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Neo African Art

Changing the African art narrative

The portrayal of African Art is generally viewed in an ethnic and tribal aesthetic that usually caters to the international audience and art collectors taste. However, the continued echo of the ‘Africa is the future’ narrative sees young Africans breaking down various connotations typically associated with the word African within different industries.

In this spectrum the term ‘African Art’ is getting a makeover. The term is now an umbrella to the creation of a variety of sub categories that identify creative movements such as Afrofuturism and Neo African Art.

Neo African art is a break away from the traditional perspective of African Art which carried the main function of fictional story telling and decorative crafts. First noted by self-proclaimed Neo African artist Dennis Osadebe, the art movement can be defined as artists addressing challenging topics and narratives within the continent through various mediums of art. Neo African art sheds light on what is happening within the continent and dares the audience to consider how things can changed, embraced and exposed.

The opening of art institutions such as Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (Zeitz MOCCAA) is necessary for Neo African artists, as the aim of the institution is to create a space for artists from the continent to disrupt stereotypes of African life and art.


Below are some of the themes explored within Neo African art.


The conversation around identity is one that has gained much attraction among the younger generation. People are openly in search of defining their sexual, ethnic, social, cultural and even spiritual identity. Through this perspective artists are able to capture, express and provoke conversations on societal perceptions in a traditional and political context.

Noted as Nigeria’s first gay memoir, Lives of Great Men by Nigerian journalist Chike Frankie Edozien unpacks his life as a homosexual man, in the mist of Nigerian political climate in the 90’s. Which lead to his immigration to the United States.

Nigerian documentary photographer Yagazie Emezi is visually investigating the reconstruction of one’s identity. Emezi’s ongoing project Relearning bodies looks at the survival and scarring of trauma victims in Liberia.

Social Matters

Artists are creating work that aims to inform the audience on the social climate within countries and regions in the continent. With the belief that change can only happen if people are aware of the challenging issues. Topics such as refugees, homelessness and other social political issues faced by fellow Africans on a daily are investigated within this art medium.

SA’s Dirty Laundry created by Nondumiso Msimanga and Jenny Nijenhuis visually depicts the high rate of sexual violence against woman in the country. In 2016, the artists hung 3 600 used underwear on a 1,2km washing line above a street in Maboneg, Johannesburg.  The visuals represent the horrific statics of an estimate 3 600 rapes which occur on a daily basis in South Africa.

Fati Abubakar shares stories of Borno state in Nigeria on her Instagram page. Borno State is one of the areas most affected by Boko Haram activities, through her Instagram page Abubakar is able to visually tell stories of people living in the area.


Modern African Narrative

Image: Industrie Africa

The South African creative hub Creative Nestlings launched a book titled What It Takes, the book sheds light on the modernization of the creative economy in the continent. What it Takes provides advice from 60+ influential young African creatives. The orgainsation explains the book as ‘an African perspective to what it really takes for ideas to become reality’.

African artists depict work that highlights the modernization of cities, society and youth culture. Ghanaian photographer Natalie Narh uses her artistic visual skills to capture the narrative of young emerging creatives through her company Latch Production.

The showcase AfrOURban aims to show work created by artists who document the architecture, culture and urban spaces of Africa. Founded by Zimbabwean architect Kholisile Dhliwayo sited that ‘it’s time to tell a full story about what it means to be urban and African… the goal of the exhibition is to get Africans on the continent and the diaspora talking about our cities’.

The continued growth of the African fashion industry has resulted in the creation of Industrie Africa. Noted as the Wikipedia of African fashion, the online search platform aims to reflect the diversity of designers across the continent. People are able to search according to country, product and clothing category.

African female artist

Neo African art not only breaks down the stigma of African art, however, it also points out the lack of representation of African female artists within the African creative sector as well as touching on issues faced by woman within the continent.

Various organisations, art exhibitions and spaces are promoting African female artists. In 2016 Benon Lutaaya founded The Project Space, a South African young female residency award. The space provides accommodation, studio space, stipends for material and travel.Lutaaya hopes to open a third residency to extend to woman in the African diaspora.

Creative projects such as Mfon promotes the representation of female African photographers. The book pays homage to 100 female photographers in the African  diaspora. While the Nubuke foundation and African Lens hosted an exhibition that celebrated leading female African photographers at a gallery in Ghana.

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