On why the African Art Market is the Future

Art, Politics & Society

The African art market has often been limited to sculpture, tribal art, and little appreciated by the big auction houses. More and more, it endorses polymorphic aspects, from photography to sculpture through litograpies, and attracts a certain clientele. Hassan Hajjaj, Ibrahim Mahama have helped to improve the image of this often forgotten market. Several artists are to watch closely, such as Zohra Opoku, who works on photography and its relationship to her identity as a Muslim woman, Amoako Boafo, or Elias Sime who mixes technology and textiles from Africa.


The trend and appeal for the African art market has been consolidated by the proliferation of artistic events in African capitals such as ART X in Lagos, which was the first international art fair in West Africa , but also by a more marked presence in the biennials, or the Basel Art Fair. This helped to increase the value of the works, especially at auction houses.

Recently, Ben Enwonwu saw his painting “Christine” be sold for more than a million pounds at Sotheby's London. There is therefore a shift from pieces which were only sold for a maximum of € 300,000 and which are now much more appreciated by art dealers, and that have more value.


Increasingly,  investors, major industrialists from Nigeria, Ghana or Senegal  invest in artists from their countries, and through the acquisition of their paintings increase the value of their art. Over 70% of the buyers at Bonham’s last auction were Africans. Similarly, Ghana is investing heavily in its art schools and has increased its budget by 120% for culture and creative arts in 4 years, and Senegal opened the Museum of Black Civilizations in 2018. All of this contributes to the boom in African art market and its development. Although the market is in full bloom, the challenge now remains to develop and broaden the type of buyer, and not be restricted to wealthy African industrialists or expatriates. The talent and creativity of the artists are present, but the structure of the market is not contributing to their expansion; they have no relations with clients, or public or state support which is being set up uniformly on the continent. On top of that, the legal framework and expertise concerning the art market are little processed in Africa , as well as the infrastructure to provide a certificate of authenticity, or a certificate of sale. This is mainly due to the fact that university curricula have barely integrated training courses that are specialized in this field. Due to that, most of the transactions are finalized in Europe, although it is African Art.


Another important challenge would be to organize more cultural events in Africa, in addition to art fairs in London or New York - which are however vital to promote African Art. Piasa recently collaborated with Aspire Auction during the Investec Cape Town Art Fair (African auction house) to give a platform to African artists  by integrating Irma Stern, Gerard Sekoto, an initiative which should be renewed by other galleries and auction houses in order to promote African art in different cities and settings.


Despite its challenges, African art is emerging as the future of the art market. Recent works at Sotheby ’or Christies have been more coveted than ever. What above all causes this craze for African art is its character and messages, less focused towards only pure aesthetics. The particularity of this art appears in its more political, more poignant claims which shed lights on the social events that we live (Black Lives Matter, police violence) that we see for example in Peter Clarke's paintings which tackle the subjects of slavery, migration, exile. Art in 2020 is unconditionally political, and this trend is redeeming for African artists.

Credits for the pictures : Fortia | © Keyezua



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