Arts + Culture
'Sailing Back to Africa as a Dutch Woman,' 2017, from Fortia. By Keyezua, photo courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery.

Our 9 Favorite African Visual Artists of 2018

We look back at the contemporary African visual artists who caught our eye this year.

This year, African visual artists have done their due diligence to carve their own path leading to creative autonomy, authentic storytelling and straight up greatness.

From photography and film, to even mixed-media art, the following have produced stand-out work that deserve their due accolades.

Feast your eyes on our nine favorite African visual artists of 2018 below.


ATHI PATRA RUGA

Photo by Antoinette Isama.

South Africa's Athi Patra Ruga has taken on the task to be our generation's folklorist through his work. The tales he creates through sculpture, performance and tapestries are a critique of post-apartheid South Africa as well as the traumas that have come as a result of his country's colonial history. Most notably the work he presented at this year's Armory Show, The Beatification of Feral Benga, pays tribute to the Senegalese dancer and model of the Harlem Renaissance, Francois "Feral" Benga. According to the series' press release, Ruga puts forth questions of memory, identity and embodied knowledge by venerating Benga to the future queer archive of African modernism.

KEYEZUA

'Fortia (7), 2017 by Keyezua. Image courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery.

Keyezua is the Angolan-Dutch artist whose work is simply striking. Her work was well-received in the art fair circuit this year, where she presented at Refraction: New Photography of Africa and Its Diaspora at Steven Kasher Gallery, Nataal: New African Photography III and more. Keyezua's most recent series, Fortia, is inspired by the loss of her father (who passed from diabetes and was an amputee) and the need to reimagine physical disability.

DANIEL OBASI

It was great to see Nigerian stylist and art director Daniel Obasi flex his film-directing muscles this year. From An Alien In Town to his most recent short film Udara, Obasi has been able to make the analysis of his Nigerian culture—more specifically his Igbo culture—malleable and avant garde.

FATOUMATA DIABATÉ

By Fatoumata Diabaté, courtesy of Nataal.

Mali's own Fatoumata Diabaté's stunning black-and-white photographs are well-worth getting lost in. Studio Photo de al Rue, her travelling street installation, pays homage to the legendary photographers who have come before her, like Malick Sidibé, Samuel Fosso and even Seydou Keïta—who captured her parents in a portrait. She seeks to revive the vanguards' techniques and the feeling that come with immortalizing life's memories.

JOSEF ADAMU

Josef Adamu is another visual storyteller whose work this year definitely speaks to the power of collaboration. The Nigerian-Canadian founder and director of Sunday School broke this internet in September with The Hair Appointment, a photo series he curated to demonstrate the beauty of black hairstyling as a process, a way of life and an overall experience that pulls from nostalgia for a lot of us.

KUDZANAI CHIURAI

Still from We Live in Silence (2017). Photo courtesy of Kudzanai Chiurai.

More and more young African artists are using visual art to take the grip colonialism still has on Africa's various social and political systems to task. Zimbabwe's Kudzanai Chiurai is the contemporary artist and activist whose series We Live in Silence adds to the discourse. The mixed media series imagines what a true post-colonial African society looks like, including placing women at the forefront of the liberation.

JENN NKIRU

Nigerian-British filmmaker Jenn Nkiru left us speechless with her experimental film, Rebirth Is Necessary, this year. The filmmaker calls the project, "black magic in motion" and we couldn't agree more. Nkiru continued to produce strong projects over the course of 2018 including running second unit direction for Beyoncé and Jay-Z's APESHIT music video, as well as directing Neneh Cherry's music video for "Kong" and Kamasi Washington's music video for "Hub-Tones."

LOUIS PHILIPPE DE GAGOUE

Photo by Louis Philippe de Gagoue, courtesy of the artist.

Louis Philippe de Gagoue is the Cameroonian-Ivorian multi-hyphenate whose vibrant aesthetic crosses cultural bounds while staying true to his African roots. Although he took up photography just 2 years ago, his eye is quirky, yet unmatched. He remains inspired by human interaction, travel, history and culture.

TEFF THEORY

Photo by Stephanie Nnamani, courtesy of the artist.

Teff Theory (aka Stephanie Nnamani), is the Nigerian visual artist and silent move-maker whose deliberate study and use of color will constantly draw you in. Her images draw from her experiences being a first-generation immigrant and the challenges she has faced reveling in black womanhood.

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Image courtesy of the artist.

In 'Aba Women Riot' Nigerian Artist, Fred Martins, Reinterprets a Groundbreaking Moment In African History

In a new series of prints, the artist celebrates 'the women who lend their voices and stood strong against the oppression of Africans.'

March marks Women's History Month, and for African women, one event that epitomizes the will and tenacity within our community is the Aba Women's Riot, also known as The Women's War of 1929, in which thousands of predominantly Igbo women in eastern Nigeria mobilized to challenge British colonial rule and the barriers placed on women's civic life.

This paradigm-shifting moment in history is the center of the latest series from Nigerian visual artist Fred Martins, who began conceptualizing "Aba Women Riot" in 2019, while reflecting on the invaluable contributions women have made throughout history. "I reflected on the power of femininity and how it has affected history on every stage and era of human civilization," said the artist in a statement.

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"Zion 9, 2018" (inkjet on Hahnemuhle photo rag)" by Mohau Modisakeng. Photo courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Gallery.

South African Artist Mohau Modisakeng Makes Solo NYC Debut With 'A Promised Land'

The artist will present the video installation 'ZION' and other works centering on the "global history of displacement of Black communities" at the Jenkins Johnson Gallery in Brooklyn.

Renowned South African visual artist Mohau Modisakeng presents A Promised Land, his latest solo exhibition, opening at Brooklyn's Jenkins Johnson Gallery this month. This marks the New York debut of Modisakeng's ZION video installation, based on the artists's 2017 performance art series by the same name. It originally debuted at the Performa Biennial.

"In ZION the artist deals with the relationship between body, place and the global history of displacement of Black communities," reads a press release. "There is an idea that all people are meant to belong somewhere, yet in reality there are millions of people who are unsettled, in search of refuge, migrating across borders and landscapes for various reasons."

In addition to the video, the show also features seven large-scale photographs that communicate themes of Black displacement. From 19th century Black settlements in New York City, which as the press release notes, were eradicated to clear space for the development of Central Park, to the scores of Africans who have faced conflict that has led them to life as refugees in foreign lands.

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Justice Mukheli. Courtesy of Black Major/Bongeziwe Mabandla.

Interview: Bongeziwe Mabandla's New Album Is a Calm Meditation On Relationships

We speak with the South African artist about his captivating new album, iimini, love cycles, and the unexpected influence of Bon Iver.

"I've been playing at home for so many years and pretending to be having shows in my living room, and today it's actually happening," Bongeziwe Mabandla says, smiling out at me from my cellphone as I watch him play songs on Instagram Live, guitar close to his chest.

Two weekends ago, Mabandla was meant to be celebrating the release of his third album, iimini, at the Untitled Basement in Braamfontein in Joburg, which would no doubt have been packed with some of the many fans the musician has made since his debut release, Umlilo, in 2012. With South Africa joining many other parts of the world in a lockdown, those dates were cancelled and Mabandla, like many other artists, took to social media to still play some tracks from the album. The songs on iimini are about the life and death of a relationship—songs that are finding their way into the hearts of fans around the world, some of whom, now stuck in isolation, may be having to confront the ups and downs of love, with nowhere to hide.

The day before his Instagram Live mini-show, Mabandla spoke to OkayAfrica on lockdown from his home in Newtown about the lessons he's learned from making the album, his new-found love for Bon Iver, and how he's going to be spending his time over the next few weeks.

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Lueking Photos. Courtesy of emPawa Africa.

Interview: GuiltyBeatz Proves He's Truly 'Different'

The Ghanaian producer talks to us about his debut EP, Different, the massive success of "Akwaaba," producing for Beyoncé and more.

GuiltyBeatz isn't a new name in the Ghanaian music scene. A casual music fan's first introduction to him would've likely been years ago on "Sample You," one of Mr Eazi's early breakout hits. However, he had scored his first major hit two years before that, in the Nigerian music space on Jesse Jagz' and Wizkid's 2013 hit "Bad Girl." In the years to come, the producer has gone on to craft productions for some of Ghana's most talented artists.

In the years to come, the producer has gone on to craft productions for some of Ghana's most talented artists, having worked with the likes of Efya, Pappy Kojo, Sarkodie, R2Bees, Stonebwoy, Bisa Kdei, Wande Coal, Moelogo and many more over the last decade. The biggest break of the talented producer's career, however, came with the arrival of his own single "Akwaaba".

In 2018, GuiltyBeatz shared "Akwaaba" under Mr Eazi's Banku Music imprint, shortly afterwards the song and its accompanying dance went viral. The track and dance graced party floors, music & dance videos, and even church auditoriums all around the world, instantly making him one of Africa's most influential producers. Awards, nominations, and festival bookings followed the huge success of "Akwaaba." Then, exactly a year later, the biggest highlight of his career so far would arrive: three production credits on Beyoncé's album The Lion King: The Gift.

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