African Galleries Now: Photography and photo-based work
As an ancient but young continent, it is not surprising that photography has played and continues to play a crucial role in art emanating from Africa. This is particularly so as young artists become conscious of taking charge of the way their countries and they themselves are seen by the world and the stories that are told about life in Africa. More than that, photography has played a crucial impact on artists working in other media from graphic to painting and even sculpture, as a way of capturing life that will not stand still for a second. African Galleries Now is featuring works from artists in Nigeria, South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Saint Tomé Principe and Uganda using the medium in ways both documentary and metaphoric.
South African/Angolan, b. 1994, Movart (Lisbon/Luanda)
Born in South Africa to Angolan parents, Helena Uambembe’s creative process draws on a personal relationship to histories of war, trauma and heritage. The artist’s father belonged to the South African Defence Force’s 32 battalion (also called the Buffalo Battalion), a unit made up of predominantly black Angolan men, instructed to fight against the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN). Uambembe’s work delves into these complex narratives, using archival material and related symbolism to construct these photo-collages.
Angolan, b. 1983, This is not a white cube (Luanda)
Born in Luanda and working in London, Alida Rodrigues’ interests lie in “the changing nature of identity”. Rodrigues’ artworks explore the very foundation of portraiture and its associations with showcasing its subjects in the most “perfect” light. This fascination with portraiture combines with the artists’ interest in colonial era postcards and 19th century botanical illustrations. Rodrigues’ work highlights the act of collecting that these postcards signified, as trinkets from colonial exploration. Rodrigues explains, “By transforming the portraits with plant elements, I interfere and disrupt the narrative of the image, and its associated histories.”
South African, Ebony Curated (Cape Town)
Emerging artist Yonela Makoba hails from the Eastern Cape in South Africa. The artist’s background directly influences their work, as they explain, “I reference class, Xhosa culture, the divide between urban and rural… In many ways, it’s because of my upbringing that I’m exploring what it means to be wiped clean of labels and the things that have hindered me”. 2019 saw Makoba's first solo exhibition, titled “Kwantlandlolo: Tangerine Prays for Tabula Rasa”. The artist works through ideas of identity and gender, and dreams of a world that functions as a blank slate, void of imposed labels or categories.
Congolese, b. 1981, Espaço Luanda Arte (Luanda)
Baudouin Mouanda is a Congolese photographer whose work documents life on the continent. The artist makes no claim to the objectivity that photography has long been preoccupied with. However, his works do claim a stance based on the lived realities of those in his photographs. This series of work titled “The Seasonal Sky” highlights the recent flooding across the African continent, attributed to climate change. In this photograph ‘Untitled’, the water level seems absurd and almost uncanny as it is at odds with the intimate interior and drenched subjects, whose poses otherwise might have made for a simple family portrait.
Moçambican, b. 1984, Arte de Gema (Maputo/London)
For the Moçambican artist David Aguacheiro, social and political issues are at the very heart of his work. This photographer and filmmaker explains, “with my artworks I constantly seek to question what is happening in society, and especially to provoke the viewers – provocation for me is a means to get people questioning and thinking for themselves”. From exploring issues related to the very recent history of colonialism in Moçambique, to the impact of climate change on his home country, Aguacheiro’s photographs work to expose and question. According to the artist, this series of ‘Plastic Life’ looks at the inherited issues of climate change experienced in Moçambique, despite the country’s nominal contribution to the worldwide crisis.
Nigerian, b. 1989, Rele Art Gallery (Lagos)
At the core of Marcellina Akpojotor’s mixed media artworks lies an investigation into issues of gender equality, femininity and empowerment of women in society. The artist uses discarded pieces of Ankara fabric to create intricate compositions using captivating visual imagery. While Ankara fabric is also known as the ‘African print fabric’, this fabric is actually of Dutch origin. Akpojotor delves not only into gender politics, but also explores the fabric as a cultural signifier and channel through which to unpack memory. Marcellina Akpojotor had her first solo exhibition “She Was Not Dreaming” at Rele Gallery in 2018 and has participated in prominent art fairs across the world including the FNB Art Joburg Fair 2019 (South Africa), Art Dubai 2020 (Dubai) and the 2020 edition of the LA Art Show (USA).
Henry "Mzili" Mujunga (Afriart)
Ugandan, b. 1971, Afriart Gallery (Kampala)
Henry ’Mzili’ Mujunga paints portraits featuring a variety of seemingly disparate elements on one canvas. Mujunga brings together people, objects and spaces to create intimate scenes that are both autobiographical and a glimpse into contemporary life in urban Kampala. These elements are all understood as being part of the process of identity formation and expression. While these artworks manifest as paintings the artist draws heavily from photography in his process.
Sao Tomean, b. 1983, This is not a white cube (Luanda)
René Tavares studies in Senegal and France and lives between Sao Tomean and Lisbon. His multi-disciplinary practice incorporates photography and expresses his experience of emigration and relocation. Taveres explains that Tchiloli, a play introduced in the 17th century by the Portugese is “a piece of Western history taken to São Tomé and adapted by Africans.” Tchiloli inspires much of his work and provides an avenue through which to think about post-colonialism and resistance.
Angolan, b. 1973, Movart (Lisbon/Luanda)
Thó Simões trained at the National Institute of Artistic and Cultural Training (INFAC) of Angola. His artworks defy any neat or easy categorisation. He has created installations, films, paintings, performances, photographs, collages and digital art. Simões’ eclectic style is inspired and informed by urban and rural Angola. It references the visual language and aesthetic production of several Angolan ethnicities. Simões often uses archival and contemporary photographs, stencilled and layered with striking urban graffiti.