With a rich and diverse culture spanning thousands of years, art from Africa has inspired art around the world for centuries. More recently, Africa has become home to a rapidly growing contemporary arts scene. This year in particular has been huge for the arts landscape there, with a string of exciting events occurring: Africa’s Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA), the continent’s largest contemporary art museum, just opened to the public a few weeks ago.  This year also marked the launch of Sotheby’s inaugural Modern and Contemporary African Art auction where sales exceeded expectations, and the holding of the 1:54 Contemporary African art fair in New York. These 7 artists below are part of a wider group of artists who are spearheading the contemporary arts scene across the continent, creating their own definition of what African Art means.

1. Lionel Smit

Origins Broken Fragment R, 2015

A South African painter and sculptor from Pretoria, Lionel Smit is known for his portrayals of Cape Malay, or mixed race, South African women. With their vibrant colors, textures, and detailed features, Smit’s sculptures are colorful interpretations of the human form, and explore the issues of race, identity, and what it is that makes us who we are.

Learn more about Lionel Smit here.

2. El Anatsui

Earth’s Skin, 2007

Growing up in Ghana and having made a home in Nsukka, Nigeria, El Anatsui converts found material into dynamic, tactile sculptural forms. In these abstracted pieces, Anatsui combines his interest in the history of materials and how they have been used, with references to his own nomadic background. Many of his pieces, for example feature bottle caps from distilleries in his hometown, Nsukka.

Learn more about El Anatsui here.

3. Julie Mehretu

Stadia I, 2004

Born in Ethiopia and currently living in the United States, Julie Mehretu’s paintings explore the idea of layers, both physical and figurative. Drawing from the 21st Century for inspiration, Mehretu’s canvases are energetic and colorful, filled with references to urban life. In her style of painting, Mehretu combines a variety of influences to create a signature style, from the dynamism of the Futurists, to the fluid, free strokes of Eastern calligraphy.

Learn more about Julie Mehretu here.


4. William Kentridge

General, 1993

Born in Johannesburg, South African artist William Kentridge’s work combines the political with the poetic. Over the years, Kentridge has worked in a variety of mediums including print and drawing, but is perhaps best known for his animated films based on charcoal drawings. Kentridge’s works discuss political concerns with subtlety and nuance, with a common subject of his work being post-Apartheid South Africa.

Learn more about William Kentridge here.

5. Kudzanai Chiurai

Revelations X, 2011

One of the fastest-rising talents of the contemporary African art scene, Zimbabwean-born activist and artist Kudzanai Chiurai creates multimedia compositions that address political issues. During the build-up to the 2008 elections in Zimbabwe, Chiurai depicted president Robert Mugabe in a controversial manner, using his work as a way of speaking out against the violence surrounding the elections, and the importance of democracy.

Learn more about Kudzanai Chiurai here.

6. Ibrahim El-Salahi

Vision of The Tomb, 1965

A major figure in African and Arab Modernism, Sudanese painter Ibrahim El-Salahi harmoniously combines disparate influences on the canvas. His work combines elements of European artistic styles, like Cubism and Surrealism, with Sudanese themes, Islamic iconography and Arabic calligraphy.  What results is a transnational African-influenced surrealism, infused with El-Salahi’s joy for life and spiritual faith.

Learn more about Ibrahim El-Salahi here.

7. Nnenna Okore

Everything Good Shall Come To Pass,  2014

Raised in Nigeria and now working internationally, Nnenna Okore creates colourful, textural sculptures inspired by the environment and landscapes around her. Okore creates intricate sculptural installations with techniques like weaving, sewing and rolling. The delicate, gossamer-like sculptural forms that Okore creates are reflective of the themes she explores, namely that of the transient nature of life and death, growth and decay.

Learn more about Nnenna Okore here.

We hope you enjoyed these, and let us know of any contemporary african artists that you know and love. Also, keep your eyes out for the next installment in our World Art Series, and feel free to tell us what kind of art you would want to learn more about!