African Canvas

about Margaret Courtney-Clarke

In much the same way as she photographed the art of Ndebele women, Margaret Courtney-Clarke has drawn on her personal affinity for the art itself, for methods, design and form, rather than the socio-anthropological or political realities of a people or continent in dilemma. With her project, African Canvas, she portrays a unique tradition of Africa, a celebration of an indigenous rural culture in which the women are the artists and the home her canvas.

The objective is to document an extraordinary art form — vernacular art and architecture in West Africa — that is not transportable and therefore not seen in museums around the world. It is an attempt to capture the unseen Africa, a glimpse into the homes and into the spirit of very proud and dignified peoples.

Margaret was born in Namibia in 1949. After studying art and photography in South Africa, she spent the next four decades working as a photographer between Italy and the USA and across the African continent. Drawn to remote places, Courtney-Clarke has produced numerous award-winning books and her work has been exhibited and collected worldwide.

A Steidl publication entitled Cry Sadness into the Coming Rain — 2017 — marks a new phase in her photography. When she returned to re-establish a home in Namibia in 2009, the landscape once so familiar to her was undergoing rapid transformation, with intense rural–urban migration by those in search of a better life. Margaret’s eight major publications to date include her trilogy on the Art of African Women: Ndebele — 1986 —, African Canvas — 1991 — and Imazighen — 1996. They were translated into five languages, and enjoyed multiple editions and reprints for 20 years.


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