Africa needs more Africa-based Contemporary Art collectors and investors

Aplerh-Doku Borlabi, courtesy artist

More than ever, art collectors, institutions, curators, art fairs, and auction houses have shown great interest in Modern and Contemporary Art made in Africa. Touria El Glaoui was one of the early pioneers in 2013 when she founded 1–54, the first international art fair dedicated to Contemporary African Art. In 2016, Tokini Peterson, another innovative woman in the arts and culture sector, launched Art X Lagos, the largest art fair in West Africa. The following year Sotheby’s dedicated a new department to Modern and Contemporary African Art. In 2019, the auction house saw pre-auction bidding for its Modern and Contemporary African art sales increase by 30% over the same period in 2018. In 2020, bidders in the Sotheby’s Modern and Contemporary African art sale increased by 46% and 35% were first time bidders.

In the first Bonham’s auction devoted to “Contemporary African Art,” Giles Peppiatt, director of Modern and Contemporary African Art at the auction house noted that, “Contemporary African Art is the most exciting and dynamic area of the art world right now, and its significance will only continue to grow.” Indeed, people around the world are increasingly interested in collecting Contemporary Art made in Africa. For example, observe the 2020 auction record for Amoako Boafo’s Baba Diop painting. The seemingly insatiable demand for and growth in Contemporary Art made in Africa will likely continue to outpace expectations. Those of us living on the Continent must be a part of shaping the direction of the growth in this nascent art market. While there are art collectors and investors across Africa, there is room for more of us to support Contemporary Art made in Africa.

1. Expand the arts and culture sector

One way to contribute to the growth and expansion of the arts and culture sector is to be a part of the community of art collectors and investors. The investment in art, from budding collectors buying art at street markets, to those who invest in globally renowned artists, fuels the economy around artists, art markets, galleries and the entire arts and culture ecosystem. The support of local art collectors is especially important for emerging artists who need to establish themselves and sell their work to thrive and continue to make art at home. When more art collectors and investors in Africa support the arts and culture ecosystem, we contribute to economic growth in the domestic economies of African countries. Moreover, local and regional investments by art collectors and investors who live on the Continent can help shape how businesses develop around Contemporary Art made in Africa, as creative entrepreneurs will have greater incentives to start ventures around the arts and culture sector.

2. Sustain the arts and culture sector

Equally as important, is the opportunity that governments have to invest in the expansion and sustainability of the arts and culture sector in Africa. Government investments could facilitate the development of the infrastructure needed to scale and sustain the arts and culture sector over time. Government investments in art centers and culturally and architecturally significant spaces would encourage economic growth and help create jobs and more revenue for domestic budgets. For example, public sector investments could translate into growth in cultural tourism and even encourage private sector investments, as has been seen around other arts and cultural centers such as the architecturally intriguing African American Museum in Washington, DC, Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain, and the Fondation Louis Vuitton in France.

I strongly believe that the economic growth strategy of African countries must include the development of the arts and culture sector.

Turiya Magadlela, courtesy artist

3. Preserve cultural heritage and homegrown narratives

For the sake of cultural heritage and homegrown narratives, we need more art collectors and investors from Africa and the African Diaspora to participate in preserving the ecosystem around Contemporary Art made on the Continent. The goal is for more of us who live in African countries to create the narratives that get amplified as the historical record. We must have more influence over the cultural representations that get preserved for the next generation. Along with collectors and investors, the Continent needs more cultural institutions, art schools, patrons and policymakers to help facilitate the development of the future doers and shapers of Contemporary Art made in Africa. I think this is an imperative way to help preserve the cultural heritage and narratives that best reflect the rich and diverse experiences of life in the contemporary context of African countries.

4. Recognize Contemporary Art as a necessity for social, economic and cultural development

In the context of international development and transitioning economies in African countries, where does Contemporary Art made in Africa fit? How should we think about the necessity of Contemporary Art and creativity as part of our larger development agenda? I pose these questions, because I think it is worth examining the role of Contemporary Art as a priority for greater social, economic and cultural development across Africa. I don’t think there are right or wrong answers. However, few would discount the role of creativity in self-expression. And what is Contemporary Art but self-expressed creativity? It follows then that Contemporary Art is a kind of necessity. Debates notwithstanding, I think it is time for more art collectors and investors in African countries to elevate Contemporary Art made in Africa as a necessary component of social, economic and cultural development.

Oliver Okolo, courtesy Gallery 1957

5. Invest in Contemporary Art made in Africa as an asset class

If the four above mentioned reasons are not compelling enough, consider the option of collecting and investing in Contemporary African Art as part of a diversified investment portfolio. Contemporary Art made in Africa is arguably one of the hottest art markets of the year. If you have not followed the trends in the art market for Modern and Contemporary African Art, it is worth a look. As with any longterm investment strategy, do the due diligence, speak with a professional, Kiisa Art, an investment advisory focused on Modern and Contemporary African and Diaspora Art, is a great place to start.

Contemporary Art made in Africa is vibrant, provocative, intellectually stimulating and perfectly reflective of our times. I find that the community around Contemporary Art made in Africa is open to bold ideas and inclusiveness. The friends I have made in the community are people who take risks and drum to their own beat. If you live in an African country, and you decide to help support, expand, and sustain Contemporary Art made in Africa, you will gain many benefits, one of which will be getting the chance to live with inspiring artwork every day. The other more important benefit will be knowing that your support contributed to the growth of the arts and culture sector in your local, domestic African economy.

By Renicha (Nish) McCree Tetteh-Kujorjie

For more features on Contemporary Art made in Africa, please follow me on Instagram @nishmccree. Stay tuned for the February 2021 launch of The Cowrie Culture, an advisory and resource center dedicated to the expansion and sustainability of the arts and culture sector in Africa.

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Nish McCree

I write about Contemporary Art made in Africa and my experiences living on the extraordinary African continent. Connect with me on Instagram at nish_mccree.