Contemporary Art Market: African artists make sophisticated impact

TUCKED behind the seedy, modern shops of Bethnal Green Road, the Savannah Gallery of Modern African Art is making a big statement.

Its current show, ''Sixteen', demonstrates through the work of 16 artists - from a 64-year-old Sudanese living in exile in the Gulf States, to a 38-year-old Ghanaian working in Dusseldorf - that African art has achieved a sophistication that brings it into the mainstream of world-wide experimentation.

Leroi Coubagy, founder of the gallery two years ago and curator of the current show, has hung a 'neo-primitive' pencil drawing by Frederic Bruly Bouabre as a counterpoint to his 16 artists. Bouabre is admired by Western curators as expressing the primitive magic of Africa. Coubagy is determined to demonstrate that African artists are no longer primitive. 'Like most modern and contemporary artists all over the world they are involved in post-modernist critical debates,' he says.

El Loko, 44, born in Togo but now living in Germany, studied at the Dusseldorf Academy with Joseph Beuys, the most powerful influence on Western art of the last two decades. Beuys was a shaman who believed in the mystic powers of art, and El Loko follows him by delving into a shared subconscious. He has borrowed geometric symbols from traditional African culture - patterns that are cut into human faces or dance masks, printed on textiles etc - and used them to create abstract paintings and wood sculptures whose power creeps up on you. Besides featuring in the 'Sixteen' show with a painting over 5ft square (pounds 4,000), he has a solo exhibition in the second of Savannah's three gallery spaces, converted from an old fur-coat factory.

In Savannah's second solo show, Togoland is crossed with France as opposed to Germany. William Wilson, 42, had a French mother and Togolese father and was brought up in Orleans. He makes pastel drawings in dazzling colour, mad surrealist figure studies where matchstick men dance on a hat, or cacti grow in a tummy; his overflowing invention is full of humour - Victor Brauner is the key influence on his work. The pastels range in price from pounds 650 to pounds 1,200.

The senior figure in the group show is Ibrahim el Salahi, 64, who was born in Omdurman and studied at the Slade in the 1950s. A devoted Muslim, exiled from his country, his pen-and-ink drawings delineate a mystic universe which has affinities with the British master, William Blake. The triptych on show is priced at pounds 1,800.

Other notable works include the pounds 750 lithograph of a black-and-white patterned figure by Kwesi Owusu-Ankomah, a 39-year-old Ghanaian who lives in Dusseldorf. Like El Loko, the strength of his work, both in graphics and oils, lies in symbolic patterns but he uses them to create realist images; human figures emerge as moving outlines in a patterned field.

Then there is Emanuel Jegede, 51, a Nigerian living in England, whose paintings are inspired by the political turmoil of his country; he paints colourful but chaotic jumbles of figures and environments. The two oils in the show are priced at pounds 2,400 each.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy