For our annual art issue, our focus is a first for Whitewall—African contemporary art. It’s not that we haven’t covered the work of artists from the continent and the diaspora before, but this is our first time devoting an entire issue to artists, gallerists, curators, and collectors living and working in sub-Saharan Africa.
It’s a region the art world is no longer ignoring, with galleries around the globe starting to represent African artists; international fairs including exhibitors like Gallery 1957 (Accra, Ghana); fairs like 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair finding success in London, New York, and now Marrakech; and museums like the Tate Modern finally giving artists like Ibrahim El-Salahi their due.
We spoke with major gallerists like Cécile Fakhoury, who has spaces in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, and Dakar, Senegal, and Liza Essers of Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa. We also heard from the curators behind Dak’Art: African Contemporary Art Biennale, the Zimbabwe pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa.
A new generation of artists like Elisabeth Efua Sutherland, Cinga Samson, Mohau Modisakeng, and Serge Attukwei Clottey spoke to us from their studios, sharing what a typical day in their process is like and what they’re working on now. They are addressing themes of identity, gender roles, politics, and social issues affecting their direct community through painting, photography, sculpture, and performance.
We also checked in with more midcareer artists like Romuald Hazoumè and Elias Sime. The latter has been busy with the completion of a new kind of museum and cultural resource in Addis Ababa, Zoma. And we had the privilege of hearing from octogenarian Ibrahim El-Salahi, who is continuing to draw and create work despite the debilitating chronic pain he suffers through each day.
Throughout our conversations, some things kept coming up. One was the desire to convey that contemporary African art is much more universal in nature than typically described. Artists are addressing issues we all face—globalization, sustainability, connectivity. Said curator Simon Njami, “I think that we are, as humans, facing huge challenges and in order to find solutions, we need to use all our abilities to think outside of the box. Therefore, there is no better place to address contemporary issues than Africa.”
Ravi Naidoo, the founder of Design Indaba, an annual festival of new ideas in democratic design, shared that sentiment, saying, “Scarcity is a wonderful antidote to arbitrariness and we’ve been upcycling since before the West gave that a name; it’s the only way we know how.”
Said Hazoumè, “To my knowledge, we consume less and therefore pollute less than the rest of the world. But the world sends us its waste, which ends up with us. I’m not an environmental activist, just an artist pointing to a problem on our continent, which has become the world’s garbage can.”
And Sime, in his works of woven discarded electronic pieces, has created beauty with that “garbage,” not as a commentary on issues of waste or recycling, as many often assume, but as a way of using this thing that has taken away the tactile nature of our world, being hands- on with it, and creating something beautiful in order for us to reconsider our own personal connection to the world.
And it’s our desire that in these pages you feel a connection with and greater understanding of the art being made today in a part of the world that deserves all the attention, representation, and reach.