbean disguises, and the ordinances of art in Europe.
October Gallery in London, dedicated an exhibition to him in 2016, around his appearance on design methods in Western art history.
Repeating the idea of the Black Atlantic, Sokari Douglas Camp redraws, with the help of steel, the forms of histories of the developments of the Atlantic space, position of diffusion, creation and opposition linking the African American populations around the planet.
Sokari Douglas Camp is a creative symbol of the kinds of intersecting nonconformities constitutive of modernity.”
Elizabeth Olowu, a Nigerian sculptor and costume designer, is a princess and the daughter of Oba Akenzua II, who studied art at the University of Nigeria in 1966. She immediately distinguished herself by her creative ability and her excellent results, which earned her the prize for the most intelligent student in her group.
Faced with the Biafran war, Elizabeth Olowu returned to Benin City, where she demonstrated her skills at Itohan Girls’ Grammar School until 1976, when she was selected for the newly created Division of Imaginative Expressions at the University of Benin City. She was the first student sculptor to graduate in 1979.
Elizabeth Olowu works in the field of metal projection, particularly bronze projection. Although she worked in 1966 at a neighborhood blacksmith shop whose foundry was located across the street from Itohan Girls’ Grammar School where she was an educator, her best-known metal and concrete figures are those she made while studying at Benin City University between 1976 and 1984.
Elizabeth Olowu went against the old custom that a woman should not cast bronze and thus became the first female bronze caster in Nigeria’s history. She owes this honor to the way her father, the ruler, fostered a dynamic change in the social and creative acts of Edo State in Nigeria.
Previously, people in the bronze organization made bronze works just for the crown. Elizabeth Olowu had the honor of learning the lost wax casting technique from the workers of Igun Street in Benin City.
In her work, she investigates conventional and current thinking, materials, strategies and cycles. The majority of her sculptures are about women and motherhood.
Elizabeth Olowu uses concrete as a key material in her work, which honors the soldiers who fought in the conflict that destroyed Nigeria. She also uses bronze in the usual style of her region.
Elizabeth Olowu has had six exhibitions and her work has been featured in various group shows in Nigeria and abroad.
Her independent exhibition in China coincided with the United Nations World Gathering on Women in Beijing in 1995. She also participated in the third Havana Biennial in Cuba in 1989. Her latest major exhibitions and public commissions are in a joint effort with her granddaughter Peju Layiwola, herself an artist.
Nigerian artist Veronica Otigbo-Ekpei works in a wide range of materials, but is best known for her woodcarving practice.
Born in Ogun State, she spent much of her youth in Lagos and trained at the College of Education in Ijanikin from 1983 to 1986.
In her journey, she held a temporary position at Universal Studios of Arts in Iganmu. There, Veronica Otigbo-Ekpei honed her chiseling skills under the tutelage of Bisi Fakeye, a renowned sculptor from a long line of artists.
Her method highlights the expertise with which she wields various tools: V-gouge, wood scraper, and electric saw. She uses blackwood, oak, mahogany, and other woods from the Lafenwa area of Abeokuta to make works that focus on women’s place in the world.
Her works often focus on the weakening and weakness of women in the market harassed by city authorities or, in some cases, an immediate reaction to scenes she saw in Lagos.
Veronica Otigbo-Ekpei is likely the leading Nigerian artist to carve in the round from the beginning of her career, she distinguished herself by making public models in Lagos.
Among the artisans appointed by Lagos State to make works for the beautification of public space in 2017, Veronica Otigbo-Ekpei is the only female artist maintained. She is making an outdoor mold for the event, introduced in the Ilaje area of Lagos State.
Flexible artist; her training has given her the ability to move back and forth between conventional and contemporary methods of articulation.
Her work with button mosaics is a demonstration of this adaptability, Veronica Otigbo-Ekpei has had a series of exhibitions including “Thoughts and Symbols” at the Alliance Francaise in Ikoyi in 2002, “Echoes from the Wood” at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island in 2013, and many others. She has also participated in a few group exhibitions in Nigeria and has created a large number of figures for public and private spaces.
Seni Awa Camara
Seni Awa Camara, a Senegalese sculptor, is one of those specialists who, in 1989, were introduced to the contemporary African art scene by the exhibition “Magiciens de la terre” and whose works were bought and distributed by the collector Jean Pigozzi, the day after the exhibition.
Like a few other exhibitors in 1989, Seni Awa Camara did not plan her creation for the art market and instead linked it to a local market: that of the city of Casamance, the city of her birth.
Although she lives there, Seni Awa Camara currently sends her works all over the world. Oscillating between handicraft and naive art, her manifestations come straight out of the artist’s inventive mind, without her supporting the points of departure, the importance or the potential translations.
Appearing as bizarre creatures, sometimes two-headed, worked from a typical trunk on which appear numerous collections of young people or creatures, her models stage scenes of maternity, drawing from the African universe, as well as from an enormous bestiary.
To a somewhat emblematic collection such as reptiles, monkeys, crocodiles, frogs, are added creatures from the world of everyday life or characters perched on a bike or a vehicle also make their appearance here and there.
The subtleties accumulate to give an impact, sometimes overwhelming, to characters that reach the immense, the fabulous or the hilarious.
Initiated to sculpture by her mother and grandmother, Seni Awa Camara models her characters and prepares them at low temperature in an outdoor grill in the patio of her house. A simple method that allows her to give shape to surprising dreams, now taught around the world from Casamance.