El Anatsui, Plus Six African Writers Get Shortlisted for the 2023 Commonwealth Short Story Prize and more: This Week in African Art and Culture


Above: El Anatsui. Photo courtesy of October Gallery by Andy Keate.

Bruce Onobrakpeya’s Retrospective Exhibition at High Museum, Atlanta 

Bruce Onobrakpeya, one of Nigeria’s leading and renowned modern artists, gets recognition for his works with a first solo exhibition at an American museum—the High Museum in Atlanta.

A sculptor and printmaker, Onobrakpeya (born 1932) is one of the fathers of Nigerian modernism and a founding member of the Zaria Art Society, an art collective that developed the “natural synthesis” aesthetic that came to define early post-colonial Nigerian art. 

Curated by Lauren Tate Baeza, this solo show and retrospective titled The Mask and the Cross describes the artist’s creative phase from 1967 through 1978, during which he created numerous works fusing Nigerian tradition, folklore and cosmology with Catholic motifs and stories from the Bible. This period began with the creation of a series commissioned by the Catholic Church titled Fourteen Stations of the Cross, which depicts scenes from the last earthly day of Jesus Christ. 

Onobrakpeya portrays Biblical characters as Nigerian and reimagines Biblical scenes in Nigerian settings. This exhibition considers religious “double belonging” as an exercise in agency, subversion and cultural resilience. Grounded in the High’s own edition of Onobrakpeya’s Fourteen Stations of the Cross prints, The Mask and the Cross will showcase other works from this period, as well as examples from later periods, as themes of religious hybridity and multiplicity continue to appear throughout the artist’s 60-year career.

The Mask and the Cross will be on view at the High Museum until July 30, 2023.

Kwame Brathwaite, Photojournalist and Activist Dies at 85

Kwame Brathwaite. Photo by Corey Rice

Celebrated photographer Kwame Brathwaite, who helped popularize the “Black is Beautiful” movement of the 1960s, has passed on. From Nelson Mandela to Muhammad Ali and the Grandassa Models, Brathwaite’s work embraced Black power and beauty. He chronicled events such as The Motown Revue at the Apollo in 1963, The Jackson 5’s first trip to Africa in 1974, and the legendary Foreman-Ali fight, The Rumble in the Jungle.

Brathwaite’s death was announced by his son on Instagram.

“I am deeply saddened to share that my Baba, the patriarch of our family, our rock and my hero, has transitioned,” wrote Kwame S. Brathwaite, who maintains his father’s archive. “Thank you for your love and support during this difficult time.”

Born Gilbert Ronald Brathwaite in Brooklyn, New York on Jan. 1, 1938, he adopted the name Kwame in the early 1960s as a tribute to Kwame Nkrumah, the first leader of post-colonial Ghana. According to profiles of Brathwaite in T Magazine, he was drawn to photography by two moments. The first was in August of 1955, when a 17-year-old Brathwaite encountered David Jackson’s haunting photograph of a brutalized Emmett Till in his open casket. The second was in 1956, after he and his brother Elombe co-founded the African Jazz Arts Society and Studios (AJASS).

Inspired by Jamaican-born activist Marcus Garvey, Brathwaite was deeply involved in Black culture and activism beginning in the 1950s.

Brathwaite’s series of photographs of Grandassaland Models was influenced by the term “Grandassa,” coined by Carlos Cooks, the founder of the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement. The idea was to inspire Black women to embrace their African heritage rather than try to emulate white women by straightening their hair.

Over the years, Brathwaite’s photography practice continued to evolve. In 2016, he joined the roster of the Philip Martin Gallery in Los Angeles. He continued photography commissions as recently as 2018, when he shot artist and stylist Joanne Petit-Frère for The New Yorker.

El Anatsui Makes 2023 TIME’s 100 Most Influential List

El Anatsui, one of Africa’s most renowned sculptors, was listed in TIME’s 2023 100 list. Chika Okeke-Agulu, an artist, critic, and art historian at Princeton University, described Anatsui in these words:

“El Anatsui is one of the most impactful artists of our time. As a sculptor, he shows an incomparable capacity to experiment with his materials, medium and process. El collects diverse materials, puts them aside in his studio for years, and then returns to them intermittently, until he figures out the right language for inventing completely new sculptural forms. 

“The breathtaking combination of experimental rigor and inspired vision turns such unassuming materials as printer’s plates or liquor-bottle caps into the magnificent constructions and compositions displayed around the world, from a recent solo show in Seoul to his upcoming commission at London’s Tate Modern. Less public, but just as important, is El’s unflinching generosity of spirit. As his career grew, so has his remarkable propensity to support not just other artists but also individuals, families and institutions in his community in Nsukka and across Nigeria. And he does all this without fanfare, as if it is only but a life mission. That, for me, is the mark of greatness.”

Side by Side: Namafu Amutse & Candice Mouton, Curated by StArt Gallery inWindhoek, Namibia

Namafu Amutse and Candice Mouton have an ongoing joint exhibition—at a rather unusual place for an exhibition—called The Sweet Side of Things. This exhibition was first presentedin February 2023 but is now showing for a second iteration with an installation at a café. The exhibited works, comprised of paintings and photographs by Candice Mouton and NamafuAmutse, respectively, tell their stories in this new environment, described as a spacious place.

The premise of the Side by Side exhibition series is juxtaposition. By placing just two artists’ works in proximity, the audience is presented with a dialogue that creates space for unique interpretations. In 2018, StArt Art Gallery curated a two-person exhibition at the Goethe Institut of Namibia, showing sculptures by Ismael Shivute and Matheus Alfeus. The exhibition was titled Side by Side. Four years later, in homage to the 2018 exhibition, this title has been revived for a new series of two-person shows.

This exhibition presents artworks by Namafu Amutse and Candice Mouton, who met while at school. They are both young, self-taught artists in the early stages of their creative careers. While Amutse works predominantly in digital art, creating photographs and videos, Mouton is a painter and illustrator. Despite using very different mediums, the two artists share a similar zeal for their works on display in this show, which will be on view for the rest of April.

Six African Writers Get Shortlisted for the 2023 Commonwealth Short Story Prize

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize has released its shortlist for the 2023 prize. There were 28 writers shortlisted from 19 countries across the regions of Africa, Asia, Canada andEurope, and the Pacific. The selections were made from 6,642 submissions.

In the African region, three of the writers are from South Africa: Matshediso Radebe, Michael Boyd and Hana Gammon. There are two Kenyan writers: Josiah Mbote  and Buke Abduba. H. B. Asari is the only Nigerian on the list.

This year’s judging panel, chaired by Pakistani author Bilal Tanweer, includes Rwandan-born author Rémy Ngamije (Africa), Sri Lankan author Ameena Hussein (Asia), British-Canadian author Katrina Best (Canada and Europe), Saint Lucian author Mac Donald Dixon (Caribbean), and New Zealand’s former poet laureate, Dr. Selina TusitalaMarsh (Pacific).

Tanweer praised the stories for “brimming with the energy and urgency of the present moment, and for capturing the “beat and pulse of contemporary storytelling.” 

The stories on the Africa shortlist explore themes of grief, childhood, comedy, memory, and more.

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize is awarded for the best short-fiction manuscript. The regional winners and the overall winner receive cash awards of £2,500 (U.S. $3,106) and £5,000 (U.S. $6,212), respectively.

The shortlisted stories will be published in Adda, the Commonwealth Foundation’s flagship magazine. On May 17, regional winners will be announced, with the overall winner to be announced on June 27, 2023.

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