A stunning new exhibition of contemporary African photography – looking at Africa’s past, present and future through the lens of the continent’s artists – has opened in London.
One of the largest exhibitions of its kind, this state-of-the-art new collection at Tate presents beautifully powerful photographs, videos and installations that capture the realities of the world’s fastest-growing continent.
It moves away from the view of Africa that has historically been portrayed in Western images.
British-Ghanaian analyst Osei Bonsu takes a thematic approach to explore the continent’s complex diversity through the eyes of 36 artists in Africa and the diaspora.
Among them are well-known artists such as Malawi’s Samson Kambalu and Ghanaian James Barnor, and emerging talents such as Aida Muluneh from Ethiopia, Star Shine is Above, and Ruth Osai, who grew up in Nigeria and Yorkshire in the north of England.
Bonsu divides the more than 150 works on display into three “chapters”: identity and tradition, counter-stories and futures, taking the viewer on a fascinating journey from the bustling streets of Kinshasa to the deserts of Mauritania.
The show uses photography, video and installation to project the possibilities of Africa in a beautiful, complex, expressive way.
The task of sorting out the complexity and diversity of this vast continent is not easy. But Osei pulls off a visual feast with his stunning technique, creating a vivid tapestry that thrusts contemporary African art into the international spotlight.
In an interview with the BBC, he explained how the continent’s “shared history” – from its colonial experience to post-independence revolutionary movements and urban futures – has “shaped and changed” how people in Africa see themselves and their place in the world.
The title of the exhibition “A World in Common” is inspired by the work of Cameroonian historian and scholar Achille Mbem, who argued that we must think of the world from an African perspective. His ideas provide the intellectual thread that runs through the exhibition, offering a bold invitation to rethink how we see Africa’s place in the world.
Showcasing a number of artists for the first time internationally, Tate Modern places Africa’s center stage at a museum that is critical to setting the world’s art agenda.
One such artist is British-Nigerian Zina Saro-Wiwa. Her work, The Invisible Man Series, 2015, explores the tradition of mask-wearing among the Ogoni, her ancestral tribe in Nigeria’s Niger Delta.
Her work explores the role masks play in Ogoni culture and is a more personal and emotional journey. “I did this work to help me heal myself,” she told the BBC.
Her intimate, sad and beautiful images show the power of art to connect the past and the present, the group and the individual.
Another featured artist is Angolan artist Kiluanji Kia Henda, whose work is titled Rusty Mirage (The City Skyline) 2013, a series of sculptures created in the Jordanian desert.
These sculptures resemble the landscape of cities emerging from wastelands. Inspired by the cityscapes of Dubai and Angola’s capital and hometown of Luanda, Kiluanji told the BBC he was interested in exploring “the idea of emptiness”.
In the year It explains how Luanda, torn apart by Africa’s longest civil war from 1975 to 2002, was once again a glittering walled city.
Many buildings, including Kilamba’s Kiasi town, remain unbuilt, but these buildings are “monuments of greed and corruption,” he said.
Another famous artist, Eritrean-Canadian David El Petros, speaks strongly about the perilous journey of many young people across Africa.
His images highlight the contrast between Mauritania and the Italian island of Sicily, which shed light on the complex realities of migration.
It’s just the beginning for Osei, who says one day such an exhibition could travel to Africa and beyond.
But for now, he wants this spectacular show to “inspire” those on the continent and elsewhere to look through African eyes.
Ishmael Inashe is a freelance journalist based in London and Nairobi and the author of Revisit: Stangers, a book that explores migration through the lens of art.
Images are subject to copyright.
More letters from Africa:
Follow us on Twitter. @BBC AfricaOn Facebook BBC Africa Or on Instagram BBC Africa