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African Art at Art Dubai 2022

A highlight of Art Dubai this year was its diverse showcase of contemporary African art brought by galleries active on the continent or working with African artists.

Abdoulaye Konaté, Papillon Bleu pour Oumar Diop (Homage), 2021
Courtesy of Primo Marella Gallery

Many of the works explored how one can picture the present – and project a future – that reclaims indigenous iconography and cultural ephemera of the past. Nigerian artist Kelechi Charles Nwaneri’s Susie (2022), at AKKA Project, featured a surrealist portrait of a black figure adorned with West African tribal marks and patterns surrounded by a vibrant natural environment. Pascale Marthine Tayou, at Galleria Continua, also mediated among nature, man and indigenous symbolism in his piece Poupee Pascale (2019), utilizing local ephemera such as raffia fibre, fur, and wood. Ocre au jaune-regard (Ochre to Yellow – Look, 2018), by Abdoulaye Konaté at Primo Marella Gallery, incorporates Malian textile patterns and motifs to commemorate his ancestral heritage. And Nigerian-American Victor Ekpuk’s Heaven’s Only Daughter (2021) at Aicon Gallery reimagines ancient south-Nigerian Nsibidi script, illustrated by Ekpuk in red and white symbols, and the Uli art form, curvilinear designs of the Igbo people. The references create his own contemporary abstract visual language that conveys conversations relevant to the African diaspora.

HoudaTerjuman, Morocco, 1970, Run run to golden lands, 2021
Courtesy of Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery
London/Berlin/Nevlunghavn/Schloss GorneBooth

Other African artworks at the fair highlighted how cultural identity is woven into everyday interactions of society and community. In a solo presentation at Gallery 1957, Nigerian Modupeola Fadugba’s painting Detail of Black Beaded Lift (2018–2021) touched on her recurring motif of swimming pools as a diving board into narratives of community, education, and togetherness, playfully plunging against the tides of Nigeria’s socio-political landscape. At Loft Art Gallery, Hicham Benohoud’s piece offered viewers a glimpse of his The Hole (2015) series, turning ordinary Marrakech into enigmatic and offbeat examinations of everyday life as body parts of their inhabitants emerge from temporary holes. Houda Terjuman, informed by her hybrid migrant identity – being of Syrian-Swiss heritage and brought up in Morocco – incorporates imagery of small significant objects, figuratively braiding together complex stories of belonging, displacement, and migration. The items, shown at Kristin Hjellegjerde, often symbolise a bridge to cultural identity in the midst of instability, such as the empty chair in her painting, Run run to golden lands (2021), representing what migrants have left behind.

Mustapha Akrim, Cent dirhams, 2020
Courtesy of Comptoirdes Mines

Finally, it is worth highlighting how surrealist and abstract artistic stylings shined through works that foreground their materials. Miska Mohmmed’s painting The Breadth of the Ocean (2022) at Circle Art Gallery, sensually explores movement, atmosphere, and nature through semi-abstract landscapes while at Primo Marella, Malagasy artist Joël Andrianomearisoa, working in textiles, alluded to what he calls his ‘non-explicit, often abstract, narration’ style. The 2021 textile piece is just one of many iterations, exploring emotions that make his work a matter of disposition. Using the colour black and materiality as the baseline of infinite possibilities, the work grapples with art’s perceived universality rather than delving into particular cultural motifs: a fluctuation between globalism and the local that drove much of the work at Art Dubai, whether from Africa or elsewhere.

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