Modern African Art : A Basic Reading List

Northern Africa : Northern Africa (Region)


close window

Ali, Wijdan. Modern Islamic art: development and continuity. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997. xii, 225pp., [16]pp. of color plates. illus. (pt. color), bibliog. (pp. 216-218). N7265.A43 1997X AFA. OCLC 37109199.

Modern Islamic artseeks "to trace the development of Western aesthetics and modern painting in the Islamic world and to establish the continuity of Islamic art in the twentieth century through contemporary calligraphic school of art" (page xii). Based on the author's doctoral dissertation at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, this study looks at the evolution of modern art in five North African countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Sudan as well as countries in the Middle East. She surveys the impact of Western modernism, the artists' search for identity within an era of colonialism's decline and nationalism's rise, and the rejuvenation of Islamic art forms and their incorporation into modern art. Central to her thesis is the "calligraphic school of art," a trans-national movement which flourished from the 1950s to the 1980s. For many artists, Arabic calligraphy served as source of inspiration, as artistic idiom and style, and as hallmark of cultural renaissance.

Included in an appendix are biographies of artists discussed in the text. Sixteen color plates illustrating works of art complement the black and white illustrations in the text.

Art contemporain arabe: collection du Musée du l'Institut du Monde Arabe / sous la responsabilité de Brahim Ben Hossain Alaoui. Paris: Institut du Monde Arabe, 1988. 171, [67]pp. illus. (color). Text in French and Arabic. qN6264.F8P371 1988X AFA. OCLC 21165019.

The Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris has established a museum whose collection represents some of the most outstanding art in the Arabic world from the 1950s to the present. In addition to its growing permanent collection, the Institut organizes temporary exhibitions of contemporary artists. Art contemporain arabe, the catalog of the permanent collection, is introduced with a series of seven essays, which address the essential characteristics of contemporary Arabic art, its aesthetic qualities, the use of calligraphic forms, and the contributions of an Arabic-Islamic aesthetic to Western art.

The North African artists represented are: Shafiq Abboud (Libya), Etel Adnan (Libya), Saïd Al-Adawi (Egypt), Abdelhadi Al-Gazzar (Egypt), Michel Basbous (Libya), Baya (Algeria), Farid Belkahia (Morocco), Fouad Bellamine (Morocco), Abdallah Benanteur (Algeria), Mohamed Ben Meftah (Tunisia), Mounir Canaan (Egypt), Tallal Chaïbia (Morocco), Ahmed Cherkaoui (Morocco), Chaouki Choukini (Libya), Saliba Douaihy (Libya), Rafik El Kamel (Tunisia), Touhami Ennadre (Morocco), Adam Henein (Egypt), M'Hamed Issiakhem (Algeria), Mohamed Kacimi (Morocco), Mohammed Khadda (Algeria), Mohammad Omer Khalil (Sudan), Rachid Koraichi (Algeria), Nja Mahdaoui (Tunisia), Salah Malek (Algeria), Mohammed Melehi (Morocco), Hamed Nada (Egypt), Ahmad Nawar (Egypt), Abdelkebir Rabi (Morocco), Abderrazak Sahli (Tunisia), and Gouider Triki (Tunisia).

Contemporary art from the Islamic world; [exhibition at the Barbican Concourse Gallery, London] / edited by Wijdan Ali with Suhail Bisharat. London: Scorpion Publishing on behalf of the Royal Society of Fine Arts, Amman, 1989. 288pp. illus. (pt. color), plates. N6264.G7L663 1989b AFA. OCLC 21769078.

The "Contemporary Art from the Islamic World" exhibition at the Barbican Concourse Gallery, London, featured works from the Jordan National Art Gallery in Amman, an institution committed to collecting works of contemporary Arab and Islamic artists. In her introduction Wijdan Ali points out that Islamic art's ban on figurative painting is misunderstood: that Islamic artists focus on spiritual representations rather than material ones -- "Nature, humans and objects in Islamic painting are represented by their spiritual, not their physical and material qualities" (page xii) -- and that this tendency gave rise to the abstract ornamentation of the arabesque. Modern Islamic artists, though coming from many countries and cultures, share certain traits with respect to training, outlook, and desire to reach out to their audiences.

Sudan, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, and Libya were represented in the exhibition (but not sub-Saharan Africa):

Rashid Diab, "Sudan," (pp. 245-252). Modern Sudan artists coming out of the academic art program of the College of Fine and Applied Arts (the "Khartoum School") since the 1950s have sought to fuse an Islamic heritage with an "African" one. This cultural retrieval was more consciously attempted among the first generation of these artists, such as El Salahi and Ahmad Shibrain, than among later artists. The Afro-Islamic compositions, which incorporated calligraphic forms and images of masks, have been less typical of later generations of artists, who are equally interested in exploring other themes and media, not necessarily "Sudanese." Although Diab cautions against "the corrupting influence of Western school," he acknowledges that in the process of evolving Sudanese styles, syncretism is inevitable. Paintings and sculptures of fourteen artists are illustrated, five in color.

Mohammad Taha Hussein, "Egypt," (pp. 33-39). The year 1908 when the School of Fine Art opened in Cairo marks the beginning of the modern arts movement in Egypt. Since then, several distinct schools, movements, and styles have succeeded one another, responding to different stimuli and espousing different ideologies. The drive for nationalism and the revolution of 1952, for example, had profound effect on artists. Egyptian artists of the twentieth century have alternatively embraced and rejected European trends and styles. Elements of Islamic calligraphy, ancient Egyptian iconography, and European modernism have all appeared in their work. The governments of Egypt have been supportive of the fine arts since the early years of the century, and numerous exhibition venues have been available to artists, unlike elsewhere in Africa. Works of twenty-two artists are illustrated, ten in color. The editor notes that this essay was enhanced by material from Liliane Karnouk's book (see below).

Wijdan Ali, "Libya," (page 205). The modern art movement in Libya has flourished on a small scale in fits and starts, and has produced only a few prominent artists. Ali Omer Ermes stands out. Partly this is due to the political atmosphere in Libya and to the limited opportunities in the country for training and exhibition. Several Libyan artists have studied abroad, notably in Italy or Egypt.

Benamar Mediene, "Algeria," (pp. 13-20). Algerian artists of the 1960s have been ideologically torn between a fierce nationalism, which embraces modernism, and a romantic longing for Berber-Algerian culture, a movement "half revolutionary, half nostalgic," as Mediene puts it. But underneath this confusion there is a unifying quest for "art and freedom." The heavy hand of French colonialism and imposed culture had a stultifying effect on the emergence of truly Algerian art. Two artists stand out: Baya, the woman who creats dreamlike gardens of fantasy, and Khadda, whose language of signs merge painting and writing. Three artists are illustrated, including Baya.

Toni Maraini, "Morocco," (pp. 211-218). Painting is the predominant modern art medium in Morocco; its antecedents lie in architectural embellishments, surface decoration of portable objects, illumination and miniature painting. Before there were formal art schools in Morocco (from the 1950s), a few self-taught individuals took up easel painting with some sporadic success. The generation of artists who came of age around the time of independence (1956), such as Farid Belkahia, took advantage of opportunities to study abroad. Their return home marked a new course for modern Moroccan painting; they inspired younger artists to rethink artistic purpose, and they revamped the cultural landscape with respect to exhibitions, research, publishing, and teaching. For today's painters, the question of whether "Moroccan painting" exists is a moot one: they have moved beyond this, individually and collectively, always influenced and inspired by a variety of forms, symbols, and ideas. Morocco has always been a crossroads of cultures -- Saharan, Iberian, Berber, Mediterranean, Islamic -- and its painters, "trans-occidental." Seven artists are illustrated, four in color.

Exhibition reviewed: "Exhibition of Islamic art," West Africa (London) no. 3765: 1746, October 16-22, 1989.

Eigner, Saeb. Art of the Middle east: modern and contemporary art of the Arab world and Iran. London: Merrell, 2010. 383pp. illus. (chiefly color), bibliog. (pp. 379-380). N7265.E44 2010 AFA. OCLC 436031514.

This major survey of Middle Eastern art includes 57 artists from all the North African countries – Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. The period covered is mid-20th century to the present. The art is presented thematically: Introduction -- Sacred scripture -- Literature -- Music and performance -- Politics, conflict and war -- History and identity -- Portraiture and the body -- Nature and the land.

Perilli, Maria Laura. L’arte contemporânea del Maghreb: rapport vecchi e nuovi con l’Europa. Roma: De Luca, 2009. 207pp. illus. (pt. color), bibl. refs. N7387.P47 2009 AFA. OCLC 377851817.

This is a broad survey of art in the Maghreb throughout the 20th century beginning with the historical antecedents of Islamic artistic traditions and Orientalist art. By mid-20th century, artists from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya were seriously exploring Modernism and other international trends


Solomon, Carol. Memory, place, desire: contemporary art of the Maghreb and Maghreb diaspora. Haverford, PA: Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, 2014. 63 pages. color illus. N7387.S65 2014 AFA. OCLC 893680122.

Maghred artists--Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia--are not as well known as Sub-Saharan artists in the United States. This catalog of the exhibition of Maghred artists, born in the 1960s to 1980s, was presented at the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery in Harveford, Pennsylvania in 2014. Haverford College students wrote the text of the 13 artists: The artists are: Mustapha Akrim, Kader Attia, Yto Barrada, Zoulikha Bouabdellah, Mohamed El Baz, El Seed, Mounir Fatimi, Hassan Hajjaj, Ndia Kaabi-Linke, Driss Ouadahi, Younès Rahmoun, Zakaria Ramhani, and Willis From Tunis.

Taking shape abstraction from the Arab world 1950s-1980s / edited by Suheyla Takesh and Lynn Gumpert. Munich, Germany: Hirmer Publishers, 2020. 256 pp. illus. (color), bibliog. (p. 245-246). N7265.3.T35 2020 AFA. OCLC 1110435781.

Mid-twentieth century abstract art in Arab countries draws significantly on Arabic calligraphy and letters. The art and artists of interest to us in this catalog come from Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, and Sudan. Two essays--one on Sudan by Salah M. Hassan and the second one on Algeria by Hannah Feldman--concentrade on very important artists. For the Sudan--Osman Waqialla, Ibrahim El-Salahi, and Ahmed Shibrain. For Algeria--Choukri Mesli, Mohammed Khadda, and Abdallah Benanteur.

Tendances de la peinture contemporaine au Maghreb / textes, Tahar Lamine Al Maghribi [and others]. Milan: Monolito, 1990. 153, 71 pp. illus. (color), bibl. refs. ND1087.T46 1990 AFA. OCLC 39125233.

This exhibition of North African painting, which traveled to Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania, featured artists from all of these countries. Forty-four painters are represented. All the paintings are reproduced in color. Although abstract and geometric compositions predominant, there are figurative paintings as well.