Most Influential Contemporary African Artists and their Works

Africa has produced numerous artists whose works and influence have resonated globally across various artistic disciplines.

Here’s a list of some of the most famous contemporary African artists:

Marlene Dumas (South Africa)

Marlene Dumas, born in 1953 in Cape Town, South Africa, is a contemporary artist known primarily for her figurative paintings. She studied at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town before relocating to Amsterdam in 1976, where she attended the De Ateliers art institute.

Contemporary African artists

Born in 1953 in Cape Town, South Africa, Marlene Dumas later moved to the Netherlands. Beginning her painting journey at 19, her works often reflect the racial discrimination experienced during apartheid in South Africa. Some of her most famous works are “The Visitor” (1995), “The Painter” (1994), and “The Teacher” (1987)

Dumas’s works often touch on themes of identity, sexuality, and human vulnerability, drawing from personal experiences and broader sociopolitical issues, especially concerning race and gender. Her unique painting style, using thin washes of paint, results in haunting, emotive images that seem to hover between reality and abstraction.

Notable works include “The Painter” (1994), a disturbing portrait of a child, and “Magdalena” (1996), showcasing a nude figure in a provocative pose. Dumas’s series, “Rejects” (1994), manipulated rejected portrait drawings, bringing attention to notions of beauty and acceptance.

Her painting “The Teacher” by South African artist Marlene Duma is a poignant reflection of apartheid-era politics. Inspired by a class photo from that period, Duma’s painting captures the racial tensions of South Africa. Its evocative imagery serves as a powerful reminder of the racial discrimination that pervaded the nation, underscoring the profound impact art can have in conveying complex socio-political narratives. In 2005, the painting was sold for almost $3 million at Christie’s London.

Throughout her career, she’s held numerous solo exhibitions globally, solidifying her position as a prominent figure in contemporary art.

“The Teacher” by Marlene Duma powerfully depicts apartheid-era politics in South Africa, highlighting racial discrimination through art. Image: “The Teacher” (1987) by South African artist Marlene Dumas

Magdalene Odundo (Kenya)

Magdalene Odundo is best known for her hand-coiled and burnished ceramics. Born in Kenya, Odundo’s ceramic work is notable for its striking forms and unique shapes, often resembling the human body or natural elements. Her pieces have a signature smooth, shiny surface achieved through a meticulous process of burnishing using stones and organic tools before the firing process.

Magdalene Odundo - Internationally recognized ceramist

Odundo’s ceramics often undergo multiple firings, and she sometimes manipulates the oxygen flow to the kiln to achieve a rich, black or orange hue on her pots.

She’s been praised for mastering the coiling technique and multiple firing processes. Initially burnished and covered with slip, her pieces are fired in an oxidizing atmosphere, turning them red-orange. A second, oxygen-poor firing turns them black, known as reduction-firing. She employs ancient techniques from Greece, Rome, China, and Mexico. Her graphic design background aids in sketching natural forms for her ceramics, with many resembling the human silhouette, especially the female body. One iconic piece mirrors a pregnant woman’s shape. Image: Vase (1990) by Magdalene Odundo Brooklyn Museum

While she is rooted in her Kenyan heritage, Odundo’s work is also influenced by her extensive study of global pottery traditions, from ancient African and Mesoamerican hand-building techniques to British studio pottery traditions.

Over the decades, she has gained international acclaim, with her works being showcased in major institutions and museums around the world, including at the Art Institute of Chicago, the British Museum, The Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio, and Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Hamburg.

In addition to her artistry, Odundo has also been recognized as an influential educator, having taught at the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham, Surrey, for many years. In 2018, she was appointed chancellor of the university.

El Anatsui (Ghana)

Man’s Cloth by El Anatsui (1998–2001), on display at the British Museum.

El Anatsui (b. 1944) is a Ghanaian sculptor active for over four decades and known primarily for his large-scale sculptures composed of thousands of folded and crumpled pieces of metal sourced from local alcohol recycling stations and bound together with copper wire.

These sculptures, which can be massive, are both malleable and adaptable, meant to be shaped by their exhibitors. His transformative works address a wide range of social, political, and historical themes, particularly the history of colonialism in Africa.

Anatsui’s art is showcased in major international museums, and he’s won numerous accolades for his groundbreaking approach.

El Anatsui’s artistic journey began in Nsukka, Nigeria, and expanded to international recognition. In 1990, his significant group show debuted at New York’s Studio Museum In Harlem. His distinctive representation of African art was showcased globally, including at renowned institutions like the Brooklyn Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Venice Biennale.

In 1995, his pioneering solo exhibition outside Africa took place in London, where he challenged typical African art stereotypes. By blending African art with conceptual modes prominent in Western countries, he reshaped perceptions. Anatsui’s significant breakthrough in major art museums began with his inclusion in the permanent collection of the de Young Museum in San Francisco in 2005. That same year, his metal sheets exhibited at New York’s Skoto Gallery, further elevating his global reputation.

Another Man’s Cloth (2006) by El Anatsui at the Rubell Museum DC in 2022

At the Venice Biennale 2006 and 2007, Anatsui showcased two metal tapestries, most notably at Palazzo Fortuny in 2007 where he presented three distinct works titled “Dusasa”. These pieces, displaying gold, red, and black hues, offered a delicate draped texture. Curator Robert Storr lauded Anatsui’s uniqueness, noting the artworks’ exceptional exaltation. Anatsui aimed for a fluid conceptual experience, reflecting life’s constant change, and began calling his creations “hangings” instead of “cloths”.

In 2013, El Anatsui’s “Gravity & Grace: Monumental Works” premiered at Brooklyn Museum, after being organized by Akron Art Museum in 2012, then traveled to Des Moines and Miami in 2014.

In 2015, El Anatsui received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale. In 2017, he became the first Ghanaian to win the esteemed Praemium Imperiale international art prize.

The Ghanaian sculptor made the list of the 2023 Time 100 list of most influential people.

He has received honorary doctorates from institutions such as Harvard University and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.

El Anatsui - a Ghanaian Sculptor known for his bottle-top installations

Julie Mehretu (Ethiopia)

Conversion (S.M. del Popolo/after C.) (2019-2020), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Julie Mehretu, born in 1970 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is a contemporary visual artist celebrated for her multi-layered paintings and prints. She and her family fled Ethiopia in 1977 due to political turmoil, settling in the U.S.

Mehretu’s work synthesizes abstract expressionism with the language of maps, urban planning, and architecture. By layering different media and imagery, she creates intricate, dynamic artworks that capture the complexities of identity, displacement, and modern urban life.

Julie Mehretu, born November 28, 1970, is an Ethiopian American artist celebrated for her large-scale, multi-layered abstract paintings reflecting urban sociopolitical evolution. Recognized for her significant impact, Mehretu made Time’s 100 Most Influential People list in 2020. In 2021, The New York Times lauded her as a pioneering Black female painter who has solidified her place in art’s canon.

She earned her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and quickly gained attention for her distinct style. Major institutions, like the Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Museum, and the Guggenheim, have displayed her work.

Julie Mehretu – Ethiopian abstract artist known for her large-scale paintings and architectural drawings

Mehretu received the U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts in 2015

Mehretu has been honored with numerous awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship. Major exhibitions of her work have showcased globally, solidifying her place in the contemporary art scene.

Invisible Sun (algorithm 5, second letter form) (2014) by Ethiopian artist Julie Mehretu Museum of Modern Art, New York

Julie Mehretu’s “Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation” offers multifaceted narratives. Appearing as a cosmology from afar, its detailed layers reveal intricate stories upon closer inspection. This densely-layered abstract work by the Ethiopian artist fetched $4.6 million at Christie’s New York in 2013, showcasing its profound value and significance in contemporary art.

Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation (2001) by Julie Mehretu

Mahmoud Said (Egypt)

Mahmoud Said (1897–1964) was an Egyptian judge and pioneering painter, often hailed as the father of modern Egyptian painting.

Born into an aristocratic family in Alexandria, Said transitioned from a legal career to focus on art. His oeuvre reflects a blend of traditional Egyptian subject matter with modernist aesthetics.

Recto-Village (1923) by Egyptian artist Mahmoud Sa’id

His paintings, such as “The Whirling Dervishes” (1929) and “The Girl in the Pink Dress” (1945) are celebrated for their luminous colors and merging of Western techniques with Egyptian themes. The latter was sold for more than a quarter of a million US Dollars in 2010; while the former fetched $2.5 million in 2010.

His painting “Les Chadoufs” is celebrated for its intricate iconography, geometry, and value. Through this masterpiece, Said vividly encapsulates Egypt’s history during its Renaissance era. The painting was sold in 2010 for close to $2.5 million.

Les Chadoufs (1934) by Mahmoud Said. In 2010, the painting was sold for almost $2.5 million at auction in Dubai.

With those staggering amounts fetched for his paintings, there is no doubt whatsoever that Said’s legacy remains influential in contemporary Arab art.

Ben Enwonwu (Nigeria)

Ben Enwonwu (1917-1994) was a pioneering Nigerian sculptor and painter, heralded as Africa’s premier modernist artist of the 20th century. Born in Onitsha, Nigeria, Enwonwu belonged to the Igbo ethnic group. He studied at Goldsmiths College, London, and later at the Slade School of Fine Art, augmenting his indigenous art roots with Western techniques.

Nigerian painter and sculptor Ben Enwonwu

In 1958, Ben Enwonwu, a renowned Nigerian artist, was awarded the title of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE). This honor is given by the British monarchy to individuals for outstanding service to the community or local ‘hands-on’ service. Enwonwu’s MBE recognition was a testament to his significant contributions to the arts. Image: Ben Enwonwu, the artist often regarded as the father of Nigerian modernism. Image: Nigerian painter and sculptor Ben Enwonwu

His iconic sculpture “Anyanwu” graces the Nigerian National Museum’s entrance, symbolizing the rising African spirit. Another monumental work, “The Drummer,” emphasizes the importance of music and rhythm in African culture.

During Queen Elizabeth II‘s 1956 visit to Nigeria, she commissioned Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu to create a bronze sculpture of her. She posed for him in London in 1957. The life-sized statue, exhibited at the Royal Society of British Artists in 1957, portrays a seated Queen.

Boy (c. 1945) at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC

During his 1981 UK state visit, Nigeria’s President Shehu Shagari gifted Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip a sculpture by Ben Enwonwu, depicting “Anyanwu,” the Igbo earth goddess Ani.

Ben Enwonwu, born in Nigeria in 1921, is heralded as a pioneer of Nigerian modernism. His iconic painting, ‘Tutu’, lost for years, resurfaced in 2018, with novelist Ben Okri declaring its discovery as a landmark moment in contemporary African art. Enwonwu passed away in 1994.

Enwonwu’s prowess wasn’t restricted to sculptures; his paintings, like the renowned “Tutu” series portraying an Ile-Ife princess, garnered international acclaim. The rediscovery (in a north London flat) of one of the “Tutu” paintings in 2018 made headlines when it auctioned for over £1 million. Rediscovered by Giles Peppiatt, the director of modern African art at the auction house Bonhams, the painting is one of three versions of the Tutu series. The Tutu series is famed for being a symbol of national reconciliation in the West African nation.

In 1956, Queen Elizabeth II commissioned Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu to sculpt a bronze likeness of her. She posed for him in London in 1957. The life-sized statue, depicting a seated Queen, was showcased at the Royal Society of British Artists in 1957. Image: Ben Enwonwu with Queen Elizabeth II and his bronze statue of her

Enwonwu’s integration of Western and African art techniques positioned him as a cultural ambassador. He represented Nigeria globally, fostering understanding through art. Ben Enwonwu’s legacy endures not only in his artworks but also in his significant role in elevating African art to the global stage.

Wangechi Mutu (Kenya)

Wangechi Mutu, born in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1972, is a contemporary artist recognized for her intricate and thought-provoking collages and sculptures that address themes of femininity, beauty, hybridity, and postcolonialism. Educated at the United World College of the Atlantic, Wales, and later at Parsons School of Design and Cooper Union in New York, Mutu furthered her studies at Yale University.

Wangechi Mutu, part of the series The Seated (2019) shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 2019 to 2020

Her works, often comprising of mixed media, engage in discussions about cultural identity, African traditions, and the female form. Materials like beads, fabric, and synthetic hair feature prominently, contributing to her unique aesthetic.

Notable pieces include “Non je ne regrette rien,” and “Yo Mama,” which exemplify her exploration of the female body’s cultural and societal depictions. Mutu has achieved international acclaim, exhibiting in prestigious institutions such as the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Her art continually pushes boundaries, provoking conversations about race, gender, and the African diaspora’s experiences.

In 2010, Wangechi Mutu was honored by Deutsche Bank as the “Artist of the Year”. Three years later, she received the BlackStar Film Festival Audience Award for Favorite Experimental Film in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The honor was for her film “The End of Eating Everything”. The African female artist delves into contemporary women’s violence and misrepresentations. Through distorted feminine depictions, she confronts globalization, consumerism, and inequality, reflecting the tension between tradition and modernity. Her work captures the quest for equilibrium in today’s world.

Barthélémy Toguo (Cameroon)

Barthélémy Toguo, born in 1967 in Cameroon, is a multi-disciplinary artist recognized for his contributions to contemporary art. Trained in both his home country and abroad in France, he skillfully melds sculpture, painting, performance, and installations. Toguo’s artworks consistently address global issues such as migration, discrimination, and the environment.

Contemporary African artists

French-Cameroonian artist Barthélémy Toguo

One of his noted works, “Urban Requiem” (2019) showcases large wooden stamp sculptures condemning global challenges. Other notable works of the Cameroonian artist are “Hidden Faces” (2013), “Criminal Tribunal” (2011), “Devil’s Head No. 5” (2009), “The Sick Opera” (2004/5), and “Pure and Clean” (2003).

His art, often raw and emotionally charged, acts as a dialogue between his African origins and the Western world. Toguo’s influential works have been exhibited worldwide, solidifying his position as a leading African contemporary artist.

His works have been featured in many museums across the world, including Lelong Gallery, New York; Nosbaum Reding, Luxembourg; Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Narbonne, France; Hayward Gallery, London; and Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Narbonne, France.

Devil’s Head No. 5 (2009) by Barthélémy Toguo

In 2011, Barthélémy Toguo was knighted in France’s Order of Arts and Literature for his significant contributions to global arts and culture. By 2016, he was a nominee for the esteemed Prix Marcel Duchamp. Awarded the 2018 Inga Maren Otto Fellowship, he produced works during his residency for “The Beauty of Our Voice” exhibit at the Parrish Art Museum, marking his U.S. solo museum debut.

In 2021, he was named a UNESCO Artist for Peace by Director-General Audrey Azoulay. By Winter 2023, Toguo’s accolades grew as he became an Officer of the Order of Arts and Literature.

Ibrahim El-Salahi (Sudan)

Ibrahim El-Salahi, born in 1930 in Omdurman, Sudan, is a pioneering modernist artist and a pivotal figure in African and Arab art. He melds Islamic, African, Arab, and Western art traditions to create a distinct style.

After studying at the School of Design in Khartoum, he furthered his education at London’s Slade School of Fine Art. Upon returning to Sudan, he integrated Western techniques with Sudanese iconography, laying foundations for modern Sudanese art.

However, political unrest led to his wrongful imprisonment. After his release, he moved to Qatar and later the UK. El-Salahi’s career was celebrated with a major retrospective at the Tate Modern in 2013, solidifying his global importance.

Ibrahim El-Salahi, born 1930, is a prominent Sudanese painter and diplomat. A leading figure of the Khartoum School and African Modernism, he merges Islamic calligraphy with contemporary art. His work, showcased at Tate Modern in 2013, blends Islamic, African, Arab, and Western traditions.

The Sudanese artist is best known for integrating Arabic calligraphy into his art, drawing from daily Islamic cultural experiences. These calligraphic symbols evolved into representations of animals, humans, and plants, imbuing his work with profound meaning. El-Salahi masterfully merged European styles with Sudanese themes, birthing a distinct African surrealism.

Between 1969-1972, he served as the assistant cultural attaché at the Sudanese Embassy in London. Later, back in Sudan, he assumed significant roles in Jaafar Nimeiri’s government, notably as the Director of Culture and Undersecretary in the Ministry of Culture and Information until 1975.

Ibrahim El-Salahi’s artistic oeuvre is distinguished by its emphasis on lines, predominantly rendered in black and white. He believes that all art originates from lines, asserting that “all images can be reduced to lines.”

Vision of the Tomb (1965) by Sudanese painter Ibrahim El-Salahi at the Phillips Collection in 2023

His works seamlessly blend Islamic calligraphy and African motifs, exemplified by elongated mask shapes. Iconic pieces like “Allah and the Wall of Confrontation” (1968) and “The Last Sound” (1964) encapsulate characteristic elements of Islamic art, notably the crescent moon shape. This confluence of cultural symbols highlights El-Salahi’s unique fusion of traditions.

Ibrahim El-Salahi is a seminal figure in Sudanese modern art, co-founding the “Khartoum School of Modern Art” alongside luminaries like Osman Waqialla and Ahmad Mohammed Shibrain. This movement collaborated with the “Desert School,” comprising poets, novelists, and critics, collectively seeking a distinct Sudanese cultural identity. Their core aim was cultivating a modern Sudanese aesthetic without being overly reliant on Western influences.

In the 1960s, El-Salahi briefly collaborated with Nigeria’s Mbari Club. Reflecting on this period, he emphasized the profound artistic connections he forged in Nigeria, valuing the reciprocal influences they shared.

Ibrahim El-Salahi boasts works in renowned institutions like the Tate Modern and Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Recognized with the Prince Claus Award from the Netherlands in 2001.

In 2013, the Tate held a landmark retrospective of his work, its first for an African artist. Between 2016-2017, the Sharjah Art Foundation spotlighted the Sudanese Modernist art movement, prominently featuring El-Salahi.

In 2018, the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, showcased a solo exhibition juxtaposing his art with ancient Sudanese artifacts, emphasizing his “The ‘Trees’ series. The series, highlighting the Haraz tree symbolizing Sudanese identity, exemplifies El-Salahi’s adaptive, pioneering spirit.

Henry Nkole Tayali (Zambia)

Henry Nkole Tayali (1943-1987) was a preeminent Zambian artist who significantly impacted the art landscape of his country.

Born in Serenje, Zambia, he pursued his studies in fine arts abroad, especially in Europe. Tayali’s style was versatile, spanning sculpture, drawing, and painting.

Henry Nkole Tayali, born on 22 November 1943 and passing on 22 July 1987, was a renowned Zambian artist proficient in painting, sculpting, and printmaking. Multilingual and a gifted storyteller, Tayali was also a lecturer. He is celebrated as Zambia’s most eminent painter, leaving an indelible mark on the country’s art scene.

His works, characterized by their reflection on Zambian culture and daily life, often portray the harmony and conflicts of modern African identity. Tayali believed art should be accessible to all, leading him to establish the Visual Arts Council in Zambia.

Henry Tayali showing some of his works to then-Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, 1972

Among his most recognized works are “The Graduate” and “Destiny”. The later is a sculpture depicting the struggle of Africans under colonial rule.

Throughout his life, Tayali advocated for the importance of art in Zambia, and his legacy endures in the country’s art institutions and emerging artists.

Mother Afrika (1974) by Zambian painter and sculptor Henry Tayali

Irma Stern (South Africa)

Irma Stern (1894-1966) was a major South African artist who achieved national and international recognition in her lifetime. Born in Schweizer-Reneke, a small town in South Africa, she later moved to Germany where she studied art and was influenced by German Expressionism. Upon her return to South Africa, Stern’s work was initially met with shock and rejection due to its bold, expressive nature.

Irma Stern, a prominent South African artist, held almost 100 solo exhibitions across South Africa and Europe. While she gained acceptance in Europe, early South African critics in the 1920s lambasted her work, once dubbing it “Ugliness as a cult”. Image: South African artist Irma Stern (1894 – 1966)

Throughout her career, Stern traveled extensively in Africa and Europe, drawing inspiration from the people and landscapes she encountered. These journeys resulted in a plethora of paintings, capturing vibrant and exotic scenes. Her subject matter ranged from portraits and still lifes to lush landscapes and cultural depictions.

Some of Stern’s major works include portraits of African and Malagasy people, still lifes of flowers and fruits, and scenes from her travels. Her works have fetched high prices at international auctions, solidifying her position as one of South Africa’s leading artists. She also left behind a valuable collection of artifacts in her home, which is now the Irma Stern Museum.

The Irma Stern Museum, established in 1971, was her residence for nearly 40 years, preserving her home’s arrangement and showcasing contemporary South African artists.

Her art’s value has soared over time; by March 2011, a Stern piece fetched R34 million at a London auction.

Irma’s oil-on-canvas, “Two Arabs” (1939), ranks among Africa’s priciest paintings. In 2011, it set a record, fetching more than $1 million, making it the most expensive painting ever sold in South Africa.

“Arab Priest” (1945) is a renowned painting by Irma Stern, inspired by her visit to Zanzibar. Notably, it was donated to help finance Nelson Mandela’s legal defense in the 1950s. Beyond its artistic significance, its connection to Mandela’s history adds value. The painting fetched more than $4.5 million at auction.

Her 1945 painting “Bahora Girl” (1945) was inspired by her travels in Zanzibar. It captures the essence of the people she encountered. This portrayal captivated the Western audience, emphasizing the cultural intersections in her work. The painting fetched an impressive $3.7 million at auction.

Irma Stern’s impact on African art is evident in “Seated Nude with Oranges.” The painting underscores Stern’s fascination with themes of fertility and renewal. Its unique and striking color palette further accentuates its allure. This celebrated piece fetched an impressive $2.2 million at auction. Image: “Seated Nude with Oranges” (1934) by Irma Stern

“The Pink Sari” (1947) by Irma Stern, sold for over R17 million, reflects the inspiration she drew from her time in Zanzibar. The painting captures the beauty and essence of the women on the island, with the vibrant pink sari symbolizing the profound influence Zanzibar had on Stern’s artwork.

Olu Oguibe (Nigeria)

Olu Oguibe is an internationally recognized Nigerian-born artist, curator, and scholar. Born in 1964, he is known for his works that address themes of displacement, migration, and belonging. His art often incorporates textual elements, blending visual aesthetics with poetic commentary. As an academic, Oguibe has made significant contributions to the discourse on contemporary African art.

One of his most notable public artworks is the “Monument to Strangers and Refugees,” commissioned for Documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany. The obelisk carries the inscription “I was a stranger and you took me in,” reflecting on the refugee crisis and universal human values. The piece, commemorating refugees, earned him the Arnold Bode Prize in 2017. Another significant work, “The Time Capsule,” was conceptualized during the pivotal refugee crisis in Europe between 2014-2015.

Nigerian-born American artist Olu Oguibe

As a curator, Oguibe has been instrumental in major exhibitions that brought contemporary African art to global audiences. His multifaceted approach to art and his deep-rooted commitment to social issues make him an influential figure in both the art world and the broader cultural landscape.

Olu Oguibe, a Nigerian-born American artist and academic, has tutored at a number of universities, including Art and African-American Studies at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. A senior fellow at the Vera List Center and the Smithsonian Institution, he’s an art historian, curator, and key contributor to post-colonial theory and technology studies.

Recognized as a leading scholar in contemporary African and African American art, Oguibe received Connecticut’s Governor’s Arts Award for lifetime achievement in 2013.

Olu Oguibe, an acclaimed artist, has displayed his art globally, including renowned venues like the Whitney Museum, Whitechapel Gallery, and the Venice Biennial. He’s also contributed public artworks in Germany, Japan, and Korea.

Commissioned for Documenta 14 (2017), Oguibe’s “Monument to Strangers and Refugees” stands as a significant public sculpture in Königsplatz, Kassel. This concrete obelisk bears the golden inscription “I was a stranger and you took me in” from Matthew 25:35, translated into German, English, Arabic, and Turkish. Recognizing its impact, the Arnold Bode Prize was awarded to Oguibe in July 2017 for this remarkable piece.

Abdul Hadi El-Gazzar (Egypt)

Abdul Hadi El-Gazzar (1925-1966) was an influential Egyptian modernist artist whose work delved deeply into the complexities of modernity and tradition, spirituality, and societal critique. Born in Alexandria, he moved to Cairo where he became an integral part of the city’s vibrant art scene. Graduating from the Cairo School of Fine Arts in 1948, he later pursued further studies in Rome and Paris.

El-Gazzar’s oeuvre reveals a fusion of pharaonic, Islamic, and contemporary imagery, reflecting on Egypt’s rich history and the challenges of the modern era. His notable pieces, such as “The High Dam” and “The Radio,” encapsulate this synthesis. The former highlights the promise and peril of technological advancement, while the latter critiques the role of mass media in shaping perception.

Throughout his short life, El-Gazzar remained a pivotal figure in Egyptian art, with his work fostering a dialogue between ancient traditions and the burgeoning age of modernity in the Middle East.

Some of the most important works have been featured in institutions and exhibitions across the world, including Fine Arts Museum, Alexandria, Egypt; “Art in Fifty Years” International Exhibition, Brooklyn, U.S. in 1958; and Contemporary Egyptian Art, Moscow, Russia.

“Construction of the Suez Canal” is a watercolor and gouache masterpiece by the esteemed Egyptian artist, El-Gazzar. Painted in 1965, the piece was inspired by the socio-political climate post the 1952 Revolution and the Suez Canal Crisis. The canal, vital for Egyptian trade, is meticulously represented, showcasing El-Gazzar’s keen perception of his surroundings and astute understanding of socio-political dynamics. This profound artwork, reflecting both historical significance and artistic brilliance, fetched over 1 million dollars at an auction.

In the 1950s, he received a plethora of honors, including the Bronze Medal Award at the 1957 São Paulo Biennial.  A year later, he was honored with the Silver Medal Award from the Italian city of Bari. In 2006, he was posthumously honored with the Golden Feather by the 4th Honorary Exhibition for Artists in Cairo, Egypt.

Abdul Hadi El-Gazzar (1925-1966), a notable Egyptian artist, profoundly impacted modern Egyptian art during his brief career. His artwork vividly portrayed the hive of activities surrounding the Suez Canal’s construction, a significant yet contentious landmark in Egyptian, British, and French histories. His nuanced representations shed light on its intricate socio-political dynamics. Image: Construction of the Suez Canal (1965) by Abdul Hadi El-Gazzar

Tapfuma Gutsa (Zimbabwe)

Tapfuma Gutsa, born in 1956 in Zimbabwe, is an influential contemporary African artist known for his avant-garde sculptures that blend traditional Shona stone carving with modern materials and techniques.

Gutsa gained attention in the 1980s for pioneering a fresh approach to sculpture in Zimbabwe, diverging from the prevalent “Shona sculpture” movement. He integrates materials like wood, bone, wire, and stone to comment on socio-political issues and Zimbabwe’s heritage.

Genesis (2010) by Zimbabwean artist Tapfuma Gutsa

Internationally recognized, Gutsa’s works have been exhibited globally, from the Venice Biennale to museums across Europe and Africa. In 1990, he established the Utonga Gallery in Harare, nurturing and promoting upcoming artists. An advocate for the conservation of Zimbabwe’s environment and resources, Gutsa also imparts this ethos in his art. His innovative vision has cemented his legacy as a forerunner in modern African art.

Known for works such as “Genesis” (2010), the Zimbabwean artist has won a number of honors, including the 1987 Nedlaw Award for Sculpture from the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. The work featured a wooden bird surrounded by smoldering grass.

In 2007, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum commissioned him for ‘Uncomfortable Truths’, an exhibition reflecting on the slave trade’s impact on contemporary art.

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