11 September 2011 ~ 11 Comments

A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art

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If creativity isn’t about community in one-way or another it is dull at worst and provoking at best. Artists that manage to emphasize the spiritual, aesthetic and social elements of living are those that bring to us gifts of understanding.

Artists that exemplify this idea are musicians like K’Naan, Baaba Maal, Nneka, Blitz the Ambassador, Fela, Simphiwe Dana. Architects like David Adjaye. Fashion designers like Oumou Sy and Alphadi. Film producers like Ousmane Sembène. Writers like Wole Soyinka, Tsitsi Dangarembga and many more.

I’m not meaning that an artist’s work should mould into a box of clustered interest, rather I’m critiquing how in the absence of a social purpose of creativity, successful creative talents are treated as demigods. This individual-centered mentality is what upholds the idolatry and superstar mentality we have. Once an artist gets addicted to fame, and they often do, their art risks becoming repetitive.

I found it almost impossible to narrow down the following list of female contemporary painters of African heritage to seven, so this post may soon have a follow up. To start with, however, the work of these artists has been of recent inspiration to me and particularly for the reasons spoken about above. Their work explores spaces of womanhood, race, patriarchy, feminine deities and much more.

1. Catherine Anyango

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Catherine Anyango – Heart of Darkness, illustration, 2006

I came accross Catherine Anyango’s work at RCA Black, an exhibition curated by the AACDD at the Royal College of Art, which for the first time brought together the work of the college’s African and African Caribbean art and design alumni, past and present. Catherine Anyango is a Swedish/Kenyan artist and film producer. The publication of her graphic novel adaptation of Heart of Darkness was met with critical acclaim and it is from this collection that this encompassing piece is taken from. I am enchanted by the figures in the background! What do you think is happening in this painting?

catherine-anyango.com

2. T. S. Abe

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T S Abe, Ray Willows Rays

At only 22, Abe’s drawings have already graced a multitude of mediums; from album covers to exhibition walls to prestigious magazines and a London bus. It’s no surprise, I find her sketches mind-bogglingly real looking. I mean this self portrait looks like a photo, right? Amazing.

www.krop.com/tsabe

3. Adelaide Damoah

and now A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art
Adelaide Damoah, And Now
Art to me is a reflection of the spirit of the times, the very definition of the term Zeitgeist. Every time I create a piece it is a reflection of something from that time, from that moment. Something personal or something which reflects society. Either way, it is a way of documenting. I strive to avoid censorship so that I may progress in my ability to express and relate through my work each time I create a new piece
These are the words of Adelaide Damoah who is currently also running “Art Success,” a series of interviews with visual artists from around the world discussing the concept of success to be read on her blog. Her Supermodels collection, that this piece belongs to, captures quite daringly the imprisonment many women face in the name of beauty.
4. Pia Cabble
pia e1315686762628 A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art
Pia Cabble, Amazons Answer
Pia is a Finnish/African American artist currently based in London. Her work is based on three concepts; ancient civilizations, like those of the Mayans, Egyptians, Persians etc.; the female body and its goddess-like qualities and the meaning of ritual around the world. She works with items that are used or recycled, including her canvases. The piece pictured here is for example painted on a piece of recycled plywood where someone had written the famous words of JFK,”It’s not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. Talk about character!

5. Shiri Achu

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Shiri Achu, Prince Sokoro in the middle

Shiri Achu was born in Cameroon and now splits her time between her country of origin, the UK and the USA. Her art seeks to capture the spirit of her subjects and draws insight from her travels, from Africa to still objects, from the human form to the human in action. I find her pieces, of which some by the way are available in the MsAfropoolitan Boutique, to be enthralling because they simulataneously capture the fragile beauty of life whilst also exploring the darker, morbid side of humanness.

www.shiriachuart.com

6. Mickalene Thomas

Thomas Mickalene WhateverYouWant A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art

Mickalene Thomas, Instant Gratification, 2005

I am a huge fan of Mickalene Thomas! The New Y ork-based artist’s work explores and challenges the representation and objectification of women, and black women in particular. Her work stems from her long study of art history and the classical genres of portraiture, landscape, and still life. She explores notions of beauty from a contemporary feminist perspective infused with the more recent influences of popular culture and urban cool edginess. This piece makes me think of hip hop, erotica, blaxploitation female heroes and artist/model Betty Davis.

mickalenethomas.com

7. Tamara Natalie Madden

 A Diaspora canvas: Exploring the feminine heritage of African art

Tamara Natalie Madden, Ambiguity

Last year the lovely Afri-Love blog posted an interview with Tamara Natalie Madden and since then I’ve been haunted by her work. In a good way! I think it’s the bird theme in her paintings mixed with the beautiful colours and flowery illustrations that evoke something ethereal in me. In the interview, when asked how Africa inspires her, she replied:


Africa inspires most of my art. I am from Jamaica, but I see Africa every where. The beautiful people, their amazing skin tones, their full lips and thick hair – all of that inspires me. I am inspired by the strength of the people, and I am inspired by their pride and inherent power, and I see royalty in all of them. That is why I paint the images that I paint. African people all over the world have been looked down upon, pushed aside, and their beauty hasn’t been appreciated. I want my work to show that we are decendants of royalty, and that inherently we are all kings and queens.

www.tamaranataliemadden.com

On that note, how do these painting inspire you? How do you define artistic success?

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