The so-called internet of things (IoT), along with big data, artificial intelligence, and blockchain, continue to shape the future of artistic practice the world over—and not only in the U.S. and Europe, which have tended to be the focus of most digital art surveys. In this fast-digitizing landscape, a new generation of African artists have emerged who are using digital technology as their canvas to create art and to disseminate their work.
This generation of artists embracing digital art are at the vanguard of aesthetic innovation, creating artwork that explores socioeconomic and political realities, collective memories, and the diversity of experiences on the continent and in its diaspora. To survey these artists, ARTnews has selected 10 who offer immersive digital art experiences of note.
Hailed as one of Africa’s foremost tech artists, Nigeria-based NFT creator Osinachi is known for using Microsoft Word as his medium, creating colorful figurative portraits that consider masculinity, homophobia, gender roles, and other topics. He joined the crypto scene in 2017, and in 2018, he became the first Nigerian artists to showcase his works at the Ethereal Summit New York, an annual retreat centered around developments in Ethereum, blockchain, and decentralization. His debut solo show, “Existence as Protest,” was staged in 2020 at Kate Vasse Galerie in Zurich. The works in it were themed around questions about people and their relationship to their surroundings by way of colorful geometric abstractiosns. Since then, Osniachi’s work has found favor with other international spaces, selling at Christie’s and fairs like Art Basel and 1-54. His works are currently for sale on NFT platforms such as SuperRare, OpeanSea, and Makersplace, among others.
Joe Baraka, also known as Joe Impressions, lives and works in Kenya, and creates digital art composed of sharp lines, shapes, and colors. Relying on Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, he’s used his work to tell various stories, including, most recently, that of Okoth Okombo, who helped bring sign language to Kenya and has researched Nilotic linguistics. Google commissioned as Joe Impressions to create a Doodle depicting Okombo that appeared on Google’s homepage for Kenyan users last year.
Inspired by his Soweto upbringing, the Johannesburg-based Fhatuwani Mukheli has been using photography, painting, and film to positively change the narrative about Black representation in South Africa. Mukheli’s creative process starts by painting on canvas and then minting his pieces as digital assets for virtual viewing and exchange in the Metaverse. He is among the many artists who have made NFTs of their physical works. The artist has said, “There’s a virtual world where people are buying land in it. People have properties there, and your art can be on these walls.” Fhatuwani is also cofounder and director of I See a Different You, a collective of Soweto-born artists who aim to provide creative solutions for brands.
Self-taught artist Anthony Azekwoh uses Photoshop to bend pixels mirroring paintings on canvas. The Nigeria-based artist’s work draws inspiration from ancient history and the present times—and even makes it so that these two distant timelines appear to take place simultaneously. Among his most notable works are cutting-edge album covers for famous African artists like Adekunle Gold and Masego. The artist has had a meteoric rise following the sale of his NFT The Red Man, which shows his subject dressed in red with a red hat, cigarette smoke drifting upward over his glowing gold necklace, and winning the Awele Trust Prize in 2017.
Drawing influence from West African symbols such as ornaments, masks, figures, and patterns, Partey has become one of the most well-known digital artists in Ghana, where he currently works and lives. His artworks seek to reclaim the sacred power of African traditional symbolism in today’s contemporary world, centering its people around the values of African cultures which he often describes as “Afro-Ancestral Spiritualism.” Partey’s works have been exhibited at Chale Wote Street Art Festival in Accra, one of Ghana’s largest public events.
Dakar-based designer, curator, and artist Linda Dounia’s digital works challenge power structures. Utilizing analog image-making tools, Dounia uses AI models that have mastered her acrylic painting practice. The artist has said that many of her animated pieces come from this collaboration between man and machine, explaining, “I feed the models with my work and it learns how I paint, then it generates outputs of its learning process, which I then curate and stitch together into a story through animation techniques.” Dounia’s work has been seen at fairs such as this year’s edition of Art Dubai and last year’s edition of Art Basel Miami Beach, where she collaborated with the blockchain company Tezos.
Often inspired by her intersectional identity, Freddie Jacob is a queer digital artist working in Nigeria who has minting her creations as NFTs. In her artworks, she explores themes and discussions around female identity, female allyship, familial love, healing and female hair politics. In 2020, she released her first-ever NFT collection on Opensea, the world’s first and largest peer-to-peer marketplace for crypto collectables. Titled “Eguono,” which means “love” in her native Urhobo language, the works resemble people with Snapchat filters on them.
In Leul’s artworks, traditional African elements like face painting, head crowns, cloth patterns, beads, masks, drums and calabashes are contrasted with futuristic technologies. The Ethiopian artist’s work is characterized by Afrofuturistic themes centering on joy and peace. His aim is to debunk stereotypical myths about a continent that has often gone misrepresented—works such as “Beautiful Heirloms” depict the essence of preserving memory through traditional storytelling, a practice he describes as “inheritance used as a vehicle to preserve shared values and collective experience for future generations.” Even with a B.F.A. from Addis Ababa’s Alle School of Fine Arts & Industrial Design, Leul describes himself as a self-taught artist. (Nevertheless, in his digital artworks, a strong knowledge of color theory and a comprehensive understanding of design principles is evident.) Ultimately, Leul seeks to inspire African artists to own agency of their narratives.
Co-founded by Kiya Tadele and based in Ethopia, Yatreda is an artist collective whose work seeks to explore the intersection between art and digital technology with an aim of celebrating and archiving Ethiopian history on the blockchain as part of their NFT portfolio. Their first NFT Project Kingdoms of Ethiopia sought to raise awareness about Ethiopian traditional culture with stunning motion portraits that deeply captured the traditional stories of Kings, warriors and kingdoms. Also, their most recent NFT project titled “Strong Hair” comprises of a collection of 100 lopping motion portraits that celebrate the diversity of traditional African hairstyles including the Afros, the shaved patterns and the unique braids that are disappearing. The collective is using their crypto art as a way to help others and themselves rediscover their identity and pride.
Abdulrahman Adesola Yusuf
Also known as Arclight.jpg, Adulrahman Adesola Yusuf is a digital artist from Lagos whose work is rooted in the belief that empathy begins with self-love. As a deeper exploration of this philosophy, his boldly colored digital artworks, which depict youth culture today, explore themes of self-awareness, growth, consciousness, and subconscious human impulses. His collages blur the boundary between digital illustration and photography, capturing his subjects in vibrant, contrasting colors. Yusuf has said his works have drawn on centuries-old movements such as Baroque and Rococo, as well as newer ones like Minimalism and Pop. He was recently a part of the African Artists’ Foundation–organized group show “Beauty and the Beholder” at Vienna’s AG18 gallery.