Courtesy of Osborne Macharia

In Conversation with Osborne Macharia: 'There is no excuse to creating sub-standard work just because it’s from ‘Africa’.'

The Kenyan photographer talks about his Afrofuturistic photoshoot for Africa's biggest horse racing and fashion event—the Durban July.

Osborne Macharia is a Kenyan visual artist and fine art photographer with an exquisite eye that is committed to capturing the unique and endless creative realities of the African continent. Back in 2016, Macharia created NYANYE, a stunningly refreshing editorial that photographed badass grannies "who were once corporate and government leaders in the 1970s but are now retired" and are now a part of Kenya's League of Extravagant Grannies, according to Macharia.

A few months later, he followed that body of work with a collective entitled Kabangu which captured eccentric hip-hop grandpas. Then last year, Marvel commissioned Macharia to create exclusive artwork for Black Panther wherein he introduced the world to the three "Blind Elders of Wakanda".

This year, Macharia is back with an Afrofuturistic photoshoot with Vodacom Red and South African designers Laduma Ngxokolo, Sindiso Khumalo and Rina Chunga Kutuma for this year's Durban July—South Africa (and Africa's) biggest annual horse racing and fashion extravaganza. The Durban July is currently underway and this year's theme is "Once Upon an African Future". The photoshoot seeks to create materials that personify Afrofuturism through combining historical elements, the present culture as well as the future aspirations of people of color whilst simultaneously creating universes that one wouldn't normally see.

We caught up with the visual artist to find out what Afrofuturism means to him as well as how he and his collaborators hope to shake the space up at this year's Durban July.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Personally, why is Afrofuturism important in the the post-colonial era?

It's in a way saying 'We are taking back out story'. We get to write our story our own way. We cannot take away the fact that we are highly influenced by the fact that we have grown up in a post-colonial era that defines a lot of how we live, think, create and see ourselves. Through Afro-futurism we have the opportunity to re-imagine a different future that's not dictated by 'they say' but by 'we say'. It opens up a huge world of creativity and positivity that anyone can be a part of.

As a photographer, what has propelled you into this particular space?

My wife keeps telling me, "Osborne, you easily get tired of the same old," and I think this is part of the reason that got me into creating such body of work long before I even realized such a term as 'Afrofuturism' existed. I'm always questioning 'what if' when it comes to matters of creativity.

How do you think your work (in its entirety) is helping re-imagine Africa and especially its creative space?

My team and I are always looking for something different, that makes people have a different and more appreciative approach to people you would not ordinarily pay attention to while also integrating culture and familiar an environment into it. We have a deep culture that's often side-lined when negative news pops up regarding our state of affairs as a continent. We want to change that. Now, more than ever, people need something positive to hold onto, something they can connect to and to see people who look like themselves in places where they can prosper.

How are you and your fellow collaborators hoping to disrupt the space at the Durban July?

I think with the initial launch of the project on social media, the response we got was overwhelmingly good and created a buzz regarding Durban July. We hope that during the actual event, that the images and collections the designers have in store for everyone, are going to inspire a greater sense of creativity and imagination. Even if only one person leaves the place having been inspired, then my work is done.

What would you say to aspiring Afrofuturists in the photography space about innovating and the need for constant reinvention?

Never be afraid to day dream and let your mind wonder. Your mind needs to keep thinking of the next idea, the next choice of medium, the next experience…that's how you remain relevant. One other thing is to create work that is up to international standards in terms of the technical execution. There is no excuse in creating sub-standard work just because it's from 'Africa'.

Photo: Courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery

6 Art Shows We're Looking Forward To in 2023

From a career-spanning exhibition of Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu's work to the tenth anniversary of a long-standing South African art fair, and a touring presentation of Africa Fashion, the year is off to a good start for art aficionados.

Among the highlights of the 2022 art calendar included Foster Sakyiamah, for the first time ever, staging a solo exhibition in the city that birthed his artistic life, Accra, at the ADA\Contemporary Art Gallery, and South African Simnikiwe Buhlungu's sound installation that made her the youngest artist to show at the Venice Biennale.

While we wait to see what other artists have in store for us over the course of 2023, here are a handful of the events we're already eagerly awaiting.

Onyeka Igwe: A Repertoire of Protest (No Dance, No Palaver)

A black and white video still of Onyeka Igwe's Sitting on a Man, 2018, from Repertoire for Protest (No Dance, No Palaver).

A video still of Onyeka Igwe's Sitting on a Man, 2018, from Repertoire for Protest (No Dance, No Palaver).

Photo: Courtesy the artist

In March, MoMA PS1 will present the first solo museum exhibition of the London-born multidisciplinary artist. Igwe uses cinema and installation to cast an eye on little-known historic events, incorporating the likes of government records and official reports into gesture, voice and song -- all to create a multiplicity of narratives. Three shorts will make up this exhibition: Her Name in My Mouth (2017), Sitting on aMan (2018), and Specialised Technique (2018), which will be shown as an expanded cinema piece.

The period of unrest in Nigeria during November 1929, known as the Aba Women's War, forms the center of the film cycle. Igwe first learned about it from family lore (her family is from Imo State), and she creates a layered structure around the subject.

This act of resistance, led primarily by Igbo women, is considered one of the first anti-colonial uprisings in Nigeria, and marks a violent episode in the defense of the British Empire. The museum says that the exhibition highlights the artist’s "ongoing interest in the relation between physical movement—that is, dance—and protest movements, especially those enacted by women." Igwe finds, even in the tragedies of the past, new means for understanding the present.

On view at MoMA PS1, from March 16th to August 21st, 2023.

Wangechi Mutu: Intertwined

An image of Wangechi Mutu's Subterranea Holy Cow.

Wangechi Mutu's Subterranea Holy Cow, 2022.


Photo: Courtesy the artist

In 2019, Wangechi Mutu's four bronze sculptures brought life to The Met Museum's usually-empty facade with a daring boldness befitting of the Kenyan-American artist. Selected as the first artist to animate the museum's exterior, Mutu's The NewOnes, will free Us made real a dream 117 years in the making. The Nairobi-born artist will have another chance to work her magic on a museum façade this year, as part of the New Museum's massive exhibition of Mutu's work. Kicking off in March, the survey will feature over one hundred of her pieces, from a career that spans 25 years.

Expect works of painting, collage, drawing, sculpture, and film as the museum aims to present the full breadth of Mutu's practice from the mid-1990s to today. Wangechi Mutu: Intertwined will take over the entire the museum, covering the three main floors, lobby, and lower level, and we can't wait to see what she comes up with for the building’s glass exterior.

On view at New Museum from March 2nd to June 4th, 2023.

Standing On the Corner: Seven Prepared Pianos for the Seven African Powers

We'll be heading back to MoMA PS1 in June for another exhibition, this time from the avant-garde musical ensemble, Standing on the Corner, which will create installations that encompass sound, performance, and moving image. The project, which forges connections between New York City, Puerto Rico, and African diasporic communities, seeks to imagine how spiritual forces "enchant and ‘possess’ through various forms of entertainment," and consider how sacred objects are intended to be seen.

The installation will feature a new performance piece titled Seven Prepared Pianos for the Seven African Powers, intended to bridge Standing on the Corner’s interest in local cultural and ancient spiritual practices of Africa and the Caribbean, with an ear to breaking down Western musical traditions. There will be set performances that will take place during specific times, with the project on view during museum hours.

On view at MoMA PS1 from June 1st to October 9th, 2023.

The Investec Cape Art Fair

A woman looks at an artwork at the 2022 Investec Cape Town Art Fair.

A scene from the 2022 Investec Cape Town Art Fair.

Photo: Investec Cape Town Art Fair

Known for being the biggest contemporary art fair in Africa, 23,000 guests attended last year's Investec Cape Town Art Fair. If 2023's milestone birthday is anything to go by, that number is set to reach a higher figure. To celebrate a decade of bringing together artists from across the globe, the art fair will examine the notion of time and burrow into those ever-intriguing concepts of past, present and future.

Taking place during February, it's become known for hosting prominent galleries from around the world, and will offer a hybrid event of in-person and virtual gatherings, giving both local and international art lovers the chance to be involved in this year's festivities. What we're most excited about is the Tomorrows/Today section, co-curated by the founder of the African Artists’ Foundation Azu Nwagbogu, which focuses on giving up-and-coming artists a shot at reaching an international audience.

On view at the Cape Town International Convention Centre from February 14th to 18th.

John Akomfrah: Five Murmurations

Since March 2020, the London-based artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah has been working on the longest continuous-running project of his career. In Five Murmurations -- dubbed "a visual essay of our times" -- he addresses an 18-month period that covers the COVID-19 pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, and the worldwide protests in support of Black Lives Matter. Akomfrah’s insights into post-colonialism, diasporic experience, and memory are illustrated through his use of images that mix iconic works of art with scenes that he has shot.

On view at the Smithsonian: National Museum of African Art from February 11th, 2023.

Africa Fashion

An image of a design by Chris Seydou, as seen in the Africa Fashion exhibit.

A design by Chris Seydou, one of the designers featured in the Africa Fashion exhibit.

Photo: Nabil Zarkot

London's V&A Museum opened its landmark exhibition titled Africa Fashion in July last year, and almost a year later, New Yorkers will get to see a touring version of it. The exhibition, which "celebrates the creativity, ingenuity, and global impact of African fashions," showcases fashion design, photography, textiles and visual art from the 1960s to today. The Brooklyn Museum’s presentation will include works from their collections, alongside commentary from designers whose work has been inspired by those objects.

On view at the Brooklyn Museum from June 23rd to October 22nd, 2023.

Photo By: Khaled Desouki/AFP via Getty Images

US Returns Ancient Egyptian 'Green Coffin' To Cairo

The “green coffin,” an ancient Egyptian artifact looted years ago was recently returned to Cairo.

Egypt's 9.5-foot-long artifact, dubbed the "green coffin," was recently returned to Cairo after it was looted over ten years ago. The artifact, which represents the Late Dynastic period of Egypt that dated from 525-332 BCE, belonged to priest Ankhenmaat and was illegally taken and then smuggled through Germany into the US in 2008 by the Dib-Simonian network, an infamous trafficking organization.

The statue, which is valued at $1 million, was sold to a private collector and then loaned to the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences, where it was displayed before it was revealed that the item was illegally obtained.

In a January 2 news release, American Ambassador to Egypt Daniel Rubinstein said that the ceremony bore a significant representation.

"Today's ceremony is emblematic of the long history of cooperation between the United States and Egypt on antiquities protection and cultural heritage preservation," said Rubinstein.

District Attorney Alvin Bragg made a similar statement in a September 2022 news release.

"This stunning coffin was trafficked by a well-organized network that has looted countless antiquities from the region," Bragg said. "We are pleased that this object will be returned to Egypt, where it rightfully belongs."

According to officials, the Dib-Simonian network was also responsible for looting other Egyptian historical artifacts, including another ancient Egyptian coffin and other artifacts seized from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Following a thorough years-long investigation, the sarcophagus was officially repatriated and returned to Cairo by U.S diplomats in a ceremony on January 2. Several prominent people were at the event, including Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Tourism and Antiquities Minister Ahmed Issa. This event marks yet another artifact return from a western country.

Last year, Germany returned 20 Benin bronzes that it took from Nigeria at the height of colonization, and following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, South Africa demanded that the monarchy return the largest clear-cut diamond in the world, known as the Great Star of Africa. Since then, several other countries have called on foreign governments to return illegally acquired artifacts, prompting a growing number of repatriations.

News Brief
Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Listen to Burna Boy Feature On Popcaan's New Song 'Aboboyaa'

Renowned dancehall artist Popcaan has released his album Great Is He, via OVO Sound, and it features none other than Burna Boy.

Jamaica's Popcaanhas shared his anticipated album Great Is He, and the body of work features Nigerian superstar Burna Boy on the track "Aboboyaa."

The album showcases the Jamaican musical giant's signature dancehall sound, while also exploring the depth of genre's versatility. In addition to featuring Burna Boy, Great Is He includes features from OVO Sound's boss Drake, Jamaica's Chronic Law, and Toni-Ann Singh, among others.

On "Aboboyaa," the two musical powerhouses merge their signature rhythmic melodies and intonations in a way that is both compelling to listen to on the first listen, and in turn inspires a second and third listen.

Ever since he released his debut album in 2014, Popcaan has become an international dancehall sensation, and his repertoire includes a list of impressive features.

His album Forever, which was released in 2018, debuted at number two on Billboard’s Top Reggae Albums. Commercially, Popcaan has made a mark on the music scene too. His last project FIXTAPE — which included “Twist & Turn,” the mesmerizing dancehall hit featuring Drake and PARTYNEXTDOOR — has garnered over 191 million streams and continues to receive accolades from outlets like Pitchfork, who described the body of work as “a testament to his place at the forefront of the genre.”

"Aboboyaa" is not Popcaan's first international collaboration. In the past, the Jamaican icon has worked with several international music acts including Davido, Jamie xx, Young Thug, Gorillaz, Kano, Jorja Smith and a host of others. He also founded Jamaica’s annual Unruly Festwhich brings stars across the globe to experience Jamaican culture.

Listen to "Aboboyaa" featuring Burna Boy below.

Listen to Popcaan and Burna Boy's "Aboboyaa"

Photo: Nabil Elderkin.

The Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Popcaan x Burna Boy, Bongeziwe Mabandla, Mr Eazi, Baaba Maal, Pheelz and more.

Every Friday, we highlight the top releases through our best music of the week column, Songs You Need to Hear. Here's our round-up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks.

If you like these music lists, you can also check out our Best Songs of the Month columns following Nigerian, Ghanaian, East African and South African music. If you missed them, check out our music lists for the Best of 2022 here.

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