Antonio Olé

Article Bio Works Projects
Film (documentary, video)
Visual Arts (photography, photomontage)
Africa, Central
created on:
July 9, 2003
last changed on:
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Born in Luanda in 1951, Antonio Olé counts as being one of the most important artists in Angola. As an internationally acclaimed photographer and film-maker, he has created a rich panorama of his land´s recent history, and his works are to be seen in exhibitions, at festivals and at art biennials all round the world. The strict uniformity of his style makes his works seem to belong to a unique and self-contained canon.
The painter, photographer and film-maker Antonio Olé is one of the Angolan artists whose reputation has spread far beyond national boundaries. Since their first appearance outside Angola in the Museum of African American Art in Los Angeles in 1984, his works have been circulating on the international art market and been seen in exhibitions all round the world. He was represented at the Havana Biennial thrice (1986, 1988 and 1997) and at the Johannesburg Biennial twice (1995 and 1997). In 1992 his works were exhibited in the African Pavilion at Expo in Sevilla, and in 2003 some of his photo-series were included in the special exhibition "Structure of Survival" at the Venice Biennial.

Antonio Olé was born in 1951 as the son of a half Angolan and half Portuguese family in Angola´s capital Luanda. While young he taught himself photography then studied at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. Since 1975 he has not only been working as an artist but also been making videos and documentary films about life in Angola and now counts as being one of the most important chroniclers of his land´s recent history.

At the start of his artistic career, Antonio Olé was concerned mainly with the medium of photo-montage. "Accidents" was what he once named the works which he was then creating. Only later did he turn to more or less neutral photography, which has since been his main claim to fame. He has created series of photos portraying Angolan families with numerous members or showing certain themes metaphorically. In his project "Salt" for instance, images show the various aspects of extracting and using the raw material salt.

Sometimes work on one of these projects takes years. One of the long-term projects through which he has made a name for himself is the series of photos "Walls", for which he took countless photos of the facades of huts and small dwellings then arranged them as a series. In it the leitmotif of Antonio Olé´s art is especially clear – the past, present and future of Angola. These wall photos are images of decay, destruction and war but also images of the will to survive, of determination, hope and new starts. Though Antonio Olé denies that his works have any political aim, they nonetheless make the misery of his homeland plain.

At the same time, projects like the wall-series show the conceptual nature of Olé´s creative method. Like the German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, Olé shows the facades of buildings from the same angle, face on, symmetrically in mid-frame and often from slightly below, whereby the frame is wholly filled by the image. Again like the Bechers, he includes no living creature.

He thereby focuses attention exclusively on the buildings. Viewers are taken in by the cracked, creviced and crumbling plaster facades and gaze into the empty sockets of windows and doorways. The remains of flaking paint lend the facades a further ambivalence, making them seem to be a blend of the gay, the chaotic and the morbid.

Many of Antonio Olé´s works are now to be seen in private and public collections like in the Museu de Angola in Luanda, the Wilfredo Lam Centre in Havana, the Institute of Arts in Detroit and the Museum of African American Art in Los Angeles.

Olé lives and works in Luanda.
Author: Ulrich Clewing


Born in 1951 in Luanda, Antonio Olé taught himself photography then studied film-making at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. He has since lived and worked in Luanda.


Group Exhibitions (Choice)

Exhibition / Installation
2006 "The Great Wall 2006”, The Great Wall, Hamburg, Germany "Africa Remix”, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan 2005 "Africa Remix”, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France "Africa Remix”, Hayward Gallery, London, Great Britain 2004 "Afrika Remix”, Museum Kunst Palast, Düsseldorf, Germany 2003 "Dreams and Conflicts:The Dictatorship of the Viewer“, Biennial Venice, Venice, Italy 2001 "The Short Century”, House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany "The Short Century”, Villa Stuck, Munich, Germany "Mens Momentanea”, BARAKK, Berlin, Germany 1998 "Eye Africa”, S.A. National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa 1997 "6. Biennial Havana 1997“, Biennial Havana, Havana, Cuba 2000 "L´Afrique à Jour”, Biennale de Dakar, Dakar, Senegal 1997 "Alternating Currents”, 2nd Johannesburg Biennial, Johannesburg, South Africa "The Other Modernism“, House of World Cultures, Berlin, Germany "Havana Biennial“, Havana Biennial, Havana, Cuba 1996 "Remote Connections”, Art Focus, Zurich, Switzerland 1995 "Johannesburg Biennial”, Johannesburg Biennial, Johannesburg, South Africa 1987 "São Paulo Biennial”, São Paulo Biennial, São Paulo, Brazil 1986 "Havana Biennial”, Havana Biennial, Havana, Cuba


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

The Short Century

Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa

(18 May 01 - 29 July 01)

The other Modernism

Contemporary Art from Africa, Asia & Latin America

(08 May 97 - 27 July 97)

Die Anderen Modernen

Contemporary Art from Africa, Asia & Latin America

(08 May 97 - 27 July 97)