The definition of contemporary African art is complex due to the diversity of countries, lifestyles, customs, traditions and social conceptions in each region. In addition, the legacy of the diaspora caused by colonialism makes the definition even more difficult. Scholars are reluctant to define contemporary African art in a homogeneous way because each region is driven by its own contextual limitations. Exhibitions and narratives that attempt to trace a direct and intermittent history from classical to contemporary art must take into account how African contemporary art was constructed against classical art. The period from 1920 to 1980 is often overlooked and it is important to recognize its importance in the formation and development of independent scenes and styles. The precise picture of contemporary African art is impossible to define, but some historical elements can help to understand the current art scene. In this article, we will present the starting points of contemporary African art, its evolution among the currents and an overview of the current art scene.
The influence of Negritude on modern and contemporary African art
Negritude is a movement initiated by writers such as Aimé Césaire, Léon Damas and Léopold Sédar Senghor in the 1930s. The movement aimed to promote black and African culture, while censuring colonialism. Negritude has had a significant impact on modern and contemporary African art by encouraging artistic innovation and addressing contemporary social issues while celebrating traditional culture.
African artists explored new subjects and artistic avenues as a result of Negritude and the analysis of the pioneers. Visual art within the movement focused on key standards and drew inspiration from other innovative movements such as the Harlem Renaissance and Surrealism.
African modernist and contemporary artists are pushing the boundaries and participating in global discussions about the evaluation of contemporary African art and its introduction to the world stage. It is important to question who is African and who has the right to be included in the definition of African art. Native African artists, people who travel between continents, or white Africans of European descent can all have an African heritage and contribute to African contemporary art.
The Emergence of African Modernists in Contemporary Art
Africans decided to take new technological advances and integrate them into their own environment to contribute to the progress of the continent. African modernists have been heroes by respecting social obligation and working in a postcolonial context. Artists such as Bakker Kenneth, Depara Jean, Egonu Uzo, Enwonwu Ben, Hodgins Robert Griffiths, Ibeto Christopher, Khumalo Sydney, Kwami Grace Salome Abra, Mancoba Ernst, Malangatana Valente Ngwena, Mukomberanwa Nicholas, Lilanga Di Nyama Georges, Ndiaye Iba, Olatunde Asiru, Onabolu, Aina, Chief Oni-Okpaku Gabriel, Pemba George, Sekoto Gerard, Skotnes Cecil, Thango Francis, Tingatinga Edward Saidi, Twins Prince Seven, Villa Edoardo are considered the ancestors of African modernism.
These African modernities were often confronted with obstructive developments that emerged against colonial rule, but ultimately revealed the embarrassments endured. Expansionism presented a totally different universe of artistic thoughts and disciplines in contemporary African art. Art schools and universities
These African modernities were often confronted with obstructive developments that emerged against colonial rule, but ultimately revealed the embarrassments endured. Expansionism presented a totally different universe of artistic thoughts and disciplines in contemporary African art. Art schools and creative universities, workshops and studios were set up to present new artistic teachings.
Allegorical art took over the glorification and conventional language of the African imagination and its deep articulation. Curiously, this was happening while Europe and the Western world retained the resonances of Picasso’s unique difference from his Cubist counterparts and the freedom of line, structure, variety and form. From about 1910 on, art was no longer just visual, but conceptual and cultural.
Picasso and African art: appropriation or inspiration?
Pablo Picasso, a major artist of the 20th century whose works have marked the history of art, drew on African art to bring innovation to his creations. During the late 19th century, the arrival of many African objects in Europe as a result of colonialism, was not considered masterpieces, but rather curiosities without much financial value. However, by the 1900s, Picasso and the École de Paris were inspired by this African art to create new works.
Although the effect of African art on Picasso and the introduction of Cubism has been studied, the works that led to this development have not been analyzed in depth. Non-Western art is often seen as a tool that allowed European artists to achieve a pictorial upheaval, but was quickly forgotten.
Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, seen as a break with the naturalism of Western art since the Renaissance, was not well received. Picasso then drew inspiration from African art to create a series of drawings, watercolors, and sculptures in which he reduced the elements of the face to basic mathematical shapes. This research led Picasso and George Braque to Cubism, a movement that emphasized the differentiation between painting and reality. Cubism had a tremendous effect and influenced many art movements.
Picasso had a large collection of African art, but his borrowing from African art was not always intentional. Although Picasso emphasized the Iberian and non-African nature of his works to make sense of them, this raises the question of whether Picasso appropriated African visual culture without respect for the way of life he was drawing inspiration from.
Finally, it is important to highlight the role of African artists in the ingenuity and monumentality of Picasso’s creations. The extreme use of two-dimensionality and level planes in Picasso’s work was possible because of the influence of African sculptors.
Artmaking in Africa Across Cultural Boundaries
African modernist artists such as Mancoba and Sekoto sought to break out of the confines of their culture by traveling to London and Paris, where they were exposed to Western art and its history. Enwonwu, on the other hand, was inspired by the “negritude” movement in Paris, which gave an infinitely greater complexity to his work. Despite their extended stay abroad, they returned home to adopt new directions and experience the impact of political and social changes on the continent, while seeking global recognition for the presence of an African modernism.
From Autonomy to Expression: The Evolution of Contemporary African Art
During the colonial period, creative activities in Africa were largely influenced by the West. The colonialists and well-wishers established art schools and studios that had a great influence on artistic creation in Africa. However, there were also local creative activities that had special qualities and have survived to this day.
Some of the art schools established by the settlers and well-wishers included the Achimota College in Ghana in 1936, the Makerere School of Fine Arts in Uganda in 1939, the Murray School in Nigeria between the 1930s and 1940s, the Lubumbashi School in Congo between 1940 and 1950, the Khartoum Technical Institute in Sudan in 1946, the Poto School in Brazzaville, Congo in 1951, the College of Arts, Science and Technology in Nigeria in 1953, the Yaba School of Technology in Nigeria in 1955 and the Oshogbo School in 1962, established by Ulli Beier.
In addition to the art schools, there were also studios and art trails in several African countries, such as Julian Beinart’s studios in South Africa, Michael Cardew’s ceramics studios in Ghana and Nigeria, and Rorke’s Drift artists in South Africa.
After gaining autonomy from the unfamiliar systems that governed them, African countries have undergone significant political and social changes that have had an impact on the creation art. New types of contemporary African art have emerged, influenced by globalization, media, correspondence and different cultures. African artists have begun to travel, draw inspiration from different cultures and offer strong expressions of the effect of globalization on their territory.
One of the main styles of contemporary African art is the art of the hunted object, which consists of making artworks from collected and reused materials. This art is well known on the continent and is often made from everyday objects. Mozambique’s Gonçalo Mabunda is one of the most famous artists in this genre. He uses pieces of weapons recovered after the conflict to create sculptures and thus give new life to these objects.
In sum, Africa has produced exceptional works of art that have offered the world another creative framework. Globalization and social and political changes have contributed to the emergence of different types of contemporary African art, such as hunted object art, which reflects local values and traditions, as well as influences from different cultures.
The Revolution in Contemporary African Art: An Ethnographic Exploration
Since the end of the 20th century, several exhibitions of African art in the West have contributed to the global renown of this art. The “Magicians of the Earth” exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in 1989 paved the way for other important exhibitions that seek to educate and celebrate contemporary African art and scholars with respect. For example, the exhibition “Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa” coordinated by African curators in 1995 at the Whitechapel Gallery in London presented objects made by 60 artists as a manual for the historical context of modern African art.
Although African art, especially sculpture, has been known in Europe since the 15th century, it did not acquire its nature as an authentic artistic expression until after 1906, when Cubist painters presented it as obvious Negro art. However, the Negro art of Cubism is probably not African art, because the Cubists did not attempt to characterize the true idea of these works.
It is therefore important to rediscover the truth of African aesthetic reality through the specific investigation of the objects and civilizations in which they were considered, made, used and appreciated. However, the fragmentary investigation of African societies has so far only allowed a limited approach to the whole stylistic reality.
Contemporary African art is unique because it is not causally linked to its context. It is neither the immediate and privileged expression of a type of society, nor the basic instrument of the cults, nor the pedantic representation of the Contemporary African art is unique because it is not causally linked to its context. It is neither the immediate and privileged expression of a type of society, nor the basic instrument of cults, nor the pedantic representation of convictions and fantasies. The investigation of contemporary African art thus aims at establishing a topography, a set of experiences and a complex ethnology.
In short, African art is one of the significant parts of black culture, all the more valuable because it is delineated by objects that, because of the translation of the sculptural message they convey, can be one of the methods to infiltrate the early origins of African civilizations. Modern Africanist research strives to characterize a diverse reality and the exclusive idea of its emblematic implications.
The emergence of African contemporary art on the world stage
Contemporary African art is on the rise with an increase in art venues, fairs and exhibitions on the continent. Artists from different African countries are making a name for themselves, such as Wangechi Mutu from Kenya, who fuses African social references with elements of science fiction, or El Anatsui from Ghana, who creates luminous drawings from bottle lids. William Kentridge of South Africa is known for his charcoal drawings that reflect his country’s difficult history, while Julie Mehretu of Ethiopia creates monumental works by mixing lines, shapes and tones. Congolese painter Chéri Samba often uses prints to describe daily life in his country. Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj is often compared to Andy Warhol for his colorful fashion and pop art inspired photographs, and Yinka Shonibare, a Nigerian artist based in the UK, creates striking and dynamic works with a sense of humor despite his disability.
These African artists have enjoyed global success and have exhibited their work around the world, contributing to the growing recognition of African artwork. In the 21st century, African contemporary art is increasingly female-oriented, reinforced by women such as Touria El Glaoui, founder of the 1-54 fair, who has created a number of exhibitions in Africa.
This fair represents the unique and intersecting energies of the continent’s 54 nations and sets the pace for an unbridled imagination, often based on the truth of a characteristic territory.
The most elegant artists present allegorical works that capture the attention of young women who admire their elders. Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga, inspired by El Anatsui, works with the oxidation and sewing of metal to give it an unexpected softness. Gabonese artist Myriam Mihindou’s semi-mystical work fascinates with its cotton wolf-heads containing quills and mysterious historical backgrounds, perhaps related to voodoo… Jihan El-Tahri, originally from Egypt, addresses the psychological boundary that continues to erroneously isolate North Africa from Sub-Saharan Africa, where the Sahara is often seen as a social barrier rather than a transitional zone.
Contemporary African artists are increasingly engaged in exploring their cultural identity and heritage, as well as reflecting on social and political change on a national and international scale. Their goal is to advance African art, denounce injustice and raise awareness in society.
Barthélémy Toguo uses a variety of media, such as installations, performances and watercolors, to explore the complex relationship between Africa and Europe, particularly in relation to diseases such as AIDS and Ebola. He collaborates with scientists to create microscopic images of diseased cells, which he uses in his installations.
Fathi Hassan focuses on exploring ancient dialects and oral history that were suppressed by colonization. He uses drawn scripts to play with the images, surfaces and calligraphy of his Nubian heritage. He often incorporates natural elements to give meaning to his texts.
Tyna Adebowale focuses on contemporary Nigerian culture and subcultures disrupted by outside forces. She studies social and deep narratives in Africa over the long term, focusing on difference and natural ease of orientation. She has also been involved in educational and religious projects.
Hicham Benohoud explores the peculiar, amusing and sometimes bizarre dreams that challenge Moroccan culture. Although he does not consider himself a committed artist, his methodology is essentially based on his investigation of what is happening in society.
Kudzanai-Violet Hwami addresses life in South Africa in his work, using a variety of media to create works that incorporate visual elements such as self-portraits, family photos, nudes, as well as references to music and writing.
Ayanda Mabulu uses satirical imagery to address the inequities of South African culture, depicting strong pioneers compared to victims of abuse, misery and bigotry. Although his work is considered political, Mabulu prefers to offer a personal perspective that provokes debate.
Each artist has their own story and artistic approach. Their work reflects an exploration of African reality that is new to each.
Exploring African Creativity: The Influence of Exhibitions, Magazines and Auctions on African Contemporary Art
The development of contemporary African art has been marked by several major events, such as exhibitions, magazines, books and auctions. These events have played a crucial role in the discovery of contemporary African art in the West, as well as in the legitimization and valorization of works by African artists.
Notable exhibitions include “Primitivism in 20th Century Art” at MOMA in New York, which drew criticism for presenting African art as crude and uncommon. However, the exhibition also provided a glimpse into the magnificence of the forms on display. “Magicians of the Earth” at the Centre Pompidou in 1989, in Paris, connected popular artists with the avant-garde, introducing clues of custom such as feathers and colors. “Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa” at London’s Whitechapel in 1995 provided a verifiable framework for African innovation, while “The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945-1994” in New York City featured 400 works from across Africa.
Periodicals on contemporary African art, such as Revue Noire, Arts d’Afrique, and The South African Art Times, also helped raise the profile of works by African artists and sparked public interest in contemporary African art. Books such as “Art and Contemporary Artists from Africa” and “African Art Now, Masterpieces from the Pigozzi Collection” were also published to highlight contemporary African artists.
Finally, auctions of contemporary African art at houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s have also contributed to the recognition of contemporary African art as a monetary and artistic value. These events have enriched the contemporary African art scene by adding value and legitimacy to works by African artists.
Contemporary African art fairs: a dynamism in constant evolution
Contemporary art galleries have the opportunity to gain exposure on the world stage through events that allow them to meet potential buyers. These events, which resemble both exhibitions and marketplaces, have multiplied in recent years around the world These events . Major cities such as Paris, London, New York, Madrid, Cologne and Basel all hold contemporary art fairs. Artists, gallery owners and exhibitors present their work and meet with collectors, dealers, consultants and even museum curators. More specific fairs have also emerged to highlight contemporary African art, such as the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair held in London, Paris, New York and Marrakech, which attracts over 10,000 visitors. AKAA, also in Paris, is an art and design fair that invites collectors, experts and art lovers to discover and purchase works. This fair is eminent for its quality and selection of galleries, with artists available to meet people and offer their thoughts, as well as talks, conversations and meetings with curators, columnists, authors and performers.
FNB Art Joburg, ART X Lagos, 100% Design South Africa: the rise of art fairs on the continent
Africa, too, has become an essential meeting place for contemporary art lovers and professionals, with several fairs presenting the latest trends and the most influential creators. The Investec Cape Town Art Fair is one of the largest contemporary art fairs on the African continent, and is known for its local social dynamism and energy. The fair aims to give African artists a voice and exposure on their own continent, while offering a variety of quality artworks from Africa and the rest of the world.
Other notable fairs include FNB Art Joburg, the leading contemporary art fair in Africa, which attracts delegates from the world’s leading art institutions. 1-54 in Marrakech is another well-known fair that showcases a wide variety of contemporary works and attracts visitors from around the world.
Finally, there is ART X Lagos, which has quickly become the foundation of the Nigerian contemporary art scene. The fair exhibits a wide variety of creative works, highlighting emerging and established African artists. 100% Design South Africa is another fair that focuses on design and showcases the latest items in the sector, offering buyers, suppliers and designers an extraordinary source of discovery.
Overall, these fairs provide an open stage for discussion and reflection around contemporary art, while highlighting African artists and their work. The fairs attract visitors from all over the world, including delegates from major art institutions, demonstrating the growing importance of Africa in the art world.Contemporary.
African art on display on the continent: fascinating collections to discover
African art lovers have many options for discovering fascinating contemporary collections on the continent. While historical centers such as the Quai Branly and the Humboldt Forum offer important collections, they also reflect the weight of a colonial past. However, places such as the Fondation Zinsou in Benin, the MACAAL in Marrakech, and the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art in Cape Town offer exceptional contemporary collections of emerging and established artists. We cannot talk about collecting African art without mentioning the late Sindika Dokolo, who built up a private collection of over 5,000 works and created the Sindika Dokolo Foundationto promote contemporary art in Angola. African art is different and fascinating, but it has also been deprived of many works by Western populations. Ultimately, by giving universal visibility to African art, we can also help restore harmony between people, populations and countries.
Contemporary African art: a booming market and important political issues
The subject of contemporary African art is highly political and requires a postcolonial vision to be fully understood. The market for contemporary African art is growing rapidly, although it represents only a small part of the art market as a whole. Exhibitions of contemporary art on and off the continent have contributed to the recognition of this elite art scene. The art market is a constant preoccupation and a single market is a legitimizing ally. The rise of contemporary African art is a sign of accomplishment, but the market is also the source of presentism. The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a new way of enhancing exhibitions and making them more accessible. Auction houses have broadened their clientele, which is often interested in contemporary African art. The market for contemporary African art is speculative, but market players are working to redesign a more manageable financial model. Contemporary African art will become a much more important part of people’s lives in the future.