7 Underrated African Art Cities That Should Definitely Be on Your Radar
Since traveling nowadays may not be an option, The Folklore is here to present visual online tours of several cities across the continent with undeniable art scenes that everyone around the world needs to know about.
From the empowering female-driven exhibitions laid out in Kigali, Rwanda to the bold, can’t-miss murals in Zambia’s capital city of Lusaka, these destinations (if they aren’t already) deserve to be on all your future itineraries.
As seen in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, art can be a tremendous tool for collective healing. By focusing on a shared cultural background, reviving traditional arts including wood carving, weaving, imigongo (geometric art), along with performing arts such as drumming and dance, the Rwandan people have been able to acknowledge and engage with the horrors of the past on a deep, emotional level.
Within the vibrant city are numerous studios and museums representing many mediums of art. Inema Arts Center stands as ground zero for East African contemporary art. In addition to pieces by highly acclaimed artists, the Center features work from female artisans through their Nziza Crafts program.
Other one-of-a-kind stops on the list are the Rwanda Art Museum, Azizi Life Studio, NIYO Art Gallery, and Ivuka Arts Kigali. As you hop around virtually or in-person, don't forget to explore Kigali’s famously vivid street art scene.
Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire
Abidjan is aptly nicknamed the Paris of Africa for both its elegant art scene and bustling nightlife. The city provides a home for several architectural masterpieces including the modernist St. Paul’s Cathedral and La Pyramide, a dramatic accent on the city skyline.
While Abidjan’s buildings may be dazzling, don't overlook it as a hub for Ivorian fashion with brands Loza Maléombho and Kente Gentleman — which embrace graceful and rebellious approaches that embrace traditional elements, while managing to remain modern.
For those more interested in fine arts, a number of galleries are scattered across the city with the Galerie Cecile Fakhoury being the most prominent. The gallery showcases unique, contemporary African art that presents crucial questions about history and memory.
Stellenbosch, South Africa
Stellenbosch resides in South Africa's Western Cape, nestled into picturesque mountains and surrounded by famous vineyards. Though wine itself is a form of art — which you can certainly enjoy in Stellenbosch — the town offers a smattering of small art galleries and Cape Dutch architecture with a long and complicated history within each wall.
The Dorp Street Gallery is one of the oldest galleries in the area and displays an array of artisanal creations, from necklaces, cushions, and paintings with unmatched warmth and exuberance.
Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Bukavu is perhaps one of the most architecturally fascinating cities on the continent. Despite its past, the city remains resplendently Art Deco.
Hundreds of Art Deco buildings grace every corner and they're all remnants of horrendous Belgian rule, some residents are keen on preserving the impressive design of the structures. As one local pointed out, these buildings belong to the people of Bukavu as they were constructed from Congolese materials and labor.
These buildings offer an excellent demonstration of the ways in which art intertwines with culture, history, and identity.
Benin City, Nigeria
Once the center of the Kingdom of Benin, Nigeria's Benin City is now a buzzing metropolis with over a million residents, but visitors and natives can still observe the area’s long history encased in its many museums.
The original Benin City — meticulously planned to form perfect fractals and boasting walls four times longer than the Great Wall of China — was razed to the ground by the British in 1897.
Now, the only significant monument that remains is a courtyard in Obasagbon known as the Chief Enogie Aikoriogie’s house. On the bright side, you'll still see cultural artifacts such as bronze sculptures, terracotta, textiles, and cast iron pieces from the Kingdom of Benin at the Benin City National Museum, which will receive more pieces from Britain as a result of a push to return artifacts back to their rightful place.
Lusaka has recently gained international attention for its massive street art murals, which popped up as a result of cheapening art supplies and the creative spirit that pulses the city.
While street art represents a relatively new phase, the Lusaka National Museum shows a deep understanding of the history of the Zambian people. If you're in search for rising local talent to follow, check out the 37d Gallery, a space for Zambian artists founded by The stART Foundation. This organization promotes interactive art learning through exhibitions, competitions, and various workshop programs.
You’ve likely seen images of Accra’s crowded street bazaars, punctuated by brightly colored umbrellas and loud posters, but beyond the markets lie a fast-developing art scene that's attracting viewers worldwide.
Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo, said to be an art lover, has set up an arts committee to help out Ghanaian artists — and thus far, it appears to be paying off. The contemporary Gallery 1957 — a reference to the year Ghana gained independence — has been central to this success.
Other notable institutions include The Loom, which features artwork from many well-known Ghanaian artists. Of course, we can’t forget about Accra’s bold and modern fashion scene with brands like Atto Tetteh leading the way. The city also hosts the massive Accra Fashion Week proving there's so much to see.
Words by Sarah Ann Stager