Africa- 1. Chéri Samba, painter
Also known as “David Samba” and “Samba wa Mbimba N’zingo Nuni Masi Ndo Mbasi,” Samba is a well-known painter from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He is a contemporary African artist who is best known for his bold creations that feature bright colors, cartoon-esque caricatures, and explanatory texts. The images he creates are intended to have an intense impact and reflect Samba’s ideas on life and politics. He says that he wants his work to make people stop in their tracks and force them to think. “There’s poverty, stupidity, corruption, chaos, universal decadence…” he said in an interview with Paris Voice. “I like to think that artists can change people’s mentality; I stimulate people’s consciousness; artists should make people think…” Works by Samba such as the famous Sida draw attention to social inequities and political issues that Samba says otherwise might be overlooked. “I want to change the mentality that keeps us Africans isolated from the world,” Samba says. I appeal to people’s consciences… I paint reality even if it’s shocking, I put humor and color into it to attract people.”
2. Miriam Makeba, musician
Also known as Mama Africa, Makeba was a Grammy-award winning singer and civil rights activist from South Africa. In fact, she became the first African artist to popularize African music around the world in the 1960s. Makeba addressed heavy issues like apartheid with her music, which led to the revocation of her passport and citizenship in 1960 as well as her right of return in 1963. Consequently, the countries of Guinea, Belgium, and Ghana issued Makeba international passports and she was granted honorary citizenship in ten countries. The release of Nelson Mandela from Victor Verster Prison persuaded her to return to South Africa on 10 June 1990.
3. Oumou Sy, fashion designer
The 55-year-old Sengalese “Queen of Couture” travels the world presenting her unique collections that utilize West African art and culture. Her love of Afrocentric culture shines through her work while also promoting a fresh, experimental side to traditional styles. Elaborate headdresses, bright hues and baskets are her trademarks. Growing up Sy was denied an education, but her determination and hard work earned her a reputation as a successful entrepreneur and artist throughout Africa and Europe. She began designing and creating her own clothes at the age of five in order to avoid her tribe’s custom of early marriage (at the age of nine). “I have always made my own way,” she says. “And I have done so with dignity.” Her fashion industry is not merely a luxury; it supports internet cafes, clinics for street children and free workshops where she trains young designers. “You can’t work in fashion in Africa without being concerned about health and education,” she says. “It is my privilege as a designer to use fashion to do God’s work.”
4. Oga Steve Abah, playwright
A theatre activist whose work focuses on exemplifying the everyday lives of ordinary people, Abah aims for a creative, aesthetic “empowering” theatre practice drawing on masquerade and dance. By using the performance modes of lower class society (such as peasant society and urban workers), Abah is able to address inequalities in the everyday lives of people while also creating magnificent dramas in open-air settings all over Africa. He has also been teaching Drama and Theatre for Development in Nigeria at Ahmadu Bello University since 1979. He places heavy emphasis on the interplay between theory and practice and is a member of various NGOs. He is also the current Director of the Institute for Development Research (IDR) in Zaria, Nigeria.
5. Chinua Achebe, author
Even while growing up in the Igbo town of Ogidi in southeastern Nigeria, Achebe was intensely interested in education and earned awards and scholarships for his efforts. After becoming curious about religions and traditional African culture, he began writing stories during his college years. His first novel “Things Fall Apart” was published in 1958. It sold over 8 million copies and gained attention all over the globe. This resulted in Achebe becoming the most translated African writer of all time. His fusion of traditional Igbo proverbs with standard English was thought to be innovative and beguiling. Despite a paralyzing car accident in 1990, Achebe continues to inspire, write, and teach. In 2004, he actually declined to accept Nigeria’s second-highest honor in protest of the state of affairs in his country.
6. Athol Fugard, playwright
Best known for his political plays, Fugard is a South African playwright, novelist, director, and actor who writes his works in English. Fugard’s oppposing views on apartheid and other social injustices were brought to light in his plays. Such influential works as “‘MASTER HAROLD’… and the Boys” accomplished these ends. That play specifically brought such a large concern into light for the public and put apartheid on a personal level with which spectators could connect and empathize. The 2005 film Tsotsi, directed by Gavin Hood, is also another of his widely-known accomplishments – it is an adaptation of his novel with the same name. The movie’s soundtrack features popular South African artist Zola as well as the voice of protest singer/poet Vusi Mahlasela. His work “The Road to Mecca” affected viewers intensely in the way they thought about politics.
7. Ousamane Sembène, film-maker
Sembène is known as the “father” of African cinema. His works where heavily historical-political and contained very strong social commentary. Born in Senegal in 1923, Sembène left school at the age of fifteen in order to start working as a plumber, bricklayer, and apprentice mechanic. He was a part of the liberation of France in 1944 and after his discharge he participated in the Dakar-Niger railroad strike. This strike later inspired his 1960 book “Les bouts de bois de Dieu” (God’s Bits of Wood). His first publication in 1956 showed him the potential of cinema as a means to reach a largely illiterate mass audience. Determined, he traveled to Moscow and began studying under Mark Donskoj at Gorky Studios. His 1963 short film “Borom Sarret” (The Wagoner) is considered the first film ever made in Africa by a black African. The twenty-minute long film illustrates African poverty by telling the story of a cart driver in Dakar. It alerts the viewer to the fact that independence was not the ultimate solution; its people continue to have problems to this day. It was even selected to be a part of the Cannes Classics section in the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
8. Wole Soyinka, dramatist/novelist/poet
In 1986, Soyinka became the first black (as well as the first African) Nobel prize laureate. His 40 year writing career has endured through prison, exile, and a death sentence for treason. He is the best-known Nigerian playwright and has used his art to speak out against government oppression. One of his most notable plays is “Death and the King’s Horseman,” which explores the issues of morality, human weakness, and pomposity within religious and sacrificial rituals. His 1970s prison memoir “The Man Died” is noted to be one of his most influential works along with “Aké: A Childhood Memoir.”
9. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’O, author
This Kenyan author wrote pieces that were always highly political. Consequently, he was exiled for 22 years because of his so-called dangerous revolutionary work (including his best-selling novel “Petals of Blood”). Respected and widely-known, Thiong’O’s most recent novel was his first in 20 years – “Wizard of the Crow” (2006). Set in the fictional Free Republic of Abruria, it is autocratically governed by one man, known as the Ruler. This novel ended up earning a Tähtifantasia Award for the best foreign fantasy novel released in Finland in 2007.
10. Dilomprizulike, artist
A very unique artist from Nigeria, Dilomprizulike proclaimed himself the “junk man of Africa.” He creates sculptures and performances that are transformative; they turn trash into something beautiful. He himself is the art. By collecting junk in his home town of Lagos, Dilom is able to recycle it and create artwork, clothes, and much more with his finds. He has exhibited all over the world with his Junkyard Afrika creations and studied fine art at the University of Nigeria and the University of Dundee in Scotland. His work often tackles the rampant consumerism and city growth in the post-colonial period, and brings to light economic, social, environmental, moral, and religious concerns that have led to what he calls “the alienated situation of the African in his own society.”
– Samantha Davis