What do you know about African Art? Not much, right? These artists have decided to change the situation and tell people the truth about their life to convey our current world.

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Sokari Douglas Camp

“I was not good at painting so I thought I should try sculpture, as I liked putting my hand in my work”.

All the artist’s works are full of Africa. “I have a dream that the Niger Delta will be cured even though it is dying of oil pollution.” Being a woman who has fought to have her message seen, she has done everything to express her emotions, using art.

Years later the world has seen a group of works, which cross the drawings of William Blake and Eduardo Paolozzi with her own specific, raw style, the figures attack the virus, beating it with the energy that is particular, she says, to African women.

 

“When you meet Nigerians they are incredible. Their energy is incredible,” she says, recalling a Nigerian woman she met recently. “She said, ‘You people in London are so spoilt. Before I could send emails today, I had to go and get the oil to run the generator.’ You have to create the wheel everyday.”

Abdoulaye Konaté

“My inspiration comes from society, but I’m also inspired by nature and sex”.

 

Malian artist Abdoulaye Konaté is known for striking combination of installations and paintings and creating enormous works from textiles, including one the size of a football pitch.

One of his the most interesting exhibition calls “Symphony in colour”. This creation illustrates the artist’s ongoing interest in music. Music has a fundamental place across West Africa and in Malian culture. It is both a way to preserve tradition and ancestral roots and an animated part of contemporary life, what is represented in Konaté’s art.

 

What is more, Abdoulaye Konaté shows music through colours.  Looking at the large-scale fabric pieces, with their subtle gradients of coloured ribbons and strips of hand-embroidered cotton, you can almost hear the mellifluous sounds of the marimba and the drums. And it’s not surprising. The artist draws inspiration from his local natural environment.

Chéri Samba

“I do what I do for young generations”.

 

Untouchable. This is the word, which Chéri Samba can be described. No phone, no emails, or Internet connection. In this way he’s getting ready for the next piece of art.

 

Contrast and humor are other two characteristics of Chéri Samba. The perfect recipe for him is a mix of humor and truth, it is the way he produces shock and says what most people don’t want to. Most impressive here are paintings with specific, relatively personal subjects, like teen-age pregnancy, infidelity and public hygiene. These portray the difficulties and hypocrisies of everyday life with a combination of tenderness, humor and bitterness that cuts through language barriers.

Julie Mehretu

“That’s what I’m interested in: the space in between, the moment of imagining what is possible and yet not knowing what that is”.

 

The world Julie Mehretu depicts is full of chaos. However, she is an absolute opposite of the world in her pictures. Without this concentration she could never become one of the most significant American painter of her generation. One painting of hers was sold for a record $4.6m.

Julie Mehretu’s large-scale paintings draw inspiration from aerial mapping and architecture.  Mehretu’s pieces represent accelerated urban growth, densely-populated city environments, and contemporary social networks. “You have all these layers that have fused together,” she says me, “and they become part of one larger machine.”

 

The thing that inspires her mostly is her roots: “Coming from this African background, you’re the children of people who were there during decolonisation, when the world really fundamentally shifted and this other form of modernism emerged”.

El Anatsui

“When I started working with the bottle caps, I thought I’d make one or two things with them, but the possibilities began to seem endless”.

 

When you look at the biography of El Anatsui, it seems like a big way of finding yourself. He has tried different techniques and materials, until one day El Anatsui has found a key to his soul – bottle caps. However, it took him a while to realize it.

You can think a bottle cap is  just a piece of trash, but it unites African’s history, beauty and visual magnetism. In addition, they are easy to use. Twisted, pressed or cut into circles bottle caps’ potential is endlessly expandable.

El Anatsui’s first bottle caps’ exhibition involved three-step performance. Studio workers in Nsukka made the initial blocks from caps. El Anatsui created  the configuration of the blocks into a larger works. Then the construction was installed. And when a piece came down, it could be folded up to fit in the equivalent of a suitcase or trunk.

 

After that installation the artist became famous. He used the same technique with milk-can tops and another materials. El Anatsui himself compares his metal work to painting and sees the show as a record of his move from the equivalent of oils to watercolor, “from opaqueness to transparency.”

Ibrahim El Salahi

“I began to break down the letters to find what gave them meaning, and a Pandora’s box opened”.

 

 

Born in 1930 the Sudanese Ibrahim El-Salahi is one of his land´s best known artists and has an international reputation.

What makes him such an interesting artist is his classic forms, purity of expression and an imagination which wants to free itself from constraint. Throughout his career, El-Salahi has incorporated into his pictures the crescent and moon of Muslim iconography along with the bird that is so often the symbol of hope and freedom in its tales. However, there is also something very African in the earth colours and mask-like faces he chooses.

 

The artist’s own description of the way he manages his compositions is that he starts with a shape or image at the centre of the canvas and then works outwards, relying on spontaneous whim and urgings to fill out the picture. That helps to explain the vertical emphasis at the middle and the horizontal and carved shapes towards the sides. But they are still held by an overarching control which never allows the totally free association which the Surrealists sought.

Tracey Rose

«When you make an artwork you’re not just doing something at that moment, you’re contributing to an entire history of artmaking».

 

Tracey Rose’s work reflects on the cultural, economic and political differences that mark the world today, along with identity-related and ethnic issues. Additionally, the artist explores cultural stereotypes imposed on Africans, women, and African women.

 

Rose’s style is rather provocative. In one of her videos Rose portrays herself shaving her own body hair with an electric razor, thus reflecting on identity and the vulnerability of the codes that usually define our cultural origins. In the video installation “TKO” (2000) the artist depicts a boxer training with a punchbag. This picture is superimposed onto others from inside the bag. In this way, the spectator’s eye oscillates from one point of view to the other. The idea was to create an allusion and show different roles and identities in play in contemporary society.

Meschac Gaba

“I deal with daily life. It’s basically there for my work”.

 

Beninese conceptual artist Meschac Gaba explores themes of globalization, consumerism, and the Western museum through acts of artistic appropriation. Gaba first emerged on the international art in 1997 at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. Created in the form of a nomadic exhibition space, 12-part project The Museum of Contemporary African Art includes the Wedding Room, Library, Game Room, and the Salon.  The project’s parts were exhibited separately across various European art institutions.

 

In more recent work, Gaba has created objects and sculptures from braided hair extensions that are popular with African and the diaspora.

The artist is also known for choosing different types of materials for his works. Gaba creates paintings and ceramics to multimedia installations using materials such as paint, plywood, plaster, stones, and decommissioned bank notes.

Kudzanai Chiurai

“I used to paint flowers”.

 

Born in Zimbabwe, Kudzanai Chiurai lives and works in South Africa. He was the first Africo- American student, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art from the University of Pretoria.

The artist’s first works were painted during elections time, because of this they are focused on political aspects. A stencil image he made depicting President Robert Mugabe in flames with horns on his head prompted threats of arrest and he fled the country.

 

Another problem, raised in the artist’s work is xenophobia and displacement in Southern Africa. Chiurai started to produce films and paintings that dealt with his psychological and physical experience of living in the inner city of Johannesburg.

Nástio Mosquito

“Don’t be cool, be relevant … and if you can be relevantly cool then good for you”.

 

Nástio Mosquito was speaking about his success before his first solo exhibition. “It feels like a great beginning,” he said. “It is the start of something. This is the first chapter of my empowerment of a generation, a five chapter novel … I’ll have to find a snappier name.”

And he wasn’t wrong. Nástio Mosquito combines music, video and reality. Often portrayed as the central figure in his video works, Mosquito’s creations make powerful political and social statements that are slightly discomforting but stimulating meaningful reflection in the viewer.

 

“He is incredibly charismatic, theatrical and smart”, – said Ikon’s director, Jonathan Watkins. “You know when you catch a wave and it is breaking? I feel like that with him.”

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