The Work of Sudanese Artist Ibrahim el-Salahi

As an art enthusiast and fellow of the Duke of Edinburgh Fellowship, Tunde Folawiyo will certainly be aware of the work of Sudanese artist and former diplomat Ibrahim el-Salahi. Born in 1930 in Omdurman, where his father taught at a Quranic school, el-Salahi embraced the art world by decorating writing slates at his father’s school. He then went on to study in Khartoum, extending his education at the Slade School of Fine Art in London during the 1950s, before returning to Sudan in 1957. It is said that many African artists develop their artistic identities in the West, and Tunde Folawiyo will be able to recognise the mixture of Muslim iconography with western influences in el-Salahi’s work.

Although el-Salahi is recognised as one of the most significant figures in African and Arab Modernism, his initial output moved between a number of different styles. This was a direct result of his time spent in London during the 1950s, where he visited numerous galleries and museums to find inspiration and influence from renowned artists. Over time, however, el-Salahi began to develop his own artistic style.

In 1961, el-Salahi visited Nigeria, where he recognised that an artistic renaissance had begun to sweep across the continent, with traditional art being used by writers and artists to create new forms. During this time, el-Salahi also travelled extensively through his own country of Sudan, looking for inspiration and a way to define and express a new artistic voice for the nation. Taking the calligraphy of Arabic scripts, the artist created fragmentary shapes, which utilised the crescent and moon of Muslim iconography. Speaking of his past methods, el-Salahi has explained that a piece of work often starts with an image at the centre of the canvas before moving outwards, relying on artistic spirit and spontaneity as a guide.

2013 saw el-Salahi become the first African artist to be given a retrospective exhibition at the Tate Modern gallery in London. The exhibition collected over 100 works from the artist’s international career, spanning five decades of output, and helped to highlight el-Salahi’s place in the broader context of art history. Some of the more recent paintings on display during the exhibition reflect the artist’s passion for life, his spirituality and faith, and an acute recognition of his place in the world. Ibrahim el-Salahi has lived in Oxford since 1998 with his anthropologist wife Katherine.

Otobong Nkanga: Emptied Remains 2004-2005

In the final part of the Otobong Nkanga series we look at the Nigerian artist’s Emptied Remains 2004-2005 photographic series. The artist’s solo exhibition Smokescreen, well known to art collectors such as Tunde Folawiyo, was shot in Kunstverein Springhornhof, Germany. The Emptied Remains series is a photographic commentary on the changing landscape in Germany’s Lundburger Heide Region. The project focuses on the Hohe Heide, a region situated in the north of Germany in a triangle between the three cities of Bremen, Hannover and Hamburg. Nkanga examines the changing state of German agriculture in answer to the new economical situation through her series of photographs.

The Hohe Heide region is largely made up of woodland and heath, with the majority of the area being a protected nature reserve. The area is inhabited by rare bird species, such as the nightjar, the woodlark, the great grey shrike, the black grouse, the stonechat, the common quail, the black stork, the red-necked shrike, the wryneck and the European green woodpecker.

Otobong Nkanga’s landscapes describe political and social changes in the Hohe Heide region, which are hidden from the eye of the visitor behind the area’s picturesque beauty: a smokescreen to reality.

Emptied Remains was exhibited at New York’s International Center of Photography, Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum, the Brooks Museum of Arts of Memphis, USA, Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum and the Tamayo Museum, Mexico City.

Otobong Nkanga: The Dolphin Estate

Following on in our series on Nigerian artist, Otobong Nkanga, we take a look at one of her most celebrated works, the Dolphin Estate Exhibition.

In this critically acclaimed exhibition which toured The Netherlands, Brazil and Senegal, Nkanga documents the pre-fabricated housing units which sprang up in the city Lagos, Nigeria where she was living in the 1990s. These homes were regarded at the time as modern dream homes for the middle classes. The housing complexes were often given names which would not have looked out of place in the American suburbs. As time passed by, families began to outgrow their housing complexes, and facilities began to break down. Extensions and additional buildings were added onto the structures to accommodate growing families, changing the architecture of the area completely. In a series of photographs taken in 2008, Otobong Nkanga shows the decline and disrepair of an area that was once regarded as the height of opulence. Dolphin Estate today is a lost dream, its residents are living without basic amenities such as water and electricity and facing the threat of flooding whenever the rains come. Nkanga’s exhibition reflects on the labour required for everyday survival and the underlying structures of how everyday lives function.

The Dolphin Estates on Nigeria’s Lagos Island are a story of nature reclaiming land, the swish housing estates succumbing to the swampy terrain. Most of the houses on the estate are in very bad conditions with submerged ground floors and heavy cracking betraying serious structural defects. Incidences of building collapses of these structures are growing increasingly common. The chief reason for this is that the buildings were constructed largely on beach and swampland. Without structural stability, they are simply being reclaimed by the sea. The Lagos State Government recently handed out relocation letters and allowances to Dolphin Estate residents under its urban renewal scheme. The presentation was held at the Town Hall in Adeniji Adele, Lagos; acknowledging that the Phase 1 Extension area had become completely uninhabitable and a “death trap”, the Lagos State Government’s representative Tpl. B. Kehinde proposed that the area would be completely redeveloped over the course of five stages. It remains to be seen whether such action will prove a long term solution, or simply buy some more time before nature reclaims the area again.

Nigerian Artist Otobong Nkanga

Nigerian art enthusiast Tunde Folawiyo will be very familiar with the work of Otobong Nkanga. One of Nigeria’s most prominent modern artists, Nkanga’s work has been shown internationally to much critical acclaim. Born in Kano, Nigeria in 1974, Nkanga lives in Antwerp today and continues to exhibit internationally. She was educated at Amesterdam’s DasArts, the Rijksakademie van beeldende, the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux in Paris and Obafemi Awolowo University, Osun State, Nigeria.

Otobong Nkanga has also taught at the Gerriet Rietveld Academy of Amsterdam and undertaken several residencies and fellowships in France, The Netherlands and the Congo.

Her critically acclaimed exhibitions include:

  • The Western Syndrome exhibition, La Bank Gallery, Paris.
  • Pointe Noire Fragments exhibition, Centre Cultural Français at Pointe-Noire in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • No Be Today Story exhibition at Amsterdam’s Lumen Travo Gallery.
  • Classicism and Beyond at the Fotofest exhibition in Houston, Texas.
  • Smokescreen at the Kunstverein Springhornof exhibition in Neuenkirchen, Germany.
  • However Long the Night, Dawn Will Break at Amsterdam’s Lumen Travo Gallery.
  • On Fragile Ground in Antwerp, Belgium.
  • Shuffling Cards at the Galerie des Grands Bains Douches exhibition in Marseille, France.
  • 50 Days at Sea exhibition in Shanghai.
  • Don’t Panic at the Durban Art Gallery, South Africa.
  • There is Always a Cup of Sea to Sail In exhibition in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
  • Flow at the Studio Museum of Harlem, New York.
  • Snap Judgments at Tamayo Museum, Mexico, The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa and Miami Art Central in the US.

Otobong Nkanga’s photographs, drawings, sculptures and installations are largely themed on man’s reliance on natural resources, in which she examines modern living, cultural and environmental issues.

The next article in the series will look at one of Nkanga’s most well-known works, the Dolphin Estate series.

A Look at Some of the Leading West African Contemporary Artists

Following on from the previous post, exciting new developments in West African contemporary art over the past few years have resulted in many people across the globe taking a greater interest in this topic; art aficionados like Tunde Folawiyo frequently discuss it on their blogs and social media accounts. Recently, Tunde mentioned Aabru Art, a gallery which represents a number of important West African contemporary artists; its mission is to ensure that their artwork is seen by as many international collectors and curators as possible. One of the ways in which it has achieved this is through the arrangement of ‘Transcending Boundaries’, a pop-up exhibition which has been running for three years now.

The 2015 show, which was held at the Lacey Contemporary Gallery, featured works by 35 artists, including a number of oil and mixed media paintings, as well as metal and wood sculptures. Two of the most notable artists involved in this exhibition were Abiodun Olaku and Toni Okujeni. Olaku has been involved in more than 120 group and joint exhibitions, and has had three successful solo shows. His work has been displayed and purchased by many international galleries and individual collections, not only within Africa, but also in Holland, France, the UK and the US. In addition to being the 1st Vice President and a founding member of the GFA (Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria), Olaku is also a trustee of Lagos’ Universal Studios of Art. In 2011, his lifelong devotion to his craft earned him the Master of Spatial Realism Award.

Okujeni’s track record is equally impressive; after studying at the Auchi School of Art and Design in the early seventies, he accepted a position as an illustrator at the African Guardian Magazine. However, his passion for art eventually led to him leaving this job to work full-time in his studio. Like Olaku, Okujeni has had a number of both group and solo shows around the world, including some in the US, Morocco and Nigeria. His early work was heavily influenced by Vincent Van Gogh; however, over the years, he has developed his own highly unique style, which often features impastos of crowded market places, painted in rich, vibrant hues.

The international acclaim received by the likes of Olaku and Okujeni has not only benefited them as individuals, but has also helped to bring the work of many other West African contemporary artists to the forefront of the global art industry. Hopefully, with the support of galleries such as Aabru Art, this trend will continue over the coming years, and many more talented artists will emerge from this part of the world.

African Art – A Portrait of Nigerian Artist Yusuf Grillo

Recognized throughout Africa for his contemporary artworks, Yusuf Grillo has clearly made strides in the world art scene throughout his extensive career. As one of Nigeria’s most distinguished artists, his international recognition came during the 1960s and 1970s as he exhibited a collection of early works that would later become his legacy. Demonstrating his long-held commitment to education, Grillo served as the Head of Yaba College of Technology’s Department of Art and Printing for more than 25 years. An enthusiast of contemporary African art, Tunde Folawiyo is amongst the many fans of Grillo’s African-inspired works. Tunde’s website contains more information about his enjoyment for artwork and his other interests. These works continue to inspire art lovers throughout the African continent and well beyond.

Dubbed one of the founding fathers of visual contemporary art in Nigeria, Grillo experienced with a variety of techniques until he found those that best fit his artistic perspective. His mosaic and stained glass creations grace the walls of several important buildings throughout the country of Nigeria, including universities, churches, an International airport and government buildings. Grillo’s ties to Nigeria are deep-rooted. He is a member of the Zaria School, most commonly known as the Zaria Rebels. Here, he joined others to form a style of art previously obscure.

tunde folawiyo

Born in the Nigerian city of Lagos, Grillo attended the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria. Here, he earned a diploma in Fine Arts, in addition to a post-graduate diploma in the field of education. In 1966, Grillo left Zaria to begin study at the Cambridge University academic hall. Later, he traveled to the United States and Germany, where he acquired new techniques that would later play a significant role in his works.

Grillo’s training in western art can be seen in many of his paintings, which combine western techniques and Yoruba sculpture. Amongst the most distinguishable characteristics in Grillo’s artworks is his frequent use of the color blue throughout his natural settings works. Their prominence has been likened to the resist-dye textiles utilised in Nigeria.

Nigeria experienced a great revolution of visual art during the decades of the 1950s and 1960s. During this period, Nigerian art styles made a transition from ancient traditions to new concepts utilising western-style techniques. This new, exciting time in African art was dubbed “New African” and represented a mixture of modernism and tradition. Later, this concept developed into one called “Natural Synthesis” that became the philosophy by which Nigeria’s Art School was based. It was later renamed Ahmadu Bello University. The school’s students included popular artists such as Yusuf Grillo, Demas Nwoko, Jimoh Akoho and Uche Okeke, who later spread out to various schools upon graduation. They established what is now known as the Zaria Art Society.

Meticulous in his craft, Grillo has been known to take months, even years to complete a painting to his satisfaction. Whilst the subject matter of many of his creative works are based on human activity, Grillo also drew inspiration from the Yoruba world. The artist was also said to draw inspiration from famed sculptor Paul Mount, who specialised in large, wooden sculptures during the late 1950s, then moved on to abstract, bronze and cast-iron works during the 1960s and beyond. A respected art teacher, Mount accepted a position in Lagos, Nigeria in 1955, where he was in charge of establishing an art department at Yaba’s technical institute.

Inspired by various genres of art, Grillo formed a style of technique that proved to be distinctive, so much so that it was copied upon the growth of his success. The figures in his paintings are often elongated – a representation of the artist’s contemporary ideals of beauty in urban settings. As such, the figures are easily identifiable, evoking grace and elegance. With African motifs and a prominence of the color blue, Grillo’s paintings evoke his personal qualities, as he is often referred to a man of great character – a leader, a teacher, an inspiration.

A man of humble beginnings, Grillo’s contributions to contemporary art in Nigeria and Africa as a whole are recognised throughout the country, but less widespread internationally. One writer, T. A. Fasuyi, described “Grilloism” as an art style that has influenced a number of artists in Nigeria. Perhaps more notable than his various artistic talents has been his unwavering commitment to education, one that has impacted countless students during his time as an esteemed teacher.

Whilst Grillo is now retired from teaching, an artist’s work is never done. The 80-year-old continues painting, though he has had to cease sculptures due to the physical demands of such work. His art continues to inspire new generations of African artists and collectors alike. Tunde Folawiyo is amongst those with an appreciation for the creative works of Grillo. With his paintings and sculptures scattered throughout museums and other institutions throughout Africa, Grillo’s distinctive creative characteristics will live on for centuries to come.

Marlene Dumas: African Artist

Born in Cape Town in 1953, Marlene Dumas is one of South Africa’s most celebrated artists. Today, she lives in Amsterdam, exhibiting all over the world. Her collections feature prints, paintings, collages and installations. The work of Marlene Dumas concentrates on the extreme fringes of the life cycle: from birth to death, stressing both the psychological value and the physical reality of the human body. She is one of Africa’s most acclaimed artists; her work prized by collectors the world over, including Nigerian-born entrepreneur and trustee of the African Leadership Academy, Tunde Folawiyo, who helps young Africans to realise their potential, working towards a brighter tomorrow. Internationally acclaimed Marlene Dumas is one of the greatest talents in the African art world.

Marlene Dumas was born on 3rd August 1953. She was raised on the family vineyard, just beyond Cape Town’s city limits in the Kuils River region. Her native tongue is Afrikaans. She studied painting during the 1970s, at the University of Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Fine Art, where she was exposed to the decade’s preoccupation with art theory and conceptualism. This was before the age of the television, which did not become widespread within South Africa until later that decade. Most of the art Dumas saw was in reproduction. Dumas developed a particular interest in the work of Diane Arbus. She honed her attentions on photography.

It was one of Diane Arbus’s works in particular that had a profound impact on Dumas. Arbus introduced Dumas to “the burden of image” – the complexities of representing the human form.

Tunde Folawiyo

In 1975, Dumas accepted a scholarship to study at the Institute de Ateliers, a Dutch art foundation run by artists. She continues to live in Amsterdam to this day. Dumas explored the relationship between image and text in those formative years, working in collages, drawings and clipped photographs.

In 1984, Dumas began to focus on painting. Working almost exclusively from photographic sources such as snapshots, Polaroids, and even images torn from newspapers and magazines, Marlene Dumas concentrated on figures and heads. For one painting, she may adjust the colour, using her signature palette of greys, blue and red. For another, she may take an original image and crop it, honing in on a tiny figure in the background. In this way, Dumas removes subjects from their original context in her images, stripping them of all identifiable information. Dumas captures her subjects in their own moment in time, yet maintains enough distance that their dignity is quietly observed. She has composed pieces in a range of subjects: Pregnant Image, 1988-90, The Blindfolded Man 2007 and The First People I-IV (a collection of images of babies). Marlene Dumas concentrated on a famous writer for Death of the Author, 2003, and herself in Self Portrait at Noon, 2008.

During the 1980s, Dumas released a collection of paintings which she called The Eyes of the Night Creatures. These works explored recurring themes, including ethical and racial intolerance, particularly in The White Disease, 1985. In the late 1980s and early part of the 1990s, Dumas concentrated on the subject of babies and pregnancy in a series of works. From 1998 through 2000, Dumas worked with Anton Corbijn, a renowned photographer, on a project entitled Stripping Girls. This collaboration concentrated on Amsterdam’s peep shows and strip clubs. Corbijn exhibited his photographs in the show, whereas Marlene Dumas took Polaroids which she used as a base for her images.

In Dead Marilyn 2008, the historical and personal collide as with so many of Dumas’s portraits. In this work, a female body fills the expanse of a small canvass. The work is the precursor of a collection of paintings of weeping women, depicting grief and mourning. Dumas created the exhibition the year her own mother died. The basis of Dumas’s image of Marilyn Monroe was controversially an autopsy photograph. Dumas used smeared brushstrokes of white, grey and blue-green, creating the image in a small size with delicate rendering to make it a portrait of intimacy. The idea of celebrity, sensationalism and the mystery of the Monroe’s true persona came into question in the piece. In Dumas’s The Pilgrim 2006, she shifts her interests in public notoriety to an image of Bin Laden. His soft smile and peaceful eyes contrast almost irreconcilably with Western perception. By taking a subject in this way; by stripping them of public persona and historical significance, Dumas leaves the viewer trying to resolve their perception of the subject with the reality before them; balancing politics and identity with sometimes shocking, unsettling intimacy.

Dumas created Great Men for the St Petersburg’s Manifesta 10. The exhibition is a collection of 16 pencil and ink portraits depicting famous gay men such as Rudolf Nureyev, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, James Baldwin, Alan Turing, Leonard Matlovich, Tennessee Williams, Vaslav Nijinsky and Oscar Wilde. Each subject was persecuted, in one way or another, because of suspicion regarding their sexuality. Marlene Dumas commented at the time that the series was intended to contribute to a change in mentality within Russia, at a time of increasing legislation against homosexuality in the country.

Marlene Dumas is an avid educator, pointing out in interview the importance of having dialogue with fellow artists – that art is something you learn from people, from being around them. Dumas exhibits in museums the world over: from Amsterdam to Paris to New York. In 2008, Dumas’s painting The Visitor 1995 sold at auction for £3.1 million, making her the highest-fetching female artist alive at the time.

If you’re interested in African Artists, you should check William Kentridge out. He is best known for his drawings, prints and animated films.

William Kentridge: South African Artist & Animator

William Kentridge is a South African artist. He is best known for his drawings, prints and animated films. Kentridge exhibits internationally, his works being mostly expressionist in nature. Kentridge is renowned amongst collectors of African Art such as Yinka Folawiyo Power Managing Director, Tunde Folawiyo. As a member of the African Leadership Network and fellow of the Duke of Edinburgh’s World Fellowship scheme, Nigerian-born Tunde is committed to helping young Africans realise their true potential and develop their skills; enabling Africa’s leaders of tomorrow. With his work delving into issues such as social injustice; the duality of man; politics and power and morality in Africa, it is of little surprise that Kentridge’s work is popular with Tunde Folawiyo, amongst countless other African philanthropists and forward thinkers over the past four decades.

Born on 28th April 1955 in Johannesburg, South Africa, to Felicia Geffen and husband Sydney Kentridge (both lawyers), William Kentridge attended the King Edward VII School in the Houghton district. Kentridge’s parents often represented clients who had been marginalised by the apartheid system, opening the artist’s eyes to social injustice from a very early age.

Kentridge studied African Studies and Politics at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, attaining Bachelor of Arts degrees in both subjects. He went on to study at the Johannesburg Art Foundation, leaving with a Fine Arts Diploma. William Kentridge set his sights on Paris in the early 1980s, attending L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq, where he studied theatre and mime. Reflecting upon his time in Paris, Kentridge acknowledges that he originally had aspirations of becoming an actor, quipping that his acting was so poor he was reduced to the vocation of artist and eventually made peace with that. Kentridge did, however, land himself some acting and directing work between 1975 and 1991, with the Junction Avenue Theatre Company of Johannesburg. During the 1980s, Kentridge found his feet as an art director, working on several television series and films.

Throughout his on and off screen career, William Kentridge continued with his art. By the mid-1970’s, he was making drawings and prints. Kentridge created the Pit series in 1970: a collection of 20-30 monotypes. He created the Domestic Scenes (a series of 50 etchings) in 1980. The establishment of Kentridge’s artistic identity are often attributed to these two collections of prints. To this day, despite his ongoing exploration of the innumerable range of artistic media, drawing and printmaking remain Kentridge’s mainstay.

William Kentridge began working on a group of pastel and charcoal drawings in 1987, based very loosely upon the Embarkation for Cytheria by Watteau. These works are considered to be some of his most important, the most celebrated of which portrays a dystopian city landscape.

In 2012, in his Six Drawing Lessons, delivered as part of the Norton Lectures at Harvard University, Kentridge used a series of large Indian ink drawings of trees found in encyclopaedia pages. Kentridge tore up the pages, then reassembled them. The trees were all indigenous to South Africa. Each work is put together like a jigsaw puzzle, then the whole piece painted together.

Tunde Folawiyo

The artist experimented with animation from 1989 to 2003. He produced nine short films entitled 9 Drawings for Projection. The series is comprised of:

  • (1989) Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City After Paris
  • (1990) Monument
  • (1991) Mine
  • (1991) Sobriety, Obesity & Growing Old
  • (1994) Felix in Exile
  • (1996) History of the Main Complaint
  • (1998) Weighing and Wanting
  • (1999) Stereoscope
  • (2003) Tide Table
  • (2011) Other Faces

In the films, Kentridge used a succession of charcoal drawings on the same sheet of paper (conversely, in traditional animation techniques every movement is illustrated on a clean sheet). It was in this way that the films kept traces of previous drawings. William Kentridge’s films were made by a slow and laborious process of filming a drawing, making erasures and adaptations, then filming it again. Each changed version of the drawing received just one quarter of a second to two seconds on the big screen. The themes of the films dealt with political and social issues. The works were very personal; purportedly autobiographical at times, with Kentridge including self-portraits in several films.

It is a fusion of artistic mastery and the unflinching address of political/social inequalities which have seen Kentridge catapulted to the summit of the South African art world. William Kentridge works with essentially somewhat restrictive media: just charcoal and a touch of red or blue pastel. Using such a limited palette, the artist has created works of astonishing depth. A theme which runs through much of his work is the curious way in which he represents his birthplace. Kentridge does not portray South Africa as the oppressive or militant place it was for black people. Nor does he emphasise the “white-picket-fence” standard of living enjoyed by white South Africans in the apartheid era. Instead, William Kentridge presents, in the 9 Drawings for Projection series of films, two characters: Felix Teitlebaum and Soho Eckstein. The duo ultimately represent the political and emotional struggle faced by pre-democracy South Africans.

William Kentridge has exhibited in museums the world over: from the Louvre to the Volte Gallery, Mumbai; from the Metropolitan Museum, New York, to the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art. London’s Tate Gallery reflect upon Kentridge’s contribution to the art world, emphasising the importance of the 9 Drawings series of films.

Irma Stern is also known as a very artistic South African artist, why not check him out?

Irma Stern: The Grande Dame of South African Painting

Irma Stern, born to Jewish German parents in 1894, came from Schweizer-Reneke, a town in South Africa’s North West Province. Stern’s father, Samuel Stern, emigrated in 1891 with his brother, Leopold. They established a thriving cattle farm and trading store, but both brothers were enlisted in into the army during the Boer War. Whilst her father served with the Boer army, Irma and her younger brother Rudi were taken to Cape Town by their mother, Henny.

Once their father returned from battle, the family emigrated to Germany. Henceforth, the family began to travel frequently. It was this experience as a young child which greatly influenced Irma Stern’s development as both an artist and a person, a theme which continued throughout her adult life.

Stern returned with her brother and parents to South Africa intermittently during her childhood, though they spent the duration of the First World War in Germany. It was here that Stern decided that she wanted to become an artist. Her decision was supported by her parents.

In 1916, Stern met the Expressionist Max Pechstein through her studies in the Weimar and Berlin. He influenced her work, showing her huge encouragement. Pechstein arranged her first exhibition in Berlin. Stern returned to South Africa in 1920. Her work was not initially very well received in Cape Town. The conservative citizens struggled with Stern’s contemporary edge. Nevertheless Stern’s passion for her craft was indomitable, and by the 1940s she was recognised as an established artist, renowned by today’s art circles and collectors such as Tunde Folawiyo. As a Member of the African Leadership Network, he has an appreciation of all things African; particularly African art.   The Slideshare website features an overview on African philanthropist, Tunde Folawiyo and more of his interests. Irma Stern’s travels across Zanzibar, South Africa and the Congo provided her with her a wide range of subject matter for her paintings, making her extensive collections a popular choice with fans of African art the world over.

The artist spent a good deal of time in Natal and Swaziland during the 1920s, where she produced her two seminal works: The Hunt and Umgababa. Irma Stern married Dr Johannes Prinz, her former art tutor, in 1926. Prinz subsequently went on to work at the University in Cape Town as a Professor in German. The couple parted in 1934 and divorced.

Stern’s parents purchased a house for her in Rosebank, Cape Town, called “The Firs” in 1927. This property remained Stern’s home until her death in 1966, becoming the Irma Stern Museum in 1971. The Irma Stern Museum is administered by Cape Town University. It was established by the trustees of Irma Stern’s estate. Three of the house’s grand rooms, namely the studio, dining room and sitting room, retain their original furnishings and features. These rooms demonstrate Irma Stern’s unique taste and eclectic style as a collector. There is a commercial gallery upstairs which is available for hire by South African contemporary artists. An exhibition program is held annually at the property and the gardens are open for public viewings. The museum houses Stern’s seminal pieces, Umgababa and The Hunt.

Irma Stern

In 1931, Irma Stern visited Madeira. Stern visited Senegal’s Dakar in 1937 and the following year. Stern refused to either visit or exhibit in Germany whilst the country was in the grip of the Nazis from 1933-1945. Instead, Irma Stern spent her time in Africa, travelling to Zanzibar in 1939 and 1945. She visited the Congo several times. These exotic trips provided Stern with a wealth of creative energy. Stern published two illustrated journals based on her travels: Congo in 1942 and Zanzibar in 1948.

Throughout her travels, Stern wrote extensively, taking particular interest in the local people, the colours; spices and food and the Arab sailing dhows.

A painting from Irma Stern’s time in Zanzibar called Bahora Girl recently sold through Bonham’s, London. The piece achieved a sale price of £2.4 million. The work was an oil on canvass dating back to 1945, which came complete with its original Zanzibar frame. The subject was a local woman of Indian origin, by whose beauty Stern was greatly affected. A number of Stern’s pieces were sold by Bonham’s that day, achieving a collective sale price of £6 million.

Irma Stern is known as the Grande Dame of South African Painting. In recent years, African art has received a wave of attention from buyers made rich by the worldwide rise in commodity prices and booming shipping industry.

Stern is reported to have developed a fascination with Arab culture through her dealings with Cape Town’s Malaysian population. In Zanzibar, she truly immersed herself in the culture. She lived opposite a mosque, shopped in bazaars, took tea with the Sultana, and even attended an Islamic wedding. It is here that she painted the Arab Priest – the opening illustration for her publication, Zanzibar. She described the priest as the most distinguished Arab; a truly wise religious father. The painting depicts a man in crisp white robes, a white turban swathed around his skull cap. It is hailed as a glowing example of Stern’s artistic prowess; alive with expressive brushstrokes. It is said that Stern captured not only the sitter, but the spirit of Zanzibar itself. The piece was sold by Bonhams in its original frame. The Zanzibar frames beloved by Stern were crafted from local wooden doorways, with their intricate carvings. Arab Priest attained a price of over £3 million.

Check our next post out about William Kentridge, another South African artist.

Emerging African Artists: Otobong Nkanga

Tunde FolawiyoNigeria has been at the heart of a new and vibrant art scene in the past few decades. One of the most recent and most promising artists to arise from this expressive and experimental cultural movement is that of Otobong Nkanga. Working quietly away in the past few years, her work has turned many heads and has even caught the attention of the Tate Gallery which has showcased a number of her works.

Nkanga’s art crosses media boundaries, beautifully embracing the modern renaissance man approach to artistic expression. This has culminated in works depicted in sculpture, drawings, photography, performance, and even in the use of contemporary installations. This eclectic approach has kept each work alive and spontaneous, without her projects re-treading the same ground as can often be the case with artists operating through a single medium.

Embracing the environment around her, Otobong Nkanga uses her art to explore identity within the context of surroundings. Unlike some of her contemporaries, each project displays an understanding and exploration of architecture as well as the environment, resulting in works which can be displayed in a variety of settings. The different pieces of her work are often used and rearranged into new stunning installations or displays, once again returning to the theme of surroundings and their context.

Born in Kano, Nigeria, in 1974, Otobong has spent much of her recent time in Belgium. There, she has continued to explore surroundings, linking her pieces to not just the context of land, but the ecological resources attached to them. Furthermore, her recent work has ruminated on the value which cultures apply to the natural resources and land around them, illuminating the different historical approaches of peoples from all around the world. Despite being based now in Europe, her work continues to garner admirers from Africa, whether casual art fans, or more serious enthusiasts such as Tunde Folawiyo, who shares Otobong’s appreciation of environment, and who uses this appreciation to positively impact Africa’s current business climate, as discussed in this recent interview with Tunde Folawiyo.

Many of these installations have involved Nkanga using her own body and voice in an amalgamation of performance and art, incorporating a real personal touch and auteur narrative to the proceedings. Unlike some artists, however, this involvement is never allowed to overshadow the depth and meaning contained within each artistic flourish.

Otobong Nkanga continues her work from Antwerp in Belgium, with a long line of impressive displays in some the world’s most reputable and influential museum and exhibition spaces, proving once again that she is one of Nigeria’s finest contemporary artists.