The Woman, The Muse

African Artists' Foundation

Female Representation in Contemporary African Art

Female Body
The representation of the female body in art has undergone a metamorphosis that historically hinged upon the the cultural and political orders of the day. Vestiges of such past influences, are still prevalent in African art today.
Objects of Power
The dominance of Christianity in the late antiquity meant medieval art commissioned for churches, thematically honed in on purity, chastity and celibacy when depicting the bodies of women, finding an icon in the numinous virgin Mary and her story of immaculate conception. 


With the advent of the Renaissance period, secular subjects became incorporated into works of art, changing the need of patrons and therefore the output of artists. Portraits of women focused on the significance of feminine beauty and its appeal to the viewer, from an archetypal social role perspective.

Objects of Pleasure
Nudity and sexuality were also predominant aspects of gender themes in the Renaissance and Baroque eras, a quintessential illustration being Titan’s (1490-1576) Flora (1515), an erotically charged painting of Flora, the goddess of spring, flowers, and fertility.    


In tandem, art was at times not meant to be a direct representation of the individual, but a visual metaphor suggesting the dangers of lust and temptation, concealing sexuality in moralistic criticism.

Objects of Lust
A classic example of pre-modern Italian portraiture, Piero di Cosmo’s (1462-1521) Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci (c.1490), draws attention to the subject’s bare breasts and a snake wrapped around her neck.


Elements of these olden influences are reflected in the representation of women contemporary African art, complemented by the dynamism of feminism in recent decades. This body of work is a junction where the old and new meet, through the works of several revered African artists.

Credits: Story

Azu Nwagbogu

Curatorial Direction
Kadara Enyeasi

Curatorial Text/Editor
Asibi C. Danjuma

Benson Ibeabuchi

With Support From
Nguveren Ahua and Hannah Oghene

Special Thanks To
Christopher Alenosi, George Edozien, Yomi Momoh, Tolu Aliki, Ayoola Gbolahan, Joseph Eze, Chief Bob Aiwerioba, Prince Tola Wewe, Uthman Wahaab, Sapar Contemporary.

© African Artists’ Foundation

Credits: All media
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