25 May North of the border: In celebration of Africa Day
In celebration of Africa Day, we’ve selected some highlights of exceptional creativity from the rest of the continent. This was by no means an easy task, and this list is anything other than comprehensive. Africa is a vast, nuanced and constantly changing space. To try and sum up ‘Africa’ in any sense is a failure of both understanding and imagination. So what follows is simply a compilation of some of the people and projects from beyond our northern border that inspire us, are thought provoking, and add to the ever evolving milieu of African creativity.
— Fabrice Monteiro | Dakar, Senegal
An industrial engineer by training, Fabrice’s interest in people lead him into photography. His work straddles the divide between photojournalism and fashion photography and draws off his transcultural heritage of Belgian-Beninese decent. His work aims to counter cultural biases and provide an alternate view of a given theme or subject matter.
— Mehdi Sefrioui | Tangier, Morocco
Mehdi is a fashion and art photographer now based in Paris. He started taking photos on the street, and quickly became wept up in the drama and expression of fashion. Despite making Europe his home, Mehdi’s work retains much of his Moroccan influence, with bold colours and stark contrasts.
— Patrick Willocq | Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
A self-taught photographer, Patrick has been documenting life on the margins for many years. His series I am Wale Respect Me portrays the rite of passage and a tribute to motherhood, fertility and femininity of the Ekondas pygmies in Congo. His photographs are typically vibrant and meticulously composed, and have been shown all over the world.
— Awale | Abidjan/Paris
Awale is new fashion label that seeks to embody the essence of both African and European, merging tradition and modernity through contemporary silhouettes worn by citizens of the world. Traditional textiles are combined with neutral and timeless cuts, adaptable to various contexts. Awale is ethically produced with local crafters in Côte d’Ivoire.
— Joana Choumali | Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire
Joana’s beautifully rendered photographs are perhaps due in part to her background in art direction. An advocator of woman’s rights, Joana seeks to present quiet portraits of equality and strength rather than loud statements. Her Hââbré series meditates on the complexity of African identity in a contemporary Africa torn between its past and its future.
— Portia Zvavahera | Juru, Zimbabwe
Portia’s paintings are deeply symbolic and feature expressive mark-making, colours and textile-like patterns which derive from indigenous African religions and personal dreams. Her imagery is deeply rooted in religious narratives, and she is interested in the ways that contemporary Pentecostal, charismatic and Afro-Apostolic sects in Zimbabwe weave together Christian and African elements to create new theatres of meaning.
— Edson Chagas | Luanda, Angola
Edson’s work explores the relationship between the mundane and historical context. His carefully constructed series of images comment on different aspects of the changes brought on by mass globalisation, capitalism and cultural imperialism.
— Loza Maléombho | Cote d’Ivoire
Growing up between three different continents, Loza attributes her eclectic aesthetic to her inherent multi-culturalism. her self-titled fashion brand is best described as a fusion between traditional cultures/ sub-cultures and contemporary fashion. In her #AlientEdits series of selfies, Loza turns herself into a work of art. The series was initially developed as an uplifting response to the alienation, discrimination and misrepresentation black and brown people frequently experience at the hands of oppressive institutions.
— Abu Bakarr Mansaray | Tongo, Sierra Leone
After quitting school in his teens, Abu Bakarr taught himself practical physics and engineering from textbooks and devoted his time to the manufacturing of decorative objects or toys from scrap wire and metal. These two factors greatly influence his work, as the self-proclaimed ‘professor’ explains that he is “an artist making creations without limitation”. Abu Bakarr’s drawings can be read as both optimistic blueprints for fantastical futuristic machines, and as witness to the devastating machines of war that ravaged his country of birth.
— Filipe Branquinho | Maputo, Mozambique
Interior Landscapes is a project on the present of the past. Each image explores the patina of time on the spaces and forms, environments and materials, the colour and the light and the urbanity of the place. The photographer does not explore these issues with any romantic nostalgia or sentimentality but with the perspective and the eye of the reporter. The absence of human presence adds, in each image, the intensity of a dramatic presence, deaf and ambiguous, which is revealed in the illustration and use of the site, as seen by its owner, user or occupant.
— Wycliffe Mundopa | Harare, Zimbabwe
For Wycliffe, art is inextricably linked to activism. His work responds to the hardships of everyday life for Harare’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens, the women and children.With bold, brash colours and loose brushstrokes, he interweaves Shona urban mythology and personal iconography into chaotic tableaus of figures. Read our interview with Wycliffe here.
— Michael Soi | Nairobi, Kenya
Michael’s work provides bold social commentary inspired by the city of Nairobi. He frequently tackles socially taboo subject matter, like prostitution, corruption, and most recently China’s neo-colonisation of the continent.
— Selly Raby Kane | Dakar, Senegal
Dakar City of Birds is the F/W 15 collection from Afro-pop fashion-forward designer, Selly Raby Kane. The collection is inspired by bird and aquatic life, and incorporates fabrics like wool, plastic and quilted traditional wax prints and Senegalese ‘bayefall’ style patchwork. The collection is playful and experimental, like all of Selly’s work.
— Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou | Porto-Novo, Republic of Benin
The son of Joseph Moise Agbodjélou, arguably one of Benin’s best know photographers, Leonce took over his father’s portrait studio in Port-Novo to follow in a long line of West African studio portrait tradition. His work features clients, family members, and friends, and merges the divide between traditional studio portraiture and conceptual photography. Leonce has created a signature style that juxtaposes clashing pattern-cum-camouflage backgrounds with unadorned subjects, or vice versa. Leonce is also the founder and director of the first photography school in Benin, and serves as president of the Photographer’s Association of Porto-Novo.
— Omar Victor Diop | Dakar, Senegal
Drawing inspiration from West African visual heritage (like Leonce) and combining this with international perspectives and experiences, Omar’s work aims to capture the diversity of contemporary African societies and lifestyles. Using himself as subject in his series Project Diaspora, Omar inserts himself into the baroque portraits of historically overlooked Afro-European notables to explore notions of alienness and otherness.
— Namsa Leuba | Guinea/Switzerland
Namsa’s research focuses on African identity through Western eyes. With a masters degree in art direction, her images are meticulously constructed pop ethnographic fashion editorials, often with an element of the absurd. Where in the past her visual language was ripe with exotic reference, kitsch cues, and a pervasive sense of humour, in her three recent series exploring Zulu, Khoisan and Basotho cultures respectively, this gives way to a far more subtle visual treatment.
— LaurenceAirline | Abidjan/Paris
This menswear label “brings together a path between cultures drawing contemporary timeless basic silhouettes with deep African roots”. Valuing bold aesthetics and sustainable development standards, the label is produced in Ivory Coast and merges African creativity with established European design sensibilities.
— Lakin Ogunbanwo | Lagos, Nigeria
Working at the confluence of fashion photography and classical portraiture, young Nigerian photographer Lakin creates enigmatic portraits with an erotic and subversive undertone. His subjects exist defiantly in the frame often masked by shadow, drapery and foliage. His use of vibrant flat colour and bold compositions form a more minimalist homage to the African studio photography popular in the 1960s and 70s. Read our article about him.