– Barbados –

Looking through Ronald Williams’ digital collages is an exercise in allusion. For example, in Bliss from his Making Sport series, we see a basketball player as a winged Hermes. That reference is clear, the godly pedestal upon which athletes (and usually black athletes) are placed. The basketball is a graphic fist of protest and his uniform is covered in food products with black people as the brands. Both arms are labeled with the n-word and his face is covered in a tragicomic mask. Williams presents and unpacks the role of the black athlete, but also the role of the black man and the Caribbean man. Williams  explains, “Growing up in a post-colonial, globalized Caribbean state where mainstream images of the ‘black self’ were seldom locally created, there was a void which imported images (usually constructed by non-blacks and regularly negative) naturally filled.”

Sheena Rose is an artist whose self permeates through her work as much as anything else. In some cases, it is because she brings her audience into her life through performances, like A Bit of Gossip, A Bit of PrivacyVisitors are invited into her home to experience four unfolding scenes in separate rooms performed by local actors. Her series, Town, began as sketches and then migrated to animation. In either form, it is about Rose’s personal experience navigating cities as an outsider. It is a visualization of her experience of feeling out of place and making sense of a foreign city. In Sweet Gossip, Rose collaborated with photographer Adrian Richards and art historian Natalie McGuire to paint stereotypes of Barbadian pop and gossip culture and then activate them through placing them in public spaces with performances.

Some more contemporary Barbadian artists: Llanor AlleyneEwan Atkinson, Annalee Davis, Alicia AlleyneKraig Yearwood, Mark King, Alberta Whittle, Joscelyn Gardner, and Versia Harris

– Tunisia –

Nadia Kaabi Linke is not an artist of one place. Although born in Tunisia, she has lived in Dubai, Paris, and Kiev, and now resides in Berlin. This ever-constant movement through geographic, social, and political spaces is at the heart of her work. And with this movement, she often focuses on making visible the invisible or making permanent the impermanent. In her most notable work, Flying Carpets (2011), she created a cage-like, hanging steel structure that brings attention and permanence to the Venetian street vendors who  pick up their goods at a moment’s notice to flee the authorities. This piece is reminiscent of the street vendors in Venice. Impunities London Originals (2012) is a series of printed marks that are the imprints of the scars from domestic violence victims.

Thameur Mejri deceives with color. His canvases are explosions of color, forms, shapes, and figures. But the cheery tone of lime greens and turquoise is undercut by the imagery of skeletons, barbed wire, and blood stains. The titles of his work Dead Boy 2, Knives Everywhere, and Obliteration only further darken these paintings. Mejri explains that he is concerned with the everyday violence of the Middle East and Northern Africa, and particularly the role of masculinity within it. The colors, forms, shapes, and figures clash within the canvas to convey the constant physical, emotional, and ideological clashes going on around and beyond Mejri.

Some more contemporary Tunisian artists: Nja MahdaouiAli Tnani, and Mouna Karray.

– Zimbabwe –

There are many artistic forms blossoming in Zimbabwe. Of personal interest to me are the artists dabbling in painting. Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, born in Zimbabwe and working in London, paints in a distinctly bright and unfinished style with her sitters confronting the viewer in a range of domestic scenes. Skye waNehanda (2017) lies on a couch with his back to the viewer but his head twisting to look at us. His pose is reminiscent of the Grand Odalisque but instead a black body in a bare room. Dance of Many Hands (2017) embodies female strength, something not always allowed of women historically, in her nude form, bent leg, and upwards eye contact.

Portia Zvavahera‘s figures are a lot less realistic than Hwami’s. Her technique is gestural and often the features or the details do not exist. Yet enough is provided to determine two figures, and often female, in a state somewhere between reality and dreams. Her figures embrace in either a protective cocoon or a desperate cling. Yet for all that ambiguity, she embraces repetitive, patterned iconography that echoes the Austrian painter, Gustav Klimt. This intense femininity of her paintings are often evocative of a bride, with layers of textured translucent white, like in Murudo (Love) or Take Me Deeper II.

Some more contemporary Zimbabwean artists: Georgina Maxim, Masimba HwatiPortia Zvavahera, Miriro MwandiambiraWycliffe Mundopa, Helen Teede, Troy Makaza, Dan HalterMoffat TakadiwaWallen MaponderaAdmire KamudzengerereNontsikelelo MutitiGareth Nyandoro, and Kudzanai Chiurai.

– Saudi Arabia –

Manal Aldowayan describes her work as being about “intentional erasing” and “unintentional forgetting.” Those are two ways of categorizing her work as being about loss. In I Am Here, she engages the viewer as a participant to force his or her presence in the world (and thereby deny erasure) by writing the words “I am here.” In Sidelines, Aldowayan is bringing back that which has been forgotten — female craftsmanship. She describes how these jobs have become obsolete for women in the urbanization of Saudi Arabia. With that phasing out, so too has the freedom and independence that went with it for women to support themselves and contribute to their families. Now, women must be entirely dependent on their husbands or fathers. This project honors that history and those communities of women artisans.

Maha Malluh uses the objects of life as her materials – plates, pots, video cassettes, gloves, and air conditioning units. In some cases, the repetition of these objects become an abstract pattern, like with the cassettes. In other cases, they become monumental, like with the air conditioning. These installations give more attention to the objects than they are normally granted in our day-to-day lives. Malluh’s three-dimensional practice transitioned to two-dimensional when she turned to photograms. There still remains the taxonomical, indexical quality of her installations. In an entirely different way, the photogram makes these objects abstract. Rather than becoming abstract because of aesthetic groupings and repetition, the particular details of the objects are removed in the process of photography. The loss of specificity becomes a form of abstraction.

Some more contemporary Saudi Arabian artists: Ghada Al RabeaAbdulaziz Ashour, Abdulnasser Gharem, and Hend Al-Masour.

– UAE –

Hassan Sharif is no longer up-and-coming, and he may be one of the few Emirati artists with a recognizable name and body of work. Looking at the colorful assemblages of pouches, ropes, or spoons that seem to explode off the wall, one gets a certain idea of his work as chaotic, colorful, and tactile. But his recent show up at Alexander Gray Associates tells a different side of Sharif, as an obsessive, systematic artist. Yet the dissonance is superficial. Sharif’s colorful chaotic works are systematic creations. They are thoughtful weavings of objects on a grid.

Maitha Demithan‘s figures feel like an x-ray, a paperdoll, and a collage all at once. The x-ray is the closest to what it actually is. Demithan uses scanography to scan multiple images of her subject and then digitally enhance them. The black background makes her figures appear ghostly, as if they are in the process of appearing or disappearing. The quiet solemnity of the black backgrounds and floating figures are both contemporary and traditional. There is a woman with tattooed arms. There are traditional Emirati garment. There is the suggestion of a mother, cradling two children, taking a photograph back at the viewer. This image, Mother (2017), is particularly powerful in its merging of the contemporary and the traditional. The cloaked head and arched composition are reminiscent of portraits of Mary and Jesus. The anonymity of the subject is subverted by her autonomy in photographing us, the viewer.

Some more contemporary Emirati artists: Eman Alhashemi, Ghada Da, Fatema Al Mazrouie, GCCEbtisam Al SaffarEman Al HashemiAmna Al Dabbagh, CHNDYFarah Al Qasimi, Ayesha Hadhir, and Nasir Nasrallah.

– Cameroon –

In museums and history, African art often still remains relegated to the tribal or the craftwork. Pascale Marthine Tayou’s artwork is interesting because it explicitly uses that iconic art but in radically contemporary combinations. Pascale Masquée (2016) is an African mask, slightly askew, atop a crystal glass body. Jewelry drapes over the body, and a horn is positioned as a phallus. Each sculpture in this series inserts a quirkiness, be it the crystal body or some recycled packaging, into the traditional. In the larger scope of his practice, this quirkiness veers on kitschiness. He uses bright colors and recycled materials, that almost make his work seem more light-hearted than it is. Take Plastic Tree (2014-2015) or Boomerang (2015), two works undeniably about the impacts of globalization on the environment. The cheeriness is just a hook.

Boris Nzebo also works in a color palette that is vibrant and visually enticing. His paintings are layered – both in patterns and in content. A portrait of a female face, crowds of seated, hooded, and faceless citizens in prayer, and military pointing their weapons are all intermixed into Laissez-Nous Sortir (2016). The personal, the political, the religious, the communal, and the urban weave together into simultaneously one and multiple narratives of Nzebo’s Cameroonian hometown, Douala. The content is layered, but so are the patterns. He focuses intently on the patterns of his subject’s hair, which forges an individuality to these figures that have been simplified to graphic outlines.

Some more contemporary Cameroonian artists: Barthelemy Toguo, Samuel FossoEm’kal EyongakpaBili BidjockaBeya Gille GachaAngèle Etoundi Essamba, and Joseph-Francis Sumégné

– Ivory Coast –

Armand Boua’s work fits somewhere between Leon Golub‘s monumental violent men and Banksy‘s fading street murals. Unlike Banksy’s works that are weathered by their placement in public spaces, Boua intentionally weathers his portraits through scrubbing and stripping off his painted and collaged layers. In doing so, the forms remain but the specificity of the subjects disappear. His subjects are the children from the street of his hometown. In his attempt for representation of their reality on the streets, Boua shows both their happiness, and their danger.

Sometimes a work of relational aesthetics can do more for the art world than a physical object ever can. For En sa présence (2015), Valerie Oka created a dinner with 11 invited artists, theorists and historians and asked a question charged with racial and gendered confrontations. At the same time in the room next door, a naked black woman pranced within a massive metal cage. According to Frieze, the dinner has one question in mind (How does the white man represent the black woman?) and the performance had another one (Do we allow this to happen because we are in the white cube, or are we revolted by it?). Not opposite but not the same, the radicalness of Oka’s work comes from asking both at the same time.

Some more contemporary Ivorian artists: Nestor Da, Ana Zulma, AboudiaDorris Haron KascoAnanias Léki Dago, and Emile Guebehi

– Democratic Republic of Congo –

Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga participates in the current rebirth and transformation of figurative painting. Many artists have turned to this medium, and in doing so, radically altered its possibilities. His figures are traditional African characters in traditional dress. However, they are adorned with the visually complex and anxious network of technology. Some occupy flat blank backgrounds while others are imbued with a repetitive graphic detail or repetition of numbers. Some are scenes of multiple people and others are individual portraits. This technological decoration thrusts the traditional figures into the future and offers what future portraiture should look like: inclusive and honest. Like Kehinde Wiley, he imbues a royalty to African figures that have long been neglected from the history of portraiture. Like Kerry James Marshall, he sweetly reveals the intimacy of everyday life for his African community.

Unfortunate but not surprising, it took a lot of digging to come across a female Congolese contemporary artist. But Michèle Magema’s video work is worth the research. Magema is a video and performance artist whose use of a diptych form for her videos emphasizes her exploration of her dual identities, as Congolese and as French. In Oyé Oyé (2004), the two screens juxtapose the political and the personal. While in Element (2005)she juxtaposes feminine beauty with feminine expectations just by filming one video of a woman walking in heels and another of a woman walking in those same heels with a chain on her ankle.

Some more Congolese contemporary artists: Maurice Mbikayi, Cheri CherinBodys Izek KingelezJP MikaChéri SambaSteve BandomaAmbroise Ngaimoko, Antoinette LubakiBouvy EnkoboPaul Alden Mvoutoukoulou, and Géraldine Tobe Mutumande

– Benin –

Aesthetically, Romuald Hazoumè’s work hasn’t conformed to Western ideas of art. It’s made of literal trash, constantly references African culture, and confronts uncomfortable histories of slavery. Yet despite all of that, his work reached the height of achievement by being shown at Gagosian in 2016. The Beninese artist bitingly refers to his intentional use of recycled objects as “I send back to the West that which belongs to them, that is to say, the refuse of consumer society that invades us every day.” The face of his masks are transformed jerrycans, plastic bottles used to illegally purchase cheap gasoline from Nigeria.

In a strikingly bold and unafraid style, Julien Sinzogan addresses the general theme of “journeys” as it plays out both spiritually and literally. In the literal sense, his work depicts imagery of the Atlantic slave trade. Yet the imagery is bright, patterned, and uplifting. Drawn in with fine details, and in a combination of sepia tone and bold colors, there are soaring birds, patterns of egungun masquerade costumes, and floating bodies. But there are also the packed and writhing bodies. They are not grotesque but they are there. This is Sinzogan’s way of bringing beauty to horror and imbuing the dark physical journey with a positive spiritual narrative.

Some more contemporary Beninese artists: Meleko MokgosiMeschac GabaLeonce Raphael AgbodjélouDominique ZinkpeGeorges Adéagbo, and Calixte Dakpogan.

– Algeria –

I love a body of work that cannot be defined. Zoulikha Bouabdellah’s body of work weaves through many mediums (drawings, collage, installations, sculpture) and many influences (Greek mythology, female beauty). In Corps étranges II – Jambes (2013), this Russian-born, Algerian-based artist, cuts out six reclining female forms, a la Ingres’ Grand Odalisque (1814), but from images of other women. We can see fishnets, socks, and exposed legs. Cutting one woman out of another woman, juxtaposing two visions of women, present the conflicting notions of women that the world throws at us. The title translates to “strange/foreign body” and the irony is in the way the female form becomes estranged because of the way society deals with it. This is not so different from her work, Cauchemar (2013), in which she cuts up one mythical female form into multiple frames.

Algeria’s colonial history winds its way through so many of the art made by its artists. In her 2014 show, Paralysis, in Dublin, artist Lydia Ourahmane brings the Algerian struggle and history directly into the gallery. In p.H. 8.7 (2015), she brings the literal Algerian dirt from the the site of massacres into the white cube. In The Third Choir (2014), she brings oil barrels. Like many conceptual shows, it’s a show of objects. Looked at without context, which ironically is what a gallery presents, they are just objects. And a majority of the visitors won’t be able to identify the context on their own because of the Western ignorance of its colonial past. Yet, as humans, our story is one of objects, and that is the method that Ourahmane has chosen to tell her story.

Some more contemporary Algerian artists: Patrick AltesRachid KoraïchiAdel AbdessemedKader Attia, Mahjoub Ben Bella, Djamel TatahMIZO’ Hamza Ait MekidecheHania Zaazoua, Dalila Dalléas BouzarYounes ZemmouriMohamed BourouissaFayçal BaghricheAmina Menia, and Amina Zoubir