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7 Alternative Art Schools to visit in West Africa


Gone are the days when art education was dominated by colonial or post-independence institutions. A new wave of schools and initiatives are fostering a dynamic and distinctly African approach to artistic expression.



Here are 7 Art Schools to look out for...

 



Founded within the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology's art department, blaxTARLINES is more than a program. It's a collective, incubator, and project space challenging traditional hierarchies. Led by artist Kwasi Sei'dou, this unique artistic ecosystem challenges the traditional boundaries of an educational institution.


Local initiatives like CritLab, a pedagogical experiment, and international collaborations like Kelas Bareng (a project involving blaxTARLINES, Gudskul, the Städelschule in Frankfurt, and the Nordland School of Arts and Film in Norway) demonstrate the group's far-reaching impact. Through its exhibitions, partnerships, and dedication to artistic development, blaxTARLINES has become a vital force in Ghana's contemporary art scene, pushing boundaries and redefining the role of an art school.


 

The Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) Lagos launched its Àsìkò Art School in 2010. A 30-day art school to address a critical shortcoming in African art education. Existing programs often neglect the theoretical underpinnings and methodologies essential for strong artistic practice.


This approach caters to artists seeking to refine the conception and execution of their work, as well as those interested in exploring alternative modes of practice that move beyond, but doesn’t entirely abandon, traditional methods. Beyond its Lagos base, Àsìkò has adopted a peripatetic model, fostering artistic exchange across West Africa (Accra and Dakar) and beyond (Maputo), currently Asiko has found a home in Cape Verde (Praia).

 


This "not-school" by the Raw Material Company offers intensive, artist-led sessions focused on specific themes. Past themes have included food, infrastructure, and germination. International artists like Tracey Rose, Linda Goode Bryant and Otobong Nkanga have participated, fostering a spirit of continual renewal. Each seven-week session, held in spring and fall. RAW has a rotating faculty and bolsters the curriculum with talks and events.


The international roster reflects the Académie's global outlook. But perhaps the most intriguing aspect is its impermanence. The structure allows for constant evolution, a deliberate departure from typical art institutions. 


 


This experimental space promotes artists pushing boundaries and exploring new forms of expression. Founded in 2018 by Wura-Natasha Ogunji, The Treehouse is situated on the seventh floor of a YMCA in Ikoyi, Lagos, Nigeria. The Treehouse is a dynamic venue that has evolved from a residential apartment to a lush, plant-filled haven, and now to its current form as a minimalist space.


Notable past performances include Yadichinma Ukoha-Kalu’s 24-hour drawing event, Ásụ̀sụ̀ (2019), which offered an intimate exploration of the Igbo language through art. Another significant event was Love Letter to Lagos (2020) by culinary explorer Ozoz Sokoh, also known as Kitchen Butterfly. This performance used the agbalumo fruit as a centerpiece to engage the audience in reimagining Nigerian cuisine.

 



Founded by Yinka Shonibare, G.A.S. offers residencies in both Lagos and a rural farm setting, fostering artistic exchange and experimentation.This ambitious residency program expands on Shonibare's successful London initiative, Guest Projects, which provided free, month-long studio space for emerging artists. G.A.S. offers a unique dual residency experience.


The Lagos space combines studios, a gallery, a performance area, and comfortable accommodation.  Alternatively, residents can retreat to a 30-acre working farm in Ijebu-Ode. This contemporary farm-style building sits amidst greenhouses, cashew plantations, and diverse crops, reflecting Shonibare's commitment to sustainability initiatives. Both residencies prioritize flexibility and accessibility, fostering experimentation and collaborations that transcend traditional artistic boundaries.


In a significant development for In 2022, G.A.S received  a lifelong personal library from Professor John Picton and Sue Picton. The roughly 1,500-volume collection is being meticulously catalogued digitally and shipped to Nigeria in batches, providing an open resource for residents and researchers in Nigeria.


 


Housed in a restored modernist home, this residency provides a space for creative reflection and engagement with Ibadan's rich cultural heritage. The Kòbọmọjẹ́ Artist-in-Residence (K-AiR) program in Ibadan, Nigeria, which began 2021,  is breathing new life into the city's artistic legacy. Its name, derived from a Yoruba phrase meaning "not compromising one's essence," reflects the program's commitment to fostering artistic growth while honoring local traditions. K-AiR is more than just a residency; it's a cultural incubator. 


It welcomes not just visual artists and photographers, but also multimedia creators, curators, and scholars, fostering a dynamic exchange of ideas across disciplines. Residents can delve into projects for periods of one to six months, supported by workshops, fellowships, and a vibrant artistic community.

 

This artist-run project by Ibrahim Mahama includes exhibition spaces and repurposed airplanes, creating a unique environment for artistic exploration. Red Clay is a consortium of interdisciplinary institutions encompassing art, anthropology, ecology, and archaeology. This project builds upon Mahama's long standing fascination with material transformations and architectural intervention.


Red Clay co-exists alongside the Savannah Centre for Contemporary Art (SCCA), a well-established artist-run hub for exhibitions, education, and research. The initiative's name reflects its physical manifestation: interconnected red brick warehouses reminiscent of industrial spaces.

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7 Alternative Art Schools to visit in West Africa

June 8, 2024

Obidike Okafor

4 min read

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