8 Unique African Artists You Probably Haven’t Heard Of

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African artists Julie Mehretu, El Anatsui and William Kentridge

Over the years, art has evolved from being exclusive to just the elite to being available to all who are interested and have the talent for it. After African arts embraced the limelight in 1989’s exhibition (The Magicians of the Earth at the Centre Pompidou), more African artists have emerged. Qonversations Culture takes you on a journey as we explore 8 exceptional ‘unknown’ artists from the African continent.

William Kentridge

South African artist William Kentridge is the best artist to open this article as he is considered the painting master on the African continent. He is famous for his charcoal drawings which represent the harsh past and present of Africa. He is also quickly remembered for the hand-drawn animated series he produced in the 90s.

Chéri Samba

Known as one of the most famous artists to emerge from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chéri Samba shuttles between Kinshasha and Paris. Born in 1956, Samba has created masterpieces like “The Draughtsman” in 1981, “Condemnation without Trial” in 1989 and “Water Problem” in 2004. His works have also been included in the collections of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Wangechi Mutu

Wangechi Mutu is a Kenyan artist born in 1972. Despite painting being her first love, she has advanced into installations, sculpture, collage and film. Her film, “The End of Carrying All” was screened at Venice Biennale in 2015. She is currently based in New York in the United States of America. Wangechi Mutu is passionate about revealing to the world violence against women through her works.

Ibrahim Mahama

Ibrahim Mahama is a young Ghanaian artist who displays his visual representations by stitching together colourful jute sacks. He was the youngest artist to be featured at the Ghana Pavilion at Venice Biennale in 2019. Ibrahim’s work in 2015 was shown in “All The World’s Futures” exhibition curated by Okwui Enwezor at the 56th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale in Italy.

Julie Mehretu

Julie Mehretu is an Ethiopian-American-born artist who is described by the New York Times as a “rare example of a contemporary Black female painter who has already entered the canon.” Her works typically display multiple layers of colours that depict the ever-changing sociopolitical space. Julie was named in Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby

As a Nigerian, Njideka Akunyili Crosby moved to the US in 1999. Njideka is largely bound by Nigerian history and culture and always thrives to infiltrate her works with them. In 2017, she was crowned the winner of the MacArthur Fellowship Genius grant. She subsequently designed a mural for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Grand Avenue, Los Angeles.

El Anatsui

El Anatsui is a Ghanaian sculptor who shot to fame after his art of transforming bottle tops into huge bright structures. Anatsui’s kind of art entailed the sewing together of aluminium bottle caps collected from bottles of recyclable alcoholic drinks. His most current work is his exhibition “Behind the Red Moon” at the Tate Britain. Viewing started on October 17, 2023, and will end on April 14, 2024.

Hassan Hajjaj

Hassan Hajjaj is a Moroccan artist and photographer. His line of art displays an array of portraits captured in the most colourful frame. A look at Hassan’s photography leaves you in a trance of imagination as you wonder whether you are experiencing a hand-drawn image or art. Hajjaj won the 2011 Sovereign Middle East and African Art Prize.

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