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A look back at some unique and inspiring art works from African artists in 2012

posted 26 Dec 2012, 07:32 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 26 Dec 2012, 07:33 ]

With an endless supply of inspiration and a penchant for the unique, African photographers, painters, musicians and sculptors entertained, informed and inspired the world all year long.

LAGOSNIGERIA  (REUTERS) - The old home of afrobeat legend, Fela Kuti is now the Kalakuta Museum - renovated to display some of his humble possessions, which today would make rare collectors' items for his fans.

It is also a boutique hotel, with a bar and stage.

Inside, decorations include brightly colored murals, chic African art, photos from his life and performances.

When he was alive, Fela electrified Nigerians and many music lovers the world over with his hip-shaking and strangely hypnotic blend of jazz, funk and West African folk rhythms.

His legendary sexual exploits with dozens of women, marijuana smoking and fearless critiques of Nigeria's then corrupt and oppressive military regime only served to heighten the mystique.

His bedroom remains as it was when he died of HIV/AIDS in 1997: a bed, clothes, shoes, colorful underpants -- often they were all he wore. His electric keyboard has been mounted.

"Nigeria is too small for me, so I want to take Africa along in this dream of Marcus Garvey, Lumumba, Malcolm X, Martin Luther KingKwame Nkrumah and my father, great men like these, they stood for Africa, not their individual countries, so for this dream ofAfrica to be the envy of the world, this is a solid foundation," said Fela's eldest son, Femi Kuti.

The 'Afrobeat' sound that Fela Kuti concocted in the 1960s and that has been carried on by his sons, mixes bass groves with jazz organ and traditional West African drumming, punctuated by a cacophony of horns and shrill backing vocals by gyrating women in colourful beads.

After travelling for months through France, MuMo the mobile museum of contemporary art finally landed at the Akwa School, in the heart of Cameroon's largest city Douala.

With three large containers mounted on a big truck, as well as a huge inflatable rabbit, the MuMo is not your average museum.

Packed with brightly coloured art and interacitve displays, it's a museum tailored specially to capture the imagination of children and get them interested in pieces of contemporary art.

Imagined and developed by Ingrid Brochure, MuMo aims to make art more accessible to children, especially for those who may not have access or live far away from galleries or public exhibition spaces, and to inspire them to create their own art works.

Once inside the museum, children are treated to paintings and sculpture from artists all over the world, many of them displayed in attractive interactive ways to help children engage with what they see.

The artists tackle subjects important to children: death, love, the place of man in the universe and many other topics.

"MuMo will allow these kids to dream, to think that they can do anything beyond what they are used to and that they also have the potential to create art," said Caroline Nadege Goueni, a museum facilitator.

For some, the visit has evoked some strong emotions and a connection to art that they have never felt before, through paintings, sculptures and video demonstrations.

"I was happy to see the museum I found it very informative," said one student Andre Songa.

Bi Kidude -- Zanzibar's barefooted ambassador of traditional east African music was one of the acts that drew an estimated 5000 fans to the Sauti za Busara music festival this year.

Meaning 'voices of wisdom' in Swahili, Sauti za Busara is in its 9th edition and this year headlined 400 African artists, including Bi Kidude -- the granny whose exact date of birth is unknown but is believed to be over 100 years old.

"I must say its been amazing, and from the numbers from every given time we've had people like 5000 walking in and out so like from the four days its been an amazing extravaganza," said festival organiser Nancy Oyango.

The five-day festival featured acts from all over Africa and the Diaspora including Nigerian-German artist Nneka -- a hip-hop soul singer and songwriter whose music was described by fans at the festival as "emotionally raw, full of power, tenderness and passion".

It takes a moment to realise that the sculpture, depicting the curve of a pregnant female form, is constructed from tens of thousands of used bullet casings.

Freddy Tsimba fashions his works from the objects that mean most to him - often those found lying around in his home country of Democratic Republic of Congo.

Given Congo's past - brutal colonisation, dictatorship and successive conflicts which killed millions - the 44-year-old artist has found no shortage either of materials or inspiration.

Soft-spoken and with a slight lisp, Tsimba has experienced the trauma of war, having lost a brother during the fighting that has afflicted this central African nation for much of the period since the mid-1990s.

He combs its battlefields for relics of conflict before returning to his studio to create what he sees as works of against-the-odds optimism.

"I say that Congo is like a pregnant woman, a pregnant woman who is made up of bullet casings, but who will give birth to a child. That child may be a child of abuse but when this child arrives, we will give him a life," Tsimba says.

His works have been displayed in Europe, the United States and Canada. Admirers see him as part of a select new generation of Congolese artists producing modern, challenging works.

South Sudan celebrated its first year of independence with the production of Shakespeare's play Cymbeline, translated into the native tongue of Juba Arabic that everyone speaks and understands.

Earlier this year the actors staged their first ever performance in London's Globe Theatre.

They later returned to South Sudan's capital Juba to showcase the play, in which they wear jewellery celebrating the diversity of the nation's many tribes.

The South's voted overwhelmingly for partition of Africa's largest country last year, and the anniversary is a welcome distraction from troubles on the border, as well as internal ethnic strife, endemic corruption and an economic crisis.

The dispute over oil and the ill-defined frontier between the two Sudans lead to a short war in April with South Sudan temporarily seizing an oilfield controlled by Khartoum.

But this hasn't dampened the spirits of these actors, who see their play as a metaphor for the struggle against an imperial power with a strong reconciliation scene in the final scene.

"Independence won't be a full independence, without actually freedom of economy, that we have to control our economy , we have to control our political system, and we have to control our cultural identity, " says the play's director and translator from original English into Juba Arabic Joseph Abuk.

After years of war, economic neglect, and cultural suppression, many hope that the play's celebration of South Sudanese dress, beadwork and language will be able to inspire a country that has fought for so long to express its identity.

After a successful showing at the Dak'art 2012 Biennale, Senegalese photographer,Omar Victor Diop went back to his studio to develop his latest collection - "2012 Future of Beautiful".

His model is wrapped in a white nylon sack clumsily stapled into shape by Diop's steady hand. This outfit is part of an environmental theme Diop has been exploring.

Diop styles his own models' and puts together the outfits made of what would be waste, together from scratch.

"This photographic project is fiction, meaning that it is set in the future, that is why the project is named "Future of Beautiful". It takes place in ten years and at at the root of the question that I am trying to ask is, what will people be doing? How will people dress? Will the collective consciousness shift towards ecology, meaning, will people start thinking about wearing clothes made out of recycled material, clothes made out of things that are picked up from everywhere and that can be elegant?" he said.

Michaela DePrince knew she wanted to be a ballerina before she had ever even seen one dance.

Born in Sierra Leone and orphaned by a civil war when she was just three years old, Michaela had never watched a ballet performance in her life. But when she found a magazine page at the gates of her orphanage with a picture of an American ballerina gracefully posing on her toes, she made up her mind -- she would one day learn to do the same.

Michaela recently performed her first full professional ballet at the Nelson Mandela Theatre in Johannesburg this year, as a guest artist of South Africa's biggest dance companies.

She has come along way from her dream as a toddler to becoming an inspiration for young black girls in the United States, where she grew up after she was adopted by an American family at the age of four.

At the orphanage, 17-year-old Michaela earned the name "devil child" because of a skin pigmentation disorder she suffers from. But that is just one of many hurdles she has leaped over to get where she is today. There are not many leading black ballerinas of African descent in the industry, and she has made it further than many of her peers.

Michaela recently graduated from the American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline KennedyOnassis School in New York city and is set to work at Dance Theatre of Harlem. She has also featured on the popular reality TV series 'Dancing with the Stars' and starred in a documentary titled First Position, which follows six talented dancers.

"I want to be come a professional ballet dancer in a professional company. I want to change the way people see black ballerinas. I want to change the way they think about them, I want change the way they see them, because when ever I perform the audience seems to enjoy my performance," said Michaela, who spoke to Reuters a few days before her show.

Michaela says she channels her emotions and her past through her body when she is dancing.