A-Z of African Artists

Hi everyone! I hope you all have been well!

As some of you may know, I never understood the value of Art History until my Art History I and II classes last year with Dr. Christa Irwin. I realized that Art History provides the backbone for all current and future art and provides us with insight into the morals and values of the past. What I especially loved about her classes was her determination to give us a wide world view. Art History is so often European-centered, which has limited what the world deems “good art” for centuries. Dr. Irwin ensured that her students were exposed to art from every continent, which I think is so important. Having insight to art from a variety of cultures allows you to be more informed and to see the world more clearer. With this in mind, I’d like to share a new book with you all!

African Artists: From 1882 to Now

This new book, African Artists: From 1882 to Now, which was created by the editors of the company Phaidon, outlines contemporary and modern artists from or based in Africa. Over 300 artists are featured, many of whom are not widely known. Each artist’s page features a description of them and an image of one of their pieces that best represents them as an artist. Art of various media is depicted, including collages, prints, drawings, installations, performance art, and textiles, although paintings and photographs are the most commonly shown in the book.

Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

The editors who created this book found that Contemporary African Art had grown in popularity. This popularity is not new.

Throughout history, artists found inspiration in African art, however this was often under the premise of “Primitivism”. Primitivism was the fascination of European artists with other cultures. Their work would often show this fascination in the depiction of human figures. The best example, in my opinion, is Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, shown here. The figures’ eyes and noses are large and emphasized, which are key elements of human depictions in African art. Picasso, as well as other European artists at this time, did not pay much attention to the true cultures that they drew inspiration from, let alone recognized the artists themselves. This is why books like African Artists: From 1882 to Now are so important: they give us the names and lives of artists who previously would have been overlooked.

One artist I found who is featured in the book that I felt drawn to was Wangechi Mutu. Mutu is a Kenyan artist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work explores the depiction of gender, race, globalization, colonization, and war. She especially finds interest in the depiction of the black female body, exploring how it is represented by creating provocative images of women who are often part animal or plant in a way that is both inviting and daunting. I was drawn to her use of mixed media and use of patterns to create forms. This is especially apparent in Misguided Little Unforgivable Hierarchies (the first image), with the blood splatter pattern repeated on the legs of the figures and in the ground that they stand on. I love this piece for its message: the hierarchies created by colonialism are withstanding and persistent, and it’s about time we truly question them I think the portrayal of the message is beautifully done, as well. At first glance, this piece seems playful and inviting, with bright, warm colors and interesting patterns. It’s only when you begin to look deeper that you find the pain.

“Art History provides the backbone for all current and future art and provides us with insight into the morals and values of the past. ” Jillian Carroll

This book seems to be an excellent tool for any artist or art historian. It provides a short yet vital description of each artist, which allows you to quickly find those that inspire you and prompt you to research them in more depth, just as I did with Wangechi Mutu. Although it is a bit pricey, I believe this book will be so influential on the way we see and teach Art History. You can preorder it now for its release on November 17th. Otherwise, be sure to check out the website to find some more artist’s to be inspired by!

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