In most art galleries and museums, the bulk of African art displayed tends to consist of work dating back to our ancient kingdoms and empires. While these pieces certainly deserve a place in museums, the work of African contemporary artists continues to remain underrated. The following artists have mastered the fusion of traditional customs and practices with modern art techniques, resulting in powerful pieces that tackle themes of colonialism, poverty, corruption, and race, to name a few. In a post-colonial world where the talents and potential of Africans in the art industry continues to go undervalued in comparison to the works of European artists, acknowledging the talents of these artists is crucial and symbolic of the persistent struggle to dismantle the effects of colonialism and racism.
1. Chéri Samba
Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Samba is perhaps one of the most well-known contemporary African artists of our times. His work is characterized by his use of bright colors and incorporation text and graphic word bubbles in his paintings. Samba tackles various issues present in his home country, including poverty, inequality, and the ever-present effects of colonialism. What is perhaps the most unique element of his artwork is that the grim subjects explored in his pieces are juxtaposed against a backdrop of vibrant, lively colors. Nevertheless, Samba continues to make poignant political statements in nearly all of his work.
2. Nástio Mosquito
Although Mosquito was raised in Belgium, his work continues to reflect the political and economic state of his home country of Angola. He uses a variety of mediums in his work, ranging from digital art to video and sound installations. His work has often been described as a performance, winning him several awards and accolades throughout the years, including the International Future Generation Art Prize in the Ukraine. Mosquito has often been described as vulgar and politically incorrect by his critics- but in a world where political correctness is the norm, his vulgarity is a striking breath of fresh air that continues to earn him a rather cult following.
3. Wangechi Mutu
In an industry that continues to predominantly highlight the works of male artists, Wangechi Metu challenges patriarchy, gender norms, and sexuality in her work. Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Metu’s work has transcended international borders, with her pieces having been displayed at galleries in London, Paris, Dusseldorf, and New York. Metu continuously challenges racist, stereotypical depictions of the black female body, and explores the concepts of femininity and sexuality in relation to black women.
4. Julia Mehretu
Julia Mehretu is an Ethiopian artist whose work is characterized by her large-scale, abstract paintings. She uses a wide range of mediums, including but not limited to acrylic paint, pencil, pen, and ink. Her artwork consistently features elements inspired by Futurism as well as the Expressionist era. She predominantly explores the concept of identity, heritage, and femininity in her work.
5. Sokari Douglas Camp
Sokari Douglas Camp is a Nigerian sculptor whose work has been exhibited in galleries in Austria, France, Spain, and the U.K., among other countries. Her work is reminiscent of ancient African sculptures, having been heavily inspired by her own Kalabari heritage. Her sculptures are especially powerful considering the fact that sculpture-making was an art form traditionally left for men, and African women throughout history have been barred from participating in such activities. Although she uses a range of mediums, she predominantly sticks to steel as the main medium in her sculptures.