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New Currents, Ancient Rivers: Contemporary African Artists in a Generation of Change by Jean Kennedy

Most of us are familiar with major works of traditional African art. However, we know little about the work of new artists of that continent. This is our loss, for there is great artistic ferment in Africa: modern artists are creating new images and expressing new ways of life. Their boundless creative energy keeps bursting the seams of preconception-changing the whole artistic character of a continent.

In writing this book, I have chosen artists in Black, or sub-Saharan Africa-those whom I feel are at the forefront of this modem expression and whose art is fresh and imaginative. Thus this book is not all-inclusive; it focuses on fewer than 150 artists. The artists included represents number of directions and styles. Their paintings, graphics, tapestries, and sculptures are an important part of a growing renaissance. In them I find vitality and originality. Each artist has a distinct direction and a consistent body of work. Collectively, the artists mentioned in this book have created art that combines elements of contemporary life with foreign technology and that, although it does not serve traditional ends, embraces certain basic traditional rhythms.

Some have studied in France, Germany, England, and the United States, returning to reassociate themselves with their own beginnings. Many have attended local art institutions. Others have emerged without any formal academic training. Most are men. African women, albeit active as traders, like women in other parts of the world, were not given the same kind of career opportunities as men; however, their past artistic contributions are now being documented.

My choices have been shaped by working with African artists who were the focus of my life for seven years while I lived in Africa from 1961 to 1968, and by the succeeding eighteen years when I arranged and developed exhibitions for many of them. My own experiences as an artist in Africa and elsewhere have undoubtedly influenced my perceptions too. To suspend judgment would deny art its function as a carrier of values and feelings that cross geographical, ethnological, and philosophical boundaries. This book, therefore, is my effort to share my experience of the excitement and beauty of the continent's creative energy, not to comprehensively chronicle the history of contemporary artists in sub-Saharan Africa.

The exclusion of Egypt and North Africa from this account is not for lack of strong cultural ties to the rest of Africa, but because of space requirements. I have chosen, therefore, to discuss sub-Saharan African artists, and have grouped them by country or area in order to refer to their specific historical influences. Characteristically distinct artists have developed in six countries: Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. In addition to groups from these major countries, I have included a few exceptional artists in West, East, and Central Africa. Since Nigeria has, by far, the largest number, a greater portion of the book is devoted to artists from that country.

With few exceptions, the artists covered in this volume represent the period of the last forty years. They were selected on the basis of a single criterion: the quality of their work. In some instances, the meager attention accorded reflects a lack of available information. A few exemplary self-trained artists are also included to give the reader an indication of the many whose work goes unremarked outside of their immediate communities. Though the pottery, baskets, fabrics, and myriad artifacts of Africa are an intrinsic part. of life and the artistic milieu there, it is not possible to include them as well.

All of the artists mentioned work primarily to please themselves rather than the public; each has produced a consistent body of work that demonstrates a fresh, imaginative vision. I have chosen to quote them whenever possible to convey a feeling for the dimensions of their lives and works.

Because the arts of Africa are still so interrelated, I have included several artists who are not painters and sculptors - for example, two filmmakers - and described briefly their influence. My intent is not to survey other art forms but simply to help in the understanding of the interaction that exists in Africa today among all the creative arts, whatever the medium.

To the many artists of excellence throughout Africa who are not mentioned here due to limits of space, I express my regrets. I hope this book will in some way extend parameters beyond what has already been said and seen. I look forward to other books, especially by African writers and artists who will disclose qualities and histories as yet unrevealed, or still being dreamed, still being shaped. The time is ripe, and such notice is overdue.