Artist Jems Koko Bi carves a new meaning for wealth
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Le chant du colibri, Jems Koko Bi, 2020. Courtesy The artist & Gallery Cecile Fakhoury
Le chant du colibri, Jems Koko Bi, 2020. Courtesy The Artist & Gallery Cecile Fakhoury

Virtual studio visits have become basic staples in an art world gone all-digital, but perhaps some of the most intriguing of these studio tours are still yet to be recorded. One of them would undoubtedly be with artist Jems Koko Bi. How enthralling would it be to see him engage in his habitual pre-sculpting dialogue with wood? Asking the wood, he is about to transform where it came from, querying the life stories inscribed deep inside the layers of striations.

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“Souv-reine:” a visual investigation into what it means to be a woman today ?
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Exhibition Souv-eine, Installed view
Exhibition Souv-eine, Installed view.

Ain’t I a Woman?” The question is attributed to Sojourner Truth and is thought to have punctuated the speech she delivered in 1851 at the Women’s Convention in Ohio (USA). In the powerful speech, the civil rights activist underlined women’s ability to stand on an equal footing with men. Since then, “Ain’t I a Woman?” has become a shorthand to castigate the feminist movement for turning a blind eye to the plight of black women and a rallying cry for black women’s rights movements and feminists worldwide.

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Omar Ba paints a dense treatise of an alternative epistemology and ways of being
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Omar Ba, Superman and The Constitution I, 2021,
Omar Ba, Superman and The Constitution I, 2021, Acrylic, pencil, oil, Indian ink and Bic pen on cardboard 250 x 150 cm -98 3/7 x 59 1/16 in

In the liminal space between dreams and reality, present and future, Omar Ba paints a vision of a radically different future while formulating an acerbic critic of the present. 

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Nigerian artist Williams Chechet creates a visual space of jubilant cultural encounters
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Williams Chetchet, Mon voyage
Williams Chetchet, Mon voyage

“I love colors. […] I really like bright colors,” professes Nigerian artist Williams Chechet. It is a long-running love story dating back to his childhood before his memory of such love was even formed. “My mum,” he continued, “told me I was really attracted to bright lights.” Forty years on, his artistic practice is a testament to his unwavering love of colors, but it is also about a lot more.

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Roméo Mivekannin deconstructs the history of the visual representation of the Black body in art
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The Souls of Black Folk, Roméo Mivekannin, courtesy the artist and Gallery Cecile Fakhoury.
The Souls of Black Folk, Roméo Mivekannin, courtesy the artist and Gallery Cecile Fakhoury.

Roméo Mivekannin’s solo show « The Souls of Black Folk » is a haunting, visual, and archaeological excavation. He dwells at specific historical junctures to examine anthropological pictures, paintings such as Manet’s Olympia and Benoist’s iconic portrait of a Black woman with an exposed bosom. Although these visual materials are usually buried in archival libraries and art history books, their legacies still linger in our collective memories. Mivekannin deconstructs the history of the visual representation of the Black body in art by subverting the codes of visual imagery.

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Artist Ishola Akpo’s museum show reveals the silenced history of African Queens
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Ishola Akpo, Exhibition Agbara Women, at the Musée de la Fondation Zinsou, Courtesy the Artist
Ishola Akpo, Exhibition Agbara Women, at the Musée de la Fondation Zinsou, Courtesy the Artist

Forgotten no more. At The Musée de la Fondation Zinsou in Ouidah (Benin), artist Ishola Akpo thwarts the silences of history and revives the memory and legacy of pre-colonial African Queens, Tassi Hangbé of Dahomey (Benin), Queen Nzinga of Angola, and others.

The image is arresting. At its center and drawing all the attention is a fearless ruler with a piercing gaze, gripping a long spear. For now, the monarch, surrounded by four members of the royal guard, is seated but appears ready to leap up into combat mode at any moment.

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A resilient contemporary African art community faces the coronavirus storm
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Enam Gbewonyo, Venice Nude Me Performance, © Michal-Murawski
Enam Gbewonyo, Venice Nude Me Performance, © Michal-Murawski

Museums and galleries: shuttered! Art fairs and biennales: postponed indefinitely! Previews, artists’ talks, and performances: cancelled! The extreme measures taken to dampen the swift spread of the coronavirus pandemic have brought the art world in its present form to a screeching halt. Unwittingly, the confinement measures have also exposed the fragile financial health of numerous art and cultural organisations and precipitated the closure of others. Suddenly, a question that would have seemed unfathomable only a few months ago, becomes reasonable: if some of these long-standing institutions cannot outlive this crisis, what would become of the budding contemporary African art scene?

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The guide to 8 exhibitions that showcase works by Black contemporary artists
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Kehinde Wiley, Portrait of Dorinda Essah, 2020, The Yellow Wallpaper.
Kehinde Wiley, Portrait of Dorinda Essah, 2020, The Yellow Wallpaper exhibition at the Morris William Gallery

Before the coronavirus pandemic had ground most activities to a halt, we strolled through London for a pre-spring art crawl, looking at works by African artists, and by and large, Black contemporary artists. We also added other exciting ongoing shows and exhibitions due to open. Here is what was meant to be the March guide to 8 Contemporary African Art exhibitions in London.

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The London-based French Algerian artist Zineb Sedira set to represent France at the Venice Biennale in 2021
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London-based, French-Algerian artist Zineb Sedira
London-based, French-Algerian artist Zineb Sedira

It is a first: The London-based French Algerian artist Zineb Sedira is set to represent France at the Fifty-Ninth edition of the Venice Biennale in 2021. She will be the first artist of Algerian descent to do so.

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When a painting turns a young Congolese artist into a refugee
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Marionette, 2019 Jonathan Vatunga
Marionette, 2019 Jonathan Vatunga

The acclaimed exhibition Beaute Congo staged at the Fondation Cartier in Paris in 2015 drew international attention to the buoyant Congolese artistic scene. Ever since, older artists such as Chéri Samba and Chéri Cherin have enjoyed a renewed interest in their works, while a younger generation of artists, including the likes of JP Mika (also part of the exhibition) and Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga, has taken the Contemporary African Art scene by storm.

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