Article by Anton Mentrup
Africa is a huge continent with many different peoples, groups, cultures and tradition. This diversity is seen even in the artistry that it presents to the world in the old african tribal art. Modern African art has a very strong, storied and personal history. Their beautiful and coveted African masks were created to honor their ancestors, to ensure a healthy and plentiful crop, to celebrate, to mourn, to be used in initiation rituals. There work was deliberately and purposefully created to meet the spiritual needs of the tribe. They were infused with spirituality and served a functional purpose. These African masks were used primarily to communicate, seek advice and please the ancestors. The spirits and ancestors were even believed to have inhabited the African masks after special and specific rituals were performed.
African Figures and fetishes, another popular artistry of this continent, were also strongly connected with the supernatural, and were again created to commune with the supernatural world. The artists of Africa, especially beginning in the early 20th century, greatly inspired the art of the West, energizing great artists such as Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh and Modigliani. Their organized forms, spirituality, abstraction and imagination, helped to free Western artists from their restraint.
Today, the torch has been passed to a generation of African contemporary artists, artists such as Efiaimbelo, Fanizani Akuda, Frederic Bruly Bouabre Prince Twins Seven-Seven, and Reinata Sadimba. These artists have striven and continue to strive to uphold the excellence of the artistry of their forefathers. Classic African tribal art had a mystical element. African tribal art pieces which were prized, were those who had spiritual significance and those which were actually used for mystical purposes. African tribal art techniques and their significance to the tribe and to the African people, were passed from generation to generation and the function and purpose of the art was much more important then its’ aestheticism. These pieces were actually used in ceremonies, at funerals at initiations and at rites-of-passage ceremonies.
As times as changed and as African people have moved out of villages, into the cities and as dependence on the tribe is now not as strong, these classic pieces of African tribal art are still widely respected, and intertwined in some way in contemporary life of the African. However, artists and artistry of later generations has evolved. The new art is influenced by today, by the world and art is crafted just because and no longer has to serve a spiritual or mystic purpose.
Below, we will discuss 3 contemporary and outstanding African artists. These artists are introducing the world to the new Africa, its new artistry and forms. And while sometimes ignored and ridiculed for not living up to the standards of the past. They are seeking to create their own standard. Now you can find individuals and groups who will mass produce cheap African tribal masks and figurines that many people around the world still expect to come from Africa, but this is often for profit. Real African artist are serious about their craft, and their work is of the utmost craftsmanship and is inspired from someplace real.
1. Efiaimbelo: African contemporary artist Efiaimbelo (born 1925-2006, Androka, Mahafaly Land, Madagascar) created most of his outstanding art in the South West portion of Madagascar. Efiaimbelo’s work was inspired by his Mahafaly ancestory. This group of people are known for their creation of funery steles or aloalos, which are used to mark graves at the site of tombs. It is a craft which has been passed down from father to son for many generations. These funery steles (aloalos) are crafted to celebrate the memories of the deceased and also are tributes to particular eras of time. Aloalos are placed or planted around the strucuture of the tomb in a the shape of a square.
Efiamibelo has expanded the artistry of the aloalos. He was one of the first artists to paint aloalos exclusively for decorative appeal. He begin using acrylic colors and adding new and excited images to the aloalos.
Efiamibelo’s work was also later influenced by the West and he subsequently incorporated Western themes into his art work. Efiamibelo was a sophisticated African artist, who did much to champion and move forward his genre.
2. Fanizani Akuda: African contemporary artist, Fanizani Akuda (born1932-, Zambia), is one of the legends of first generation Zimbabwe sculpting. He also became a member of the world renown Tengenege -Art-Community in the 1960’s. His work commonly features “slit eyes”, people and animals interacting together, happy people and families. Akuda’s artistry has taken him all over the world, from Germany, the United States to Australia plus many more countries. His work has been exhibited in some of the finest museums in the world and he continues to be one of the most respected artists in the world and a true master at his craft.
3. Frederic Bruly Bouabre: African contemporary artist Frederic Bruly Bouabre’s (born 1923-. Zepregue, Cote d’Ivoire) life’s work became inspired from a vision he experienced in 1948. In that vision, he saw in the heavens, seven colorful suns which created a beautiful circle around their Mother sun. He that became Cheik Nadro, ‘He who does not forget.’ From that point on, Bouabre began to study and become increasingly knowledable about such subjects as poetry, arts, tradition, religion and philosophy. He became a great scholar and champion of his Bete people.
In the decade of the 1970’s, Frederic Bruly Bouabre began using ball point pen and crayons to create small, postcard-like drawings. He titled these drawings Connaissance du Monde. Bouabre continues to be inspired by science, tradition, dreams and signs. This quote by Bouabre, “Now that we are recognized as artists, our duty is to organize into a society, and in such a way to create a framework for discussion and exchange among those who acquire and those who create, From that could arise a felicitous world civilization,” expresses his feelings of responsibility he believes are attached to artists and their lives work.