10 African Artists You Absolutely Must Know

The long-deserved appreciation for African art in Europe increased rapidly after the 1989 exhibition, “Les magiciens de la terre” (“The magicians of the Earth”) at the Centre Pompidou. Since the early 1990s, Africa has witnessed a period of creative flourishing, as more and more international galleries open their doors to African-only exhibitions worldwide. As the continent blooms the art scene does too, and its artistic pollen is being deposited in art markets and institutions across the globe. Artsper takes you on a virtual journey through this magical continent to discover 10 African artists you absolutely must know.

Yinka Sonibare - Gay Victorians (1999)
Yinka Sonibare – Gay Victorians (1999)

1. Yinka Shonibare

British-Nigerian artist and alumnus of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, Yinka Shonibare, questions the complex issue of identity as a dual citizen. Shonibare primarily works with African wax prints (a traditional African fabric), which he uses to dress headless mannequins which are emblematic of the Victorian English middle-class.

Mary Sibande - I refuse to recline (2010)
Mary Sibande – I refuse to recline (2010)

2. Mary Sibande

Originally from South Africa, Sibande explores the construction of identity in a country torn apart by apartheid. Through her alter-ego, “Sophie”, Sibande embodies the destructive stereotype of the black servant, and depicts her via photography and installation.

Wangechi Mutu - Cactus Green Nips (2009)
Wangechi Mutu – Cactus Green Nips (2009)

3. Wangechi Mutu

Based in New York, Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu, produces simultaneously shocking and captivating works. Belonging to the Afro-futurist movement, Mutu mixes African cultural references with elements of science fiction to create both disturbing and intriguing characters.

Pascale Marthine Tayou - Arbre de vie (2015)
Pascale Marthine Tayou – Arbre de vie (2015)

4. Pascale Marthine Tayou

Cameroonian visual artist, Pascale Marthine Tayou, explores post-colonialism through his colourful and versatile works. He uses recycled materials to create dreamlike sculptures, whose meanings lie at the heart of his origins.

5. Romuald Hazoumé

Beninese visual artist, Romuald Hazoumé, also works in recycled materials. He is particularly known for his traditional African masks made from petrol cans.

Omar Victor Diop - El Moro (2014)
Omar Victor Diop – El Moro (2014)

6. Omar Victor Diop

Senegalese photographer, Omar Victor Diop, explores Africa’s place in society, and his use of portraiture highlights the intricate cultural identities of his subjects across the continent. First discovered at the “Rencontres de Bamako” in 2011, Diop’s work has since been exhibited at numerous fairs and museums.

El Anatsui - Strips of Earth's Skin (2008)
El Anatsui – Strips of Earth’s Skin (2008)

7. El Anatsui

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui, has found international fame without setting foot outside Africa. Anatsui first became known by transforming thousands of bottle caps into gigantic luminous structures, which he used to cover walls of various institutions across Europe including the Arsenale in Venice and the Alte National Gallery in Berlin.

William Kentridge - The hope in the charcoal cloud (2014)
William Kentridge – The hope in the charcoal cloud (2014)

8. William Kentridge

Originally from South Africa, William Kentridge, is best known for his charcoal drawings. Influenced by the harsh history of a country crushed by apartheid, his works are politically and emotionally charged.

Julie Mehretu peignant
Julie Mehretu peignant

9. Julie Mehretu

American-Ethiopian artist, Julie Mehretu, is represented by the Marian Goodman Gallery in London. Known for her very large (and expensive) paintings, Mehretu won the prestigious MacArthur Prize and her works form a part of the MoMA’s permanent collection.

Cheri Samba - J'aime bien son dos (2011)
Cheri Samba – J’aime bien son dos (2011)

10. Cheri Samba

Congolese painter, Cheri Samba, is one of the most famous artists to come out of Congo. His figurative and colourful works can be seen in both the Centre Pompidou and MoMA, exploring and satirising daily life in Congo through his impressive cartoon style.

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