Where form meets function

Over the past year, global interest in art being made by African artists on the continent and in the diaspora has increased dramatically. African art historically dates thousands of years, back to the preoccupation with traditional craft and beadwork, right up to the emergence of contemporary African art in the 1960s, thanks in large part to the work of Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keita.

The recent heightened awareness of art made by contemporary African artists, however, has mostly to do with the critical strength of the discourse emanating from various regions of the continent. Each region at the moment seems to have their own group of artists intent on repositioning their homes countries as creative epicenters both locally and internationally. With the success of the recent 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair and on the back of Angola’s Golden Lion for the Best National Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale, we highlight five African artists who are playing a significant role in the resurgence of contemporary artwork from different regions across the African continent.


Edson Chagas (Angola)

Perhaps most famous for his recent contributions to Angola’s Golden Lion Pavilion win at the Venice Biennale, Edson Chagas is known for his conceptual approach to everyday documentation. His work focuses on ideas of consumerism, capitalism, local traditions and through the use of photography he often attempts to engage with the city and urban space. He received a photojournalism degree at the London College of Communication and then went on to study documentary photography at the University of Wales in Newport.

Alongside performing artist Nastio Mosquito, Chagas is one of the most important emerging African artists of his generation. The impact of his work has meant increased attention on artistic and cultural practices in Angola and he continues to remain a key element in the push for increased support and financial investment. He currently lives and works in Luanda, continuing his photojournalistic work outside of his practice.


Husan and Husain Essop (South Africa)

Represented by arguably South Africa’s biggest and most important gallery, the Goodman Gallery, the twins find themselves on an increasing artistic ascension. Graduating from one of South Africa’s cornerstone academic institutions, the Michaelis School of Fine Art, they recently won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, the most prestigious award for emerging artists in South Africa. Making use of photography as a medium in order to address issues relating to religion and popular culture, they insert themselves into their work by occupying conflicting East vs West roles, using daily uniforms, Islamic religious wear and brands to further accentuate cultural and class distinctions.

Although they’re still at an early stage in their careers, their resume already includes participation in exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Institut d’art contemporain. With their best years yet to come, there’s no telling what lies ahead.


Kudzanai Chiurai (Zimbabwe)

Rising to prominence thanks to his outspoken approach to the political situation in Zimbabwe and president Robert Mugabe in particular, Kudzanai Chiurai has helped bring painting on the continent to the forefront again. Through his use of mixed media, his large-scale, collage-like paintings address pertinent political and cultural issues, such as xenophobia and democracy. Trained as a painter, Chiurai was the first black student to graduate from the University of Pretoria with a BFA.

Adding photography and sculpture to his multidisciplinary practice, he’s gone on to host solo exhibitions in Spain and Rotterdam, respectively, and his installation, Conflict Resolution, was presented at Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany. Due to his political oeuvre, he has positioned himself as somewhat of an arts activist, which in turn has led to comparisons with acclaimed Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. He has already been profiled by CNN and he continues to directly confront some of the most poignant social issues facing the African continent. Keep an eye out for more inspiring work by Chiurai.


Emkal Eyongakpa (Cameroon)

A multidisciplinary artist who makes use of photography, video, sculpture, text and sound, Eyongakpa creates interwoven installations that are inspired by experiences, dreams and investigating the unknown. He graduated with a degree in Botany and Ecology from the University of Yaounde, and recently participated in the prestigious Guest Residency at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam.

Known for his fascination with experimentation and observation, he connects these ideas with his background in science in order to explore natural and human phenomena. As a self-taught photographer, he has already been listed for the prestigious Aima AGO Photography Prize, which includes the director of the CCA Lagos, Silvia Bisi, on the judging panel. After a busy 2013 that saw him exhibit in Dubai, Paris and Germany, this year promises to be even more successful and could undoubtedly become a pivotal one in Eyongakpa’s fledgling career.


Zanele Muholi (South Africa)

Born in Umlazi, Durban, Zanele Muholi studied photography at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg. Known for her documentation of black LGBT life, she’s become one of the most critically outspoken photographers of her generation and has since received the 2013 Fine Prize for an emerging artist from Carnegie International. In addition, she cofounded the Forum for the Empowerment of Women in 2002 and has dedicated a large portion of her practice to visual activism.

Currently an Honorary Professor at the University of the Arts in Bremen, Germany, she opened her fifth solo exhibition Faces and Phases at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh earlier this year. She represented South Africa at the 55th Venice Biennale and her resume includes exhibitions at Documenta, Art Basel and the Yale University Art Gallery.

Her current contribution to the discourse emanating from South Africa combined with the international recognition she has received, Muholi is a perfect example of a critically mature emerging artist and most importantly her career highlights the power of the artist in successfully engaging debilitating social and cultural issues.

Written by Houghton Kinsman for

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