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Modern African Art : A Basic Reading List


Eastern Africa : Eastern Africa (Region)

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Art in Eastern Africa / edited by Marion Arnold. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: Mkuki Na Nyota Publishers, 2008. X, 202pp. illus. (color), maps., bibl. refs. N7397.A47 2008 AFA. OCLC 177013845.

This book project seeks to address the neglect of East African art. It is written entirely by East Africans for Africans and covers Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. The scope of the book embraces archaeology & antiquities, ethnographic & utilitarian arts, and modern art. The chapters relevant to modern East African art are: “Pioneer Makerere masters,” by George Kyeyune (featuring George Maloba, Sam Ntiro, Elimo Njau, and Francis Nnaggenda); “The challenges and successes of women artists in Uganda,” by Margaret Nagawa; “Wangechi Mutu: the extent of your citizenry,” by Binyavanga Wainaina; and “Joga: making reality,” by Binyavanga Wainaina. Marion Arnold’s introductory chapter includes brief overviews of contemporary art in each of the countries.

East Africa Art Biennale: EASTAFAB 2003 / presented by Yves Goscinny. Dar es Salaam: La Petite Galerie, 2003. 206pp. illus. (color), bibl. refs. N7397.E26 2003 AFA. OCLC 54982242.

2003 was the first East Africa Art Biennale (EASTAFAB). Headquartered in Dar es Salaam, EASTAFAB embraces Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya, and in the initial outing in 2003 featured more than 100 East African artists plus a selection of international artists. However, only about 40 of the East African artists are represented in this catalog. The short biographical essays were contributed by the artists themselves, so they are uneven and idiosyncratic. All works are reproduced in color. Elias Jengo offers an essay on “Pioneers of contemporary art in Tanzania,” and Yves Goscinny writes on Jengo, himself a pioneer painter.

East Africa Art Biennale: EASTAFAB 2005 / presented by Yves Goscinny. Dar es Salaam: La Petite Galerie, 2003. xii, 246pp. illus. (color), bibl. refs. N7397.E26 2005 AFA. OCLC 213376862.

Originally intended as a traveling exhibition hosted in rotation by Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda, the East Africa Art Biennale stayed in Tanzania, as no support was forthcoming from elsewhere. Thus, the second East Africa Art Biennale was held in Dar es Salaam in 2005. Ninety-four artists from seventeen countries participated, the majority of whom work in traditional media: painting, printmaking and sculpture. Artists were invited to prepare a hand-written statement about their lives and work. Most complied, and these statements are reproduced in the catalog along with portraits of the artists, and reproductions of one or more artworks.

East Africa Art Biennale: EASTAFAB 2007. Dar es Salaam: La Petite Galerie, 2007. [v], 216pp. illus. (color). N7397.E26 2007 AFA. OCLC 281681392.

2007 was the third East Africa Art Biennale held in Dar es Salaam. Little heralded, this East African initiative is moving from strength to strength, directed by Yves Goscinny. In 2007 there were more than 100 artists from twenty-six countries participating, including for the first time a contingent of ten artists from Cuba. Not surprisingly, the countries most heavily represented are Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Mauritius. Artists from other African countries and the African diaspora in Europe filled out the roster. For each artist in this nicely produced catalog, there is a portrait, biosketch, artist's statement, and one to four works illustrated. Although no award winners are indicated, there is a Talent Gallery of thirty-eight of the artists showcased.

In recognition of the AIDS plague in Africa, a section on “body mapping” is included. This is a type of art therapy for HIV-positive individuals to create a body self-image art work to visualize their personal plight. Another social disaster, that of child soldiers, is also given recognition through a group of rehabilitated Ugandan children caught up in the horrific Lord’s Resistance Army conflict. For them, creating art is also a kind of therapy.

Kennedy, Jean. "Between natural and supernatural," pp. 143-154. In: New currents, ancient rivers: contemporary African artists in a generation of change. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992. illus., bibl. refs. (page 191). N7391.65.K46 1992X AFA. OCLC 22389510.

Modern art has fared less well in Eastern and Central Africa than elsewhere on the continent, according to Kennedy's assessment. She locates fewer luminaries and stars, despite the prominent art school at Makerere University and the various workshops in Central Africa. Even so, several names surface in her discussion: Gregory Maloba (1922- ), Sam Ntiro (1923-1994), Elimo Njau (1932- ), Louis Mwaniki (1934- ), Athumani Omari Mwariko (1944- ), Samwel Wanjau (1936- ), Francis X. Nnaggenda (1936- ), Hezbon Owiti (1946- ), Kiure Msangi (1937- ), and Malangatana (1936- ). In Central Africa, she finds even fewer artists worthy of note, except for Liyolo Limbé M'Puanga (1943- ), Tshyela Ntendu, Albert Lubaki, and Clément-Marie Biazin (1924-1981).

Miller, Judith von D. Art in East Africa: a guide to contemporary art. Nairobi: Africa Book Services (EA), Ltd., 1975. 125pp. illus. (pt. color), map, bibliog. N7397.M54 1975n AFA. OCLC 2035869.

The study of contemporary East African art -- Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda -- really has to begin with Judith Miller's book. She performed a very useful service in compiling this guide: a guide to artists, art movements, art galleries, museums, craft workshops, art schools, art societies, and art competitions. This is a reference book, not an art history text or art criticism, but it lays the necessary foundation.

Reviewed by John F. Povey in Journal of African studies (Los Angeles) 5 (3) fall 1978, pages 375-377.

Museum für Völkerkunde Frankfurt am Main. Wegzeichen: Kunst aus Ostafrika 1974-89 = Signs: art from East Africa 1974-89 / by Johanna Agthe. Frankfurt am Main: Museum für Völkerkunde, 1990. 541pp. illus. (pt color), bibl. refs. (Sammlung, 5: Afrika). N7397.M98 1990 AFA. OCLC 23173107.

Since 1974 the Museum für Völkerkunde in Frankfurt has assembled an impressive collection of contemporary East African art. All the works were purchased in Kenya, although they represent artists from Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique (a few) as well as Kenya. In her introduction, Agthe explains the rationale behind the museum's collection policy: why modern art in an ethnographic museum and why East Africa as a starting point.

Modern art in East Africa is new; it does not grow out of "traditional" art. Agthe dates its inception to 1936 when Margaret Trowell founded Makerere College of Arts in Kampala. East African artists have enjoyed little official support from government, and this remains true in Kenya today. Opportunities for art education are few. Debates go on within artistic circles over the role of art in society and the orientation of art. Western or indigenous? Art for whom? See especially the chapter "Directions in East African art."

Agthe also examines the themes and content of East African art and the constant interplay between tradition and modernity that preoccupies most, if not all, artists here. The themes are also listed in a separate index to the main catalog. Kenyan artist Etale Sukuru offers his own assessment of the state of contemporary art in Kenya in a separate essay. See "Kunst für das Volk = Art to the people" (pp. 125-148).

The catalog itself contains brief biographies of fifty-six artists and excerpts from interviews in which they discuss the works illustrated. The majority of works are paintings.

Reviewed by Simon Njami in Revue noire (Paris) no. 2: 54, September 1991.

Nyachae, Wanjiku. "Concrete narratives and visual prose: two stories from Kenya and Uganda," pp. 158-189, 316-317. In: Seven stories about modern art in Africa / organized by the Whitechapel Art Gallery, concept and general editor, Clémentine Deliss. Paris; New York: Flammarion, 1995. illus. (pt. color), bibl. refs. (pp. 316-317). OCLC 33663281. N7380.5.S49 1995 AFA.

Contents: "Introduction" (pp. 161-165); "Uganda: visual prose" (pp. 167-177); "Kenya: concrete narratives" (pp. 179-189). Includes discussion of artists associated with the Margaret Trowell School of Fine Art at Makerere University in Kampala; the embryonic fine art infrastructure in Kenya -- Paa Ya Paa Gallery, Sisi Kwa Sisi art movement, Ruth Schaffner's Gallery Watatu and her Watatu Foundation, and the now disbanded Malindi Artists Proof; and Kenya self-taught artists.