Africa Unite: a glance at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art's exhibit, 'Regarding Africa: Contemporary Art and Afro-Futurism'

Written by
Rachel Myerson
The Tel Aviv Museum of Art's latest exhibition 'Regarding Africa: Contemporary Art and Afro-Futurism' is a porthole into the works of African artists expressing their hopes for the future – hopes that are both personal and collective, often drawing on, or defined by, the pain of their pasts.

If you think that you’re a novice to Afro-Futurism, you may be surprised — does Beyonce’s 2016 visual album Lemonade ring any bells? One of Lemonade’s main, if not the main theme, is examining the pain of the African American community, both past — with references to the slave trade — and present —confronting the direct gaze of black mothers whose sons have been slain by the police. Throughout the album, Beyonce fantasizes a idyllic future, specifically for black american women, drawing on a key characteristic of Afro-futurism best explained by author Ytasha Womack: looking at the future through a black cultural lens.

The exhibition’s curator, Ruth Direktor, brings a striking, direct glimpse into the power of African creativity when defining themselves, with moments of joy, ensuring that even art novices will leave the exhibition with a lasting impression. For those more familiar with Afro-Futurism, Direktor has brought the genre closer to home, featuring works created in Israel. These reflections on Little Africa, composed of a growing community of immigrant workers and asylum seekers from Africa, in south Tel Aviv, express the merging of African and Israeli cultures.
Africa photograph

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Walking through the exhibition, one is confronted with various artistic forms — from film, to photography, sculpture and collage. Highlights include Nigerian photographer Johnson Donatus Aihumekeokhai Ojeikere, who captured one thousand hairstyles of African women over four decades. The hairstyles, photographed from behind, take on their own architectural, sculptural forms, often representative of the political climates in which they were taken; the Onile Gogoro style, Yoruba for ‘standing tall’ or ‘tall house,' was characteristic of post-independence Nigeria, depicted by the artist as almost a metaphor for Afro-futurism, 'A feminine, modern, futuristic Africa'.

Entering a darkened nook, visitors can get a taste of Nollywood, Nigeria’s answer to Bollywood, and the world’s second largest film industry. 2016 film 'Who is Atallah Abdul Rahman el Shaul?' is the work of Luciana Kaplun, inspired by her experience working with children of Sudanese and Eritrean immigrants in South Tel Aviv. The African-Israeli relations are explored through cultural pinpoints — an African storyteller singing and narrating the tale in Yoruba, alongside exaggerated gestures and more than a touch of melodrama.

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Both Adajani Okpu-Egbe’s 'Self Portrait as an Endangered Species', mixing various medias to striking affect — a human head and shoulders crafted from household materials, and a body composed of newspaper clippings and fifty pound notes, and Pieter Hugo’s photography series 'The Hyena and Other People', featuring a Nigerian group of ‘hyena handlers’, are particularly striking, meeting the viewer’s gaze head on, with the complexity of a people ready and waiting to stride into a greater future.

On display through March 22, 2017, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 27 Shaul Hamelech Blvd, Tel Aviv (
Check out the event HERE

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