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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The front page of The New York Times on January 16, 2019

Kenyans Are Furious at the New York Times for Posting Photos of Terrorist Victims

After the the deadly attack on Tuesday, many are accusing the American newspaper of having a double standard on which dead bodies they allow into the paper

Is the New York Times guilty of a double standard when it comes to publishing images of dead bodies?

Kenyans, and others fed up with the coverage, took to social media in the hundreds to denounce a Times article that included an image of victims of Tuesday's Nairobi terrorist attack, bloodied from bullets, and lying hunched over their laptops, dead.

It has cause enough debate online to where the Times' incoming East Africa Bureau chief Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura felt the need to explain their photo policy, which is to show the dead only if their faces cannot be seen in the image. The photo in question fits the policy as the faces are facing away from the camera. She would later apologize before posting the official policy to her Twitter account. The photo remains up.

The Times' official response, as those tend to do online, has only created more anger. But unlike many unruly Twitter mobs, those responding to the official statement have a rather coherent message—"you wouldn't do this with photos of the American dead."

Some of the responses to the Times' official statement.

In a response to the controversy from the Poynter Institute, a typically astute observer of journalistic practice in the United States, they run through the typical American journalism school approach to publishing photos that might shock or offend. They write:

Should the Times have run the photo?
There is no easy answer.
The first question any news organization must ask when deciding to publish violent images is: WHY show it?
In other words, what is the news value? Does the public need to see such an image to fully grasp what happened? Does the public need to see such a photo to confirm or disprove the official account of the events?
An argument could be made that a writer's words could accurately describe the scene without being as disturbing as the image. In addition, when it comes to an act of terrorism, might publishing such a photo actually advance the cause of the terrorists, showing the damage they caused, thus fueling dread and panic?
Also this: The photo on the Times website came without warning. As a reader, you didn't know you were going to see a photo of dead people until you actually saw it.
Those are arguments to not run such a photo or, at least, warn readers of its graphic content.

While it's a fine analysis of when to show a violent image, it misses the central issue at play for those aggrieved by the Times' posting—that the American news-gaze values certain lives differently. Black, brown, foreign, poor—American journalism organizations, including the New York Times, cannot escape a base ethnocentrism in their coverage. It's so embedded into how these institutions operate, and the gap in understanding is so wide, that to much of the world, the Times' official response is laughably wrong at first glance.

"We take the same approach wherever in the world something like this happens--balancing the need for sensitivity and respect with our mission of showing the reality of these events"

And while there are examples from the Times that complicate this feeling, like these images of the dead in the terrorist attack in Nice, France, it doesn't discount the wider and correct feeling that the white victims of American mass shootings are treated differently than their African counterparts. And while there are complicated and systematic reasons for this which will always make discussing it difficult, to simply deny that different standards exist, does not increase the Times' credibility with Kenyans or the newspaper's growing online audience which will only become more vocal about how they're portrayed.

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Falz 'Moral Instruction'

The 10 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

The best music of the week featuring Falz, King Monada, Zlatan, Yemi Alade and more.

Every week, we highlight the cream of the crop in music through our Best Music of the Week column.

Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Follow OkayAfrica on Spotify and Apple Music to get immediate updates every week and read about some of our selections ahead.

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Violent Attack at Kenyan Hotel Ends With 14 Dead

The remaining hostages were freed after a 17-hour standoff between militants and Kenyan security forces on Wednesday.

The final hostages in the violent terrorist attack which took place at the DusitD2 Hotel in Naoribi's affluent Westlands district yesterday have been freed after a 17 hour standoff between Kenyan security forces and Al Shabab militants.

In a speech this morning, Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta declared the rescue mission over, stating that there were 700 people rescued and a total of 14 casualties. He also stated that all of the attackers had been killed in the operation, according to Quartz Africa. "Every person that was involved in the funding, planning and execution of this heinous act will be relentlessly pursued," added Kenyatta.

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