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The Rising Popularity of Contemporary African Art

The Rising Popularity of Contemporary African Art 

Contemporary African art is typically defined as art created in the post-independence period by artists from Africa and the African diaspora. Nevertheless, in recent times, museums in Europe and North America have staged an incredible number of exhibitions of African art, and fairs dedicated to the subject have started to spring up around the world, particularly in New York, Marrakech, and London.

The art market in Africa today has a lot of potential for development. African collectors from various parts of the world are now keen to buy African art from various regions. Although, unlike Asia, where Hong Kong has established itself as a major trading center, Africa lacks a major art-market capital.

The raw talent observed in these young and innovative artists needs a proper market structure that can help them support their careers. Some ambitious establishments and museums are rising up, such as the Marrakech’s Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden, Cape Town’s Zeitz MOCAA, and the Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar.

These museums strive to construct their own modern art history. Meanwhile, commercially successful artists such as Ibrahim Mahama or Hassan Hajjaj have already established their own institutes to nurture fresh talent in their homeland.

Considering the popularity of contemporary African art, it is reasonable to look into the past to pay homage to its origins.

A Brief History

Négritude was a literary movement founded in 1937 by a group of African art students in Paris with the goal of criticizing colonialism and cultivating a respect for black and African culture.

The writers Aimé Césaire, Léon Damas, and Léopold Sédar Senghor were responsible for leading the movement to respond to contemporary social issues and artistic styles. This helped reflect the modern-day artistic interpretations, such as visual art while celebrating traditional culture.

Other Modernist movements, such as the Harlem Renaissance and Surrealism, are also cited as influences. Abstraction was commonly employed by artists to escape being stereotyped into a restricted, Westernized view of African art. Additionally, the art frequently contained critiques of colonial governments.

During the age of decolonization, African artists started to experiment with new art genres and subjects. In turn, there was a shift in focus from abstraction to conceptual art. Found-object art became a popular trend.

Numerous African art exhibitions were essential in popularizing African art in the late twentieth century. The exhibitions at the Center Pompidou in Paris looked at many types of art from around the world. This show served as a catalyst for a number of other important African exhibitions focused on educating and celebrating modern African art and artists.

Defining Contemporary African Art

Contemporary African art has always been a challenging area of study. But there’s a reason for that: the continent is divided into 54 countries, each with its own history, heritage, culture, and social institutions. Furthermore, colonialism’s massive presence further confuses this notion. As a result, describing what African contemporary art is and how it looks is difficult.

Afropolitanism is a popular name for new work created by young African artists both inside and outside of the continent. The artists are allegedly joined by a common vision of Africa, but this seems illogical considering that their cultures are diverse, their geographical origins are dispersed, and their personal experiences and journeys are immensely different.

The fact that there are multiple art movements happening all over Africa, each powered by its own contextual factors, means that contemporary African art cannot be generalized and reduced to a single concept. In fact, contemporary art itself is fluid, inspired, and resistant to any kind of classification.

Artists to Watch

African artists have indeed broadened their usage of art styles and mediums as a result of the paradigm shift in the art world. With such a diverse range of modern artists emerging from Africa, here are a few important names to keep an eye on.

Sungi Mlengeya

Sungi Mlengeya’s paintings include dramatic contrasts of dark figures against spotless white backdrops; her minimalist black-and-white approach is a characteristic of her work.

Kelechi Charles Nwaneri

His work is best defined as contemporary surrealism, and it uses Black folklore, symbolism, and symbolic imagery to convey his societal commentary. Current events, indigenous cultural African patterns, tribal insignia, and literature all inspire his beautiful figurative paintings.

Moussa Traoré

His vivid paintings depict unearthly characters that appear to have both human and alien features. The intriguing characters are painstakingly painted in neutral colors and camouflage-like patterns on canvas soaked in rich color or inky black, with a level of complexity that fascinates the observer and invites for closer examination.

Agnes Waruguru

She uses materials as instruments and icons, such as time-consuming crafts like embroidery to depict the passage of time and fabrics and needlework to confront traditional conceptions about women’s work. Her art is characterized by acts of remixing and improvisation.

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun

As a mixed-media artist, her work is frequently figurative and done using “quilling.” It demonstrates a compulsive, experimental approach to line and medium. She uses paper and acrylic to construct all of her pieces, combining them in surprising ways to provide societal criticism.

Final Thoughts

It’s unlikely that a single hub or central market for such a vast and diverse continent will ever emerge. Accra, Dakar, Addis Ababa, Cape Town, Lagos, and Marrakech are six of the most successful booming art capitals that have become well-known. Each city has its own rich history with colonization, culture, and tradition, resulting in individual artistic expression.

East Africa boasts two of the oldest art schools in the continent, making painting the most popular medium in that region. West Africa is better known for its performance-based work and large-scale installations, while photography has a long history on either side of the continent.

Quality and talent are ultimately what attracts the art worlds, and contemporary African art is abundant with both. This is indisputably the reason behind its rising popularity.

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