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Why we need to redefine “African art” in a modern world

African artAfrican art
African artAfrican art

Why we need to redefine “African art” in a modern world

In today’s modern world, art is not as static as it used to be. It has become a defining moment for many, especially for African artists. We need to redefine what African art is in our modern society, moving away from seeing it as simply ‘tourism art’ and something that speaks to the larger issues of the continent.


It is dynamic

African art is a dynamic and changing movement, often not sticking within the boundaries of usual contemporary art. One of the most popular terms used to describe the art that is emerging from Africa today is ‘Afrofuturism’, which is an apt description. Afrofuturism imagines Africa as being a part of the science and space industry booms in recent years.

This evolving, futuristic art highlights the dynamism of the African art revolution. It is this ever-evolving nature that draws tourists and investors in from other countries, which can help to change the way the West views both traditional and modern African art. While we should try to move away from seeing African art as ‘tourist art’, drawing more tourism into the country is a plus, it helps to build the economy and the artists build awareness.


It focuses on current issues

Many of the pieces seen in art galleries around the world focus on current socio-economic issues of African countries. Some of these include corruption, the reliance of the country on importation, gender issues and politics.

Showing these issues to the world from the perspective of an artist who lives in or is from the country throws new light on the issues. The artists often imagine their countries in a different light such as Osborne Macharia. His photography reimagines Kenya through a different lens, while still focusing on the issues in the country.  His work has been a huge draw for Kenya tourism as many art collectors enjoy his quirky take on the society and political climate.


It inspires social change

The Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town opened in September 2017, and is an art museum that focuses on showcasing African and South African art. The curator and owner of this exciting establishment saw a niche in the art market on the African continent, and decided to create a space to display the art that was being made by contemporary African artists.

This museum is part of the social change that modern African art inspires. Seeing this art in a museum will help investors to address the change that needs to happen in the continent. These investors and visitors may have a better platform to enact this positive change and can show the world what is happening in Africa from the point of view of African people. Social change can only happen if everyone is aware of the problems, which is one of the goals of the young artists today.


It contributes to the local economy

The art created by African artists is often hung in galleries across South Africa and Africa, which encourages local and international tourism. There are galleries which focus solely on African art and those that delve into a mixture of international and local pieces.

Having art exhibited in these galleries allows African art to contribute to the economy in a different manner than usual. No longer are tourists buying small road-side trinkets, they are investing in portraits and sculptures by up-and-coming artists from across the continent. This fact has redefined African art in a significant way, as not only will this art be on show in foreign countries once bought, but the message of the art will be seen across the globe.


African art imagines a better future

Contemporary African art often shows the artist’s idea of a better future, such as Osborne Macharia’s Afrofuturism and Dennis Osadebe’s Neo Africa theories. Rather than simply showing ethnic patterns and stories, this art reimagines the future of Africa as a positive experience, a phoenix rising from the ashes of the current corruption and despair.

It is this hope that allows us to redefine the viewpoint of African art, the artists embrace the problems of the continent and give the viewer a positive, better future to look forward to. It inspires the viewer to see Africa not as a land of political troubles but a land of change and vibrancy.

African art