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African legends in African Contemporary Art

By Martina Kwenda (Ethelartconnect Creative Writer)

The beauty of African Contemporary Art comes lays in its ability to depict the highs and lows of being an African. Since freedom of expression is not common art becomes the new form of expression. It is a great privilege for us to be able to see fellow Africans making it big in the industry. African Contemporary may not be as great as it’s supposed to be but in the next few years, it’s going to be big. We will be grateful to these individuals for being the pioneers. Watch the space for these artists and what an evolution they are going to make. There may be more but l chose a few as their zeal appealing and good motivation for upcoming artists.

Tracy Rose 

Tracy Rose is a well-known outspoken feminist and she’s considered to be a well-established contemporary multimedia artist. The most important fact though is that she managed to make it right there in her native country of South Africa. Rose is well known for her bold performances, video installations, and arresting photographs works. Like most artists, she is interested in expressing things that affect her as a woman and woman of color and being of a mixed race. So her genre is generally “Politics of Identity” where she tackles issues about body shamming, racial segregation as well as sexual and gender issues. Roses themes often convey mixed race reality and multicultural ancestry and popular culture with sociological theories to evoke a powerful depiction of South Africa’s political and social landscape, In terms of achievement she’s done great she has done a lot of solo exhibitions in South Africa, Europe, and America.  The greatest of all her numerous international events was the Venice Biennale.


Messiah Gab is a multitalented artist who has many accolades to her name so he’s just not ordinary.  He can work with plywood, plaster, stones, and decommissioned bank notes and he garnered critical acclaim for his traveling exhibition title Museum of Contemporary African Art. This was produced in 1997 at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum-Created. It was in the form of a nomadic exhibition space presented in 12 exhibition rooms set across various European art institutions over 5 years in an attempt to put African art on the map. The greatest achievement was when he sold off his whole exhibition to Tate Modern. He also made various projects in the form of Summer Collection Room, Draft Room, and Museum Restaurant.

Kudzanai Chiurai

Kudzanai Chiurai is coined as ‘brutally honest when depicting the status quo of African Government through a mixture of digital photography, printing, painting, and film” according to Diarra (2018). A proud Zimbabwean who rose to fame in the boldest and ironic way which resulted in him being exiled. He produced an ‘inflammatory image depiction of the now late President of Zimbabwe Robert G Mugabe with horns and swallowed up in flames in 2009. So he was forced to relocate to Johannesburg, South Africa but still managed to be the 1st black recipient of a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Pretoria. He is well known for using dramatic multimedia compositions to confront and challenge the most pressing issues in Southern Africa from government corruption and violence, xenophobia, and displacement.

Ibrahim El Salahi

Ibrahim El Salahi is actually considered the “Godfather of African Modernism” and has been in the industry for over 5 decades now. Salahi is into visionary artworks and created his own brand called Surrealism. Surrealism is basically the splitting and combining of Arab and African origins. A former diplomat and undersecretary of the Sudanese Ministry of culture in 1970. He was also imprisoned for 6 months without charge upon accusations of anti-government activities which is very common in Africa. This obstacle only allowed him to taper deep into his greatness as he is also one of the 1st elaborate Arabic calligraphy in his paintings and the 1st African artist to obtain a Tate Morden retrospective.

Sokari Douglas Camp

Sokari Douglas Camp is a “sculptress” based in London but originally she’s from Nigeria. She moved probably moved there in search of greener pastures since she’s from the 1st generation of African Contemporary Art. This form of art wasn’t common then so the road wasn’t easy but determination and hard work got her on the world map.  Her roots can be traced in her sculptures which portray the Kalabari culture and traditions. She is well known for employing modern sculptural techniques with the predominant use of steel to create large semi-abstract figurative works. These worked are often adorned with masks and ritual clothing to depict her relationship to Nigeria. Camp has had numerous solo and group shows all over the world and the greatest accomplishment is in having permanent collections for the Simsothian Institution in Washington DC and the British Museum of London.

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