The League of Extravagant Grannies, and other East African Creatives to Watch
A few years back, it was said that Africa’s creative economy was like a sleeping giant. That may have been, but the giant’s now awake – and woke – to the fact that the vast digital presence of young African artists is fuelling new and dynamic takes on humour, politics, fact, fiction, sexuality, satire, fantasy, technology, innovation, imagination and much much more.
From the visible hits of Instagram to filtered film clips on YouTube, the digital podiums for showcasing visual ideas and experiences have become energised by the uploaded work of artists, thinkers and adventurers who are remixing ideas of creativity across platforms and genres, some subtly, some politically – much of it brash, sassy and savvy – but all of it deserving to be shouted about.
This curated selection of some of the most striking digital art and artists coming out of Africa exposes a world that contains movement makers, pivotal names and vital collectives.
What’s clear is that the ideas that inhabit these platforms are just the modest tip of an ever-evolving iceberg of activity that’s as deep as it is wide. With new and established African and Africa-based artists reacting to their immediate and to global locations, the abundance of sharp, edgy, smart or whimsical content exists as a dynamic source of delight, surprise and aesthetic invention, fuelling a rich eco-system of bold and digitally borderless artistic expression.
Below is a (very partial) list of some creators to watch from East Africa.
See our other regional lists here:
Brian Siambi: A one-time mathematician an a by-day graphic designer, Siamba has now turned to documenting Nairobi.
Uganda Press Photo Awards: Annual awards that showcase new or established Ugandan photographers and photojournalists in Uganda.
Sunny Dolat: Kenyan fashion stylist, creative director and production designer. ‘Inhale fashion, exhale style’ is his Twitter bio.
Osse Greca Sinare: Celebrity fashion photographer and vlogger. Voted one of the ten most powerful youths in Tanzania in 2012.
Jim Chuchu: A big creative name in Kenya, the filmmaker, photographer and musician is also a co-founder and member of the Nest Collective and a past member of the (apparently still on hiatus) House/Funk/Disco outfit, Just a Band.
Plus Two Five: A platform for young upcoming photographers working in and around East Africa.
The Nest Collective: A small army of thinkers, makers and believers in Nairobi.
Made With Love (featured above): Illustrator and art director Musa Omusi is behind this Nairobi-based creative studio, the title of which that essentially highights his own ‘philosophy in action’.
African Digital Art: The queen of digital art, Jepchumba’s African Digital Art portal is without question one of the best online inspirational sources for African creativity, produced by a pan-African network of artists and writers.
Martin Kharumwa (featured above): Martin Kharumwa creates textural images of Kenyan life through fashion, portraiture and not-for-profit themes.
Style and fashion
The Salooni Project: Initiated by four Ugandan women – Kampire Bahana, Darlyne Komukama, Gloria Wavamuno and Aida Nambi – The Salooni Project unpicks all elements of the story and stories of hair experiences of black people – from styling to identity, knowledge, love, trauma and self care – passed down from generation to generation.
2Many Siblings: Brother and sister duo, Velma Rossa & Oliver Asike curate transitional contemporary African narratives through fashion.
Styled by Africa (featured above): Award-winning continent-wide boutique of Africa’s best fashion brands.
Innovation – Architecture – Design
Addis Ababa Design Week: Innovations in architecture, technology, industrial design, interiors, fashion, food\gastronomy and graphic design.
Cave Architecture (featured above): An African design bureau based in Nairobi and focused on delivering architecture, interior design, furniture and landscape services.
Muthoni the Drummer Queen (featured above).
Blinky Bill: Kenyan musician, DJ and TED Fellow.
Inema Art Centre (featured above): Launched in 2012 by brothers and self-taught painters Emmanuel Nkuranga and Innocent Nkurunziza, Inema Arts Centre spurs creativity for personal, social, and economic growth.
Addis Fine Art: Mesai Haileleul and Rakeb Sile founded the gallery to specialise on contemporary African Art, with particular focus on art from Ethiopia and its diaspora.
Circle Art Gallery: Contemporary art from across east Africa.
The Art House: An initiative in Rwanda connecting artists and creatives within the region and beyond.
This digital gallery was curated as an accompaniment to The Arts Forum – and event hosted in April 2017 by the Royal African Society and the British Council to discuss and share experiences of presenting contemporary African art to UK and international audiences. This is part of a strategic partnership between the two organisations, aimed at increasing networks and sharing knowledge, expertise and connections between the UK and African countries.