Celebrating Extraordinary Women in Africa (Part One)
All over the world, March has been set aside as the International Women’s History Month. With March drawing to a close, Omenka celebrates African women in art, culture and luxury – lifestyle. In this first instalment, we present to you in no particular order, those women who continue to bring global attention to the continent within their respective industries.
Aṣa is a Nigerian-French singer, songwriter and recording artiste. She grew up listening to Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Raphael Saadiq, Lauryn Hill, Femi Kuti and Angélique Kidjo, in Alagbole, Ogun State. In 2004, she met Cobhams Asuquo, whom she partnered with to produce her first album. Soon after, she returned to Paris and her career finally took off as she played with major artistes such as the Nubians, Manu Dibango, Doctor L and Tony Allen. Asa has released 4 albums to date, which have all received heavy airplay all over the world. She has also won many honours including the TW Phoenix Award for Music, Constantine Award for new musical talent and Headies Album of the Year.
Kenyan-born Wangechi Mutu’s multimedia work reflects her distinctive composite aesthetic and global point of view. Best known for her collages, Mutu pieces together magazine imagery with painted surfaces and found materials. Her elaborate collages mimic amputation, transplant operations and bionic prosthetics, her figures becoming satirical mutilations. Their forms are grotesquely marred through perverse modification, echoing the atrocities of war or self-inflicted improvements of plastic surgery. Mutu examines the African ideology and how it is very much tied to corporeal form, satirically identifying the continent’s “diseases” as sub/post-human monsters. She invents an equally primitive and prophetically alien species, a visionary futurism inclusive of cultural difference and self-determination. She has exhibited her work locally and internationally in several countries including the United Kingdom, the United States and Wales.
Award-winning architect Olajumoke Adenowo designed her first building at 23, the Federal Ministry of Finance in Abuja. Two decades on, she has been involved in the design and construction of over 70 major buildings. Adenowo has been featured in the World’s foremost architectural journal, Architectural Record and has spoken on several platforms including the Global Women’s Forum and Harvard Business School (African Business Club). She also hosts a syndicated radio show on leadership, Voice of Change. Adenowo is the recipient of several awards for architecture and philanthropy, including the Rare Gems 2007 award by The International Alliance for Women. She has also received a nomination as the West African Business Woman of the Year at the CNBC All Africa Business Leaders Awards, for her work on women empowerment.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Renowned novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in Nigeria. Her work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared in various publications including The New Yorker, Granta, The O. Henry Prize Stories, the Financial Times and Zoetrope. She is the author of the; Purple Hibiscus, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award; Half of a Yellow Sun, which won the Orange Prize and was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, a New York Times Notable Book, and a People and Black Issues Book Review Best Book of the Year; and the story collection The Thing Around Your Neck. Her latest novel Americanah, was published around the world in 2013, and has received numerous accolades, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and The Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction. It has also being named one of The New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year. Recently, Chimamanda Adichie was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters as a foreign honourary member. She is a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and divides her time between the United States and Nigeria.
Swaady Martin-Leke is the founder and CEO of the African luxury brand Yswara, leading curators of precious African teas. After a successful 10-year career at General Electric Co. (GE), Martin-Leke decided to follow her passion for teas, African culture and heritage. She is part of a select generation of Africans who have succeeded in Fortune 500 companies but decided to use their valuable knowledge and expertise to develop African companies. She chose to focus on the luxury industry to essentially convey the continent’s culture and identity, and believes that with thousands of years of history and know-how, Africans can do more than producing crafts and ethnic goods. Yswara’s mission is to unlock Africa’s potential to produce superior quality products that appeal to a local and international audience while achieving societal impact. Martin-Leke has received numerous distinctions and awards including New Leader of the Future (2011) and a Tutu Leadership Fellowship nomination (2012). Forbes has named her one of the Youngest Power Women in Africa.
Born Nneka Egbuna to a Nigerian father and German mother, Nneka, as she is better known, is a stylistically diverse, politically inclined neo-soul singer. In her music and live performances, she speaks strongly about current socio-political isues in Nigeria, and is influenced by the towering legacies of Fela Kuti and Bob Marley, as well as by contemporary urban American artistes such as Mos Def and Lauryn Hill. On relocating to Germany from Nigeria in 2003, Nneka pursued a career in music. In time, she met and began working closely with DJ Farnot, making her recording debut in 2005 with ‘The Uncomfortable Truth’, an introductory five-song EP followed later in the year by the full-length album ‘Victim of Truth’. The album spawned a series of singles; The Uncomfortable Truth, Beautiful, God of Mercy and Africans, all of which set the stage for her follow-up ‘No Longer at Ease’ in 2008, with its lead single Heartbeat. It became her first single to break into the German Top 50.
Touria El Glaoui
Daughter of one of the most revered Moroccan artists alive today, Hassan El Glaoui, Touria holds an MBA in strategic management and international business from Pace University, New York. She began her career in the banking industry as a wealth management consultant before moving to London in 2001, where she undertook various business development positions in the telecom/IT industry. Alongside her successful corporate career, she organised and co- curated significant exhibitions of her father’s work including a major retrospective in Casablanca, and Meetings in Marrakech, a joint exhibition of Winston Churchill’s paintings hosted at Leighton House in London, and La Mamounia in Marrakech, as part of the 2014 Marrakech Biennale. In October 2013, she founded 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair. Held at Somerset House in London, it is the first fair of its kind to take place in Europe.
Sokari Douglas Camp
Sokari Douglas Camp was born in 1958 in Buguma, Nigeria, a large Kalabari town in the Niger Delta. She moved to England at a young age to attend school, but returned to Nigeria frequently to visit her family. An acclaimed sculptor, her work, primarily in steel, draws strongly from her Nigerian roots, and has been presented in numerous solo and group shows in Great Britain, Europe, Japan, New Zealand and the United States. In 1988, the National Museum of African Art proudly hosted the American debut of the artist’s work with the exhibition Echoes of the Kalabari. Sokari Douglas Camp studied art at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland (1978), earned a fine arts degree from the Central School of Art and Design in London (1983) and received a master’s degree from London’s prestigious Royal College of Art (1986). While a student, she received numerous prizes, awards and scholarships, including a honourary fellowship of the University of the Arts London (2006), as well as the Princess of Wales Scholarship and Henry Moore Bursary (1983), Saatchi & Saatchi Award (1982), and the Amy Sadur Friedlander Prize (1981).
Aida Muluneh is an award-winning Ethiopian photographer. She left the country at a young age and spent an itinerant childhood between Yemen and England. After several years in a boarding school in Cyprus, she settled in Canada in 1985. In 2000, she graduated with a degree from the Communication Department with a major in film from Howard University in Washington, D.C. She then worked as a photojournalist at the Washington Post, though her work can be found in several other publications. As an exhibiting artist, her work is also part of the permanent collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Hood Museum and the Museum of Biblical Art in the United States. Muluneh is the 2007 recipient of the European Union Prize of the Rencontres Africaines de la Photographie, in Bamako, Mali and also the 2010 winner of the CRAF International Award of Photography in Spilimbergo, Italy. Aida Muluneh continues to curate and develop cultural projects with local and international institutions through her company, Developing and Educating Society Through Art (DESTA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Iman Abdulmajid, who is known professionally by her first name, is a supermodel, activist, businesswoman and actress. She was born in Somalia and was discovered while attending college in Kenya by an American photographer. She soon moved to the United States where her exotic looks set her apart on the runway and on major fashion magazine covers. Iman has served as a muse for several famous photographers and designers, and was considered a “mega-success” because she excelled at both runway and print modelling. After 14 years of modelling, she retired and began focusing on other endeavours including charity work, and on her immensely successful makeup company for ethnic skin. She has also delved into acting in movies, music videos and on TV, as well as producing and hosting reality TV shows. Iman Abdulmajid has also written an autobiography and another book, a guide to makeup and care for ethnic skin types. She is an advocate for children in third world countries, as well as for increasing the visibility of black women in modelling.
Joke Silva is a Nigerian actress, director, and businesswoman. She graduated from the University of Lagos and Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and began a career in film in the early 1990s. In 1998, she landed a major role, starring opposite Colin Firth and Nia Long in the British-Canadian film, The Secret Laughter of Women. In 2006, Silva emerged Best Actress in a Leading Role at the 2nd Africa Movie Academy Awards, for her performance in Women’s Cot, and Best Actress in a Supporting Role at the 4th Africa Movie Academy Awards in 2008, for her performance in White Waters. Silva is married to actor Olu Jacobs. The couple founded and together run the Lufodo Group, which specialises in film production and distribution assets, and the Lufodo Academy of Performing Arts, where Silva is director of Studies. She is also the pioneering managing director of Malete Film Village, in association with Kwara State University. In 2014, Joke Silva received more recognition with the national award of Member of the Order of the Federal Republic.
Sophie Okonedo is a British-Nigeria actress born to a Nigerian father and a Jewish mother. She began her film career in 1991 in the British drama Young Soul Rebels before appearing in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995) and Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things (2002). Okonedo received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Tatiana Rusesabagina in the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda. She also received a Golden Globe nomination for the miniseries Tsunami: The Aftermath (2006) and BAFTA TV Award nominations for the drama series Criminal Justice (2009) and the film Mrs Mandela (2010). Her other film roles include Aeon Flux (2005), Skin (2008), and The Secret Life of Bees (2008). On stage, Okonedo starred as Cressida in the 1999 National Theatre production of Troilus and Cressida. She made her Broadway debut in the 2014 revival of A Raisin in the Sun and received a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play and won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Ruth Younger.
Click here to read the concluding part.
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