Celebrating Extraordinary Women in Africa (Part Two)

Celebrating Extraordinary Women in Africa (Part Two)

In celebration of the International Women’s History month, we present our concluding list of extraordinary women in Africa.

Koyo Kouoh

Koyo Kouoh. Image credit: https://i.ytimg.com

Koyo Kouoh is Cameroonian-born, independent exhibition maker and cultural producer. Educated in banking administration and cultural management in Switzerland and France, she is the founding artistic director of RAW Material Company, a centre for art, knowledge and society in Dakar. Kouoh is also the curator of the education programme at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, London. In addition, she has served as curatorial advisor for Documenta 12 (2007) and 13 (2012), as well as co-curated the 2001 and 2003 editions of Les Rencontres de la Photographie Africaine in Bamako. In February 2014, the European Union and the Senegalese Ministry of Culture entrusted Koyo Kouoh with a thorough reform of the Dakar Biennial.

Deola Sagoe

Deola Sagoe. Image credit: completefashion.org

Deola Sagoe is the CEO of leading female African haute couture fashion The House of Deola Sagoe. She started her fashion career in1989, her credentials taking a huge leap forward when she won the M/NET Anglo Gold African Designs Award, having been nominated by the influential US Vogue editor, Andre Leon Tally. Sagoe was also selected as one of four designers from Africa to show their work at New York Fashion Week in 2000. She gained notice because she was the only one to showcase authentic African fabrics from antiquity, but interpreted in contemporary design. This was the launchpad for her haute couture business to gain global recognition. Her fashion collections have since been modelled around the world at some of the biggest and most prestigious events. Sagoe’s globally appealing style has earned her an enviable clientèle that ranges from Africa’s first ladies, to society girls like Lydia Hearst, top model Alek Wek, and famous personalities such as Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith.

Lisa Folawiyo

Lisa Folawiyo. Image credit: theinterviewmagazine.com

In 2005, University of Lagos law graduate, Lisa Folawiyo began her fashion label, Jewel by Lisa from her home. By ornately embellishing local adire, the brain behind the label is credited with elevating the fabric to high status among the most fashionable women in Nigeria. Having established showrooms in Nigeria and New York, Lisa Folawiyo continues to gain global attention, with her work featuring on major blogs and in leading magazines including Vogue Italia. In 2012, she won the Africa Fashion award. Celebrities such as Issa Rae have worn her pieces. Folawiyo’s collections are also showcased in the US, the UK, Nigeria and South Africa. In 2014, WWD: Women’s Wear Daily named her one of eight emerging talents. In 2015, she was featured in the prestigious BOF500, a list of fashion brands that are shaping the international fashion scene.

Omoyemi Akerele

Omoyemi Akerele. Image credit: bellanaija.com

Founder and artistic director of Style House Files, a creative development agency for Nigerian and African designers, Omoyemi Akerele is widely regarded as a driving force behind the fast growing fashion scene in Nigeria. A pioneering agency in image consultancy and creative direction in Nigeria, Style House Files works with Nigerian companies on brand positioning and retail strategies. Akerele also helps them gain essential international exposure through showcases at Pitti Immagine in Italy, and through Lagos Fashion and Design Week (LFDW). Founded by Akerele in 2011, LFDW runs a four-day schedule featuring a select list of talented up and coming designers and fashion entrepreneurs. The show has been instrumental in raising the profile of the Nigerian fashion industry, and has drawn international attention and acclaim from journalists such as Suzy Menkes and Cristina Manfredi, as well as attracting a host of international buyers. Prior to Style House Files, Akerele worked as senior style editor at popular fashion magazine True Love, and set up an image-consulting agency with a local Nigerian celebrity stylist, Bola Balogun. Trained as a lawyer from the University of Lagos, Akerele also holds a master’s degree in international economic law from the University of Warwick.

Julie Mehretu

Julie Mehtu. Image credit: anastasimuni.com

Julie Mehretu is an Ethiopian abstract printmaker and painter. She was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and moved to Michigan with her family in 1977. She began her education at the University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, and then went on to earn a BA in art from Kalamazoo College, and a MFA from the Rhode Island School of Art and Design in 1997. Mehretu has lived and worked in New York, since beginning her career in 1999, but also has a studio in Berlin. She produces large-scale prints, drawings, and paintings that use heavy layering to create abstract imagery from patterns and architectural photographs. All of her works, regardless of format, involve symbolism drawn from graffiti, city maps, and comic book graphics. Explosions and sharp or arching line work are constant themes running throughout her body of work. Mehretu has drawn inspiration from the large-scale works of Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman.

Njideka Akunyuli Crosby

Njideka Akunyuli Crosby. Image credit: artnews.com

Artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby was born 1983 in Enugu, Nigeria and lives and works in Los Angeles, California. Her works on paper combine collage, drawing, painting, printmaking and photo transfers. Crosby negotiates the cultural terrain between her adopted home in America and her native Nigeria, creating works that expose the challenges of occupying these two worlds. She has created a sophisticated visual language that pays homage to the history of Western painting while also referencing African cultural traditions. She depicts personal imagery that transcends the specificity of individual experience and engages in a global dialogue about trenchant social and political issues. A hallmark of her compositions is the layering and collaging of small photographic images. Many of the images used are from Nigerian magazines or taken by the artist with her own camera during visits to Nigeria. She photocopies pictures from various sources such as wedding albums and magazines and transfers them to paper using acetone solvent.

Tara Durotoye

Tara Durotoye. Image credit: theguardiannigeria.com

Tara Fela-Durotoye is a Nigerian lawyer but is best known for her work as a makeup artist. A pioneer in the bridal makeup profession in Nigeria, she launched the first bridal directory in 1999, set up makeup studios to international standards, and established the first makeup school in Nigeria. She is the founder and CEO of House of Tara International and creator of the Tara Orekelewa Beauty and H.I.P Beauty ranges, as well as Inspired Perfume. In 2007, she was honoured with the Africa SMME Award and the Entrepreneur Award in South Africa. In 2013, Forbes listed her as one 20 Young Power Women in Africa.

Lupita Nyong’o

Lupita Nyong’o. Image credit: salon.com

Lupita Amondi Nyong’o is a Mexican-Kenyan actress. She was born in Mexico to Kenyan parents and raised in Kenya. She attended college in the United States, and earned a bachelor’s degree in film and theatre studies from Hampshire College. Nyong’o began her career in Hollywood as a production assistant. In 2008, she made her acting debut with the short film East River and subsequently returned to Kenya to star in the television series Shuga (2009). That same year, she wrote, produced and directed the documentary In My Genes. She would later pursue a master’s degree in acting from the Yale School of Drama. Soon after, she starred in her first feature film role as Patsey in Steve McQueen’s historical drama 12 Years a Slave (2013), for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, the first Kenyan and first Mexican actress to win it. Lupita Nyong’o made her Broadway debut as a teenage orphan in the critically acclaimed play Eclipsed (2015), for which she received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Play.

Amaka Osakwe

Amaka Osakwe. Image credit: trueafrica.co

Fashion label Maki Oh has earned founder Amaka Osakwe an LVMH Prize nomination and one of the biggest success stories to emerge from the Nigerian fashion scene. Raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Osakwe received a BA in fashion studies from the Arts University Bournemouth in the UK, before returning to Nigeria to launch Maki Oh. Her first collection, Autumn/Winter 2010, played with cloaking and traditional African fabrics. It draws inspiration from rural Ghana’s Dipo rites-of-passage ceremony to set the tone for the label’s signature melding of indigenous textiles and motifs with Western silhouettes. In 2012, Maki Oh debuted at the New York Fashion Week, but the label’s real breakthrough in the United States came in 2013, when First Lady Michelle Obama wore it during a trip to Johannesburg. She later invited Osakwe to join her at the ‘Celebration of Design’ event at the White House. Osakwe has since garnered significant interest from international fashion press and attracted an enviable celebrity clientele that includes Beyonce, Lupita Nyong’o, Solange Knowles and Leelee Sobieski.

Bisi Silva

Bisi Silva. Image credit: wikipedia.com

Bisi Silva is the founder and artistic director of the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos (CCA, Lagos), which opened in December 2007. At CCA, Lagos, Silva has curated numerous exhibitions including one by the Nigerian sculptor Ndidi Dike. She also co-curated The Progress of Love, a transcontinental collaboration across three venues in United States and Nigeria. Silva was also a co-curator of J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere’s Moments of Beauty, and the 2nd Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art, Greece and Praxis: Art in Times of Uncertainty in September (2009). In 2006, Silva was one of the curators for the Dakar Biennale in Senegal. In collaboration with the Portuguese art critic Isabel Carlos, she selected artists for the third Artes Mundi prize in Wales. She also curated Contact Zone: Contemporary Art from West and North Africa (2007) and Telling…Contemporary Finnish Photography, in the 7th Biennial of African Photography in Bamako (2007). Silva has participated in several international conferences and symposia and written essays for many publications, as well as for international art magazines and journals such as Artforum, Third Text and The Exhibitionist. She serves on the editorial board of Art South Africa and N.Paradoxa. She was also guest editor for Manifesta Journal: Around Curatorial Practices No17 (2013), and a member of the international jury for the 55th Venice Biennale (June 2013). Silva has been the recipient of several prestigious international fellowships and residencies including the Clark/Mellon Curatorial Fellowship at Clark Art Institute, MA (2011), the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Scholars’ Residency Programme, Italy (2012) and at Sacatar Institute, Bahia, Brazil(2013).

Angélique Kidjo

Angélique Kidjo. Image credit: melbournerecitalcentre.com

Born in 1960, Angelique Kidjo is a Benin singer well known for her collaborations with international prominent musicians and for her innovative blending of diverse musical styles. In 1983, Kidjo moved to Paris, where she encountered a vibrant musical community and a myriad of musical styles with which to experiment. She also met Jean Hebrail, the French producer, composer, and bassist whom she later married. Her first years in the city were spent studying jazz and performing with various local groups. After teaming with the Dutch pianist Jasper van ’t Hof, she sang with and co-wrote songs for his jazz group, Pili-Pili. After touring extensively with the group for several years, a revived attempt at a solo career proved successful with both critics and fans, and eventually led to major international fame. In addition to her recording career, Kidjo was an outspoken advocate of education and health care for women and children. In 2002, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) named her as goodwill ambassador.


Oyindamola Olaniyan is the Digital Communications Officer at Revilo Publishing. She holds a B.sc in Botany from Lagos State University. Broadly experienced in this area, her core expertise includes social media management, content development and brand identity.

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