Contemporary photography in Africa appears to be thriving, bolstered by the emergence of new arts initiatives, prizes and platforms showcasing the continent’s best image-makers.
Recent years have also seen the opening of new exhibition spaces, such as the Saint-Louis Photography Museum in Senegal and Morocco’s Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL), which marked its international launch in 2018 with a group exhibition featuring the work of around 40 African photographers.
In the commercial sphere, established events like the Bamako Encounters Photography Bienniale in Mali (which is now preparing for its 12th edition) have been joined by the likes of Art x Lagos, launched in 2016. International platforms like the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair — which, this year, is holding fairs in London and New York, in addition to February’s Marrakesh event — have helped find wider overseas audiences for photographers’ work.
CNN Style asked four of the African arts scene’s most prominent figures to choose their favorite photographers. Here, the photographers explain, in their own words, what their work aims to explore.
Tokini Peterside, founder and director of Art x Lagos
As the founder and director of the international art fair, Art x Lagos, Tokini Peterside has helped amplify African artists’ voice in the global market. She selected two Nigerian photographers, Kadara Enyeasi and Lakin Ogunbanwo.
Kadara Enyeasi, Nigeria: « I started taking photographs in high school. My immediate elder sister (in a family of four siblings — two elder sisters and a junior brother) had just begun her career as a model. She is now a fashion designer. I took pictures of her, and other family members, back then. It was a rush! Nothing special, just intimate family portraits with a 2-megapixel Nikon camera which I still happen to have in my possession.
« At first (my photography) was a deep yearning to understand my role in society. I engaged in taking performative self-portraits as a study of myself and orientation. This resulted in ‘Human Encounters,’ a body of work created over three years. It highlighted shapes, silhouettes and the interesting play of light and shadows across the human body.
« Forms (and) characters. A ladder placed askew on a wall. A forgotten shoe at the beach, a plastic bag moving in the wind. The poetics of these objects speak to me. »
Lakin Ogunbanwo, Nigeria: « I have always been interested in images, from a young age, but actively started to understand them by making portraits of my sisters.
« My inspiration comes from everything, every day, and an innate need to capture beauty as I see it. I’m usually drawn to form, interesting shapes and silhouettes. »
Touria El Glaoui, founder and director of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair
Touria El Glaoui is the creative force behind 1-54, an international art fair helping to introduce leading African artists to the global market. She spotlighted photographer Phumzile Khanyile.
Phumzile Khanyile, South Africa: « As a kid I was known to perform for visitors, whether it was through singing or dancing. My visual training started when I still couldn’t read, and I relied on pictures to know what the story was about. We had a bookshelf at home that I would drown myself in, especially because I’ve always been a loner.
« I’ve always wanted to be a painter, and so with my photography I try to paint as much as the camera allows.
« As the world is moving towards Afrofuturism, I’m trying to hold on to the past as much as possible. I believe there are a lot of untouched stories that are being left behind. I’m actually inspired by the boring parts (of) life, I enjoy observing people, their mannerisms, the way they talk, the way they wait or smoke. These things help me build characters and stories in my head.
« I also create images purely from emotion. It has to feel right. Honesty ranks higher than technicality for me. »