Angolan visual artist on opening up the conversation about a new African identity

Kiluanji Kia Henda is the first African artist to receive the Frieze Artist Award.

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Growing up in a household of photography enthusiasts, Kiluanji Kia Henda’s introduction to the creative world came early. A storyteller who uses photography and video as his medium, he recently held exhibitions in places like Angola, Kenya, South Africa, Portugal, Italy and Brazil.

His first solo exhibition, ‘In the Days of a Dark Safari’, comes at a poignant time in his career. The Angolan visual artist just made history as the first African to receive the 2017 Frieze Artist Award. Through photography and film, he works to draw connections to Africa and Europe within the context of the 19th and 21st centuries. As an artist, he is committed to challenging false generalisations created by European nations and racial politics in relation to black people through the introduction of an angle of contradiction. His goal is to open up the conversation about the new African identity.

Born in Luanda four years after Angola gained its independence from Portugal in 1975, Kia Henda understands how colonialism and the slave trade have influenced the global perspective of Africa. Despite Angola’s convenient location on the continent’s oil-rich western coastline, its narrative, like most Sub-Saharan countries, is still in the process of reinvention. 

It is this process that informs his work’s subject matter.

Kia Henda also takes a slightly comical approach to his work. Simplistic views of Africa, though certainly disappointing, are as amusing to him as they are galvanizing. By focussing on the world’s ignorance regarding unique, African tribal culture and their perceptions of Africa as one big country or village, he aims to uses his art to shatter these stereotypes and present to the world an image of Africa that is fully in control of its own narrative and future.

Kia Henda’s work was recently acquired for the Tate collection and is on show at Tate Liverpool as part of its ongoing display Constellations.

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