Having women creatives participate equally in the African economy is not just a moral imperative, it makes economic sense.
The future is here and African women are leading… boldly, unapologetically and dynamically. Who are these women, why do their stories matter and how does their influence blend into the African continent’s economy?
Let’s find out…
Award-winning whisky brand, Johnnie Walker powered by Trace Africa, presented the Keep Walking Africa Top 30 list earlier in 2022. Together, they’ve taken strides to honour cultural shapeshifters in Africa who are boldly striding with a big purpose in music, arts, fashion, media and film. These Top 30 creatives have one thing in common which is knowing that movement is the first step towards progress. However, that’s where the similarities end. On close inspection, The Keep Walking Africa’s Top 30 list tells another narrative which explores the transformative power of women in creative spaces.
As Tanzanian visual artist, Sungi Mlengeya, shares, “The art I make is inspired by my life, where I grew up and the women who surround me. Whatever our journeys, accomplishments, struggles and relationships, I am drawn to uncover or just marvel over the nuances of our existence.”
Sungi’s paintings are often depicted by striking monochromatic compositions. They explore the themes of self-discovery as well as empowerment of black women. Her goal through her art is to dispel patriarchal myths of female weakness.
Like most women on the Keep Walking Africa Top 30 List, Sungi’s bold steps with a big purpose have garnered global attention and has led to promoting social justice. “Art is very powerful and I did not understand the extent of this until recently. I have witnessed a surge of people sharing my work in the height of the Black Lives Matter movement following the racist incidents that have occurred. When I started painting it didn’t feel a lot like activism, it was natural for me to be inspired by and depict people that surround me in my community, people who are black. The art world is very global now with the internet and social media, what I paint can be viewed by someone on another corner of the world, and this can be a person of colour who feels underrepresented in their community. They feel portrayed in my work. Knowing this has given more meaning to my art, that it could be touching more lives than I can imagine and playing a role in bringing about the change that we need,” tells Sungi.
Another strong theme that comes through the Keep Walking Africa Top 30 is representation. For DJ Desiree representation matters as she states, “[I’m a] Black South African intersex woman. I weigh very little on the privilege scale. The odds are stacked against me yet here I am pursuing my dreams and turning them into something fulfilling.”
Desiree has swiftly moved from obscurity to being one of South Africa’s most promising house music DJs. She began creating eclectic house and techno sets inspired by her African heritage. However, it’s more than just music that makes Desiree stride boldly. She’s determined to represent marginalised women and queer communities in the creative industry too.
She created a start-up called the Boy’s Club which is an initiative that seeks to empower marginalised femme DJs. “Myself and two other amazingly talented DJs (that identify as women) started Boys Club to try to mitigate [misrepresentation]. We’re hoping to alleviate this misrepresentation by hosting events, workshops, conferences and other projects that prioritise and put women DJ’s at the forefront,” she explains.
The next-gen African women are relentless when it comes to challenging the status quo and making sure that women are a part of all creative conversations. In Côte d’Ivoire, filmmaker and actress Evelyne Ily, is challenging the stereotypes of women in the film industry through her production company Yevedi. She’s promoting women to take roles behind-the-camera and try their own hand at being a producer. After spending years learning the art of storytelling for film, Evelyne holds regular workshops, campaigns and fundraisers to educate and assist younger women in doing the same.
Not too far away from Evelyne is another strong woman striding to tell stories in the fashion industry using Cowrie shells. Enter Lafalaise Dion, better known as the Queen of the Cowries. As a designer and visual creator, Lafalaise connected with her traditional heritage to express herself and by doing so has shaped fashion and art on a global stage.
As Lafalaise says, “My [Cowrie] pieces are an extension of me, they are the representation of me. They are inspired by my ancestors and my culture.I love hearing the [Cowrie] shells clinking while and after [creating] a piece. It’s like little melodies or whispers coming from forefathers and foremothers blessing the person who will wear it with guidance, protection and presence.”
Cowries are more than just mere shells in Africa. They represent wealth, power and strength plus have served their purpose as monetary currency on the African continent. For Lafalaise to use Cowries in her fashion works is almost akin to activist expressionism. Adds Lafalaise, “The activism of my work resides in many aspects. From the use of Cowrie shells as a primary material, to the freedom I embrace in unapologetically expressing myself as a young Black African woman – not only through spoken words but also through written words recorded for posterity.”
For many female creatives on the African continent, this is only the beginning. Women are unlocking new opportunities, taking non-traditional paths and seeking ways to contribute to both their community and economy. As Adrian de Wet, House of Walker Partner & Emerging Markets, tells, “Our intention for the Keep Walking Africa Top 30 List is to not only recognise them but to be an inspiration to all African creators to take bold steps in shifting the continent’s culture, especially as the world re-opens after lock-down.”
Lafalaise, Evelyne, Desiree, Sungi and many other women on the Keep Walking Africa Top 30 are all using their talents to unapologetically express themselves and by doing so are also birthing stronger next-gen women creatives. The future is indeed female.