This Week in African Art and Culture (October 1-7, 2023)

Leila Aboulela, Judy Laing Photography 2019

This Week in African Art and Culture captures heartwarming news of less-renowned artists and writers taking center stage in big spaces and places in recognition of their artworks and literary pieces. A Guinean artist earns first prize from over 700 entries, a Moroccan artist presents an ambitious installation at the most prominent African art fair, a Nigerian artist opens her first institutional exhibition in the U.K. …

Abdoulaye Conde Wins $125K Grand Prize for Raining Wisdom at ArtPrize 2023

Guinean artist Abdoulaye Conde has been announced the winner of the ArtPrize 2023 public vote grand prize for his work, Raining Wisdom. The mural, which portrayed huge and colorful elephants in a vibrant habitat, captured the hearts and minds of festival-goers with its exciting colors and profound imagery.

Conde wrote in his artist statement that in Guinea, his home country, the elephant is recognized as the national animal, and it’s revered as an “intelligent, powerful, and wise” creature that loves and cares for the members of its herd.

Raining Wisdom, which took Conde 25 days to create, occupies the west side of a building in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich. It is situated at the intersection of Ottawa Ave. NW and Louis St. SW. Conde is originally from Guinea in West Africa but now lives in Chicago. Conde said that his mural paid tribute to the wise, powerful and intelligent nature of these majestic creatures.

Conde won the prize from about 700 entries displayed at ArtPrize. He will receive the grand prize of $125,000. His achievement is a testament to his artistic talent and his ability to capture the essence of nature with unparalleled brilliance.

Abdoulaye Conde poses for a portrait in front of his mural, Raining Wisdom | photo credit: Joel Bissell,

Morocco’s Amine El Gotaibi Introduces Sculptural Installation at 1-54 London

This year’s edition of 1-54 London, will host 62 international exhibitors from over 31 countries, the fair’s largest edition to date. Of these, 14 galleries will participate in the fair’s London edition for the first time. Newcomers include Affinity Gallery (Lagos, Nigeria), Efie Gallery (Dubai, United Arab Emirates), Asfalto (Rio de Janeiro), Krystel Ann Art (Lisbon, Portugal), Hannah Traore Gallery (New York) and The African Art Hub (London), among others.

New and returning exhibitors will present over 170 artists working across an array of mediums, from painting and sculpture to mixed media and installation. Works from established artists such as Joana Choumali, Ibrahim El-Salahi and Soly Cissé to young and emerging artists, including Josué Comoe, Anya Paintsil and Edozie Anedu will be on view.

Noteworthy is a specially commissioned piece for the Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court, created by Moroccan artist Amine El Gotaibi. Here, he presents his most ambitious work to date, titled Illuminate the Light. Created in collaboration with MCC Gallery in Marrakech, Morocco, the artist presents 12 individual geometric sculptures inspired by the seeds of a pomegranate that vary widely in shape and color to represent the diversity and abundance of the African continent.

Wielding light as a solid medium within the sculptures, El Gotaibi also uses light as a metaphor to foster positive stories of Africa to counter the West’s frequent stereotypes of the “dark continent.” At dusk, the sculptures transform into luminous installations, underscoring the artist’s philosophy that “out of darkness, light emerges.”

1-54 London will take place from Oct. 12-15, 2023.

From the Mountain to the Desert and from the Desert to the Mountain | Amine El Gotaibi | 2022

Nengi Omuku’s The Dance of People and the Natural World at Hastings Contemporary in East Sussex, U.K.

Opening this weekend at Hastings Contemporary is the first U.K. major solo show by Nigerian artist Nengi Omuku, titled The Dance of People and the Natural World. This show will not only introduce Omuku’s work to a wider U.K. audience but also seeks to broaden the exposure and awareness of the vibrant contemporary Nigerian art scene.

Displaying more than ten pieces, the show spans five of Hastings Contemporary’s eight galleries and includes works made between 2021 and 2023 that explore Omuku’s love of nature and the ways in which it provides her with a sense of safety and serenity.

From 2021’s Lighthouse to her latest, yet-to-be-titled work made this year (2023), the series focuses on a sense of reimmersion in nature. As Omuku explained, “This comes from both a personal place, telling my story as a gardener and florist, as well as what I feel is a collective leaning, and re-communion with nature today.”

Born in Warri, Nigeria, Omuku spent several years in London, studying at the Slade School of Fine Art. She subsequently developed a distinctive style, which involves applying oil paint to gesso-prepared composite strips of the Nigerian fabric sanyan, a tightly woven, handspun material that is an important aspect of Nigeria’s cultural history.

A further highlight of the exhibition at Hastings Contemporary will be the chance to see two new works (made this year), along with her largest piece to date, Eden (2022). The display of this monumental painting (measuring 224 x 520 centimeters) includes stools, scatter cushions and pot plants, echoing Nengi’s own studio set-up in Lagos, Nigeria. The ensemble invites visitors to pause and relax, enjoying a moment of quiet reflection and respite.

Nengi Omuku’s Eden

In Eden, Omuku invokes a sense of the biblical paradise and a longing for a pre-fall state of tranquility, alongside a sense of the solace to be found in nature. Eden also acts as a conduit between the other works on display by further expressing the artist’s theme of the rest and sanctuary afforded by the natural world. Eden represents an allegorical journey from darkness into light, as the eye moves from left to right across the canvas, following the passage of figures as they traverse a utopian landscape composed in a vivid, Fauvist palette of complementary colors.

Welcome Home (2022) and Lighthouse (2021) both feature her signature spectral figures set in a dreamlike landscape. Still Life (2021) alludes to the time Omuku spent working as a florist and horticulturist under her mother, while the foregrounds of Repose (2022) and Swing (2022) suggest the influence of Monet’s garden at Giverny on her work and the artist’s own research into Impressionism.

Looking ahead to the exhibition, her first major solo show in a U.K. public gallery, Nengi said, “It is a great privilege to have my first solo institutional exhibition at Hastings Contemporary, whose program I have long admired for its far-reaching approach to painting. As a student at the Slade, I dreamed of having a museum show in the U.K., my home from home, and nowhere feels more fitting than Hastings Contemporary whose coastal location, for me, finds kinship with Lagos. The group of works presented focus on bringing love and light into the world, on concern for the environment and on sustainable practices to nurture and protect natural habitats.”

The exhibition will be on view from Oct. 7, 2023–March 3, 2024.

Leila Aboulela Wraps Up U.S./Canada Book Tour for River Spirit this Month

With a packed schedule for her book tour over the coming weeks, Sudanese author Leila Aboulela will be closing her U.S./Canada book tour for River Spirit this month in Wisconsin.

River Spirit tells the story of an enslaved young woman’s coming of age during the Mahdist War in 19th-century Sudan. Set against the backdrop of British imperialist history, the main character Akuany and her brother Bol are orphaned in a village raid and taken in by the merchant Yaseen, who promises to care for them.

However, Yaseen and the children are split apart after he decides to oppose the rising revolutionary leader, the self-proclaimed Mahdi. Young Akuany is sold and traded from house to house across the country, and everything is on the line in the fight for Sudan.

book cover for River Spirit

Before her closing appearance in Wisconsin, where Aboulela will present at the prestigious Wisconsin Book Festival taking place Oct. 20, 2023, she will appear at the following:

Oct. 3: The Lannan Center, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
Oct. 4: City of Asylum’s International Literature Festival, Pittsburgh
Oct. 9-10: Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio
Oct. 12: Fall for the Book Festival, Fairfax, Va.
Oct. 16: American University, Washington, D.C.
Oct. 17: Simmons University – Resist! Political Resistance in Literature and Film

Leila Aboulela is a renowned author with works translated into 15 languages. She grew up in Khartoum, Sudan, and now lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. She was the first winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2000 and has been thrice nominated for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Her published novels include Bird Summons (2019), The Kindness of Enemies (2015), and Lyrics Alley (2011), which won the fiction category of the Scottish Book Awards.

Ayanna Lloyd Banwo Wins Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award

Ayanna Lloyd Banwo’s novel When We Were Birds has been announced as the winner of the Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award 2023. The Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award, founded in 2017, is for a novel written in English and published the previous year in the U.K. It is awarded annually to a compelling novel of any genre—from romance and thrillers to historical, speculative and literary fiction—with brilliant characterization and a distinct voice that is confidently written and assuredly realized. Goldsboro Books is a bookstore founded by David Headley and Daniel Gedeon in 1999; they have branches in London and Bristol, U.K.

Book cover for When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo

This year’s award was judged by Goldsboro Books staff led by David Headley, Goldsboro Books co-founder and M.D. They announced the shortlist for this year’s award on July 27 before Ayanna Lloyd Banwo’s novel, When We Were Birds was named the winner on Saturday. The judging team praised the book as being “radiant and powerful.”

Banwo receives £2,000 (U.S. $2,448) and a handmade glass bell.

Compiled by Roli O’tsemaye

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