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Known for its vast and rich diversity, Africa has long been a cultural hotbed. Although large, institutional spaces are far and few in the continent, African art finally has three important art spaces in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda that showcase the work of emerging, mid-career, and established local artists. These reveal the nature of African art and the reality of life in the Continent and are a catalyst for union and peace among its people.
Zoma Contemporary Art Center, Ethiopia
Ever imagined an initiative that would embrace Nature while rejiggering contemporary art as we know it? Imagine no more. Ethiopia’s Zoma Contemporary Art Center (ZCAC) takes pride in transforming the lives of dozens of artists through an international platform that also takes care of the environment. In 2014, The New York Times listed it as one of the top places to visit.
The Center takes its name from Zoma Shifferaw, an Ethiopian artist who died of cancer in 1979. Elias Same, the brain behind the organization, has taken the time to position it as the most expedient center for contemporary art in the region. An artist himself, Same’s first U.S. solo exhibition, Eye of the Needle, Eye of the Heart, was held at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, in 2009. It took him about seven years to build ZCAC, but his relentless efforts are now showing significant results.
The Center has outposts in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa and Harla, a small village in the Southeast. The Addis center is uniquely designed using mud, straw, and stone to communicate the message of embracing environmental sustainability through art; most of the projects undertaken by the center are nature conscious. In Harla, the Center involves the local community in its operations and is modeled like a family.
The institution holds international events and brings artists to meet and exchange ideas with their Ethiopian counterparts. One of such artists is New York-based David Hammons, whose award-winning career is showcased in dozens of museums and art galleries across the U.S., particularly in New York and L.A.
As the center reaches out to more upcoming artists, it continues to show the world Africa’s art and talent.
AfriArt Gallery, Uganda
In the quiet and nondescript Lugogo area of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, there is a towering art center that is connecting dozens of Ugandan and East African artists with international creators and providing—at the same time—a platform for budding art enthusiasts to showcase their prowess.
Opened in 2002, AfriArt Gallery has grown to attract international art lovers and morphed into a pivotal meeting point for the most influential minds in East African art.
The interior is filled with a mix of artwork, sculpture, recycled glassware, ceramics, and locally designed fabrics featuring patterns that reveal the contemporary Ugandan lifestyle. From religion, politics, gender issues, and good governance, the brushstrokes have captured the mood of the nation, unlike any other medium.
The gallery positions itself as a focal point for discovering new talents and has made significant breakthroughs in the international arena. They also initiate exchanges between established and emerging artists.
The Center’s output embraces readily available local materials and carries the essence of Africa throughout the world. Most of the processes include sisal fibers and backcloth.
AfriArt Gallery represents a pool of artists who draw inspiration from diverse sources inside Uganda and other East African communities or show their versatility by adopting global trends and influences.
The Godown Arts Center, Kenya
At the fringes of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, stands a 10,000 square meter (110,000 square feet) refurbished garage whose entrance displays evocative graffiti tags that either tell an African folktale or document a topical message. The GoDown Arts Centre is the epicenter of an art renaissance, with youth at the heart of the rebirth.
The multidisciplinary spaces promote the arts by showcasing from music and visual arts to theater and dance performances. This pioneer art venue gets the credit for shaping an entire generation of artists who are both daring in expression and fresh in imagination. The Center is divided into various spaces. The main performance area is used for cultural events, ten separate art studios—including animation—and an art gallery that hosts major local and regional exhibitions and discussion forums.
Godown has received accolades and recognition for its diverse programming. Nai ni Who (Swahili for Who is Nai?) is one of their flagship events. This festival showcases Nairobi as a melting point of cultures. In a country whose citizenry identifies with tribal affiliations that have at times sparked violence, the festival encourages residents in the capital to celebrate each other with the message of beauty in diversity. From the Center, the festival snakes its way to the city’s neighborhoods through parades, concerts, and graffiti. Kenya Burning, another successful project produced by the Center, displays images taken by both amateur and professional photographers during Kenya’s disputed 2008 elections that led to political chaos.
Thirteen years into its existence, the organization continues its mission of establishing a robust arts and culture sector to a new level, with the artists insisting they are just getting started. ■