African Female Contemporary Artists You Should Know.

By Joburg Post

African art until recently has focused on ancient traditions and african culture, although this is still an influence to modern african this message is merely subliminally communicated in art nowadays. The role of females in african art has also always been significant, this is expressed through the decoration of mud houses, creating bead work as well as moulding cutlery. Today we see more female artist come to the forefront and express the passion and creativity embedded within the african female artist. Here are some of the artists you should know if you do not know them yet. 

Julie Mehretu

A key African artist of her generation with growing international exposure, Ethiopian-born Julie Mehretu’s large-scale paintings draw inspiration from aerial mapping and architecture. With an underlying calligraphic complexity, Mehretu’s energetic pieces represent accelerated urban growth, densely-populated city environments, and contemporary social networks. Mehretu creates each painting by adding consecutive, thin layers of acrylic paint on canvas, finalizing her work with delicate, superimposed marks and patterns using pencil, pen, ink, and streams of paint. Mehretu’s work compresses time, space, and place. From Constructivism to geometric abstractions and Futurism, Mehretu describes her paintings as “story maps of no location.”

Wangechi Mutu

Wangechi Mutu was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and spent her undergraduate career in Wales at Cooper Union, before immigrating to the United States, where she earned her MFA from Yale. Today, she lives and works in New York. From a young age Mutu was exposed to how the Western world oversimplified Kenya to be a nameless part of the larger Africa, made up of Safari and traditional ‘tribes’. She addresses this and other post-colonial issues in her work, her photomontages being most well known. They combine ink, acrylic and sometimes glitter and pearls with images cut from travel magazines, pornography, auto magazines, and advertisements to form new human figures.

The final images, such as those of Misguided Little Unforgivable Hierarchies (2005) and The Bride Who Married the Camel(2009), are bright and intense, beautiful but also unnerving. The original images have individual contexts and evoke distinct connotations. When joined by Mutu, though, they come to represent the colonial legacy of how the West perceives the African continent as ‘primitive’ as well as its hypersexual objectification of the African female body. The beauty and weirdness draws the viewer in, while the details—women composed of animal heads, cervix diagrams, motorcycles, and the exposed torsos of a playboy model—challenge and disrupt the Western imagination that exoticizes and objectifies the African culture and body.

Billie Zangewa

Billie Zangewa is a Malawian artist who works with silk to create intricate tapestries by hand. Influenced mostly by female empowerment and a sense of identity, her work is often centred on herself. Although the themes are strong and bold, the tapestries themselves are delicate and beautiful.


Lady Skolie

Lady Skollie, born Laura Windvogel in Cape Town, South Africa, is an artist now based in Johannesburg. While her paintings look playful on the surface with bright colors and uniquely posed subjects, given more time, they reveal themselves as riveting masterpieces.

Starting at a young age, Windvogel was trained in more traditional art forms—first studying at Frank Joubert Art Centre in Cape Town. In 2009, she received her BA of History and Art in Dutch Literature, and a Certificate in Business Acumen for Artists from the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business in 2014.

Aïda Muluneh

Aida Muluneh is a photographer and founder of DESTA (Developing and Educating Societies through the Arts) in Addis Ababa, a non-profit organization that focuses on photography workshops and exhibitions. Muluneh believes that Africans should document and show their own realities. She was born in Ethiopia but spent her adolescence in places such as Yemen, England, Cyprus, and Canada. Abroad she was impacted by the images of Ethiopian famine that were pervasive throughout the West. When she returned 30 years later decided to counter those narrow images. Muluneh’s images are neither melodramatic nor edited to be picturesque as one would see in National Geographic.

Instead they represent the middle ground between these two extremes, depicting events that occur in one’s daily life, such as in Bread Offering and Coffee Shop, representing both the traditional and more modern scenes that are the faces of the culture. Her photography book, Ethiopia: Past/Forward (2009) depicts a more personal journey through Ethiopia, recording Muluneh’s rediscovery of her birth nation. More recently she participated in the exhibition ‘The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory Revisited by Contemporary African Artists,’ in which her work is less candid and instead centers on a model whose body is painted white with red hands and ears and black dots painted down the center of her face – but she still considers the tension of the past (the tradition of body painting throughout Africa) lingering in the present and perhaps stagnating the future.

Culture Trip


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