Africa refreshs its Art

23 novembre 2016

Far from the usual clichés on an African contemporary Art which is illustrated only in « recycling » and which would never really have left spheres of the craft industry, the contemporary artist scene of the continent is in full boiling.

"Africa is becoming trendy"

Usually, when one evokes African art, it is the centuries-old objects such as the wooden statuettes of the Bambara, the thousand-year-old relics or the Fang masks of Gabon that come first to minds of amateurs and collectors. Ignored for a long-time, this ancestral art has since found its place on the versatile market of Art and some of these artworks are now sold to a few European and American millionaires.

Although very active for some time, the African contemporary art has often been neglected by the West and even on the spot. But, for some years now, the African contemporary art has been shaking, bubbling and beginning to take up some space. The young new local scene wants to demonstrate the Arts of the black Continent are not limited only to these secular works yet so prized.

In mutation, some museums and several galleries have devoted their ribbons to them and this Art is revealed through important events such as the Dakar Biennale or elsewhere called Dakart in Senegal, Joburg Art Fair in South Africa or 1.54 Contemporary African Art Fair (1 as the continent and 54 for the number of countries) held in London in 2016 and will take place in New York in May 2017. 


Last November, AKAA in Paris, Also Known As Africa, will offer additional visibility to mainland artists, in addition to the many African galleries invited to the Art Paris Art Fair. For the gallerist YoungMi Lamine : "The market is doing very well, because Africa is becoming trendy or has been finally rightly discovered. Today, African art has established itself with its own soul, his own art, with artists appreciated worldwide by a wide international audience."

The new children of an Art that settles in

Although several indigenous foundations are presenting these new artworks in foundations such as in Dakar (Senegal), Luanda (Angola), Cotonou (Benin), Oshogbo (Nigeria) or also Cape Town and Johannesburg (South Africa), paradoxically, living African artists are seeing their notoriety flourish faster internationally than in their own countries. Generally supported by rich westerners and no longer living on the spot, African artists are now investing artfully in the market. From South Africans Marlene Dumas, William Kentridge to the Ghanaian sculptor El Anastsui, the Cameroonian Pascale Marthine Tayou, the Nigerian Yinka Shonibare and the Beninese plastic artist Meschac Gaba, all of these artists have seen their ranking climb exponentially in the last semesters. At their side, the new headliners of the market are called Romuald Hazoumè, Dominique Zinkpé or Julie Mehretu.


(Goldman Sachs fresco)

latter, born in Addis Ababa in 1970 by an Ethiopian father and an American mother who came to work for Pan-African cooperation, regularly exhibits in London, Berlin or New York, in MoMA. With an abstract inspiration, in 2010, she realized a gargantuan mural fresco of 24 meters long "the visual history of world capitalism" commissioned by Goldman Sachs. Her immense canvases, mixing Kandinsky, Cy Twombly, Vieira da Silva and Michaux, tore away for millions of dollars at auction. Although settled far from her native Ethiopia, she allows this country, stuck in its clichés, to exist in the universe of Art. A complicated mission that is being attempted by the Netsa Art Village.

From Prehistoric Art to Modernism

In a public park surrounded by the National Museum of Addis Ababa which contains the cultural and historical national treasures of a nation considered as the cradle of Humanity, some artists are busy. Within the Netsa Art Village, this collective composed of 15 artists is eager to distinguish diametrically from the infinite reproductions of Coptic imagery (recycled) in the commercial art of Ethiopian tourism.

Ethiopian modernism is not new, it appeared in the 50s and 60s and then it faded in the 1970s under the blows of the authoritarian-Marxist regime of Derg. Creativity and experiences are re-emerging thanks to the openness on the foreigners wanted by the heads of the School of Fine Arts in Addis Abeba.

(Tamrat Gazahegn)

Although still stammering, this movement of the Netsa Art Village, which claims radical and daring, proposes the paintings created from used laces of Mirhet Debebe, the painted tree trunks of Tamrat Gazahegn or the giant sculptures made of metal Recovery from Tesfahun Kibru. For Desta Meghoo : ​​"Ethiopia does not want to remain a minor element of the World Art and it is not limited to its cultural, historical and prehistoric treasures but also to a contemporary work". If no Ethiopian artist, except Julie Merhetu, is internationally recognized, Tamrat sells some of his works between 1500 and 3000 dollars and the MoMA in New York has already bought works of Merid Tafesse even if they are for now in storage. This same Desta Meghoo ​​believes that it is only a matter of time before the young Ethiopian artists expose themselves in the galleries or international museums.


(Merid Tafesse artwork)

Abiy, between tradition and modernity

Ethiopian artist Abiy Gediyon first got known in his country after having studied and taught at the School of Fine Arts in Addis Ababa. The Ethio-French Alliance is the first to believe in its work and to export its artworks in France. His career took a decisive turn after his participation in the 1st Congress of African Writers at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Then installed in the Ardèche, he multiplies the apparitions to different artistic manifestations. Although painting is his favorite medium, Abiy likes to vary techniques with collage, pastel, chalk ... and supports such as paper, canvas or glass. Inspired by his years of studies, but also by artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Egon Schiele or Wosene Kosrof, his feminine nudes remind the unstructured figures of Pablo Picasso.

Mind wrapped by his diversity, his style mixes tradition and modernity, joy and melancholy. His Ethiopian roots are present in the choice of colors and patterns, the wide-open figures of his children recall the exoticism of ceremonial masks. He thus privileges the expression and the emotion of the faces to the realism of the characters. Freed from the weight of tradition, his delicate compositions give the feeling of a universal art.