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Exploring the Themes and Styles of African Artists at Frieze New York 2023 and Photo London

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Africa has been making a mark in the global art scene, with artists using their work to explore a wide range of themes, styles, and mediums. The recent Frieze New York 2023 and Photo London art fairs featured several African artists, including those represented by the Goodman Gallery and 1-54 New York. Through their works, these artists expressed a variety of ideas and emotions, reflecting the complex and diverse nature of contemporary African art.

One theme that emerged prominently in the works of African artists at these events was identity. Artists such as Kudzanai Chiurai, Candice Breitz, and Mikhael Subotzky, represented by the Goodman Gallery, explored issues of race, gender, and nationality. Chiurai’s work, in particular, challenges traditional notions of African identity by blending elements of African culture with those of Western pop culture. Breitz, on the other hand, uses video installations to examine the ways in which mass media shapes our identities, while Subotzky’s photography focuses on the social and political landscapes of post-apartheid South Africa.

Kudzanai ChiuraiWe Live in Silence XVIII, 2017. Pigment ink on fibre paper
193.5 × 150 cm. Image courtesy of Artsy

Another theme that surfaced in the works of African artists at these events was memory and history. Artists such as William Kentridge and Santu Mofokeng, also represented by the Goodman Gallery, use their works to reflect on the legacies of colonialism and apartheid in Africa. Kentridge’s animated films, for example, draw on his personal experiences growing up in apartheid-era South Africa and explore the ways in which history shapes our understanding of the present. Mofokeng’s photographs document the lives and struggles of ordinary South Africans, highlighting the importance of collective memory and resistance in the face of oppression.

In terms of style and medium, African artists at these events exhibited a wide range of approaches. Some, such as Baudouin Mouanda and Ezz Monem, used digital media to create visually stunning and conceptually rich works. Mouanda’s photographic collages, for example, explore the intersections of gender, race, and culture in contemporary Africa, while Monem’s videos use computer-generated imagery to critique the impact of technology on human relationships. Others, such as Samuel Fosso and Lindokuhle Sobekwa, employed more traditional mediums like photography to express their ideas. Fosso’s self-portraits, in particular, challenge dominant narratives about African identity by playing with stereotypes and subverting expectations, while Sobekwa’s documentary-style photography captures the daily lives and struggles of people living in townships in South Africa.

Lindokuhle Sobekwa, Makhulu in the field, 2018. Inkjet print on Baryta
50.8 × 61 cm.Image courtesy of Artsy.

Overall, the works of African artists at Frieze New York 2023 and Photo London art fair offer a diverse and nuanced portrait of contemporary Africa. Through their exploration of themes such as identity, memory, and history, these artists challenge traditional notions of African art and offer new perspectives on what it means to be African in the 21st century. Whether through digital media, photography, or other mediums, African artists are using their creativity to confront the challenges and complexities of our times and to shape the global conversation on art and culture.

Author

Rose Mwikali Musyoki is a creative writer from Nairobi, Kenya. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Business and Finance from the University of Embu, Kenya, and is the founder of Bloom Inc, an art startup in Kenya. Currently, she works as a writer for Art News Africa.

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