- A steadily rising demand for works from African artists is drawing global audiences at major expos, auctions, and fairs.
- According to the 2023 Africa Wealth Report, the continent’s fine art market was valued at just over $1.8 billion as of December 2022.
- Beyond making sales, tech platforms are helping African artists get discovered by global collectors keen on African art.
Africa’s art market has been steadily carving out a niche for itself in the international art scene. The rising prominence of Africa’s art was visibly displayed during the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York which ran from May 18th to 21st.
The landmark event has been hailed as the largest iteration since the fair debuted in the art capital in 2015. This was after the historic display of artworks from all corners of the continent. The even also served to connect artists from Africa with local and international buyers, investors and collectors, too.
Africa’s fast evolving art market
On display were diverse themes, genres and mediums from sculptors, painters, installation art, digital art, performance among others. African artists were keen to tap into the new wave of global demand for contemporary African art. And they cast their net wide showcasing the continent’s fast evolving art market.
1-54 is the first and only global art fair solely dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and her diaspora community. Consequently, African artists, buyers, collectors and enthusiasts streamed into the 1-54 New York fair in droves.
The 2023 Art Market report by Art Basel reveals that contemporary African art market has grown over the past decade. In the period, a number of high-profile auctions and exhibitions have powered huge interest and demand. Equally, the emergence of African collectors, buyers and investors is driving this trend. In turn, this is promoting and supporting not only artworks’ but also broadening the reach of African artists globally.
According to 2023 Africa Wealth Report, the continent’s fine art market was valued at just over $1.8 billion as of December 2022. The report noted that this was the combined value of artworks traded at auction. In the year under focus, works by contemporary artists born in Africa generated $63 million at auction. This was an increase from $47 million earned from auctions in 2021 by African artists.
African art drawing global audience
The growing demand for works from African artists is drawing global audience at major expos, auctions and fairs. For instance, South African auction house Strauss & Co reported $20.6 million in sales in 2022. This was, however, a slight drop from their record $20.7 million reported in 2021.
Drawing reference from the fifty four countries that make Africa, 1-54 art edition featured a total of 26 galleries. Carefully drawn from across Africa and its diaspora in Europe and the US they showcased works from over 80 artists.
The fair holds three editions annually in three art capitals of the world; London, New York and Marrakech, Morocco. There is also a pop-up fair in Paris, France. The New York expo was held concurrently with a pop-up exhibition of Caribbean artists; the “Sparkling Islands, Another Postcard of the Caribbean,” in Chelsea.
Founded in 2013 in London by Moroccan Touria El Glaoui, 1-54 fair keeps generating interest in contemporary African art. Two years later, the fair went across the Atlantic in New York, broadening global awareness about the significance of African art. In February 2018, stirred Marrakech, home to Africa’s dynamic art scenes. At Marrakech, 1-54 broadened its reach and diversified its portfolio.
Moroccan-born El Glaoui on driving visibility
Moroccan-born El Glaoui’s mission remains giving African artists visibility on a global stage. Visibility is a huge challenge to African art and often sees galleries post dismal sales. With rising visibility, African artists are getting discovered by collectors and buyers internationally. El Glaoui seeks to create a sustainable platform for an art market ecosystem in Africa. 1-54 fair has subsidised costs enabling youth in African art to equally make international debut.
“A growing number of African and diasporic artists are now represented by international blue-chip galleries, exhibit at major international art fairs like Art Basel and Frieze, are included in the collections of internationally renowned museums, and featured in important large-scale exhibitions and events like the Venice Biennale. A goal of 1-54 has long been to highlight the diversity of art practices in Africa and the diaspora.” She noted in an interview with Forbes.
According to the 2023 Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report, global art sales increased by three percent year-on-year to $67.8 billion in 2022, bringing the market higher than its pre-pandemic level in 2019. In terms of dealer figures, sales hit $37.2 billion last year, a seven percent jump year-on-year, restoring the market to its pre-pandemic value.
“The market recorded growth exceeding pre-pandemic levels largely catalyzed by the return of event-driven cycle of art fairs, gallery auctions and openings, as well as gains at the highest end of the value spectrum,” Art Basel CEO Noah Horowitz explained.
Technology revolutionising Africa’s art market
The digital space has been crucial in creating opportunities for African artists to showcase their work internationally. Beyond making sales, tech platforms are helping African artists get discovered by global collectors keen on African art. Technology continues to revolutionise the art market, with emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
These technologies are reshaping the way artists create, sell, and distribute their work. They are also providing new market opportunities for growth and innovation for artists, collectors, and institutions. The proliferation of digital art galleries have bolstered the accessibility of African art. For instance, the Museum of Modern African Art (MOMAA), is a digital museum and among the online platforms that showcase contemporary African art, through immersive exhibitions and interactive features.
African artists tapping AI in their craft
Currently, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been adopted in art creation, discovery, and curation. AI art refers to artwork created using AI algorithms or AI-assisted tools, which can generate original content or enhance the creative process for artists.
These tools have enabled them to enhance their creative process by generating new ideas, automating tasks and providing suggestions. Contemporary artists such as Cyrus Kabiru, are riding on AI to create unique digital sculptures.
By the same token, the emergence of AI powered-exhibitions, have enabled users to explore African art in immersive digital environments. As a result, this has expanded access to the continent’s rich artistic heritage.
Through personalised recommendations, collectors are able to discover new African artists and artworks via user preference analysis and behavior made possible by AI. Other advantages of incorporating AI in art creation include provenance tracking, automated appraisal, authentication and valuation.
How NFTs are shaping Africa’s art market
The emergence of Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in the African art market is boosting the industry in multiple ways. Artists are not only gaining visibility and access global markets, but also expanding their reach and shoring up revenues. Built on blockchain technology, NFTs are unique digital assets that represent ownership of a particular item, such as digital art, music, or videos.
NFTs provide a means to tokenise African art, maintain control while retaining ownership of original pieces. They ensure that artists receive their royalties for secondary sales. To boot, NFTs open up new revenue streams. They help African artists bolster incomes by monetising digital art and create innovative experiences for collectors. For instance, Nigerian Jacon Osinachi Igwe was the first crypto-artist to sell his works at Christie’s auction house in Europe in 2021.
NFTs transactions are made using NFTs wallets. These are digital purses that aid in the exchange and storage of NFTs, offering access to their portfolios to a global audience. They also enhance artists’ visibility, making it easier for them to interact with fans, creating a ‘following’ around their work.
Moreover, they ensure artists are fairly compensated for their work as collectors can confirm the authenticity target artwork. Overall, they offer ways of monetising works, devoid of reliance on conventional art market structures via traditional art markets, dealers and galleries. Given that NFTs are traded on digitally, with an internet connection buyers can access them, further bolstering recognition.
Current NFT trends for 2023 include the continued growth of digital art marketplaces, marked by increased adoption by artists and collectors, and the exploration of innovative ways to create and experience digital art.
Where African art meets global audience
African art is gaining international recognition especially due to a group of centres doing an exemplary job. Globally renowned auction houses Bonhams, Piasa, Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Strauss and Philips have been displaying African contemporary art for years. Their gesture is significantly growing the market reach for African artists.
For instance, an Asian bought Ghana’s Amoako Boafo’s ’Hands Up’ piece at Christie’s Hong Kong auction for $3.3 million. In 2019, Nigeria’s Ben Enwonwu’s Africa’s Monalisa named ‘Christine’ sold for $1.4 million at a London auction. In 2018, his piece ‘Tutu’ sold for $1.6 million.
What’s more, in 2021, his sculpture “Atlas” sold for over $500,000, a record for an African sculpture at Sotheby’s auction in London. Further, South African painter, Irma Stern’s paintings have fetched upwards of $3 million, an average of $300,000 per piece. ‘Cyclists in Sophiatown’ by South African artist Gerard Sekoto, sold at Sotheby’s for £362,500. This was the second highest sale of an African piece in 2019.
Ghana’s El Anatsui is the second African artist to win a Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 2015. The first to get this coveted recognition was Malian photographer Malick Sidibé in 2002. African works by Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, Seydou Keita, Romuald Hazoumé, Moké and Chéri Samba, were integrated into the redevelopment of the American museum’s permanent collection in 2019. They were donated by Jean Pigozzi, a renowned collector of contemporary African art.
Mouthwatering sales by African artists
Other globally prominent African artists in the industry include Ethiopia’s Julie Mehretu, Kenya’s Wangeci Mutu, and Seydou Keïta. In addition we have Nú Barreto, Collin Sekajugo and Youssef Nabil, Nigerian Njideka Akunyili Crosby, and Sudanese Ibrahim El-Salahi. Mali’s Amadou Sanogo, Ange Dakouo’s, British-Nigerian Yinka Shonibare also have very impressive works.
Into the bargain, Cheri Samba has made a mark in the industry, with the sale of numerous paintings, generating bids ranging from $57,707 to $122,554 at Sotheby’s, Bonhams (London) and Piasa auction houses in 2019.
Further, Congolese Aboudia Abdoulaye Diarrassouba sold for $78,600 while Uganda’s Ian Mwesiga sold for $53,000. Joseph Ntensibe works attracted $43,700 as Angolan Christiano Mangovo pocketed$37,000. Works by Dieudonne Wambeti from the landlocked Central African nation fetched $22,000, placing his country on the world map.
On account of the successes recorded by these pioneers in African art, budding artists can remain optimistic of brighter days ahead.