Hear the words ‘African design’ and we’re almost positive your first thought is either brightly coloured wax print patterns or wooden masks and sculptures. However you’d be very, very wrong. So wrong in fact, that those vibrantly patterned wax prints didn’t even originate in Africa, they came from Indonesia - don’t worry, we only just learned that too!
Contemporary African art is undergoing something of a revival at the moment, and it has so much more to offer than the clichés people are so quick to associate it to. People are beginning to grant African art the independence, recognition and respect that it deserves, with the likes of Sotheby’s planning to dedicate an entire department to it in 2017
Installation view of “Marlene Dumas, The Image as Burden” (2015) at the Beyeler Foundation in Basel, Switzerland
Sotheby’s are not the only institution recognising the new market for African art. Later this month the British Museum will be launching ‘South Africa: The Art of a Nation’ which will be the UK’s first major exhibition dedicated to South African art.
First up is one of the most high profile African artists, El Anatsui. Famous for his iconic bottle-top installations, El Anatsui makes sculptures out of found objects to draw links between consumption, waste and the environment. His work transforms somewhat mundane materials into complex, intricate assemblages with real visual impact. The Ghanaian’s striking sculptures can be found in numerous public and private collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; and the British Museum, London.
El Anatsui, City Plot (2010). Image: Courtesy of Jack Shainman
Next is Marlene Dumas, a South-African artist famous for her figurative paintings inspired by personal memories. With subjects spanning newborn babies, strippers, models and celebrities, at first glance Dumas’ works may appear shocking and offensive. She explores themes of race, sexuality, love and violence through intimate, psychologically charged paintings, and her connotations to real life events and current affairs make the pieces both relatable and relevant.
Installation view Rejects, 1994-ongoing, at Marlene Dumas: Image as Burden at Tate Modern, 2015
The last artist we look at is Abdoulaye Konaté. Konaté works primarily with textile installations, creating pieces that comment on political and environmental affairs. He questions how political, social and economic situations are affected by issues of power, war, globalisation and AIDS, both in Mali and beyond. Through his use of typically local materials such as woven and dyed cloths, Konaté sews large-scale compositions that question the future of humanity. His unique style merges political commentary with traditional craftsmanship.
Image: ABDOULAYE KONATÉ | SYMPHONIE EN COULEUR, Blain Southern
Of course, the African design scene still has a long way to go. We’re still grouping a whole continent under one roof, when each country possesses its own distinct and diverse styles. Nonetheless, we’re predicting it won’t be long until we’re actually referring to art in terms of individual countries as opposed to the entire nation. As well as an increase in African artworks in galleries and exhibitions, we predict the number of people purchasing African inspired pieces for their home will also rise. African design tells a story, and its eclectic nature adds depth to interiors. We are so excited to see the impact African design will make, and we hope you are too!
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