Google taps on 60 African artists to preserve the continent’s culture

Africa is known for its bold, unapologetic use of colour, with stories told in pigments, tones and hues in a kaleidoscope as diverse as the cultures and peoples of the continent.

More than two years in the making, an expansive project commissioned by Google Arts & Culture and conceived by Design Indaba plots the immense creativity coming out of Africa. Although it features 60 individual artists from over 50 African countries and territories, the project itself is a singularity: a broad, living e-catalogue of talent and triumph.

The worldwide launch of the project in November 2022 will allow viewers to discover stories of Africa as told by the African creative community. At this stage, the project is intentionally an online-only manifestation that invites eager exploration. It can be accessed via the Google Arts & Culture portal –

While it is the first artistic project of this scale, spanning the work of leading creative minds from almost every African country, its focus is on not quantity but the extraordinary quality of the continent’s contemporary output.

Africa has long been a source of artistic inspiration for the Global North: the celebrated cubist Pablo Picasso and famed fashion designers Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gaultier and Comme des Garcons, and many others, have drawn on the vibrancy of this single land mass with its 55 countries and associated islands.

Africa is known for its bold, unapologetic use of colour, with stories told in pigments, tones and hues in a kaleidoscope as diverse as the cultures and peoples of the continent.

This project does not, however, reflect on how Africa provides inspiration and influence; instead, it celebrates resident and diasporic makers, and how their home turf informs their practice.

For Colours of Africa, each artist involved was invited to put forward their interpretation of colour, what colour means to them, and how colour is important, or representative of, their country of origin. They were challenged to capture the unique spirit of their home in a particular shade and articulate what being African means to their identity and worldview.

The project involves creatives from almost every discipline imaginable, from architecture, illustration, painting and ceramics through to writing, engineering, the performing arts and visual communications. What they have created are personal and distinct stories of Africa, put into images, videos, texts and illustrations.

The multidisciplinary mix of 60 artists includes Algerian photographer Ramsy Bansaadi, fashion designer Bisrat Negassi from Eritrea, filmmaker Archange Kiyindou “Yamakasi” from Republic of Congo, and visual artist Ngadi Smart from Sierra Leone.

To help realise the project, Design Indaba collaborated with former Design Indaba conference speaker Noel Pretorius and his creative partner Elin Sjöberg. Together they created the design concept and interface design for the digital exhibition.

It features a kaleidoscopic navigation tool used to explore the art in a randomised way, giving the visitor a unique experience, and the art an equal opportunity to be seen. Each user’s path through the digital exhibition creates a unique kaleidoscopic pattern formed by the Colours of Africa.

“Nothing like this has existed to date, so we’re very excited to break new ground,” says Design Indaba founder Ravi Naidoo, who started his world-renowned event in Cape Town, South Africa. “This is an important artistic catalogue, the first of its kind to plot the expanse of African artistry on Google Arts and Culture.”

Design Indaba, which celebrated its 25th year in 2020, draws top thinkers and guests from across the globe and is acknowledged as the world’s best design conference. During the two years the conference could not be staged due to social-distancing regulations, the team was working on Colours for Africa, waiting for the moment when they could share it with the world. Design Indaba has been a leader in foregrounding African creativity for decades and was a logical choice to produce this project.

Naidoo says, “We salute Google for taking this important step to provide the world with a resource like this – not everyone can afford to travel here, or access physical art fairs and museums to view this kind of work.”

A non-commercial initiative, Google Arts & Culture features content from over 2 000 leading museums and archives that have partnered with the Google Cultural Institute to bring the world’s art and culture online for everyone. “We work with cultural institutions and artists around the world. Together, our mission is to preserve and bring the world’s art and culture online so it’s accessible to anyone, anywhere,” states Google.

As part of the project launch, Design Indaba commissioned South African multi-disciplinary artist and activist Lebo Mashile (who also happens to be a charismatic former conference MC) to compose an original piece of poetry that celebrates Colours of Africa coming into its own …


Colours of Africa Poem

Eyes flutter in slumbering darkness 

The sky, a skin of midnight hues 


Dawn shakes the dreamscape of white wonder 

As the sun and a continent come into view 

A curtain of light is pulled back 

On the glow where sand caresses sea 

Rich rust 

Golden dust 

Love red regalia 

Awakened orange energy 


Yellow sparks of illuminated millions 

Contrast the lush sustenance of green 

Digital diversity dipped in black 

Bold as cobalt 

Ochre as ancestry 

Polyrhythmic purple passion 

Spirit of violet swirling in citrus seasons 

Elegant as obsidian 

Resilient as everlasting moss 


Retreat into reflective perception 

On mango trees, Niamey earth 

The ocean in my palm, agu 

Nourished by contradictions 

The gilded dream of colours 

that never leave me alone 

Joyeuse Jaune de la memoire [joyous yellow of memory]

Botala Ba mme [blue of my mother] 

La flamme noire [the black flame]

Heart of bread and rivers 

Songs and stories of my bone 

Amazing blue-brown shelter

Where my hues blend into you, is home

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