Arts and History

African Modern Art Gaining Value and Global Recognition

African Modern Art Gaining Value and Global Recognition
Bernadine Racoma

The art collection scene in the African continent has been enjoying a boom lately as the newly rich are now getting into collecting contemporary African art. Just three years ago, few Africans collected modernist offerings of local artists. But these days, investors and the emerging elite have joined Western connoisseurs in collecting African modern art which, due to global recognition, has become increasingly valuable. The struggle of many talented artists from Africa may now be over since the value of their artworks is being recognized both by private collectors and important museums in Europe and the United States. This boom in art coincides with the improving economies of many African countries.

Big money

Homes, high end offices and restaurants now opt to display local artwork instead of imported ones. A businessman from Lagos, Nigeria said that people have become aware that there is big money in contemporary African art. This businessman made obscure purchases years ago that are now worth millions of dollars in the global market.

According to gallery owner Nike Davies-Okundaye, many years ago only expats were interested in buying “adire” or traditional textile art in Nigeria. These days, younger people from Nigeria and across the globe are buying from her with the intention of putting their money in “safe assets.”

The sales are soaring not only in Nigeria and South Africa, where half of Africa’s billionaires come from, but in other African countries as well. Most contemporary African artworks are not as pricey as art from other countries. Given the growing interest in Africa art, their value will only increase. Today, they are viewed by many as very good investments.

Valuable works of art

African modernist outputs are now valued as legitimate works of art rather than objects of ethnological importance. Ghana’s El Anatsui, a celebrated sculptor based in Nigeria has been successfully promoting his vision in galleries in New York, Berlin, and Paris with enormous outdoor installations that consistently draws in the crowds. In 2012, Bonham sold El Anatsui’s huge, shimmering work called the “New World Map tapestry” for £541,250 at auction. The undulating tapestry made use of flattened bottle tops and copper wire.

Iconic pieces of African contemporary art in exhibitions worldwide

Tata Modern in London, one of the best contemporary art museums in the world today has expanded its African an art acquisitions on display. Recently, the museum opened exhibits showcasing the works of Benin’s Meschac Gaba and Sudan’s Ibrahim el-Salahi. The team that put the exhibition together visited Nigeria this year and intends to explore what Cameroon and South Africa have to offer next year. The museum used to focus only on art from North America and Western Europe.

Major museums in New York are also featuring modern African artists this season. The Brooklyn Museum of Art is currently featuring a solo exhibition by El Anatsui who started his career being lauded as the best contemporary artist in Africa. Now, he is famous in art circles the world over. El Anatsui has also been invited by the Royal Academy in London for whom he created a wall-hanging sculpture.

Photo Credit: El Anatsui installation on display at the façade of le musée Galliera in Paris

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