Ekow Eshun: Why is being an African artist so important today

Ekow Eshun is a British writer, publisher and curator. All opinions expressed in this article belong to the author.

African art is having a moment of fashion. People are very interested in it, but there is still a sense of African and African art as an exotic “other” thing sitting around, not at the center of dialogue and discussion. However, it is more important than ever to claim the position of Africa that has an important place to say.

There is a historical trend to imagine Africa on the edge of history, cultural conversation and global relations. But across the continent there is a strong exchange of ideas about who we are and how we live, not really globally recognized.

This is changing. This year, for the first time in Ghana Venice BiennialThe most important event of art stars artist. Moments like this shift the narrative from an extraordinary otherness to a place where African artists are fully engaged in contemporary art dialogue.
John Akomfrah's work in the Ghana Pavilion, curated by Nana Oforiatta Ayim and designed at the 58th Venice Biennial by David Adjaye.

John Akomfrah’s work in the Ghana Pavilion, curated by Nana Oforiatta Ayim and designed at the 58th Venice Biennial by David Adjaye. Credit: Courtesy of David Levene

Works by artists such as the British-Nigerian installation artist Yinka Shonibare and Accra-born filmmaker John Akomfrah admires narratives of history, memory, location, identity and race. They are interested in telling and telling the story of the role played by Africa and the African people on the international stage. At the heart of his research is the desire to present Africa in a new way, breaking apart common stories and fictions to tell new stories about Africa, a new possibility and openness.

It is not the role of artists to depict an authentic version of Africa from music, design, architecture or fashion. Their role is to broaden our expectations and ideas about what Africa might be.

Africa is a multitude. You can stand on a street corner in any city in Dakar, Lagos or Accra and see different influences, cultures, colors and patterns from all over the world. That’s how you hear it in music. This is what you see in the movies. This is what you see in the reference in art. Africa is not a separate part of the world.

Some people argue that we should not consider African artists as artists from Africa, we should think of them as world artists. Personally, I am not buying this.

“Mix for Africa”, Yinka Shonibare, (2003) Credit: Yinka Shonibare / Stephen White / Guggenheim Photo courtesy of Abu Dhabi

I think our mistake is to assume that if you are an artist from Africa, your job is to faithfully represent Africa for the exclusion of something else.

Your job, as it is, is to be an African artist, which means that you have only one area, freedom, luxury, withdrawal from Africa and telling you what to do from that lineage and this heritage, and presenting Africa as a possibility, not as a fixed proposal. .

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About the Author: Abbott Hopkins

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