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"Ancestral Manifestations" by Alexis Tsegba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Meet Nigerian 'New Media' Artist, Alexis Tsegba, Whose Work Explores the Intersection of Nature & Technology

We speak with the digital artist about the Afrofuturistic themes in her work, exploring culture through technology and her creative influences.

As a 7-year-old growing up in Benue State, Nigeria, Alexis Tsegba, loved watching her teenage cousin draw natural, flowing pencil strokes to create comics. But when she asked him to teach her, he pushed her aside with a scoff and a "No!". Later, he offered her his mentorship in exchange for payment. But headstrong and determined, Tsegba picked up her own writing utensil and a sheet of paper and began meticulously sketching out what she remembers as one of her first works.

At 15, she remembers painting water-colors, and at 18, she moved on to acrylics. Despite studying law at the University of Reading, it wasn't until completing her Masters in Creative and Media Enterprise from the University of Warwick that she realized the infinite artistic possibilities available to her.


"Beauty Overflows" by Alexis Tsegba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

"It was really cool and fun moving away from law and doing something I was more excited about," she says. Her dissertation had been on freelancing and how to use Social Media and YouTube as tools for new media work; this abstract way of thinking helped her realize she could combine her eclectic love of such things as painting, sketching, photography, landscape, portraiture, and architecture. "I don't know why but writing my dissertation gave me inspiration to dabble in the digital art field," says Tsegba. She learned to compose images with all of these elements.

When we speak, Tsegba, now 24, is an artist who approaches new media art by creating visual experiences. Her surrealist portraits often feature mystical landscapes. She documents modern day Africans in jarring settings and enthusiastically speaks about how her evocative collages center on Afrofuturism, reimagining religion and exploring gender.

"Constellations" by by Alexis Tsegba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Tsegba has dedicated copious amounts of time to developing the concepts she wants highlighted and she may not believe it yet but her nonlinear work is disrupting the way individuals perceive art. With Afrofuturism, she states, "I aim to show the complexity of the relationship between our culture and how we use technology." She suggests we should, "change the narrative that we are this aqua people and that somehow being closer to nature is backwards."

Her works touch on what our reality is now and where it could be. With religion, she recalls, "I was raised Christian and because I was interested in theology I would read about other religions." Her curiosity has brought about her need to re-envision the things she doesn't agree with in the Bible. Beyond this, she explores the stereotypical assumptions African people tend to have about gender. She refutes the, "narrative in Nigeria that men are not supposed to be physically close or show affection or emotion. When men are seen as close with one another, it's seen as diabolical." She, instead, celebrates closeness and tenderness between men.

"Creation" by by Alexis Tsegba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

As one would imagine, Tsegba's process is one comprised of trial and error, researching and "piecing images together to find a story." She pushes boundaries much like the individuals who influence her own work. She draws inspiration from collage artist Victoria Topping and her use of the senses to create vibrant pieces; illustrator Christoph Niemann from whom she's learned to see the world as an abstract body of shapes, forms and structures; writer Chimamanda Adichie who has taught her to harness the ability to be unafraid to speak out when she feels something doesn't sit right; and she's gawked at the skill and scale of fellow Nigerian visual artist Njideka Crosby and the portrayal of tenderness she employs while portraying ordinary Nigerian settings. Despite stating that she's "holding back", Tsegba's virtual body of work speaks volumes.

*See more of Tsegba's work below.

"Divinity" by Alexis Tsegba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

"Face of God" by Alexis Tsegba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

"Love Is Here" by Alexis Tsegba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

"Mother of God" by Alexis Tsegba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

"Observing Beauty" by Alexis Tsegba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

"Ready" by by Alexis Tsegba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Music
Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hugh Masekela's New York City Legacy

A look back at the South African legend's time in New York City and his enduring presence in the Big Apple.

In Questlove's magnificent documentary, Summer of Soul, he captures a forgotten part of Black American music history. But in telling the tale of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, the longtime musician and first-time filmmaker also captures a part of lost South African music history too.

Among the line-up of blossoming all-stars who played the Harlem festival, from a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder to a transcendent Mavis Staples, was a young Hugh Masekela. 30 years old at the time, he was riding the wave of success that came from releasing Grazing in the Grass the year before. To watch Masekela in that moment on that stage is to see him at the height of his time in New York City — a firecracker musician who entertained his audiences as much as he educated them about the political situation in his home country of South Africa.

The legacy Masekela sowed in New York City during the 1960s remains in the walls of the venues where he played, and in the dust of those that are no longer standing. It's in the records he made in studios and jazz clubs, and on the Manhattan streets where he once posed with a giant stuffed zebra for an album cover. It's a legacy that still lives on in tangible form, too, in the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music.

The school is the place where Masekela received his education and met some of the people that would go on to be life-long bandmates and friends, from Larry Willis (who, as the story goes, Masekela convinced to give up opera for piano) to Morris Goldberg, Herbie Hancock and Stewart Levine, "his brother and musical compadre," as Mabusha Masekela, Bra Hugh's nephew says.

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