African Galleries Now: Contemporary African Abstraction & Symbolism

Artsy Fairs
Dec 9, 2020 2:58pm
Figuration and portraiture in contemporary African art has thus far attracted the most attention of international audiences and collectors. However, as connoisseurship and insight into the wealth of talent on the continent grows, savvy collectors will discover the treasury of incredibly diverse and eclectic non-figurative and symbolist work emanating from long-standing philosophical and literary traditions across Africa. These traditions have inspired the works of masters like El Antasui, Elias Sime and Ibrahim El-Salahi but also continue to foster the ideas of a younger generation of artists. African Galleries Now, features a number of artists from the Democratic Republic of Congo, to Morocco to Lagos, Sudan and South Africa exploring symbolic and the abstract motifs with remarkable results.

Agnes Waruguru

Kenyan, b. 1994, Circle Art Gallery (Nairobi)

In her diverse art making practice Agnes Waruguru draws on her experience of domestic life. Waruguru lives and works in Nairobi where she held her first solo exhibition “Small Things to Consider” at Circle Art Gallery this year. Waruguru’s careful, iterative mark making has a strong focus on materiality and personal histories. These dreamlike works utilise abstract motifs from her daily life, inviting viewers to enter her narrative explorations.

Bouvy Enkobo

Congolese, b. 1981, First Floor Gallery (Harare)

Many of Bouvy Enkobo’s colourful artworks combine collage and painting in a multi layered exploration of life. Enkobo lives and works in Kinshasa, responding to the unique rhythms of the city and it’s histories. In 2019 Enkobo held a solo exhibition at First Floor Gallery in Harare titled, “Songs of Sankofa”. His paintings respond to what is most urgent to him, speaking with a clear and unwavering integrity.

Sizwe Sibisi

South African, b. 1987, Guns & Rain Gallery (Johannesburg)


Sizwe Sibisi’s colourful abstract textiles celebrate the LGBTQI+ community and single mothers, noting that these groups are often subjected to violence and ridicule in South Africa. Sibisi wishes to acknowledge and pay homage to the lives of the repressed through his needle work which is inspired by his mothers work as a seamstress. Sibisi originally trained as a nurse but has recently chosen to dedicate himself to his art full-time.

Jellel Gaste

Tunisian, b. 1958, Selma Feriani Gallery (Tunis)

Jellel Gastelli’s abstract photography from the Séries Blache captures architectural elements of Djerba Islands mosques, focussing on the multi-layered whitewashed walls. These detailed images are a study in light, form, line and tension. While each image corresponds to a specific time and place they move towards abstraction, capturing what the artist calles “the intense pure spirit of place that I associate with my Tunisian childhood”.

Fillipus Sheehama

Namibian, b. 1974, StArt Art Gallery (Windhoek)

Fillipus Sheehama is an artist and educator, living and working in Katutura, Windhoek. Sheehama’s abstract wall hangings often utilise found objects and reclaimed materials from his communities in central and northern Namibia. His latest large-scale sculptural textiles reflect on issues of land (re)distribution in post-apartheid and post-colonial Namibia. These abstract artworks combine the hardened exterior of makalani nuts, animal bones and recycled metal bottle caps in tribute to indigenous knowledge systems.

Miska Mohmmed

Sudanese, b. 1995, Circle Art Gallery (Nairobi)

Miska Mohammed graduated from the College of Fine and Applied Arts, Sudan University in 2016 with a degree in painting. Mohmmed’s landscape paintings utilise a variety of abstract forms and symbols building up a dense canvas of shapes that correspond to her experience of nature and place. She works in both acrylic and oils, responding to the sensual experience of the landscape, experimenting and combining materials.

Tonia Nneji

Nigerian, Rele Gallery (Lagos)

Tonia Nneji held her first solo exhibition this year, titled “You May Enter” at Rele Gallery in Lagos. Her bold use of colour and pattern are utilised to explore the relationship between the female body and trauma. Nneji’s drawings and paintings reflect a desire for safe spaces for free conversation. The figures she depicts are depicted through silhouettes of pared down shapes. Nneji says, “I use drapery as a tool of hiding, to represent protection, a safe place”.

Tonia Nneji held her first solo exhibition this year, titled “You May Enter” at Rele Gallery in Lagos. Her bold use of colour and pattern are utilised to explore the relationship between the female body and trauma. Nneji’s drawings and paintings reflect a desire for safe spaces for free conversation. The figures she depicts are depicted through silhouettes of pared down shapes. Nneji says, “I use drapery as a tool of hiding, to represent protection, a safe place”.

Lwando Dlamini

South Africa, b. 1992, Ebony Curated (Cape Town)

Lwando Dlamini’s paintings explore violence. Based on his personal experience of police brutality and observations of injustice. In his paintings he shows broken bodies, often missing limbs or facial features. Of these figures he says, “They’re finding their path back to their identity, maybe. They could be anyone, but they’re also someone”. Dlamini held his first solo exhibition titled “Triumph” at Ebony Curated in Cape Town this year.