Contemporary African art

Moffat Takadiwa: the shy guy whose art speaks volumes

'I always wanted to be an artist. That’s why I was a lonely child. I would find solace in just drawing.'

His demeanour is unassuming. He is shy and quiet. Yet Moffat Takadiwa has an intriguing aura that commands attention. 

His large-scale, intricate works are the result of his inner personality: bold, detailed, meaningful, resourceful and beautiful.

They say superheroes have quiet alter egos in order to hide among ordinary folk. In that case, Moffat is a superhero. He is secretly living among us as a normal man, but when he creates that is when we see he is special.

I am sitting with him in central London in anticipation of his second solo exhibition in the city. He is a long way from home and jokes that Emma (who owns the Tyburn Gallery) is worried that he will get lost on his way back to his hotel. But he is very sure of where it is. Kind of.

‘It is somewhere in that direction,’ he says, pointing towards Oxford Circus, ‘I remember a square.’

‘In Soho?’ I ask

He shrugs. This is the nonchalant, temperament of contemporary African art’s new cool kid on the block.

‘I’ll find it’ he says with confidence.

Say Hello to English is the title of his new body of works that will be showing at Tyburn Gallery until the 6 May 2017. Takadiwa is interested in language, in particular the English language within Africa and its links to colonialism, and the deconstruction of native African languages.

 Judging By Language

Judging By Language

We sit down outside the gallery to have a chat in the crisp but sunny London evening over a couple of apple juices. I am not drinking due to my current ‘detox’, and he is not drinking because ‘we wouldn’t like him if he did.’  It is always the quiet ones!

Hello Moffat.  How many languages can you say ‘hello’ in?

In my language, Shona, well Shona has many many dialects and I can speak at least six dialects

Do you want to say ‘hello’ to me in one and I say ‘hello’ in a language I know?

Okay I can use the Shona street lingo which is ‘Ndeipi’

That’s like ‘What’s up?’

Yeah exactly.


What’s that?

‘How’s it going’ in Igbo, an east Nigerian language. Were you one of those kids, when you were younger, that used to have a secret language with your friends or invisible friends? I did!

No, I was sadly very lonely as a kid

[awww Moffat]

I am a very reserved and shy person

[He smiles]


So when did the art thing start for you? When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I always wanted to be an artist. That’s why I was a lonely child. I would find solace in just drawing. So I’d be drawing and drawing.

When did it become a vocation rather than just something you did by yourself?

After college, thats when I started showing my art around but a Zimbabwean gallery is like… you know. Emma–Tyburn Gallery owner–saw my work in Cape Town because I had a relationship with a gallery there and I believe she bought one of my works and then decided to represent me.

So talking about your art work, you have these amazing installations. These huge pieces have keyboards and intricate parts of computers among other things… How do you find all these recyclable parts? Are there like a million computers in a dump in Zimbabwe we don’t know about? 

have a team of people I work with. Some of them.. actually, most of them are involved in working in the dumps. They are garbage people. Garbage collectors. So I work with a lot of garbage collectors and a lot of people in my studio and they are the ones that help me collect these materials.

But I  recently had this particular interest to have a solo show only with computer keys because of my researches and what I have been reading – like Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s book Decolonising the Mind.

 English Cut

English Cut

What is the book about?

It is basically talking about how maybe African languages are fading and are being pushed out by English for instance. English being not only a language but also a culture.

Is this something you believe yourself? Do you think the colony languages like English or even French are making African languages secondary or subsidiary?

I’ve got mixed feelings with this… Even the word ‘decolonising’. English and French etc. are now a part of our history in Africa.

We can use them for our own good. We can ‘Africanise’ them.

I think so, in Nigeria for example, there isn’t only just slang but colloquial language – and the way people speak with English, especially young people. Pidgin English is a separate language infused with English and the local Yoruba language.

Yeah, it is an advantage to be born with an international language and your mother tongue, growing up with both at the same time. But when we speak of language killing a culture, we also need to deeply look into it more than just the speaking.

You don’t think African languages carry culture too?

Oh no, of course they do

So the book says that the English culture is overpowering African culture through language?

Yes, and also in my works which then tie into consumables and products. They also help spread culture and were used as tools for colonisation.

Is this why you decided to use computers?

Yes, it represents, primarily, a tool for writing. There is also this recent movement that is happening in South Africa, the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ protest movement questioning the validity of Western education in Africa.

Students were destroying a lot of things, burning down libraries and so on, decolonising their academia. And I feel like I want to take part in my own way, although I am questioning that movement also.

 The Rhodesian Narrative

The Rhodesian Narrative

Before, in the history of Africa, a lot of students died demonstrating for languages. And now, in my own generation, we have got students that are demonstrating again against languages, against that sort of thing.

So I went into the streets and into the dumping sites with my team and we collected these computer keys, about two to three months collecting for these works. The computer keys are like libraries and are like writing instruments. They meant quite a lot to me and I destroyed them. Physically. And I unplugged the keys, and then we used them to fabricate my own language.

I destroyed a colonial language. They belong to a different generation. The older generation.

I like the way you destroyed a language to make your own language. That’s a very cool concept.

Thank you

Not bad for a lonely kid

[He smiles]

Moffat will be exhibiting at  Art Paris Art Fair on 30 Mar – 2 Apr 2017  and 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, NYC edition on 5 – 7 May 2017

© Moffat Takadiwa, courtesy of Tyburn Gallery

This interview was published in TRUE Africa

Orun, Orisha, tattoos and tea : At home with Abe Odedina

Entering the home of Nigerian artist Abe Odedina, feels like crossing through dimensions of time.

Located in South East London, the traditional semi-detached house looks quite normal from the outside. But on stepping in, you are immersed into a cross between Narnia, an African treasure chest and the dwelling of an ancient high priest.

His home is a plethora of traditional and modern art pieces, spiritual and ritual items, photographs of the past and present, and the odd cat, which scurries here and there. There are masks which hang on the walls with curved chins, jagged teeth and eyes that gape open dully. Statues of two-headed dogs line the shelves. Voodoo dolls peek out from corners.

Our ‘Brixton Baroque’ host Abe is an interesting and fascinating man - both to look at and listen to. Margitte-loving, bowler hat-wearing, he enjoys discussing symbols and phenomena in the world and how spirits, mysticisms and religion still work within our modern life.

A wonderful mix of contradictions, he is a tall, athletically slim-built man who is covered in tattoos from head to toe! His fingers are covered with hearts, and numbers, and symbols of all different origins. His soft-spoken, refined and downright posh English accent throws you. The Adidas Stan Smith sneakers and jewellery-clad fingers show his youth and playfulness - he is a rather trendy man - and only his grey-haired beard and wise eyes reveal how old he might really be.

 © Claudia Leisinger

© Claudia Leisinger


Formerly a successful architect, Abe changed his professional path after an enlightening trip to Brazil which he refers to his ‘Damascus moment, like St Paul’s conversion’. He transformed from ‘an architect that likes painting to a painter that makes buildings occasionally.’

But what caused this change? It was his first encounter with the òrìṣàs (pronounced ‘orishas’) in Northeast Brazil. These are divine beings of the other world (òrun) who are manifested as humans in our planetary world according to some traditional Yoruba, Caribbean and South American customs.

This mystical spiritualism from the ancient world moves and inspires him, yet he does not believe in ‘fossiling’ such belief systems. He wants to make them contemporary and avoid shrouding them in obscure mysticism. This is evident in the figures within his EYE TO EYE body of work.

The paintings that surround us in Abe’s home show women swallowing knives, men holding doves, dentists clutching gleaming teeth. They are fascinating, celebratory and yet dark. Traditional spiritualism is often misunderstood and misrepresented, yet one cannot deny its attraction and craftsmanship. The artistry, history and culture within an Abe Odedina painting is easily appealing to people of different cultures and backgrounds.

He doesn’t think his Christianity clashes with these other deities. ‘Growing up in Nigeria, it was possible to be a Christian and yet pay diligence to ancient gods and spirits,’ he tells me. And it seems his openness to exploring the world through stories is how he celebrates his Ashe, the life-force that runs through all things, living and inanimate.                

  ©   Claudia Leisinger

© Claudia Leisinger

© Abe Odedina, courtesy of Ed Cross Fine Art

Abe will be showing at London Art Fair, 2017, JAN 18 - 22 2017

Header image © Claudia Leisinger

This interview was published on TRUE Africa

Do Africans understand the value of art?

Once the momentum has gone... it will be a sad story - Paul Onditi 

My father sent me an interesting article that was in the FT by Catrina Stewart on the growth of art in Nairobi.

In it, she spoke with Paul Onditi, one of contemporary African art's more successful artists who has exhibited in New York, London and across Africa. Onditi spoke honestly about his struggle as an artist living in Europe, and his relatively new growing popularity in the art world, explaining that it wasn't until he returned home to Kenya that things in his life started to change for the better. It may have been great timing, because 10 years ago when Onditi first left Kenya there was no place for art except 'tourist art' pieces. However, like other parts of Africa, there is a growth in interest in contemporary art work and the shift from traditional sculptures and paintings is significant as artists push boundaries and try to compete in the worldwide art market. 

But it is arguably not fast enough. Yes, there is quite obviously a love and appreciation that did not exist for African artists before, however, it is not yet common place for galleries to have an African artist on their books. One still has to be a 'niche' gallery or buyer specifically for African art in order to sell or have exhibitions. Yes, some of the biggest names in art have exhibited a Shonibare or Anatsui piece here or there - but they are few and far between. Onditi believes that this is because Africans do not support African art and do not yet understand the concept of investing in art work, and there may be some truth to his argument.  

Currently, art publications and critics have quoted statistics that say that the biggest buyers of contemporary African art are South Africans and Nigerians due to them being the wealthiest African citizens. Makes sense, however, I am now beginning to question where these 'stats' came from. Within South Africa and Nigeria, locals do indeed buy art, but it is not a lot, nor is it often. Buying art is still for a minute percentage even within the elite classes because most rich people in those countries would rather spend their money on a house, or car, or boat or fuel! Plus, one cannot forget the current economic turmoil occurring in Nigeria especially. The 'suffering yet smiling'  mantra taken on by many Nigerians is a reality. Why would people invest in art when there are bigger problems to tackle? Lack of food, water, living conditions etc all of which are fair points. So who is buying contemporary African art I wonder?  

Collectors, and I mean REAL collectors of contemporary African art are rare. Most end up being gallery or museum owners themselves (Zietz springs to mind) others amass wonderful collections in their homes to be forever looked at, never truly knowing their worth (my father for example). As one of the few contemporary African art cheerleaders, I have noticed that although Africans are enjoying the growth of interest, it isn't necessarily them that are buying into it. These events, exhibitions and parties that are attended are sometimes for socialising sake. I have asked owners honestly if art work is ever bought, and their answers are always the same: "a few, but not enough" or 'yes, by my loyal collectors'.

So why is this the case? 

A friend of mine, a successful,  young, West African man in the investment banking world, recently purchased a new home in London. Kudos! Still decorating and getting it ready, he called me the other day for art advice. He was in one of the few African art galleries in London and had seen a painting he loved (the artist in question was Babajide Olatunji who is a growing art superstar right now) but my friend was fretting about committing to buying the piece, and I couldn't understand why!

 Babajide Olatunji | Tribal Marks series II, courtesy of TAFETA Gallery

Babajide Olatunji | Tribal Marks series II, courtesy of TAFETA Gallery

He seemed to believe that  it wouldn't  be ' a great investment' to buy it and although he loved it, he would rather get something more 'established' from another non-African gallery. This, of course, greatly upset me! However, I could see he called for information so I asked him why he thought that investing in African art was a bad idea. After a few "ummms" (may I just say, this is the man who at work is so ON IT but now couldn't even give it to me straight) he answered:

'I don't know.. does anyone really care about African art though?'

Mon Dieu, what a sad thing for an African man to say to me.  

I spoke to him about the growing support of African art and threw out numbers for certain artworks sold at amazing prices from El Anatsui to Peju Alatise,  Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Aboudia and whoever else I could remember on the spot. I explained that although slow, contemporary African art is most certainly a good investment and quoted Bonhams African Art Director, Giles Peppiatt as a credible source who has seen artists and work worth literally pennies now being sold in the 10s and 100 thousands in just a few years. 

I did not manage to sway my friend that day unfortunately - the uncultured so and so! -  although the painting in question was sold a few hours later I was told so, it is his loss. Although, I have to admit it is indeed a shame that we do not support our own more. I have been to countless art exhibitions in London, New York and even LA where new, emerging and 'unknown' artists are the thing du jour. There is something exciting about investing in someone no one 'knows' about yet especially those that are on the cusp of being a big deal. It is like watching your money triple before your very eyes!

We do this for other artists in other markets and other countries - why not back home? 

What will happen, as it does in many other sectors, is others will see the potential (at this rate the Brits), invest, run with it, and then it'll be the African locals who will be complaining that talent has been 'stolen' and demanding retribution. Perhaps instead of waiting for contemporary African art to be what the world wants, we take a chance and join in the movement now in its exciting baby stages rather than regret it later? This is the time to buy and invest while it is cheap! While we can get it from the source itself.

It is going to hurt a lot more when that young artist from your village who had a small pop up exhibition last year that you didn't care for, is now auctioning their work at Sotheby's for an amount worth more than your car.... the nice one. Just saying. 

Support the arts.







1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair pre-event cocktail evening X Mohau Modisakeng | Bophirima exhibition

Art month is almost here and us art lovers and appreciators are getting rather excited! To kick it all of, 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair hosted a lovely cocktails evening at Tyburn Gallery in order to celebrate their fourth edition of the biannual art fair. 

Yours truly attended and got to speak with the Founding Director of 1:54, the wonderful Touria El Glaoui, about her hopes and thoughts for this upcoming fair.

40 galleries from 18 countries will be exhibiting at 1:54 and this coming edition will spotlight works from over 130 African and African diasporan artists working in a variety of mediums.  

The fair, as always, will have an extensive programme of conversations, workshops and panel discussions all of which shall be curated by Koyo Kouoh  of RAW Material Company, Dakar

Can't wait!

Being at the Tyburn Gallery, I also got to see the amazing images of Mohau Modisakeng first hand and he is just super talented! Most certainly one to watch as is a firm favourite of mine as well as many. 

"The real work for me is in relating the visual signs and symbols of teh abstract - be it music or in my dreams - into a narrative that resonates with the collective social experience."

Originally from Soweto, Johannesburg, Bophirima means 'West' or 'the direction where the sun sets' in Mohau's mother tongue of Setswana. He is always the subject of his own work which some may see as egotistic... but I view it as very personal. This is because Mohau's art touches heavily on the subject of apartheid and its prevalent effects on social, political and economic systems in South Africa. Mohau uses his body to explore the influence of South Africa's violent history, creating these powerful and poetic black and white images.