Female Representation in Contemporary African Art

Explore how art history has influenced African art today and meet some of the most exciting contemporary artists in the field.

African Artists' Foundation

Outdoor With A Friend (2009) by Tolu AlikiOriginal Source: African Artists Foundation

The Woman, The Muse

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.

Untitled (2008) by Tola WeweOriginal Source: African Artists Foundation

From the old and the new

Elements of these olden influences are reflected in the representation of women in 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.

Blue Elizabeth (2014) by Gbolahan AyoolaOriginal Source: African Artists Foundation

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.

Afro-Ionic (2014) by Joseph EzeOriginal Source: African Artists Foundation

Afro-Ionic, 2014
A portrait of a woman by mixed media Nigerian artist Joseph Eze. Joseph Eze incorporates painting, sculpture, and installation techniques. His brush movements dwells on bold colors and he’s inspired to create things that will speak beyond his mouth.

Blue Elizabeth (2014) by Gbolahan AyoolaOriginal Source: African Artists Foundation

Blue Elizabeth, 2014
An imaginative depiction of Queen Elizabeth II by artist Ayoola Gbolahanis. Based in Lagos, Gbolahanis has received numerous awards and his works can be found in major corporate and private collections across the globe, including the World Bank in Washington USA, and The Nigerian National Gallery of Arts.

Untitled (2009) by Chief Bob AiweriobaOriginal Source: African Artists Foundation

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.

Untitled by Tola WeweOriginal Source: African Artists Foundation

Untitled
Here artist Tola Wewe explores the female form through his expressive and colourful brushstrokes. Tola Wewe was a founding member of the Ona movement, which consists of scholars, critics and practising artists committed to the exploration, interpretation and adaptation of traditional Yoruba symbols, motifs and concepts.

Untitled (2008) by Tola WeweOriginal Source: African Artists Foundation

Untitled
Another painting by Tola Wewe also explores the female body.

Blue in Bliss (2010/2015) by Gbolahan AyoolaOriginal Source: African Artists Foundation

Blue in Bliss
Here artist Ayoola Gbolahan has painted a woman surrounded by butterflies.

Untitled (2017) by Tola WeweOriginal Source: African Artists Foundation

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.

Midnight (2009) by Chief Bob AiweriobaOriginal Source: African Artists Foundation

Midnight, 2009
Chief Bob Aiwerioba (b.1967) is an esteemed Nigerian artist. An alumnae of the prestigious Auchi Polytechnic, Edo State, Aiwerioba’s paintings which are largely experimental, are a trajectory through his life and strongly allude to cubist techniques and influences.

Untitled (2017) by Tola WeweOriginal Source: African Artists Foundation

Untitled, 2017
The graphic and colourful artwork by artist Tola Wewe is mesmerising. Zoom in to explore the hidden details.

Just Orgasm (From The Languishing Series) (2017) by Uthman Wahaab (Courtesy of Sapar Contemporary)Original Source: African Artists Foundation

Just Orgasm (From the Languishing Series)
The multidisciplinary artist Uthman Wahaab was born in 1983 in Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria and grew up in Lagos. He received a degree in Fine Art from the School of Art, Design and Printing under Yada College of Technology in Lagos.

Red Wine (From the Languishing Series) (2017) by Uthman WahaabOriginal Source: African Artists Foundation

Wahaab is an artist who possesses an overarching interest in social phenomenon and eschews a consistent use of medium or even singular aesthetic style. Wahaab’s foremost concern is developing a new visual language that consciously rejects traditional forms of depiction in order to document ongoing history and unfolding reality.

Credits: Story

Director
Azu Nwagbogu

Curatorial Direction
Kadara Enyeasi

Curatorial Text/Editor
Asibi C. Danjuma

Photography
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.

Credits
© African Artists’ Foundation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps