The Nigerian Art Market Report, published in 2018 indicates that the value of artworks created by Nigerian artists has risen from $3.8 million in 2015 to $7.2 million in 2018. A thriving art scene, combined with the increase of the perceived value of the works created by artists associated with that scene, is never a byproduct of just one social force.
Hence, such a significant increase in value of the artworks produced by Nigerian artists is not a coincidence. In fact, it is a consequence of the dedicated effort made by private art institutions like, Foundation Blachère, The Nubuke Foundation or the Zinsou foundation, as well as curators and art collectors to build an internationally recognized contemporary art scene.
The rise of the African contemporary art scene
Establishing an art market on the African continent has long been a challenging task, due to a myriad of cultural, economic and social factors. The lack of funding for art in many of the continent’s nations has sparked an unintentional response, as new privately-owned art foundations have emerged across the continent.
Even though the art market in Africa is still in its infancy, a number of art foundations, that present the work of artists from Africa locally and on the global scale have emerged in the last few decades.
However, the contemporary African art scene is not strictly confined to the African continent, since the art markets in countries like France, Britain and the United States have opened their doors to their African heritage and to the artists who were born on this continent. In 2019, names like Seydou Keita, Julie Mehretu or Zwelethu Mthethwa are commonly heard at auction houses around the world.
Some thirty years earlier, in 1989, when ‘Les Magiciens de la Terre’ exhibition was organized in Centre Pompidou, only a handful of African artists were recognized on the international level. Such immense progress and increase in value of the works created by artist associated with the African contemporary scene can be partially contributed to the supports these artists received in their local communities and global trends on the art market that have led to the growing popularity of African art.
How did art foundations help forge the contemporary African art scene?
South Africa, Nigeria or Morocco are just a few countries whose thriving art communities have expanded significantly since 2010. In recent years, Cape Town’s Art Africa Fair or Nigeria’s Art X Lagos became platforms that showcase artworks produced by artists from every corner of the continent.
The number of Africa’s billionaires has risen by 145% between 2000 and 2014, which partially explains the quick growth of the African contemporary art market. Art collectors like Prince Yemisi Shyllon, Jean Pigozzi, Jean-Paul Blachére or Sindika Dokolo have own collections that feature thousands of works created by contemporary African artists. These art collectors have contributed to the strengthening of art markets across the African continent and helped cultivate an entire generation of internationally recognized artists.
The impact African art foundations have on the local community expands beyond the cultural sector. The Zinsou Foundation, that was founded by Benin’s former prime minister Lionel Zinsou and his daughter Marie-Cecilé Zinsou, supports artists and offers them space to display their work. In addition to empowering Benin’s art scene, the Zinsou Foundation has made art easily available to the local community by offering free entrance to exhibitions and all other cultural events they organize. The results the Zinsou foundations and similar art institutions have achieved, prove that developing an art scene can also have a positive impact on the society in general.
How did African contemporary art become ‘hotter than gold’?
The value of African art on the international art market started increasing slowly in the early 2010s. Since then, the works of Chéri Samba, Fédéric Bruly Bouabre and Romuald Hazoumé were sold at auction houses like Sotheby’s, Christy’s or Cornette de Saint Cyr at record-breaking prices. Moreover, the works of Seydou Keita, Yinka Shonibare and other influential contemporary artists from Africa are regularly exhibited at world-renown galleries and museums around the world.
Besides being the owner of one of the largest collections of contemporary African art, Jean-Paul Blachére is also the founder of the Blachére foundation. Each year, the foundation offers residencies in its Artists’ House based in Apt, France and ensures that young aspiring artists can gain recognition on the international art market.
The contemporary art museums, galleries and art foundations that support artists through exhibitions, grants and residencies have largely contributed to the creation of a booming art scene on the African continent. However, it remains to be seen for how long these organizations can keep African contemporary art hotter than gold.
RAW Material Company
Koyo Kouoh is an independent curator and cultural producer. She was born in Cameroon, then studied business administration in Europe before moving to Dakar, Senegal in 1996 to work in the creative sector. She set up the RAW Material Company in 2008, which is a contemporary arts center. In 2001 and 2003, she co-curated the Bamako Encounters and was curatorial advisor for documenta 12 (2007) and 13 (2012). Specializing in photography, video and performance art, some of her notable exhibitions include Body Talk: Feminism, Sexuality and the Body in the Work of Six African Women Artists (2015) and Precarious Imaging: Visibility and Media Surrounding African Queerness (2014). Kouoh curated the 'Forum' talks at the 1:54 Art Fair in London (2013, 2015, 2017) and New York (2015). In 2016, she was tapped to curate EVA International: Ireland's Biennial of Contemporary Art. In January 2018, Kouoh spent two weeks as a visiting scholar at the University of Pittsburg where she presented a talk on 'Institution Building as Curatorial Practice.'
Bisi Silva ( 1962 - 2019) was one of Africa’s most notable African art curator based in Lagos, Nigeria who obtained her MA in visual arts administration with concentrations in curating and commissioning of contemporary art from the Royal College of Art, London. In 2007, she founded the Center for Contemporary Art Lagos (CCA Lagos) to develop an "expanded notion of curatorial practice," as she stated in an interview with Freize. She sees her role as a curator as a way of linking the artist, the work and the public. Two prominent artists she has curated shows around are El Antsui (El Anatsui: Playing with Chance in 2014 and Meyina in 2017) and J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere (J.D. Okhai Ojeikere: Sartorial Moments and the Nearness of Yesterday in 2010 and J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere: Moments of Beauty 2011).
Center for Contemporary Art Lagos (CCA Lagos)
Silva has curated various biennales including the Art Dubai (2013), Thessaloniki Biennale (2009), Bamako Encounters (2007), Dakar Biennale (2006) and the Bamako Art Encounters Biennale in 2015. In 2016, she served as the artistic sirector of the Art x Lagos art fair. In addition to the CCA Lagos, Silva also ran the Asiko Art School—a workshop and residency program open to artists from across the African continent.