The Top Three African Exhibitions Across the Globe: This Week in African Art and Culture

This week in African art and culture, with only so much stimulating news and events happening, we decided to share four exciting exhibitions with you that should get your attention and entice you to visit if you happen to be in one of these cities:  London, Frankfurt, Germany, Accra, Ghana or Lagos, Nigeria. 

Like each of the artists featured, each show is distinct, bearing a figurative outlook with abstract elements that rouse viewers to learn more about these works and the processes behind them …

Addis Fine Art London Presents Synthesis of Souls by Tizta Berhanu

Tizta Berhanu | Synthesis of Soul | 2023 | Addis Fine Art

On Thursday in London, Addis Fine Art opened a solo exhibition by acclaimed Ethiopian artist Tizta Berhanu titled Synthesis of Souls. The exhibition marks her first European solo show. 

Tizta Berhanu explores humanity’s full spectrum of emotions in her figurative paintings. Narratives of love, intimacy, kinship and motherhood flow across her gestural compositions. Tizta’s figures are painted with expressive brushstrokes, often woven into layers of the canvas’ abstract background. Interlaced in each other’s embrace, her figures express the beauty of human touch.

Synthesis of Souls is guest-curated by Claudia Cheng,  an independent art advisor and curator based between London and Hong Kong.

Tizta Berhanu was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1991, where she has lived and worked her entire life. She graduated in 2013 from Addis Ababa University‘s Alle School of Fine Arts and Design, where she studied under the influential modernist painter Tadesse Mesfin. 

Trained as a figurative painter, Tizta uses the medium to introspectively delve into human emotions. The figures in her work often express an array of sentiments; some comfort and embrace one another, while others are found isolated and searching in the backdrop of the enigmatic canvases. Her paintings are awash with lucid colors that flow across the canvases through the use of heavy, undefined brush strokes. By portraying her subjects expressing love, hate, sadness and loneliness, the observer is invited into moments of vulnerability and intimacy.

Her bold use of color infuses each painting with its own distinct emotional tone; her lustrous red paintings, for instance, conjure images of love and passion, while the oceanic blue works wash the viewer in a wave of despondency.

The exhibition will be on view until Saturday, May 27. 

Mario Joyce’s Solo, Gravity at Sakhile & Me, Frankfurt, Germany

Mario Joyce | Gravitational Constant | vintage collage, soil, acrylic, pastel, ink and oil on canvas | 2023

Sakhile&Me also has a new show in Frankfurt, Germany, titled Gravity, the gallery’s first solo exhibition with L.A.-based artist Mario Joyce. The show opened with an artist talk between Mario Joyce and curator and co-founder of ARTNOIR Larry Ossei-Mensah.

Mario Joyce’s work focuses on ancestry, heritage, and social and cultural awareness, specifically in BIPOC communities. The artist draws on historical, political and personal narratives, and his paintings are figurative compositions with a free-flowing abstracted aesthetic that combines collage from vintage photographs with expressive and gestural painting using oils and acrylics. The thickly layered compositions encompass scenes of both indoor spaces and outdoor foliage.

For this new solo show in Frankfurt, Mario Joyce created a body of work that focuses on genealogy and takes soil from the farm he grew up on in rural Ohio, mixing it with a dark base oil paint to create dense compositions in which abstracted figures, made out of old archival photos from the region, can be seen in motion: leaping, reaching, overlapping and visually embedded within the environment. 

Joyce developed this material alchemy with soil in his recently completed Pratt>FORWARD residency at New Lab in Brooklyn Navy Yard, which was followed by an exhibition with UTA Artist Space in Atlanta, pushing his experimentation with soil as both living and historical matter and building it into his textured collage paintings.

In the artist’s words, “Gravity encompasses both the involuntary and natural imprint that my rural upbringing had on my psyche. In a similar way, the soil from the farm I grew up on (though visible) holds an unseen pull and evidence of historical pulls, some measurable and others eluding capture. Within this environment and on this soil, I became my whole self. 

“But what parts of myself would have remained entirely mine without being raised on this land? What did the soil, personified, see before my existence that influenced my personality and very being? My metamorphosis was one of survival, grasping for my individuality, while simultaneously being transformed into a fully realized version of who I currently am. In this work, I am studying the properties within these soil time capsules in the form of stories, while also investigating the ‘DNA’ of the soil I grew up on and how it fused with my young, fragile ‘genome.’”

Gravity is on view until June 10, 2023.

Gabriel Tendai Choto: Deep, Deep, Down in the Belly of the Earth 

Gabriel Tendai Choto | Deep, Deep Down In The Belly Of The Earth | 2023 | ADA Contemporary Art

At ADA Contemporary in Accra, Ghana, Gabriel Choto is presenting large-scale wooden windows in oil on Somerset paper and delves into deeply personal narratives of grappling with grief and depression due to suppressed emotions shaped by trapped, constructed cultural norms where it is not socially acceptable for men to express their feelings.

The exhibition’s title is inspired by a song called Stimela by renowned South African musician and composer Hugh Masekela. The 11th line of the song’s live introduction Deep, deep down in the belly of the earth, captures the political unrest in then-apartheid South Africa and suggests grief, pain and empathy for struggling Black men, immigrants and laborers who were not encouraged to express moments of weakness outwardly. Connecting the dots within his own life and relating with the characters in the song, Choto takes his viewers on a metaphoric journey of emotional transparency.

The expanse of space in each painting alludes to glimmers of hope amid long periods of suppressed emotions and the daily struggle with mental health. Choto places himself as the subject in most of his compositions, unveiling difficult periods in his life. The surface of the oil paintings is imbued with semi-hyper-real elements, accentuating the strategic use of negative space, and soulful beiges take on a therapeutic hue, the perfect muted background to contain the catharsis of each character.

Deep, Deep Down In The Belly Of The Earth lays bare Choto’s vulnerabilities. It builds up layers of aesthetic compositions as simple as the experience and as complex as the emotions he tries to evoke.

Choto’s works can be viewed at ADA Contemporary until May 28, 2023.

Kenneth “Kenny Maro” Oghenemaro Debuts Solo Exhibition at Rele Gallery, Lagos

Kenny Maro | Light Bringer I (The Bringer) | oil on canvas | 48 x 48 inches | 2022  

Rele Gallery is debuting a solo for a thriving artist, Kenneth “Kenny Maro” Oghenemaro, at its Lagos, Nigeria edifice. Titled This is not Earth, this body of work attempts to transport its audience into strange, futuristic realms, one populated by luminous clouds, floodlights and superhero characters zipping by on hoverboards. While the exhibition title and painted scenes connote an otherworldliness often found in sci-fi movies and comic books, the works present references to the poor state of the electricity sector in Nigeria and the epileptic power supply experienced collectively across the country. 

Presenting work across painting, sound and installation, Oghenemaro creates ethereal worlds and objects alongside recognizable elements like powerlines and vegetation, conflating the strange with the familiar. Here, he is focused on generating hybrid bodies and landscapes visually charged with the pulsating energy of light and movement. 

In This is not Earth, three distinct series make up the core of the presentation. In Uninterrupted, the artist considers a suspended state of play and uncertainty brought on by power outages. Drawing from childhood experiences of playing games with rubber bands—represented by the glowing oval rings—during periods of blackouts, the artist alludes to a liminal state in which the body exists while waiting for power to be restored. 

In Light bringers, his subjects, wearing helmets, emerge out of swirling clouds holding lightning bolts as they travel through the air on hoverboards. These figures in skin-tight spacesuits are imagined as superhero characters who, by their possession of a light source, restore order and hope to a chaotic, darkened world. The Vigilante series presents experimental representations of light, taking as a point of reference the torchlights and headlamps used by local vigilante groups in Nigeria. Here, light is considered a symbol and reinforcement of security and safety within communities.

With these works, Oghenemaro creates an escape into the imaginary. The exhibition ushers us into an alternate reality, one in which light-wielding figures rush through the skies to save the day. 

This is Not Earth is on view until May 6, 2023.

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