Something shiny, something new, this time we curate a universe of captivating contemporary artworks from artists around Africa. Even cooler, we pair it with a playlist. Imagine we curated an art exhibition specially for your mind’s eye and you don’t have to leave your house for it. What’s better than guided imagination?
Plug in the playlist, hold my hand, and let’s explore some African pieces.
Interpretation of art is definitely subjective, so I asked a couple of friends to tell me what they see or interpret the different artworks as and to be honest, it’s giving comic relief.
ENTER THE CHAMELEON, 1986
Obiora Udechukwu (NG)
We enter into the chasm with this motif by Obiora Udechukwu, one of Nigeria’s most influential contemporary artists. A poet as well as a painter, Obiora is one of the staple names in African art, literature, and education. In this monochromatic scrawled piece, to create a visually shocking effect, he uses uli – a traditional design technique from the Igbos in South Eastern Nigeria that imitates patterns in nature (e.g cells, animal skin patterns, plants, etc) by using spontaneous and haphazard lines.
In this piece, the lines create visuals of a chameleon, exaggerated bulging eyes, a skull, and a spider web; it feels dark and shadowy.
One thing that’s also interesting is that uli motifs are largely representational with no hidden meaning. This piece almost feels violent, yet cohesive in a jarring way.
Rufai: “Man looking at spider web.”
Praise: “A woman carrying a clay pot on her head in a marketplace.”
Todun: “Chameleon in a pot.”
THE CELEBRANT, 2006
Wiz Kudowor (GH)
This Ghanaian piece is riveting to behold. The bold, vibrant colors are prominent in the composition of this artwork.
We see a yellow figure standing with his birthday cake, and as colorful as this piece is, the subtle melancholy can still be felt. The irony of humorous brokenness. The question mark especially, in my opinion, expresses the lingering doubt that we tend to feel as we trudge into a new age. It’s easy to tell that this painting is heavily influenced by Cubism.
For over 30 years that Wiz has been an artist, he’s been brilliant at illustrating modern African themes and environment.
Praise: “A celebrant? Probably non-binary because gender unknown? Lol”
Ozioma: “Happy Birthday”
Todun: “Birthday girl who doesn’t know what she wants.”
OCEAN OF CRUDE MATERIALISM, 2021
Obinna Makata (NG)
Makata, a sculptor, painter, and full-time studio artist has an interesting story of how he started his art journey by using the scraps left behind by his neighbor who worked as a tailor. He describes his collages as “broken pieces of African culture.”
In this mixed collage, burnt paper, ink, and used juice cartons are combined with acrylic on canvas to address the themes of empty consumerism and even gluttony. Materialism has seeped into the fabric of modern society and I think this piece exhibits those themes. When I look at this piece, the words “loud”, “buffoonish”, and “too much” come to mind.
ABSENCE IN RESTRAINT, 2021
Yolanda Mazwina (SA)
Yolanda is an experimental artist from South Africa, with most of her pieces predominantly in shades of pink, she captures issues of femininity and how it feels to be a relatable young woman. For most of her paintings, the question, “What is this?” is almost always asked.
This fluid painting is a combination of oil, acrylic, and enamel on canvas. If you stare at it long enough, tt looks like the subject is literally pulling out her guts. The goriness of this piece is in a way, muted because she utilizes a palette of shades of maroon and onion pink. I really like this piece because as “simple” as it looks, it’s equally intricate. Disturbing even.
Ozioma: “A womb.”
Michael Armitaye (KY)
This layered piece was created by Kenyan artist, Michael Armitage. Michael Armitage captures overlooked stories of Kenya, a mesh of his own experiences, current events, religious ideologies, and even myths. Interestingly, his paintings are made on Lumbago bark cloth, sourced from the bark of the Mutuba tree.
This abstract painting is dominantly pastel, dreamy and delicate. At the edges of the embryo-like sac, are figures of a woman (bottom left) and a man (top right), they both seem to be playing “melodies of life” in the two iridescent child-like figures. The first baby is painted in gradients of yellow and green while the other is in hues of orange and blue, thus complementary.
This piece flows with high romanticism and can be interpreted to be the birth of a new life. The colors used and the style of painting evoke feelings of ataraxia (robust tranquillity) and lucidity.
Praise: “Fertility. I see a womb, with twins… and an older woman speaking life into it.”
Todun: “A man manipulating female victim by singing songs of motherhood and wifery.”
Ozioma: “A frog.”
MONKEY RAINS, 2016
Misheck Masamvu (ZIM)
This vivacious oil painting on canvas has a lot going on. At first glance, you can see a figure of a curvy black woman wearing heels placed in the middle of the composition, stepping on what seems to be a figure of a man or person? The genre scene is also vertically aligned as the saturated colors spill into each other to create images of more people surrounding her in the background but much smaller in size. Behind the woman, the figures are seen aggressively trying to touch her behind and she seems to be standing in a puddle of hues of blue and green. This expressionist piece veers between abstraction and figuration.
I think every woman knows that feeling of walking down the street while getting catcalled, and Zimbabwean painter Masamvu captures it perfectly.
Praise: “Catcalling? A hottie with a big ass walking by and niggas staring.”
Kachi: “Woman in heels.”
Todun: Big babe in heels stepping on a bunch of niggas.”
Ozioma: “Heeled crocs…”
Ozioma dear, heeled crocs?