Phaidon catalogues a continuum of African Artists from 1882 to today

Each artist is represented by one iconic artwork of theirs and is paired alongside a specially commissioned short text written by one of over 50 art experts.

20 October 2021

Featuring an introduction by Chika Okeke-Agulu, the new book from Phaidon will organise 316 artists from 51 countries selected by a panel of art historians, critics, curators and other specialists in the field. Covering 140 years of African art, the book charts production from the continent which has been historically under-acknowledged in the global north and its artistic institutions. The book differs from those which are on a similar subject because it aims to cover the continent in its entirety as opposed to sectioning the art of the continent off into geographical locations, such as North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.

The academic Okeke-Agulu is a professor of African and African Diaspora Art at Princeton University; he pens an introductory essay that hopes to elucidate the history of how modern and contemporary African art has been presented and written about in recent decades. The essay thus raises issues surrounding identity, representation and the place of the work of African Africans in the global art world. And Joseph L. Underwood, assistant professor of Art History at Kent State University, provides a glossary of terms, art groups and movements.

The mammoth hardback showcases artists from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities who were born or who have lived across the continent. The bigger and predicted names like El Anatsui, David Goldblatt, Lubaina Himid, William Kentridge, Julie Mehretu, and Robin Rhode are featured alongside emerging artists from the region and other artists who the panel deem important whose names aren’t yet established outside of their countries.


African Artists: From 1882 to Now. Courtesy of Phaidon.

The book is organised alphabetically, meaning unexpected juxtapositions crop up across time, medium and place which the editors hope will counteract artificial hierarchies. For example, South African photographer Zanele Muholi – who had an acclaimed show at the Tate Modern finish earlier this year – is presented opposite the Angolan printmaker John Muafangejo; and early modernist painter Gerard Sekoto sits across from the contemporary performance artist Lerato Shadi. Whilst conceptual artist Kiluanji Kia Henda’s examination of the legacy of colonialism is paired with Mwenze Kibwanga’s stylised depiction of antelopes in the Congo; all unintentionally but hopefully opening up avenues for comparison and interpretation.

The book’s cover is created by Cape Town-based designer Gabrielle Guy and is inspired by the art of celebrated Ndebele painter Esther Mahlangu, making use of a colour palette drawn from Mozambican textiles. The book hopes to “elicit vigorous conversation about the idea of art, Africa and modernity,” as Okeke-Agulu writes in the introduction, “but also of the place of the continent, its people and their cultural production during the age of colonisation and in the years since”. African Artists: From 1882 to Now is on sale from 21 October.


Zanele Muholi: Bhekezakhe, Parktown, 2016 (Copyright © Zanele Muholi, 2016)


Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga: Fragile 5, 2018. Courtesy of Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga and October Gallery.

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Kudzanai-Violet Hwami: Family Portrait, 2017. Courtesy of Kudzanai-Violet Hwami and Tyburn Gallery.

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About the Author

Dalia Al-Dujaili

Dalia is a freelance writer, producer and editor based in London. She’s currently the digital editor of Azeema, and the editor-in-chief of The Road to Nowhere Magazine. Previously, she was news writer at It’s Nice That, after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh.

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