Contemporary African art has long been a topic of contention. For a time, there was even a heated debate around the very existence of contemporary art in Africa. Nevertheless, artists hailing from the continent have continued to create despite conditions of invisibility and marginalization. Now more than ever, interest in contemporary African art is picking up and its artists are getting recognition both at home and internationally. The artists listed here, many represented by members of the African Art Gallery Association, represent a mix of trailblazing young people creating groundbreaking work and artists recently discovered by the art world.
Sungi Mlengeya (1991 Tanzania)
Sungi Mlengeya’s paintings show stark contrasts of dark figures against pristine white backgrounds; her work is characterized by this signature, minimalist black-and-white aesthetic. A self-taught painter, Mlengeya first pursued a career in banking before changing gears to focus on art full-time in 2018. She is inspired by ordinary, everyday women who freely live out their lives without inhibition.
In her paintings, Mlengeya portrays Black women and their stories, while placing a particular emphasis on how contemporary women are making their mark on history. The white space we see throughout her works symbolizes her subjects’ desire for freedom to pursue their full potential without the limitations put in place by harmful cultural and social norms.
The artist has had a meteoric rise in her career since showing her work in the “Surfaces” exhibition at Afriart Gallery in Kampala in 2019. Her work has been shown at the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair 2020, the Investec Cape Town Art Fair, and Latitudes Art Fair 2019, among others. Her work was also included in the recent Unit London group exhibition “The Medium Is the Message,” curated by Azu Nwagbogu.
Keyezua (1986, Luanda, Angola)
Visual artist and storyteller Keyezua has worked with various media including film, painting, poems, and sculpture to create striking narrative work that challenges stereotypical portrayals of Africa in the media. Now, she works with photography to tell stories of grief, loss, disability, and womanhood, including such horrors as female genital mutilation.
With a style aptly described as “Romantic Realism,” Keyezua aims to tear down preconceived notions of what it means to be African. “What makes me uncomfortable in our society is what helps me create art that deserves to exist,” the artist has said. Her series “Fortia,” responded to the experience of losing her father to diabetes. Prior to that, through “Afroeucentric Face on” (2016), she discussed beauty standards and the controversial issues around the representation of white and Black female bodies.
Keyezua has exhibited with Luanda gallery MOVART and has been featured at the Afro Vibes Festival Exhibition in Holland, the Lagos Photo Festival in Nigeria, the Addis Photo Festival in Ethiopia, and Something About Bodies in England, among others. She was also included in the 2018 exhibition “Nataal: New African Photography III” at Red Hook Labs in Brooklyn.