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10 Great African Art Books

Idrissa Diagne By Idrissa Diagne Published on February 2, 2016
This article was updated on March 30, 2018

Contemporary African Art is difficult to categorize just as singularly defining 'art' in the 21st Century is virtually impossible. In fact, most art directors, curators and historians would today be extremely hesitant to commit to such a definition.

Contemporary Art is, by its very nature fluid, self-motivated and resists classification.

Contemporary African Art particularly cannot be generalized and reduced to a singular concept simply by the fact that there are many art scenes happening all over Africa and each is fuelled by its own contextual parameters.

What does it mean and who is 'African', just who does one include?

An indigenous African artist who lives and works on home territory is an obvious starting point, but what about those that travel between two worlds? Or even those who have never put a foot in Africa but their heritage is African and their work is inspired by and reflective of this legacy? And what about those white Africans who come from European stock one, two or even three centuries ago? Do they have as much claim to be included in the framework as their black counterparts?

Afropolitanism is the voguish term for new work made by young African artists both in and outside Africa. The artists are presumably united by some shared view of Africa but this seems preposterous given that their cultures are widely varied, their geographical locations scattered, their personal stories and journeys vastly disparate. I, like Holland Cotter of the New York Times, choose to defend an artist's right not to 'wrap themselves in evidence of their origins'. Their work will demonstrate, up to that point of creativity, a personal reflection of everything that has defined them and contributed to their mode of existence.

Their 'Africanness' of contemporary African art may, or may not be perceptible or relevant to the subject matter but it is inherent in their nature and therefore their work.

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Contemporary African Art Since 1980

This book is the first major survey of the work of contemporary African artists from diverse situations, locations, and generations who work either in or outside of Africa, but whose practices engage and occupy the social and cultural complexities of the continent since the past 30 years. Its frame of analysis is absorbed with historical transitions: from the end of the postcolonial utopias of the sixties during the 1980s to the geopolitical, economic, technological, and cultural shifts incited by globalization.

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Zwelethu Mthethwa

Since Apartheid's fall in 1994, South African photography has exploded from the grip of censorship onto the world stage. A key figure in this movement is Zwelethu Mthethwa, whose portraits powerfully frame black South Africans as dignified and defiant individuals, even under the duress of social and economic hardship. Photographing in urban and rural industrial landscapes, Mthethwa documents a range of aspects in South Africa, from domestic life and the environment to landscape and labor issues. Mthethwa's work challenges the conventions of both Western documentary work and African commercial studio photography, marking a transition away from the visually exotic and diseased--or "Afro-pessimism," as curator Okwui Enwezor has described it--and employing a fresh approach marked by color and collaboration. Zwelethu Mthethwa, the artist's long awaited first comprehensive monograph provides an overview of his work to date, and features the stunning portraits that have brought him international acclaim.

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Africa Remix 

It is one of the only comprehensive publications on young contemporary art of the last decade in and from Africa. It features more than 80 artists from nearly 30 countries, well representing the geographic diversity of Africa--from Egypt and Morocco to South Africa. Both well-known artists, who are already established in the international scene, as well as new, emerging talents are included. In an attempt to do justice to the complexity of current artist production, this survey covers film, documentary photography, fashion, music and literature, in addition to the fine arts. Experts in the field comment on the different artistic positions represented and their sources of inspiration. Rather than relying on the traditional categories of postcolonial discourse, this publication concentrates on the “fact of the present”: the artworks are seen as an expression of the direct influence of the present on the artist. An illustrated dictionary on the important aspects of African art and culture completes this fascinating study.

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The African Sniper Reader

This anthology emerged from a series of solo exhibitions by Kendell Geers, Olu Oguibe, Oldadélé Bamgboyé, Mounir Fatmi and Loulou Cherinet--all artists with connections to Africa and living abroad. Reaching beyond the dialectic of difference typical of so many exhibitions of “non-Western” artists, this collection by a twenty-first-century generation (all participants are between ages 35 and 42) aims to construct a new definition of contemporary African positions. These essays here are written by a diverse group of artists, writers, educators and critics, including Cameroonian Curator Simon Njami, and Olu Oguibe, Associate Professor of Art and African American Studies at the University of Connecticut.

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Where Gods And Mortals Meet

The Urhobo peoples occupy the western fringe of the Niger River delta in southern Nigeria, an area rich with oil reserves. Since the 1970s, the petroleum industry has brought worldwide wealth and attention to Nigeria, but tragically has also detracted from broad-based economic progress as flow stations, flare-offs, drilling platforms and pipelines have proliferated. As rural economies suffered an inevitable decline, the custom of maintaining traditional Urhobo art has experienced a parallel atrophy. The resultant decline in Urhobo culture has prompted a response among many Urhobo who want to celebrate and preserve their traditions for future generations. The Museum for African Art in New York makes a major contribution to this effort through the presentation of Where Gods and Mortals meet, the first exhibition to showcase Urhobo arts.

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Angaza Africa: African Art Now

The mission of this book is to illustrate Africa's immensely fertile artistic landscape. Africa has emerged from its colonial past and is asserting its own identity. African art is not only confined to the continent itself, but has spread world-wide through the work of those descended from the enforced migrations of the slave trade and those who have more recently left their homesin Africa to take their place on an international stage. This book brings together more than 60 of Africa's most creative contemporary artists, drawn from across the African continent as well as from Europe, North America, the Caribbean, and South America. Their art leaps off the page with over 350 color images (many especially commissioned). In addition to painters, sculptors, and photographers, there are a number of artists whose work embraces performance and installation. Many of the materials they use are as unorthodox astheir imagery, with ready made and found objects.

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Graffiti South Africa 

In a visual feast, hundreds of vibrant images showcase the work of South Africa's most influential graffiti artists, which will entertain and inspire graffiti enthusiasts and art fanatics all over the world. Selective interviews with major graffiti personalities reveal their passions and inspirations and cover all aspects of the movement, creating a true representation of its evolution. Initially unknown for its graffiti scene, South Africa has now become a prime destination for many renowned international graffiti writers. From underground tunnels and abandoned buildings to train yards and townships, local writers, each with their own distinct style, spread their work across the nation. Now, for the first time ever, the global spotlight can fall on these talented artists.

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African Canvas

Over a period of three years' travel, acclaimed photojournalist Margaret Courtney-Clarke has documented the artifacts and traditional art of West African women, particularly their brilliantly colored and dynamic wall painting. "The beauty of African Canvas takes the breath away"

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Ndebele: The Art of an African Tribe

For generations, the women of the Ndebele of southern Afrcia have produced an art of remarkable richness and vitality. In their ceremonial beadwork and in large murals that cover the exterior walls of their mud dwellings, these women have created designs that are at once ancient and modern in their simplicity, bright colours and abstract patterns.

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Art and the End of Apartheid

Black South African artists have typically had their work labeled “African art” or “township art,” qualifiers that, when contrasted with simply “modernist art,” have been used to marginalize their work both in South Africa and internationally. In Art and the End of Apartheid, John Peffer considers in-depth the work of black South African artists in the decades leading up to the end of apartheid in 1994. Peffer examines painting and graphic art, photography, avant-garde and performance art, and popular and protest art through artist collectives, such as the Thupelo Art Project and the Medu Art Ensemble, and individuals such as Durant Sihlali and Santu Mofokeng. He shows how South African artists imagined what “postapartheid” could mean during the time of apartheid, even as they struggled with immediate issues of censorship, militancy, street violence and torture, and, more broadly, the problem of self-representation and the social role of art. In defiance of the racial polarization that surrounded them, Peffer describes how South African artists created “grey areas,” nonracialized spaces and hybrid art forms in which both black and white South Africans collaborated. Beyond the boundaries of apartheid, these artists forged connections at home and abroad that modeled a future, more democratic society.

Definition by: http://www.contemporary-african-art.com/contemporary-african-art.html#sthash.OP2JGt04.dpbs

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