Africa’s Artistic Elite
Join The Wire – the champions of culture, as we sample some of the finest talents from all four corners of the African continent
Words: Tshiamo Seape
We start our journey in the heart of West Africa with one of Guinea’s finest exports. The country may be small, but its rich heritage has inspired the work of one of the continents finest emerging talents.
Welcome to the bright, beautiful, and often mysterious world of Swiss/Guinean photographer and art director Namsa Leuba. Namsa Leuba obtained her training in photography (degree) and art direction (masters) from École cantonale d’art de Lausanne, Switzerland, and in between studied in New York. Her international upbringing and education did not damper her fascination with the culture of her mother’s homeland, Guinea and Africa as a whole. Her work has been featured by industry giants like i-D, Vice, and New York Magazine.
Of the artists featured here, her work is perhaps the most recognisable. One merely needs an introduction before they feel wholly familiar with her artistic vocabulary. Her work plays out like a construction project more than a photographic endeavour; the human subjects in her photos are just one aspect of the image and message she is trying to convey. Enigmatic costumes and set pieces are all built into her works and come together seamlessly in ways that are still unexpected. Add to that her liberal use of colour and you see the sum of the parts is anything but understated. Namsa’s work primarily deals with “African identities through Western Imagination”. Basically, this means that Leuba’s work combines an almost anthropological interest in her subject while capturing them in western design, and fashion sensibilities.
Khoisan, NGL, and Kingdom of the Mountains: Namsa Leuba
Our Exploration of Africa’s new wave of artists takes us from Guineea to Ghana. Inspiration can take many forms, and while Namsa Leuba looks to the past artist Serge Attukwei Clottey ponders Ghana’s present with works of stunning brilliance created from discarded everyday objects.
Serge Attukwei Clottey
Born in Ghana and trained in Brazil artist Serge Attukwei Clottey’s work spans sculpture, performance, installations, and photography. Some of Serge’s most personal and well-known works deal with the passing of his mother and commentaries on the state of Ghana’s rising pollution and scarcity of water. In his exhibition entitled My Mother’s Wardrobe, Serge uses discarded Jerry cans (plastic bottles used to collect and transport water) and transforms them into vivid tapestries or “paintless paintings” as he likes to call them. Having exhibited in San Fransico an elsewhere the world is taking notice of Serge’s work.
My Mother’s Wardrobe: Serge Clottey
Like Namsa before her, our next artist deals with the Western influence on indigenous cultures and identities. South Sudan’s Atong Atem takes the experience of an expat and makes it more personal; her work tells the story of individual experiences rather than a demonstration of aesthetic execution.
South Sudan’s Atong Atem is a Melbourne based artist whose works of striking brilliance are worthy of praise the world over. By her own admission, she is an agent of decolonisation within her self and for others. Atong is primarily a photographer, but capturing the image is only the first part of the journey she takes us on when she creates the beautiful works that are as distinct as they are powerful. Her pictures are powerful not only because of the images they convey, but the story behind the artist who created them. Atong, who was born to Kenyan parents in South Sudan, spent part of her childhood in a refugee camp. From there she moved with her family to Australia, where she lives today.
Her work focuses a great deal on colonialism and its effect on indigenous peoples who are now immigrants across the world. In her previous work, entitled Third Culture Kids (The term describes children raised in a culture other than their parents), Atong focused on the growing communities of immigrant youth who have come of age in cultures, not of their own. The isolation, confusion, and overall struggle experienced by these “outsiders” are fertile ground for artistic exploration. While the origins of the diaspora are numbered and varied, strong parallels can be drawn between the experiences of Third Culture Kids when they call a new country, on a new continent, home.
Third Culture Kids: Atong Atem
Our last artist is Lakin Ogunbanwo. Recognised by the British Journal of Photography as one of the Top 25 Photographers of 2015 in their annual Ones to Watch, Lakin is certainly living up to expectations.
Nigerian born and based photographer Lakin Ogunbanwo uses striking compositions and bold colours in his portrait photography. Lakin had been a hobby photographer for many years before he graduated to ranks of the acclaimed professional. He admits to ” innocently shooting my sisters and their friends” as a young boy. After studying law he realised that was not his path and decided to turn his hobby into a true calling. The overt sensuality of his work makes for a very intimate viewing experience, as his models are posed an captured in ways that make the most out of the human form. His use of light and shadow further serves to accentuate certain contours of the figures in his work to the effect that some features are highlighted while others are left in mystery – the whole thing is quite involved, and clearly the result of consistent work and dedication. For all his groundbreaking work, Lakin has been duly recognised locally and abroad. As a solo artist, Lakin has made friends across the continent and has headlined solo exhibitions in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The most famous of which, being Are We Good Enough: A portrait series featuring men in tradition headwear, that explores ideas of tradition, power, and masculinity. His work has also been featured in a number of group exhibitions from New York to Brazil.
Are We Good Enough: Lakin Ogunbanwo
Beauty, craft, and boundless imagination. Africa continues to prove itself to the world as a shining light worthy of praise. With so much to offer. In the next part in this series, we explore even more of what makes Africa the final frontier of artistic excellence.