This Week in African Art and Culture (May 15-21, 2022)

Above: Tunde Owolabi | As We Were, As We Are | installation view at Cromwell Ngobeni Art Studio | 2022


This Week in African Art and Culture features various exhibitions with diverse media presentations beyond just paintings on and off the continent. In Johannesburg, a Nigerian multidisciplinary artist has a solo exhibition highlighting African culture as it was known in the past as well as the present. In Switzerland, a French artist of Congolese roots has on view a display of colorful, vibrant paintings that one might categorize under the surrealism movement. Imaginations, memories, and dreams come alive in these works. Although closing soon, an exhibition exploring materiality—from ceramics, wood and glass—to found objects—is on view with striking works from various artists with unique expressions. 

On a wistful note, from the literary scene, a Congolese poet who contributed significant works has passed on …

Tunde Owolabi’s First Solo Show in Johannesburg Celebrates African Cultural Heritage

Opened at the Cromwell Ngobeni Art Studio in Kramerville Sandton, Johannesburg, a solo exhibition titled As We Were, As We Are by Nigerian multi-disciplinary artist Tunde Owolabi is one to be seen. 

As We Were, As We Are is Owolabi’s ode to the reawakening and reemergence of the African way of life. It embodies the contemporary emotive essence of Africa, evoking pride, serenity and celebration with each art piece showcasing the resurgence of age-old forms of Black expression as nuanced by present-day tastes and expression.

Africans on the continent and in the diaspora are returning in growing numbers to their aboriginal cultural heritage, expressing their identity through indigenous fabrics, fashion sense and hairstyles with eloquence and confidence. Owolabi has captured and expressed these cultural expressions in various media, including painting, sculpture, design and textile. These works reflect his desire to acknowledge, reinforce and celebrate this approach to self-expression.

“I am delighted to welcome Tunde to South Africa,” said Cromwell Ngobeni, South African artist and founder of the Cromwell Ngobeni Art Studio. “I am proud to be one of the artists using my space to collaborate and bridge the gap between contemporary artists from the continent. In the music industry, artists have done a powerful job of collaborating and uniting. I would like to see more of this happen in the fine arts space.”

Tunde Owolabi lives and works in Lagos, Nigeria. He studied painting under the tutelage of the renowned visual artist Professor Abayomi Barber at the University of Lagos. He later obtained a degree in graphic design from Yaba College of Technology. He went on to study photography and photo retouching at the University of the Arts London. Owolabi worked as a designer at the research studios in London under Neville Brody, English graphic designer, typographer and art director, working on accounts such as Nickelodeon, Somerset House, Sofitel, etc.

In 2011, he launched Tunde Owolabi Studios, where he offers design and photographic services while also producing works as a visual artist. His first solo show in South Africa, As We Were, As We Are, is on view until May 31, 2022.


Above: Tifannie Delune | There’s Gasoline in My Heart | installation view at Foreign Agent | 2022


There’s Gasoline in My Heart: Tiffanie Delune at Foreign Agent, Switzerland

Tiffanie Delune, a French artist of Belgo-Congolese heritage, has an exhibition on view, presented by Ed Cross Fine Art at Foreign Agent, Switzerland. Titled There’s Gasoline in My Heart, the artist invites viewers to experience her visual language featuring its signature blend of warm colors. Her imagination, dreams and memories serve as a drawing point for her creations. Hence, the exhibition has been described as a playful and thoughtful invitation to reflect on love, desire and one’s engagement with nature and the universe.


Taking inspiration from animism and a belief that all things, places and creatures possess a distinct soul, the works on view bring to life otherworldly bodies stamped with the magic of tarot symbols, evolving in lush forests and cosmic mappings—spirited sceneries at the intersection of lucid dreams and reality. 

In Delune’s universe, everything hangs in a delicate balance, where a suspended body seems to dance, float or fall, depending on how you look at it. Some of the artist’s works can be hung one way or another, bringing forth new, unseen perspectives that challenge our sense of perception. The playfulness of the artist is exchanged with the viewer.


Tiffanie Delune’s work demonstrates an undeniably childlike sense of play by experimenting without limitation. The artist plays with decoupage and paper cuts, collage, glitter, sewing threads and even layering a warm and sensual palette of acrylic and pastels on cotton canvas with delicate inks and pencils. This art play recalls the artist’s own experiences with art as a child, more focused on the pleasure of making things with whatever was available than with any predetermined idea of representation. Or high art. 

With drawings and images of maps, constellations, seascapes but also anatomy, circus and astrology as a starting point, some of the works fall into full abstraction; the artist transports her viewers back to the enchanting, fearless and curious omnipotence of childhood. 

There’s Gasoline In My Heart is the large central piece of the show, one of the few works by the artist representing a couple. A powerful composition full of organic energy and seduction, a tribute to desire. 


There’s Gasoline In My Heart can be seen at Foreign Agent, 64 Avenue d’Ouchy, 1006 Lausanne, Switzerland, in the presence of the artist. This is her first solo show in Switzerland in collaboration with Ed Cross Fine Art, London. The exhibition closes July 2, 2022.




Above: Matters of Essence | installation view at kó art space, Lagos, Nigeria | 2022

kó, Lagos Presents Matters of Essence, A Group Show Exploring Materiality

Matters of Essence is a salon show organized by kó art space, Lagos, Nigeria. It features works—particularly sculpture and other off-the-wall compositions—exploring materiality by some of Nigeria’s most exciting artists working in the space. 

This exhibition throws light on the significance of artistic practice in addressing societal issues through the works of Nigerian artists, including Bunmi Babatunde, Ngozi Omeje, Obiora Anidi, Reuben Ugbine, Samuel Nnorom, Sabastine Ugwuoke and Victoria Udondian. In recent years, artists have begun to approach shared global challenges from culturally diverse viewpoints to positively alter human behaviors and transform societies. 

As such, the exhibition examines how Nigerian artists are responding to their society and the happenings inherent. The presented works depict many realities that confront us individually and collectively, including identity, culture, socio-political, environmental degradation and consumerism. 

Matters of Essence explores the intricate potential of the presented materials, as it informs the spatial in interrogating essential questions about human conditions. Current world events have heightened the relevance of the themes explored in this exhibition. More importantly, the exhibition examines the artists’ engagement with their chosen material and the relationship between their choice of materials and their environment. 

Drawing inspiration from personal and collective experiences, Ngozi-Omeje Ezema’s large-scale ceramic installation addresses issues relating to identity and the female body. Using suspended terracotta leaves installed with strings, Ngozi’s constructed vase conveys the notion of womanhood in relation to subjugation, oppression, togetherness and motherhood. 

Bunmi Babatunde’s presented work reflects and questions the generally accepted ideas of possibilities of the human body. Through exaggerated and elongated forms, Bunmi examines notions of social and human conditions, including identity, adaptation and strength. 

The incorporation of everyday materials to interrogate Africa’s socio-political landscape is evident in presented works by Samuel Nnorom and Sebastine Ugwuoke. While both artists use distinctive media, their use of discarded materials, including fabric and aluminum wire, draws attention to the issue of environmental degradation while also highlighting the socio-political misconducts in the nation. Creating ring-like and bubble forms, they represent the daily hustle and the uncertainties wrapped around human conditions. 

Obiora Anidi’s presented work, informed by philosophical and social commentary, explores fundamental struggles of life and freedom and the idea of unity and strength in diversity. Their sculptural work combines diverse references ranging from environmental concerns to resistance. 

Reuben Ugbine’s theme focuses on social realism—human figures who seem to disclose the existence of various aspects of the Nigerian way of life. His wooden sculptures characterize historical and contemporary manifestations of experiences within his community. 

Victoria Udondian presents mixed media work that questions notions of cultural identity and post-colonial positions in her country. By employing repurposed materials, she investigates how changes in fabrics and objects over time can affect one’s perception of his or her identity and, ultimately, a nation’s psyche. 

Matters of Essence is on view at kó Gallery, 36 Cameron Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, Nigeria but is in its last days as it closes this weekend. 

Congolese Poet and Academic Philippe Masegabio Nzanzu Has Passed On

On May 16, Congolese poet and academic Philippe Masegabio Nzanzu passed away. He was 78 years old.

Born in 1944 in the province of Equateur, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Philippe Masegabio Nzanzu studied and completed his Greco-Latin humanities at Saint Thomas More de Lisala College. A lover of Romanesque philology, he was a doctor of letters and philosophy trained at the University of Lovanium (the current University of Kinshasa). As the first president of the Union of Writers of Congo, this great writer directed the editorial staff of the magazine Domi and was part of the new wave of Congolese writers born in the 70s. Le Zaire Écrit is an anthology of poetic works written by his peers, whom he gathered in 1952.

Some of his main contributions to the literary canon have been

  • Somme première (Poèmes) ONRD, Lettres congolaises, 1968
  • La cendre demeure, Lokole, 1973
  • Fais moi passer le Lac des caïmans, Dombi, diffusion, 2000
  • Le jour de l’Éternel, chants et méditation, Harmathan, 2009
  • Tshikaya. U. Tam’si, le feu et le chant, une poétique de la dérision, Harmathan, 2017

Some of the early prizes he received include second prize for poetry in 1967 for Sum première, edited by Sébastien Ngonso, and first prize in the poetry competition organized by the Goethe Institut and the Faculty of Letters of Lovanium University in Kinshasa with Le temps des noces in 1968.

Compiled by Roli O’tsemaye

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