How photography has impacted traditional African art

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How photography has impacted traditional African art

Traditional African art has often been seen as only painting and sculpture, but this has changed drastically over the years, While these art forms are still used, photography has become one of the major art forms used by young, up-and-coming African artists.

Photography has impacted traditional African art by allowing artists to capture and alter reality into images that show their view on their country and the issues that they are passionate about. Below are just some of the ways that photography has impacted traditional African art.


Photography allows the viewer to determine how they see the work

Traditional African art might not carry as much of a message as its contemporary counterpart, especially now with the introduction of digital technology, such as art editing software and photography.

Many African photographers aim to show the viewer that they are implicit in exotising the ‘Other’, such as can be seen in the art of Hassan Hajjaj and his ‘Kesh Angels’ series. These photographs show young Moroccan women in ways that subvert the traditional Western views of this country, but also allow the viewer to see the women through their own eyes and to make their own deductions about the subject matter.


It has made African art more accessible

When photography was introduced to the world, famous painter Paul Delaroche is claimed to have said that, ‘from today, painting is dead’ but this was greatly exaggerated. Even then, in 1839, photography democratised art by making it more portable, accessible and cheaper.

This is still true today, as African art is no longer something that is inaccessible to outside collectors. As soon as an artist takes a photograph, they are able to upload this to their website and sell prints of their work to as many people as they like. This has transformed the African art market, allowing young artists to garner an international audience with the simple click of a few buttons on a camera and computer.


Photography can be used as a language

According to Rwandan artist Chris Schwagga, photography is a ‘language’ for him as an artist. It allows him to express what he is feeling, as well as address some of the more serious issues that his hometown of Kigali is facing.

Young African artists use photography to ask questions or analyse situations, and there is the commercial aspect which allows photographers to easily sell their work online. In Schwagga’s pieces, he creates contrast by dressing models in business attire while wearing traditional masks, in order for viewers to see more than just a stranger’s face but the message he is giving: that African people have embraced both their traditional views and Western ideals.


It allows for unique storytelling

The photography of Fabrice Monteiro shows a dystopian future, one which gives the audience an idea of what the world will be like if we continue to litter and dump rubbish in the way that we currently do.

His photographs show imagined ‘spirits’ who have risen to teach humans a lesson, which can be seen in his series entitled The Prophecy. His photographs are dystopian, but the scenery and nature are real, and he believes that the ‘dystopian’ future is now with regard to environmental waste and our need to change. The world may not be aware of the environmental crisis in Senegal, but photography allows for these unique stories to be told on a platform that is accessible to everyone, worldwide.


It can be used to teach future generations about the past

Photographs can easily be kept to show other generations, whereas traditional African art such as sculptures or paintings may break or age badly over time. Because of this, photographs can be used to teach future generations about the past and how they reached where they are today.

Photographers such as Osborne Macharia intertwine the past, present and future to show the world how African artists view their country. And these photographs can be used for the youth to show them how their country has changed and evolved into what it is now. The younger generations will also be exposed to the issues their country is facing and has faced, if they are unaware of them or uninterested in politics and other issues.


Modern technology does not eliminate traditions

While photography is a great tool for bringing African art to the world. African artists have not abandoned their traditions and aesthetics. Rather, they embrace them and use them as part of their visual narratives, using photography to make their art more available to the world at large. Using photography also helps to subvert Western views by showing that African art is more than just beads and masks, but an art form that embraces modernity and transforms it into something unique.

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