The growing commitment of African visual artists.

Posted by Florian Azzopardi on

Long remained the prerogative of African singers and musicians, such as Fela Kuti or Angélique Kidjo, political commitment is now claimed by visual artists. Would the brush have replaced the microphone in Africa?

Whether it is the environment, the civil wars and the migrations they entail, artists create to warn, to accuse. The remarks are topical and find an echo in the history of the continent. They appeal to local know-how and pop culture. Anglo-Nigerian Yinka Shonibaré mixes fabrics with colorful motifs in Dutch wax and the figures of the painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard in The Swing (2001, London). He points to postcolonial hybridity in Africa, a frustrating search for identity.

In Benin, Romuald Hazoumé illustrates this hybridity with his series of masks-cans. Diverting the typologies of Beninese traditional masks, he accuses Western consumerism. Africa pollutes little, but undergoes everything: the toxic wastes on the coasts, advance of the desert, deforestation.

By exhibiting in western galleries, artists ask questions with international resonance. Population migrations and their precarious situation have recently caused scandal with the sale of slaves in Libya. These dramas were already announced, in 2017, by the Cameroonian artist Jean David Nkot in the painting Explorer's feet. Feet of anonymous and powerless travelers engaged in the fatal crossing of the Mediterranean. Art challenges both local rulers who compete for wealth, and the international community insensitive to widespread violence. Thus, the Ivorian artist Médéric Turay borrows the vibrant palette of the American Basquiat, in his series Corruption. He paints the power of notes, that of turning men into monsters eager for currency. 

Artists put their art at the service of their pan-African compatriots. If the cause is noble, are they sufficiently heard from these? On the continent, policies of access to culture still sound like a false note.

The Swing (after Fragonard), Yinka Shonibaré (2001)

The Swing (after Fragonard), Yinka Shonibaré (2001) exhibited to Tate Britain in 2004.


Masques bidons, Romual Hazoumé (2015) présentés à l’exposition Picasso Mania au Grand Palais (Paris 2015)

Masks-cans, Romual Hazoumé (2015) exhibited at Picasso Mania show at  Grand Palais (Paris 2015).


Exploreers’feet, Jean David Nkot (2017), Cameroun.

Exploreers’feet, Jean David Nkot (2017), Cameroon (


Over my dead body, Médéric Turay (2018), Côte d’Ivoire. Présenté par Afikaris à l’exposition Invisible Borders.

Over my dead body, Médéric Turay (2018), Ivory Coast. Exhibited by Afikaris during Invisible Borders show.