The international art market is mostly dominated by male artists and unsurprisingly this is no different when it comes to art in Africa. The contemporary African art movement is already beginning to challenge previous ideals and norms regarding what is considered “African traditional art” vs what is “contemporary”. As we discover more and more talent across the continent, it is great to see that aesthetic and creative barriers are being broken down as gradually more African artists enter the international art realm. However, what about the barriers of sex?
Important women do work within the African art industry itself and many females are spearheading organisational roles such as gallery owners, curators, publishers, PR and buyers. Examples of such that are run by women include the Nike Art gallery (Lagos, Nigeria), GAFRA: The Gallery of African Art (London, UK); Art Twenty One (Lagos, Nigeria), Centre for Contemporary Art (Lagos, Nigeria); and, of course, 1:54 Contemporary African Art fair (London, UK and New York, USA). These are just but a few yet, despite women being in key positions such as these, we must question whether this has significantly impacted the visibility of female African artists? Sadly, the answer seems to suggest otherwise.
Visibility for female artists in Africa is however more problematic. You might think this is simply because there are more male artists working in Africa, but in fact there are many, MANY amazing African female artists and I applaud and salute them for their work.
These artists lack the same support and exposure offered to their male counterparts in the African art market. This is beginning to change but, like everything, change is slow. One can only hope that as the contemporary African art market continues to make its impact on the global art industry that Africa’s artistic leading ladies will shine through.
So, for now, here are a few of my personal favourites who are rocking the contemporary African art world.
AIDA MULUNEH (Ethiopia)
Aida Muluneh is fast becoming of one of Africa’s most sought after photographer and conceptual artist. Most definitely “one to watch”, her works are not only bold and colourful, but they also wonderfully absorbing and emotive. Muluneh is an advocate for Africa and believes in making the continent “digestible in a different way” through her images. Her subjects tend to be intrinsically linked to Ethiopia in some way,whether it be a photograph captured on the streets by chance, or her more abstract and conceptual studio work.
AIDA MULUNEH, Things fall apart.
AIDA MULUNEH, The world is nine – The morning bride.
NNENNA OKORE (Nigeria)
This Australian-born, Nigerian artist has a unique gift of making solid, rigid materials seem fluid and alive. Each one of her works are carefully processed, and repeatedly manipulated, constructed and then deconstructed by hand as she moulds discarded, organic materials into new, texturised forms. One can see that Okore’s work is greatly influenced by the rhythm and movement of life, an aesthetic evident in her instillations and abstract work that signifies the transience of human labour and its mark on the material world, as well as the delicacy of nature and life.
NNENNA OKORE, Memory lane.
NNENNA OKORE, Uncontrollable.
NNENNA OKORE, Strata.
Photography courtesy of the October Gallery, London.
NAMSA LEUBA (Guinea/Switzerland)
Leuba’s work can be described as zesty and edgy! Her images are visually-stimulating concepts and she has worked with publications such as I-D, Vice magazine, KALEIDOSCOPE, New York Magazine and Wallpaper. Her viewpoint is all about “African identity through Western eyes” in reference to her dual-nationality, and Leuba uses this standpoint to capture some truly mesmerising photographs of her subjects that range from rural, traditional Guinea to high-fashion magazine shoots.