6 African artists to look out for at the 58th Venice Biennale

While art from African is regarded as a burgeoning art market, African art is on the rise. This year, among the 91 national participations spread throughout the Giardini, the Arsenale and in the historic city centre of Venice, 8 represent African countries (Egypt, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Africa, Zimbawe, Ghana and Madagascar) and a further 5 include African perspectives in their exhibitions. In Ralph Rugoff’s May You Live in Interesting Times exhibition, 13 of the 79 artists selected from across the world are of African descent.

This year, Ghana will hold their debut pavilion in the Arsenale curated by Nana Oforiatta Ayim and featuring an all-star multi-generational group of artists of Ghanaian decent: Felicia Abban, John Akomfrah, El Anatsui, Lynette Yiadom Boakye, Ibrahim Mahama and Selasi Awusi Sosu. In 2013 Angola was awarded the prestigious Golden Lion for the best national pavilion for their debut exhibition, Luanda, Encyclopedic City, featuring the work of photographer Edson Chagas. Our own South African pavilion is being curated by a young female duo who’re set to bring a fresh curatorial perspective to the national presentation with a three-artist show titled The Stronger We Become.

As we count down the days to the opening of this year’s Venice Biennale on 11 May, these are the African artists we’re looking forward to seeing this year in the floating city.

#mydressmychoice, 2015, oil on Lubugo bark cloth © Michael Armitage.

Michael Armitage (Kenya)

Kenyan-born painter Michael Armitage’s complex, large-scale oil paintings evoke the lush landscapes, iconography and varied wildlife of East Africa along with its colonial-era architecture. His paintings are done on piece of Lubugo, a bark cloth made by the Baganda people of Uganda (but which the painter first came across in Kenya) that is traditionally used in burial shrouds or worn on ceremonial occasions. Applying paint in fluid swathes, the dream-like imagery of Armitage’s paintings explore the disquiet that runs through the heart of Kenyan society. Armitage lives and works between Nairobi and London. His work will be included in the May You Live In Interesting Times exhibition curated by Ralph Rugoff.

The labyrinth of passions, 2016, mixed-media © Joël Andrianomearisoa
The labyrinth of passions, 2016, mixed-media © Joël Andrianomearisoa

Joël Andrianomearisoa (Madagascar)

Joël Andrianomearisoa works crosses many disciplines, from fashion to design, video to photography, scenography to architecture, installations to visual arts.The artists says that “the only thing that matters to me is to deal with time. And what frightens me most is never to be on time, to be outdated. My way of answering this challenge is to be permanently against the current.” In his current work, Andrianomearisoa is interested in what he calls the “materiality of emotions”. Working with textiles, paper, wood, minerals, or from unexpected objects (mirrors, perfumes, stamps), he activates the latent, emotive power of the material world.  

Joël Andrianomearisoa works crosses many disciplines, from fashion to design, video to photography, scenography to architecture, installations to visual arts.The artists says that “the only thing that matters to me is to deal with time. And what frightens me most is never to be on time, to be outdated. My way of answering this challenge is to be permanently against the current.” In his current work, Andrianomearisoa is interested in what he calls the “materiality of emotions”. Working with textiles, paper, wood, minerals, or from unexpected objects (mirrors, perfumes, stamps), he activates the latent, emotive power of the material world.

From the series Noirs Lumières © Anaias Léki Dago.

Ananias Léki Dago (Ivory Coast)

Anaias Léki Dago’s black and white film photographs capture candid scenes of daily life. The subtle interplay of shadow and light and the rich texture of film grain lends Léki Dago’s images a mysterious quality, where familiar scenes are viewed from a different perspective. His work tells the story of the oversights and controversial aspirations of the new generations of Africans. “I feel most comfortable engaging with people when I have the camera with me,” Léki Dago says in an interview about his show Shabeen Blues, which was shot in townships around South Africa. Léki Dago lives and works between Paris and Abidjan. He is the founder of the first international photography festival in Abidjan, Les Rencontres du Sud. Léki Dago’s work will be included in the Ivory Coast national pavilion.

White on White, 2018, mixed media textile © Georgina Maxim

Georgina Maxim (Zimbabwe)

Working in installations and soft sculpture, Georgina Maxim explores themes of femininity, sexuality, physical and verbal violence, identity, and personal history. The stitches and thread in her work sew together multiple narratives and layers of meaning. Using found objects and worn clothes, the artist evokes the memories of these objects and the bodies, now absent, that wore them. Maxim lives and works in Harare, Zimbabwe. She is the co-founder and co-director of Village Unhu together with Misheck Masamvu and Gareth Nyandoro. Maxim’s work will be included in the Zimbabwe national pavilion.

Produce D, 2013-2016, charcoal sacks and worn smocks © Ibrahim Mahama

Ibrahim Mahama (Ghana)

Ibrahim Mahama’s work explores themes of commodity, migration, globalisation and economic exchange. The sacks and cloth that Mohama uses for his wall-hangings and large-scale draperies bears the markings and history of trade, traversing nations and cross-cutting levels of society. The rough brown cloth, resembling a skin, stitches together a map of interconnected lines of trade, migration, history and exchange. Mahama lives and works in Accra, Kumasi and Tamale. His work will be included in the Ghanaian national pavilion.

Maxaquene Swiming pool, 2013, from Interior Landscapes, pigment inkjet printing on Hahnemuhle paper © Filipe Branquinho

Filipe Branquinho (Mozambique)

Filipe Branquinho grew up during the Mozambican civil war. His photographs document public and semi-public spaces and reflect on the complex functioning of cities and their inhabitants. Many of his images are void of people – empty interior landscapes that picture a changing city, the parts forgotten and left behind. Branquinho’s work explores daily life mythologies and urban dynamics. In his practice, he explores topics such as the difference of class, culture, politics, collective memory or labour conditions. Branquinho describes his work as recording “places living in between times, hybrid and mutating spaces that seem to adapt to a new time and reality of the city.” Branquinho lives and works in Maputo. His work will feature in the Mozambique national pavilion.

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