Central Africa

Artists Exploring the Subject of Identity in Their Works

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In questioning the issues that shape their societal and personal identities, artists often explore their feelings of who they are. As a person expressing through different outlets relating to issues of social, cultural, economic and political identity. They challenge stereotypes and conventions while reviewing the ideas of gender, sexuality, race, nationality and heritage. 

In the history of art, there are many examples of artists who have created works of art to explore their own identities and experiences and to reflect on the social conditions in which they live. 

Sophia Oshodin

Image courtesy of The Other Artfair

London-based Nigerian artist Sophia Oshodin is a figurative storyteller and painter. Her practice is inspired by African art, culture, and history. Imbued with her colourful stories of the everyday lives of people, particularly childhood memories – not limited to hers alone -, her work focuses on the representation and empowerment of women. 

She addresses the dynamics of identity construction by using imaginary figures to represent her understanding and memories of her community. 

In Memory of Possibilities, 121.9 x 91.4 cm, acrylic on canvas.

Image courtesy of the artist

Untitled III (For All That We Have), acrylic on canvas, 100 x 100 cm. Image courtesy of Homer Gallery 

Represented by Homer Gallery.

Follow the artist here.

Mary Sibande

Image courtesy of Stir World. 

When South African artist Mary Sibande first introduced Sophie, one of her main characters and alter ego, she elevated the contemporary art scene with her brilliant exploration of storytelling, photography, and sculpture as mediums, as well as her use of textile, space, and colour as tools in her practice. 

The Manifestation, 2022, Oil on Bronze, 64 × 28 × 20 cm, Edition of 2
Image courtesy of Artsy

Sophie is a domestic worker who comes from a long line of domestic workers. Sibande’s creation of different and continuous stories with Sophia at the centre explores issues of identity through the lens of black women in South Africa. Sophie emerged out of apartheid in the blue uniform, and she has entered the other phases of purple. Now, Sophie’s uniforms are red.

A terrible beauty is born, 2013, Installation View
Image courtesy of the artist’s Instagram

Sophie’s various sculptural forms represent visual conduits for the dreams and desires of black women in South Africa; through the increasing extravagance of Sophie’s costumes, Sibande criticizes stereotypical depictions of black women in South Africa.  

Follow the artist here.

Toyin Ojih Odutola 

Image courtesy of Elephant

Toyin Ojih Odutola is a Nigerian-American contemporary visual artist known for her vivid multimedia drawings and works on paper. Through her complex mark-making style and lavish compositions of black skin, she examines the multiplicities of identity and challenges the conventions of storytelling and portraiture. 

Representatives of State, 2016-2017, Pastel, charcoal and pencil on paper, 191.8 × 127 cm
Image courtesy of Whitney Museum

On paper and panels, Ojih Odutola builds dense topographies that reflect the complex textures of the characters’ personalities by layering pencil, pen, charcoal, graphite, and pastel. 

Storytelling is integral to her process. She uses narrative series, like her fictional aristocratic family sagas, to visualize and develop a feeling of character, environment, and an alternative universe. 

What Her Daughter Sees (2018)
Image courtesy of Elephant

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Author

Iyanuoluwa Adenle is a graduate of Linguistics and African Languages from Obafemi Awolowo University. She is a creative writer and art enthusiast with publications in several journals. She is a writer at Art News Africa.

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