At the beginning of June, Amref Health Africa held its inaugural ArtBall in New York City to honour African artist Wangechi Mutu and raise funds for the organization. It was an unusual event that brought together more than thirty contemporary African artists from across the continent to support Amref’s health advocacy through the auction of their artworks.
The benefit auction featured artists from various age groups and cultural backgrounds, who all work in a variety of mediums and styles. Curated by Atim Annette Oton, the arttBall honored acclaimed Kenyan artist, Wangechi Mutu, with the Rees Humanitarian Award for her work celebrating and empowering African communities.
Proceeds from the ArtBall will support Amref Health Africa’s innovative programs that span across thirty-five countries and build the health systems of thousands of communities. Liz and Tom Rees, Jr., children of Amref Health Africa’s founder, Tom Rees, were among those who attended.
“We’re pleased and honored to have created this award and to present it to Wangechi Mutu at this special event on behalf of the Rees family,” said Liz Rees. “Our parents taught us to care about our fellow beings across the world, as well as at home. In this day and age, this concern is more and more critical, both from a humanitarian and pragmatic point of view. We are one world and that which affects one, affects all.”
Amref Health Africa also created the Wangechi Mutu Alternative Rites Education Scholarship, which will send 35 girls who have escaped Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) to school.
“Art is my voice and my sanctuary,” said honoree Wangechi Mutu. “Through my Art, I’m able to manifest new forms of who we can be and to reimagine powerful ways of existing. It is a privilege to be recognized amongst other artists and to know that our work is valued.”
The artists represented 11 countries, including Mutu’s home of Kenya, as well as Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania. Each artist is firmly established in the field, with many being masters of the trade.
“Selecting the art pieces for this special event has been very close to my heart,” says Atim Oton, a Nigerian-born, American and British educated designer-turned curator. “The stories of many contemporary African artists from across the continent were showcased – from Nigeria to Tanzania, Morocco to South Africa. All of them, regardless of their age or nationality, are Africans who live and breathe art, in all forms.”
The ArtBall not only brought together talented African artists from across the continent, but it directly supports the impactful work that Amref Health Africa has been conducting for over 60 years. Amongst artists who contributed are George Lilanga (Tanzania), Paa Joe (Ghana), Esther Mahlangu (South Africa), Michael Soi (Kenya) and Ibou Ndoye (Senegal).