Category Archives: African Art

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.


The work of Nigerian artist Nnenna Okore

Nnenna Okore is an artist from Nigeria, who is currently based in the US. Born in 1975, Okore took an interest in art from a young age, and after finishing secondary school, chose to study this subject at the University of Nigeria. Although she is now famed for her sculptural pieces, Okore focused on painting while studying at this institute, and only began to explore three-dimensional surfaces during her postgraduate years. After completing her Bachelor’s degree in 1999, she went on to study at the University of Iowa, and it was here that she earned both her MA and MFA.

As an art lover, Tunde Folawiyo may be aware that Okore is known for favouring discarded materials; items such as newspapers, magazines and fabric feature heavily in her work. She uses a tunde folawiyovariety of methods to re-shape and assemble these items, including sewing, waxing, weaving, tearing and fraying, aiming to create forms which mimic the intricate designs often found in nature; the finished pieces are often made up of an array of textures and patterns. The use of found objects serves as a nod to the wastefulness and excessive consumerism which plagues society, while the organic quality of the materials symbolises aging, death and decay.

Okore’s work has been exhibited in several places in London, including the October Gallery, and the headquarters of Channel 4. In addition to this, her pieces have also been displayed in New York, at the Museum of Arts and Design, and at the Goethe Institute in Nigeria. The latter is a venue that most Nigerians, including Tunde Folawiyo, are probably familiar with.

Some of her most successful solo shows include Textile, which was hosted by the Blachere Foundation Art Centre, Reflection, which was held at the Contemporary African Art Gallery, and Affrika West, an exhibition hosted in the UK at the Oriel Mostyn Gallery. Okore has also participated in several group shows, which have been hosted at the Tang Museum and the Middlebury College Museum of Art.

In 2012, she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, which enabled her to spend a year working on her art in her homeland of Nigeria. She has also been featured in a number of well-known art publications, including an issue of the famous Sculpture Magazine. Currently, Okore works at North Park University as an Assistant Professor of Art.

Famed African Artists: Irma Stern

Internationally recognised for her creative works, Irma Stern remains amongst Africa’s most revered painters. Her long career witnessed many successes, including a variety of solo exhibitions met with critical acclaim. tunde folawiyoYears after her passing, her paintings are amongst the most sought-after on the art market today. Tunde Folawiyo and other collectors of African art may regard her works as some of the most significant in the history of the genre.

Born in the small town of Schweitzer-Renecke, Stern was born to a German-Jewish mother and father. She and her brother Rudi, travelled to Cape Town with their mother after their father was held back due to South Africa’s war. After the end of the war, they returned, but this constant travel would later prove a great influence on Stern’s creative works.

Stern began studying art at Germany’s Weimar Academy during 1913, then picked up instruction from a variety of resources including that of Max Pechstein during 1917. Stern was widely associated with other German Expressionist artists of the period. Her first art exhibition was held in Berlin during 1919. A year later, she returned to the city of Cape Town with family, the very place she was initially dismissed for her artistry before her fame began to spread during the late 1930s.

Stern’s career saw her travel throughout much of Europe and South Africa, including Zanzibar and other regions such as the Congo. Her paintings were highly influenced by this adventurous travel, providing her quite the collection of personal artifacts. Whilst she refused to travel to Germany during the war, she spent much time travelling extensively through Africa. Two of her illustrated journals were published during this time with Congo in 1943 and Zanzibar during 1948.

Nearly one hundred moving solo exhibitions highlight Stern’s outstanding artistic career, with many held in Africa and other parts of Europe including France, Italy, Germany and England. Whilst her work was met with negative reviews during early exhibitions of the 1920s, she changed public opinion to become one of those most talented painters of her generation. A museum in her name was established during 1971, occupying the home she resided in for nearly four decades. Since her passing, her works have sold for millions at auction, breaking records throughout South Africa. Tunde Folawiyo and others with an appreciation for African art may continue to be inspired by the famed works of Irma Stern. Information about Tunde Folawiyo interest in art and other subjects may be found on his Twitter page.

The career of the sculptor Felix Idubor

tunde folawiyoAnyone with an interest in African art, like Tunde Folawiyo, will be familiar with the work of Felix Idubor, an artist from Benin who is widely considered to be one of the pioneers of contemporary Nigerian art. He was renowned for his ability to remain faithful to traditional creative processes and themes, whilst simultaneously expressing his own unique artistic ideas. Idubor’s elaborate door carvings were particularly popular; he was commissioned to create works for the doors of many prestigious buildings, including the House of Parliament in Lagos, and the Palace of the Oba.

Born in 1928, Idubor began to making wood carvings at an early age. Using wood cut from Iroko trees, he created a series of ornate wooden bird sculptures. Despite the fact that he had no qualifications at this stage, his artistic talents led to him being appointed, at the age of 17, as a tutor at Benin’s Edo College.

Although his lack of education had not hindered his ability to teach or make art, Idubor was eager to obtain formal training, and so in 1945, he moved to the city of Lagos, where he earned a small income from selling his wood carvings, and spent his evenings attending lectures. After he had acquired sufficient funds, he then went on to enrol at the Royal College of Art in London.

In 1953, Idubor had his first major exhibition; hosted by the Nigerian Exhibition Centre, this event provided him with a far greater level of exposure than he had ever had previously, and several of his pieces ended up being purchased by American collectors. Three years later, he was appointed as a sculptor teacher at the Yaba College of Technology. However, one year after accepting this role, he was named as the winner of the UNESCO travelling fellowship, and so left his post at the college in order to travel around Europe.

In 1958, he established the Idubor Arts Gallery. It was initially located in Lagos; however, in 1970, it was relocated to its current site in Benin. It is now run by Ayo Idubor, Felix’s son. Inside, one can find a vast array of artwork on display, including wall murals, ornate metal railings and gates, ceramics, raffia works, as well as carvings and sculptures made from bronze, wood and stone.

Folawiyo is fascinated by the work of African artists like Idubor. Information regarding Tunde Folawiyo interest in art is available online.

African Artists: Marlene Dumas

South African artist Marlene Dumas is widely regarded amongst the African continent’s most beloved painters. Whilst her works have formed from various media throughout her career, Dumas is perhaps best known for her use of human figures to portray her point tunde folawiyoof view on contemporary issues such as race and sexuality. Her works of art have been displayed around the globe, inspiring millions of fans of art enthusiasts with her moving creations. Tunde Folawiyo and other collectors of African art may regard the works of Marlene Dumas to be amongst the most significant of the era.

Born in 1953 in the South African city of Cape Town, Marlene Dumas studied painting at Michaelis School of Fine Art in the early part of the 1970s. During this decade, the artist found herself fascinated by the photos of famed photographer Diana Arbus, who proved to be a great inspiration in Dumas’s representations of the human form. The late 1970s saw Dumas travel to Amsterdam to attend the distinguished institute de Ateliers. It was during these years that Dumas formed her own unique art style, combining media such as photographs, drawings and texts to create her works. In the years following, the artist began portraying figures and heads using photographs from the archives of a variety of personal snapshots, many torn from newspapers and magazines.

The artist’s first show of entirely paintings was comprised of nine portraits and took place at a gallery in Amsterdam during 1985. A decade later, she was chosen to represent the Netherlands at Venice’s 46th Biennale. Her first solo exhibition premiered at New Museum during 2002. During June of 2008, Dumas’s career received a significant boost in fanfare with a major exhibition at Los Angeles’s foremost contemporary art museum. The retrospective, “Measuring Your Own Grave” was widely received, later moving to New York’s Museum of Modern Art. That same year, galleries in Cape Town and Johannesburg showcased her solo exhibitions, marking a first for her homeland. Tate Modern museum, Beyeler Foundation and Stedelijk Museum are currently organising a retrospective of Dumas’s works, set to premiere in Amsterdam during September of 2014. Tunde Folawiyo and others with an appreciation for African art regard the works of Dumas as groundbreaking. Her paintings will continue to delight revelers in galleries and museums all over the globe for centuries to come.

Chike Aniakor – Nigeria’s most innovative artist

Chike Aniakor is a famous Nigerian painter, whom most art lovers, including Tunde Folawiyo, are probably familiar with. Born in tunde folawiyoAbatete in 1939, Aniakor was raised in a rural community. He was a precocious child whose artistic talents became apparent after he drew an exceptionally life-like picture of his primary school teacher. He also showed himself to be gifted at essay writing. In an interview, Aniakor said that he believed his creative inclinations came from his mother’s side of the family, as she herself was an excellent singer, and her father was able to play the oja (a traditional Igbo flute) extraordinarily well.

Aniakor received his BA from the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology in 1964. Towards the end of his time at this institute, he began to move away from the use of conventional tones when painting human figures; this would mark the end of his interest in photo realistic art.

After finishing his course, he moved to the USA, in order to attend Indiana University. It was here that he completed both his master’s degree, and his doctorate degree in art history. For the latter, he chose to base his dissertation on Igbo architecture. With the help of a fellow scholar, Herbert Cole, he later went on to write a book on this subject, which he entitled ‘Igbo Arts: Community and Cosmos’.

Whilst his own artwork takes up much of his time, Aniakor has been a teacher of art history and fine art at the University of Nigeria for several decades now. In addition to this, he has been named as a fellow of Howard University, and of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As an art fanatic, Tunde Folawiyo might know that during his time at Indiana University, Aniakor took a dislike to traditional European art forms, and instead developed a passion for re-inventing the ancient Igbo painting style, known as ‘uli’. In ancient times, uli was only used when painting the walls of houses and shrines, and human skin. This style consisted primarily of geometric shapes and patterns, but would sometimes include the use of images of celestial figures and mystic animals. Aniakor introduced these characteristic geometric shapes of this style into his own paintings, combining them with the rest of his chosen imagery.

Aniakor has continued to favour uli over the years, and as a result of this, many of his pieces – especially those in watercolour and ink – are linear in nature. He is also known for his elongation of the human body in his work, and his intelligent use of negative space.

Folawiyo enjoys collecting the work of many African artists. Those who would like to discover more about his interests should visit the Facebook page of Tunde Folawiyo.

Ben Enwonwu: His Art and Legacy

Nigeria has a long history of influential and important artists. Ben Enwonwu is regarded as one of these, and has continued to inspire both art fans and contemporary artists with his sculptures and paintings long after his death. It is testament to the importance of his work that his name is still mentioned as one of, if not the, most highly regarded Nigerian artist in his field.

Originating as a member of the Igbo people in South East Nigeria, Ben Enwonwu moved to England in the 1930s where he studied at Goldsmith College in London, before moving on to Ruskin College in Oxford. Following on from this he graduated from the Slade School of Fine Arts before moving to the USA where he completed a postgraduate course in Ethnography and Anthropology at Louisiana State University. In his time at the Slade School of Fine Arts in Oxford, the Queen sat for him as he produced a famous sculpture which is now displayed at the entrance of the Parliament in Lagos, testament to his skills.

Tunde FolawiyoWith such a rich background in both African and European cultures, Enwonwu took the controversial approach of melding both styles. He was highly vocal about the dangers of limiting artists from Africa by expecting them only to work within the traditions of their own cultural artistic heritage. He believed that there was an inequality in the treatment of artists from Africa in that they were encouraged to stay within one style, while artists from other parts of the world were not expected to limit themselves in this way. He therefore promoted the idea of expansive art where different styles could be amalgamated to produce new forms.

After teaching at several colleges and Universities, he continued to focus on the development of his own art works, and the continued fusing of African and European techniques. This can be seen clearly in his most famous work, Anyanwu, which means “Eye of the Sun”. This sculpture is displayed on the exterior of the National Museum in Lagos, and beautifully combines African traditional sculptures with a contemporary European aesthetic of the time. Enwonwu himself states that the sculpture represents the rising of Nigeria as a modern state, born from the fruit of its traditional past.

Art lovers from around the world, including Tunde Folawiyo, continue to be mesmerized by Enwonwu’s work and the impact it has had on Nigerian culture. For more information on Nigerian culture and Africa in general, visit Tunde Folawiyo’s YouTube page.