IF YOU ever visit the living room of somebody from “outside countries” (as we say here in Uganda) and that person proudly shows you their African art collection, odds are you’ll be looking at a carving of an animal, a mask, or a piece of beaded jewellery. The world thinks it knows what African art looks like, but it truly only knows tourist art. Afrocentric and fashionable, purchasable at airports or other high-end stores, dubiously, tourist art promises you the fairest of fair trade.
That is all very well and good—to each their own taste. However, there is a great deal more to art on the African continent. There are many refreshingly original and creative artists changing the way not only the continent, but also the world thinks of African art. These mind blowing artists range from a Mozambiquean fashioning furniture out of guns and artillery to a Senegalese photographer restaging The Matrix. Here are just some of the names to look out for that are changing the landscape of the African art world.
Ghana: Frances Bodomo (filmmaker)
Some say Africa is the future, others say Africa is now. One thing everyone can agree on is that Ghana’s Frances Bodomo is a filmmaker to look out for both now and in the future. Filmmaker magazine named her one of the top 25 independent filmmakers to look out for in 2014. Though still up-and-coming, Bodomo’s short films have premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival and the New York Film festival, among others.
She is the director behind the successful short films Boneshaker (which featured child-star Quvenzhane Wallis of Beasts of the Southern Wild fame) and Afronauts. Bodomo is currently developing this latter film into a feature that tells the story of the 1964 Zambian attempt to join the race to space.
Senegal: Omar Victor Diop (photographer, designer)
Omar Victor Diop is an exciting Senegalese photographer and designer who is interested in every angle of the picture; costumes, drama, lights, camera and action. He recently collaborated with a French-born American artist Antoine Tempé on a photo exhibit that recreated twenty iconic Hollywood scenes, including “The Matrix”, “Chicago”, and “American Beauty” with a Nigerian and Senegalese cast and set.
The project— ONOMollywood—is just one example of Diop’s creative and stylish flavor. In the past couple of years, he has abandoned the commercial world to delve further into his artistic expression. Diop is headed in the right direction and certain to be successful, as his work has been exhibited in Dakar, Belgium, Panama and beyond.
Mozambique: Goncalo Mabunda (sculptor)
Hailing from Maputo, Mozambique, Goncalo Mabunda has found a fascinating way to reckon with his country’s political history. Mabunda sculpts weapons of war - AK-47s, bombs, landmines, tanks, and helmets - into masks and most interestingly into thrones. He crafts seats of power whose symbolism is inescapable, producing a fascinating meditation on comfort, destruction, authority and beauty.
His artwork is at once functional and thought provoking. Mabunda has received recognition around the world with exhibits at prestigious galleries and in museums in Italy, France, China, and at home in Mozambique. Indeed, one should not miss the opportunity to see Mabunda’s innovative repurposing of the material legacy of his nation’s wars.
Nigeria: Emeka Ogboh (sound artist)
There is an art to sound design, and the Nigerian-born Emeka Ogboh takes this idea to exciting limits as he explores the soundscapes of Lagos. Ogboh records the sounds of various locations around the city and installs these sounds in both conventional and unconventional art spaces around the world to mixed responses.
Sometimes, Nigerians in Finland will feel elated by the memory of home that the sounds evoke. Other times, as happened in Cologne, Germany, people will call the police disturbed by the nuisance of such noise. This is just the beginning of Ogboh’s experiments with the art of sound and he has begun to explore how video installations interface with these sonic offerings.
Uganda: Xenson (fashion designer, artist)
Narrow definitions of art will not suffice for Ugandan artist Xenson whose haute couture fashion and performative cultural events offer Ugandans unparalleled artistic adventures. Xenson is an artist with multiple talents who draws inspiration from Hip Hop culture.
He creates live art events that might feature a beer can sculpture, a band, and poetry, all as part of an art installation. He might hold a fashion show that features models dressed in outfits that look like larger than life indigenous instruments. Xenson represents the thrilling, unknown, but burgeoning Uganda performance art scene.
Kenya: Wangechi Mutu (multimedia visual artist)
The Kenyan-born artist Wangechi Mutu is perhaps one of the most renowned figures in the contemporary art world, with an aesthetic that is so unique and respected the world over. Mutu is a mixed media visual artist who creates larger than life pieces that sometimes see epic female figures morph into machines.
Her work has been shown in museums and galleries such as the Tate Modern in London, the Whitney Museum in New York and innumerable others. Last month at the Dak’Art festival in Senegal, Mutu held the African premier of her animated film The End of Eating Everything. For those unlucky enough to miss it, the film will screen again at the Lusaka International Film Festival in Zambia in October and at the Stevenson Art gallery in Cape Town, South Africa. No form can constrict Wangechi Mutu’s artistic expressions and she continues to astonish by her unusual and deeply provocative art.
- The author is a Ugandan multidisciplinary performance artist and scholar who was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya