Contemporary African Art
Contemporary African Art
The countries of Africa are well known for indigenous and culturally representative sculptures, textiles, and paintings. In the past, artists, art historians, and collectors have focused primarily on “traditional” African art, consisting of ceremonial masks, wood and ivory statues, and mud-cloth textiles. Today, Contemporary African Art has transformed beyond traditional subject matter and media into an art movement being exhibited, collected and discussed internationally. Contemporary African Art can be divided into the main geographic areas ... (view more)
Contemporary African Art
The countries of Africa are well known for indigenous and culturally representative sculptures, textiles, and paintings. In the past, artists, art historians, and collectors have focused primarily on “traditional” African art, consisting of ceremonial masks, wood and ivory statues, and mud-cloth textiles. Today, Contemporary African Art has transformed beyond traditional subject matter and media into an art movement being exhibited, collected and discussed internationally. Contemporary African Art can be divided into the main geographic areas of Africa: North, Sub-Saharan, and South. The styles of Contemporary African Art differ greatly from region to region and are highly affected by Africa’s history: colonialism; religion; politics; racism; slavery; war; contact with the West; and the urban experience.
From 1948 to 1994, art in South Africa consisted primarily of Resistance Art, which pertains specifically to the political, economic, and social consequences of apartheid. With the presidential election of Nelson Mandela in 1994, official segregation under apartheid was terminated. Thus, in the mid-90s, artists began to explore the possibilities of social transformation and the effects of a new authority in everyday life. With the Johannesburg Biennales in 1995 and 1997, South African artists began to establish themselves; experimenting with inventive mediums such as video and installation. South African Contemporary Art, specifically that exhibited in Cape Town, has developed tremendously in recent years and is internationally respected. Today, artists are recognized for their ability to convey emotions of a repressive past while uniting them with current political and economic developments and innovation in the arts. The work of South African William Kentridge has become well-known within the Contemporary African Art movement. His work exemplifies the way in which post-apartheid South Africa confronts its colonial, repressive history. Kentridge, born in Johannesburg in 1955, is best known for his films of charcoal drawings. Kentridge’s process is labor intensive; after each drawing is created and filmed, he erases the page and draws a new image for the next film still. Thus, traces of the previous drawing remain on the page, giving his works an eerie yet reflective quality. The characters of his charcoal-drawing films frequently deal with the duality of South Africa: the past, steeped in hatred and racism; and the present state of rebuilding.
North Africa encompasses Morocco, Nigeria, Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia: a group of countries also known as the Maghrib. North African contemporary art frequently deals with the spiritual customs of a religious group known as the Berbers, as well as other Arabic-influenced cultural groups. The Berbers rely heavily on symbolic elements which are meant to be protective of evil forces; the number “five” being one of the most common. Triangular and sharp objects are also used for protective reasons, thus geometry plays a big role in North African art. Many contemporary artists respond to these traditions by combining indigenous elements of their history with contemporary themes. North Africa is a widely Muslim population; thus, contemporary artists may also address the effects of Islam upon their cultures. For example, Moroccan artist Lalla Essaydi explores the role of women in Muslim-African cultures. Her photographs of veiled women covered in Arabic script recall the way in which women are often repressed. They also strongly reference Western stereotypes about harems and the roles of women within the harem setting.
Many Sub-Saharan contemporary artists deal with the struggles of post-colonial identity as a product of European colonialism and racism. With the long tradition of European colonization of Africa, Western culture has permeated African life. In reaction to this, the Senegalese President, Leopold Senghor, championed the Contemporary art movement in Sub-Saharan Africa by establishing the Ecole des Arts du Senegal. The school gave African artists the chance to study at a non-Western institution. Artists began to portray traditional African values and culture in a groundbreaking manner. Cheri Samba, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, creates art that deals with the way in which the West has irreversibly affected Africa and, in particular, African commercialism and consumerism. Sub-Saharan Africa is now considered an important center for contemporary art largely due to Dak’Art, the Dakar biennial that began in 1992. The biennial has become a renowned event, allowing artists such as Viye Diba, a grand prize winner in Dak’Art’s 1998 biennial, known for his unique ability to unite sculpture and paint utilizing local materials, to present their work on an international level.