This Week in African Art and Culture (February 17 – 25, 2024)

Dear Friends, 

I hope the past week has been good to you. If it hasn’t, I hope the weekend brings you calm and comfort. As usual, I bring you news—glad tidings and updates you might have missed—from the African art and culture scene. A thought-provoking exhibition, an exciting animation debuting soon and prize winners are what we are about this week …

Ahmed Yasser’s First Solo Exhibition at Mashrabia Gallery of Contemporary Art, Egypt

Egypt is a country that seldom makes it to our weekly newsletters. One of the reasons for this is not because nothing fun happens there. On the contrary, Egypt, Cairo in particular, is a city bustling with exciting cultural programs, in spite of stiff regulation from its government. So, discovering that this exhibition was happening particularly excited me. 

The first solo show by Ahmed Yasser is titled In The Desert Garden—a title I find particularly striking, more so in relation to one of the paintings featured in the exhibition. This work is of a dominating bright background of pink used to depict the desert sand, in which a man is portrayed chilling in a bathtub in that desert among trees. 

The exhibition explores the relationship between various places and their events through a trip that starts at home and passes through the street, the city and the world. This project interrogates the artist’s perspective on family and society, the discovery that the moral system as a whole has distorted the concept of reward and punishment, and the misunderstanding of urbanization. In spite of these thoughts, Yasser still believes that humanity can find salvation—in love, that is. The desert exists within the garden, not the other way around. 

The exhibition will be on view from Feb. 25 until March 27, 2024.

Iwájú: African Animated Limited Series To Debut on Disney+

There’s a new African animated series set to debut and show exclusively on Disney+ called Iwájú. It’s a story set in the future in Lagos, Nigeria. The story follows Tola, a young girl from a rich island, and her best friend, Kole, who is skilled in technology. They uncover secrets and dangers in their different worlds. 

The filmmakers, Olufikayo Ziki Adeola, production designer Hamid Ibrahim and cultural consultant Toluwalakin Olowofoyeku, take us on this journey. They show us a unique world full of visual wonders and advanced technology inspired by the spirit of Lagos. The series is made by Disney Animation’s Christina Chen, with a script by Adeola and Halima Hudson and stars Simisola Gbadamosi, Dayo Okeniyi, Femi Branch, Siji Soetan, and Weruche Opia as the voices of the characters.

While it will be refreshing to find our homegrown stories presented as animation on an international streaming platform, it is quite disappointing that most people residing on the African continent cannot watch it on Disney+. In 2022, Disney+ was launched in 60 countries, including only two in Africa—South Africa and Algeria. Hopefully, this will change soon so we have more inclusivity in seeing our own products on these platforms. 

Zambia’s Mubanga Kalimamukwento Wins Drue Heinz Literature Prize

Zambian writer Mubanga Kalimamukwento has been announced as the recipient of the 2024 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, securing a $15,000 cash award and the opportunity for publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Her short story collection, Obligations to the Wounded is set to be released on Oct. 8, 2024.

Kalimamukwento’s winning work, Obligations to the Wounded, delves into the complexities of womanhood using proverbs and short stories deeply rooted in Zambian languages, culture and landscapes. Through the voices of 12 women and girls, the collection explores various themes, including religious expectations, migration, language loss, bereavement, domestic violence and racial discrimination.

The selection process for this year’s winner was overseen by Pitt Writing Program Director Angie Cruz, who commended Kalimamukwento’s collection for its poignant depiction of Zambian women’s experiences. “These thematically linked stories deliver an intricate study of Zambian women living in both Zambia and abroad who are weighing their options of who to love, where to live, where to work,” Cruz said. “The author, with a poet’s restraint, has written stories that deftly negotiate the challenges and tribulations women face when they feel the pressure and duty to yield to the will of family, community, customs, country and spiritual beliefs.”

Expressing her excitement upon receiving the award, Kalimamukwento said, “This is a prize I have been reading and entering for years, so a win is a kind of a ‘finally’ and ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you’ moment for me.”

Kalimamukwento, who is also a practicing attorney, previously has received accolades such as the 2022 Tusculum Review Poetry Chapbook Contest selected by Carmen Giménez, the 2019 Dinaane Debut Fiction Award, and the 2019 Kalemba Short Story Prize. Her literary works have been featured in publications including adda, Aster(ix), Overland, the Red Rock Review, Menelique, and others.

Amina Agueznay Wins Norval Sovereign African Art Prize

Renowned Moroccan artist Amina Agueznay has won the prestigious Norval Sovereign African Art Prize (NSAAP) 2024 for her exceptional artwork titled Portal #1. Her creation received the highest votes from a distinguished panel of judges.

NSAAP 2024 is dedicated to honoring contemporary artists from Africa and its diaspora. The award enlisted an independent board of arts professionals, including curators, writers, and academics, who actively engage with diverse artistic communities. 

From a pool of 375 submissions, a panel of five judges, including Ashraf Jamal, Heba El Kayal, Marie-Ann Yemsi, Ngaire Blankenberg and Sean O’Toole, meticulously shortlisted 27 finalists from 17 countries across Africa and its diaspora, such as South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Rwanda.

I first came across Amina Agueznay’s works a few years ago while working on a publication in which she was featured. I immediately was drawn to the intricately woven expressions presented on textile. These works would immediately engage anyone with awe. Since then, I have followed her closely, paying attention to the consistency and meticulousness of her sculptural presentations.

An upcoming exhibition will showcase a variety of artworks from the finalists, including paintings, mixed media pieces, sculptures, and photographs.

Where To Go, What To Do & What To See

  • Iwájú (Debuting on Disney + Feb. 28, 2024)
  • Toni Morrison Symposium at The Africa Hall, Sharjah, U.A.E. (Feb. 28-29, 2024)
  • The Time is Always Now at National Portrait Gallery, London (Until May 19, 2024)
  • Peju Alatise’s We Came with the Last Rain at Rele Gallery, London (Until March 23, 2024)
  • 1-54 at Christie’s Hong Kong (March 26- 30, 2024)
  • Africa Unveiled: A monthly virtual learning series about Africa by the Royal African Society

Compiled by Roli O’tsemaye

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