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Dennis Osadebe: Meet the Nigerian artist visualizing Africa’s future by reaching into the past

Written by Natalie Kainz, CNN

In Dennis Osadebe’s “Nigerian Dream,” two figures clad in fuscia and mustard yellow stare out of the painting. Their facial features are obscured by a traditional tribal mask and a futuristic space helmet. The piece parodies the 1930 Grant Wood painting “American Gothic,” but exchanges a rural farmhouse for a modern home, and a pitchfork for an electric fan — a staple for beating the heat in Nigeria.

The 31-year-old Lagos-based artist wants to challenge assumptions about African art, visualizing the continent’s future by reaching into the past.

“I always want to use my art to educate people about Nigeria by making them understand that we’re already future-thinking,” said Osadebe, whose work fits into the movement known as Afrofuturist art combining African heritage with technology. “We are … sophisticated and complicated. [We] can participate in art at any level.”

“Nigerian Dream” is an example of “Neo African” art, a term Osadebe said he coined to describe work that rebels against stereotypes around African art. His style has captivated audiences around the world, and even won the approval of tennis champion Naomi Osaka.

Osadebe poses in front of “Knowledge Seeker” (2022), part of his series of self-portraits. Credit: Yusuf “Buch” Sanni

Using surrealism and “post-pop” to transcend expectations

Instead of focusing on Nigeria’s shortcomings, Osadebe said, including inconsistent access to electricity and poor health care, his work celebrates the…

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