African film refers to a corpus of work whose geographical and historical range remains ambiguous. African film criticism emerged in the late 1980s–early 1990s as a distinct body of research within the Anglophone academy. Landmark early texts, such as Manthia Diawara’s African Cinema: Politics and Culture (1992) and Frank Ukadike’s Black African Cinema (1994) defined the parameters of the field, which largely remained in place until quite recently: African cinema came to refer to work from sub-Saharan Africa, primarily from the former French colonies, and a template for the appreciation of these movies was established, focusing either on their ‘political’ qualities as ideologically motivated works of ‘Third Cinema’ or on their ability to develop a distinctively African aesthetic. North Africa’s rich film heritage was excluded due to the perceived socio-cultural differences between ‘black’ and ‘Arab’ Africa, and the diverse body of film-making from South Africa was understandably approached with caution as the continent’s sleeping cinematic giant was only just emerging from the nightmare of apartheid. This left Francophone Africa as the main player in the field of film-making, for the former French colonial masters had begun to invest in film production, initially in West Africa, almost immediately after independence. As a result of this self-conscious filtering of the available material, it soon became a received critical idea that (black) African cinema had been born in Senegal when ...
(b Buguma, 1958).
Nigerian sculptor, painter, and film maker, active in England. Born in Nigeria, Douglas Camp grew up in England but continued to visit Nigeria regularly. She was educated at the California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, CA, (1979–80) and the Central School of Art and Design, London (1980–83), receiving a BA (Hons) in sculpture. From 1983 to 1986 she studied at the Royal College of Art in London, graduating with the MA degree in sculpture. She made her first steel sculpture, Church Ede, a rendering of a Kalabari funeral bed, after her father’s death in 1984. She then began to portray other elements of ritual life, such as masqueraders and their audiences, as in Kalabari Masquerader with Boat Headdress (1987). During the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s she worked almost exclusively in steel, often animating the pieces, as in Festival Boat (1985...
(b Johannesburg, May 1968).
South African installation, performance, and video artist and photographer. Geers is part of a generation of African artists who emerged during the global expansion of the art world in the 1990s. Born into a white working-class family, he studied fine arts at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg from 1985 to 1987. Geers was exiled for refusing to serve in the South African Defence Force in 1989. With the threat of imprisonment removed after the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners in 1990 he returned to Johannesburg. Then in 2000 he moved to Brussels.
Geers has described his artistic position as a TerroRealist. His work features everyday, vernacular materials such as beer bottles, razor wire, pornography, neon signs, and expletives such as ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’. He employed these materials as a means to challenge various manifestations of power, whether state terror, working-class oppression, history, or, at his most poetic, language....
Sarah Urist Green
revised by Julia Detchon
(b Santiago, Chile, Feb 5, 1956).
Chilean architect, public interventionist, installation artist, photographer, and filmmaker, active in the USA. He first studied architecture at the Universidad de Chile in Santiago, then filmmaking at the Instituto Chileno-Norteamericano de Cultura, Santiago, concluding in 1981. Throughout his career, Jaar’s works have taken many forms in order to address global themes of injustice and illuminate structures of power. In over fifty projects he termed “public interventions,” Jaar conducted extensive research around the world to create site-specific works that reflect political and social realities near and far from his sites of exhibition. He created works—in gallery spaces and in public, often engaging spectator involvement—that present images critically and confront the social and political interests they serve.
Jaar’s first public intervention was Studies on Happiness (1979–1981), a three-year series of performances and exhibitions in which he asked the question, “Are you happy?” of people in the streets of Santiago. Inspired by ...
(b Johannesburg, April 28, 1955).
South African draughtsman, film maker and sculptor. The son of one of South Africa’s most prominent anti-apartheid lawyers, Kentridge first studied politics and African Studies at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg (1973–6) before studying Fine Art at Johannesburg Art Foundation (1976–8). Throughout this time he was heavily involved in theatre, designing and acting in a number of productions. His interest in theatre continued throughout his career and clearly informs the dramatic and narrative character of his art as well as his interests in linking drawing and film. His work as a draughtsman has been expressionistic and dominated by pastel and charcoal, and generally the drawings are conceived as the basis of animated films. From 1989 to 1996 Kentridge made an important cycle of films that allegorize South Africa’s political upheavals through the lives of three characters: a greedy property developer, his neglected wife and her poet lover. The eight-minute animation ...
(b Zambesi River, nr Victoria Falls, Rhodesia [now Zimbabwe], Feb 23, 1921; d London, Jan 1, 2006).
British painter, sculptor, conceptual artist, performance artist, video and film maker, of Rhodesian birth. He studied at the Chelsea School of Art, London, from 1946 to 1950. His concern from 1954 was not with the production of art objects as an end in itself but with various processes and consequently with the recording in three dimensions of sequences of events and of patterns of knowledge. In 1958 he introduced torn, overpainted and partly burnt books into assemblages such as Burial of Count Orgaz (1958; London, Tate), followed in 1964 by the first of a series of SKOOB Towers (from ‘books’ spelt backwards), constructed from stacks of venerated tomes such as the Encyclopedia Britannica, which he ignited and burnt. The destruction and parody of systems of knowledge implied in Latham’s work was apparent in 1966, when he organized a party at which guests chewed pages of Clement Greenberg’s book Art and Culture...
(b Colobane, Jan 1945; d Paris, July 23, 1998).
Senegalese film maker. Over the course of his brief career Mambety developed a body of work remarkable for its poetic sensibility and narrative complexities. His films register many of the same concerns as his West African film-making contemporaries Ousmane Sembene and Souleymane Cissé (b 1940), namely, the friction between tradition and modernity, the corruption and bad faith of neo-colonialism, and the inheritance of capitalist modernity by West African societies. Thus his films can similarly be understood in the critical context of Third Cinema. His work uniquely eschews a readily identifiable political perspective in favour of highlighting the ambiguities of life in Senegal. Mambety likened his role as a film maker to a griot: a storyteller and visionary actively shaping the future through imagination and wisdom. Essential to this role was a commitment to challenging the public through experimentation at the level of film form and content.
Raised by a Muslim cleric in the Lebou community of Colobane, Mambety turned his attention to film after acting as a teenager with the Théâtre national Daniel-Sorano in Dakar. Though self-taught, he began his career to critical acclaim with the short films ...
(b Umlazi, Durban, July 19, 1972). South African photographer and video and installation artist. Muholi has identified as a black Zulu lesbian and her artworks engage with her own identity at the same time as they seek to integrate LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) identities into mainstream acceptance in South Africa and elsewhere. Muholi is part of a generation of African artists for whom photography remains a powerful tool for socio-political commentary in the post-colonial and post-apartheid era. In ...
[Ingrid Mwangi Robert Hutter]
(b Nairobi, 1975).
Kenyan and German performance artist, installation artist, photographer, and video artist. Mwangi’s work addresses notions of cultural difference, social conventions, racial categories, and national identity, primarily through an autobiographical lens. She has often utilized her body as a subject and engaged with questions related to her own African-European heritage. In 2005 Mwangi shifted from a mostly solo practice to a collaborative partnership with her husband, German artist Robert Hutter (b 1964). From that time, the pair has worked and exhibited exclusively under the name IngridMwangiRobertHutter. Together they have explored larger human experiences and universal issues of stereotypes, fear and negotiations between different cultures, genders, nationalities, and religions through multimedia works that have produced cross-cultural dialogues.
Mwangi was raised in Nairobi by a German mother and a Kenyan father. In 1990, as a teenager, she moved with her family to Germany and studied at the Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Saar in Saarbrücken from ...
Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie
Nollywood specifically refers to the Nigerian video-film industry and generally to similar late 20th- and 21st-century video movie industries in other African countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania built on the populist and commercial model of the Nigerian example. Nollywood originated in Nigeria at the end of the 20th century as a national media form that emerged free from the control of the state and has subsequently become the most visible cultural machine on the African continent. The explosion of video production in Nollywood and other African video movie industries arguably represents the most significant cultural phenomenon in Africa in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. During this period Nollywood grew rapidly to become the one of the largest film-producing industries in the world in terms of actual films produced. With the production of an average of 2000 movies per year in the first decade of the 21st century, Nollywood has begun to command attention by its size and work rate and has rapidly become a major force in the emerging global identity of Africans at home and abroad....
revised by Kimberly Bobier
(b Luanda, 1951).
Angolan sculptor, painter, and film maker. Self-taught, Olé began exhibiting his work in the late 1960s. Since that time, he has participated internationally in numerous exhibitions, though he exhibited quite infrequently in the late 1970s and early 1980s. During this period he focused on making films, producing almost a whole one per year between 1975 and 1985. Beginning in 1981, Olé studied cinema and Afro-American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. He earned a degree from the Center for Advanced Film Studies of the American Film Institute, Los Angeles in 1985. He won first place for painting at the 1986 Havana Bienal and in 1992 was awarded the Premio ENSA de Pintura, Luanda. At a two-week artists’ workshop, Pachipamwe II, held at Cyrene, Zimbabwe, in 1989, he experimented with materials, mixing ground sandstone with pigment to produce relatively abstract paintings that emphasize rich fields of colour. In his sculptural work he has employed found objects to comment on the devastating effects of the Angolan civil war, poverty, and the post-independence future. In the 1990s he expanded this commentary by creating multimedia installations such as ...
(b Freetown, Sierra Leone, Dec 14, 1965).
Australian installation artist, born in Sierra Leone. Resident in Australia from 1972, Piccinini graduated in 1988 from the Australian National University, Canberra, with a BA and then from the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne, in 1991 with a BA (Painting). She produced images and objects that embodied imaginary evolutionary jumps and mutations (see, for example, The Young Family; see image page for more views). To produce these, she worked in a succession of new, novel materials and media: from synthetic resins, plastics and silicone developed for special effects in movies to the digital manipulation used in commercial photography and animation. In her 1997 series of photographs, Protein Lattice, a naked female plays with a large hairless rat with an enlarged human ear growing from its back. The work combined the highly contrived language of mainstream fashion photography, brightly lit, glossy and free of imperfection, with an animal that appeared to be one of the hybrid clones then emerging from laboratories. Both glossy-haired model and mutant rat appear equally artificial and equally indebted to technology....
(b Paris, April 1, 1963).
French photographer, video artist, and installation artist of Algerian descent, active in the UK. Born in Paris in 1963, Zineb Sedira relocated to England in 1986. In 1995 she earned a BA in critical fine art practice with a focus on post-colonial studies at Central Saint Martins School of Art. She finished an MFA in Media at the Slade School of Art in 1997 and conducted research studies at the Royal College of Art until 2003. Through the use of self-portraiture, family narrative, and images of the Mediterranean, her work has addressed ethnic, religious, and gender identities as well as issues of stereotype, displacement, and migration. She draws on her Algerian heritage in much of her work, evoking North Africa through the integration of traditional Islamic forms and motifs into her installations. In her 1997 work Quatre générations de femmes, Sedira incorporated repeated images of her mother, daughter, and herself into traditional Islamic tile patterns (...
(b Ziguinchor, Jan 1, 1923; d Dakar, June 10, 2007).
Senegalese novelist and film maker. The son of a fisherman, Sembène was born in the Casamance region of southern Senegal and completed his formal education at the age of 14. Through the 1940s and 1950s he was variously a soldier in World War II, a railway worker in Senegal, and a stevedore and trade-union organizer at Marseilles. Sembène started his artistic career as a writer while in Marseilles as his interest in Marxist and Pan-Africanist philosophies intensified. He was nearly 40 years of age when he decided to take up film-making and spent a year learning cinematography at the Gorki Studios in Moscow, under the direction of Soviet director Marc Donskoy (1901–81). Returning to a newly independent Senegal at the close of 1962, Sembène focused his attention on film as a didactic tool that would allow him to reach African audiences without access to literature. Nonetheless, reading and writing remained a central interest for Sembène throughout his life. His films, for which he is most well known, are mainly adaptations of his novels and short stories....
revised by Mary Chou
(b London Aug 9, 1962).
British sculptor, painter and installation artist. Born to Nigerian parents, he grew up in Nigeria before returning to England to study Fine Art in London at Byam Shaw School of Art and Goldsmiths’ College where he completed his MFA. Shonibare’s West African heritage has been at the heart of his work since he started exhibiting in 1988, when he began using ‘Dutch-wax’ dyed fabrics, commonly found in Western Africa, both for wall-mounted works (as pseudo paintings) and for sculpted figures. Generally perceived as ‘authentic’African cloth, the tradition of Batik originated in Indonesia, and was appropriated by the Dutch who colonized the country. Manufactured in Holland and Britain, the cloth was then shipped to West Africa where it became the dress of the working class in nations such as Nigeria. Shonibare used the material as a way of deconstructing the more complex histories that determine these and other images of ethnicity. As such, he has been described as a ‘post-cultural hybrid’ or the ‘quintessential postcolonial artist’ by critics as well as the artist himself....
(b Vryburg, 1953).
South African painter, printmaker, photographer, installation artist and video artist. She received an BA (1974) and an MA (1976) in Fine Arts from Rhodes University, Grahamstown, and a postgraduate diploma from Portsmouth Polytechnic, UK (1979). Her work has appeared in many exhibitions: the Venice Biennale (1993), the Bienal de Havana (1994, 1997), the Johannesburg Biennale (1995, 1997) and Kwanju Biennale in Korea (1995). She has explored different media and themes since gaining recognition for her high relief oil paintings of the 1980s, but her concerns remain those of process, conceptual dualities, histories told and remembered. Through narrative, allegory, appropriation, parody and punning, her subjects challenge racialized and gendered representations, and reveal history as ever-mediated. In Piling Wreckage Upon Wreckage (1989; Cape Town, N.G.) a black girl sits atop an expansive pile of objects (e.g. silverware, a grand piano, paintings) that denote civilized taste and fill the space to suggest limitlessness and domination. Unlike Western prototypes, the girl is overwhelmed by the debris and cannot control its associative meanings. Siopis continued to question ideological constructions in her work on urban domestic identities of the mid-1990s. Her work of the late 1990s was autobiographical, though firmly entangled within aparteid's complex past. ...