When it comes to art that stirs emotions, almost anything goes.
Today, African artists are finding new ways to enlighten and educate by focusing on the unwanted and unseen.
This week, ‘African Voices’, hosted by Keturah King, reports from South Africa and Kenya, meeting some of the artists responsible for these new and provocative art styles across the continent.
In Cape Town, South Africa, ‘African Voices’ meets Tsoku Maela, a young photographer, who utilises basic human emotions, and transforms them into complex photos.
‘African Voices’ joins Maela at a photoshoot, and learns how he quickly found acclaim by creating challenging work. One of Maela’s most significant projects was a series of narrative photos titled ‘Broken Things’.
Maela explains to the programme: “That was the goal from the beginning, to create something that was hard to look at… Something that had a human touch to it, but was also difficult to look at.”
‘African Voices’ learns that Maela initially had never planned to move into photography, having initially graduated from film school and having worked as a script writer for television. It was a spell in hospital that led to him picking up the camera.
Maela tells King: “I kept reflecting on my life, looking around me, thinking ‘I don’t want my life to just end without me doing the stuff that I love to do’… My camera is there, and I took my first portrait, which was a black and white portrait of me looking into the light, like I’m healing and absorbing all this light. I posted it on Facebook and that was like the first, proper fine art picture I posted online, and people loved it.”
Maela’s work is often inspired by dreams, and ‘African Voices’ learns how he utilises technology such as Photoshop to transform a picture into his now trademark, surrealist style: “I don’t Photoshop because I think it’s cool and it’s a fad; I’m trying to represent something I’ve seen in my dreams for you in the tangible reality.”
‘African Voices’ sees workers installing one of the first reconstructions of Maela’s work, a mural titled ‘Rediscover not Recreate’ located in the Woodstock district of Cape Town.
Maela explains the significance of the work to King: “Nobody has to pay to see this. You can be stuck in traffic and you can reflect on an image that speaks to rediscovering yourself as a person, as opposed to recreating yourself in the journey of life…”
The movement towards murals signals Maela’s desire to make his art more visible to the people of Cape Town: “What I’m trying to do with that is make sure art is accessible to everyone… Let them feel the power of art.”
‘African Voices’ also reports from Kenya, meeting Michael Soi, a Kenyan painter who uses Nairobi’s nightlife as his inspiration.
Soi explains his art style to King: “I am documenting Nairobi for now. I am documenting this city, the things going down in this city at this particular moment… I got on to a very short list of the most controversial artists in Africa. I’m very happy for that.”
Much of the controversy that comes from Soi’s work is his frank expression of the sex industry in Kenya, and his portrayal of women often appears as social commentary surrounding the issue.
Soi explains some of his work to the programme: “I did a whole series on street clubs in Nairobi. And my work was never about the topless dancer on the table, it was always about the men who sat next to her.”