At the beginning of 2016, we approached some leading voices on art from Africa for their thoughts on the current position of Africa in the global art scene considering all the events in 2015, and activities arising that will shape the future of African art. We also asked what they would like to see change in 2016.
The main questions we asked were “where do you see art from Africa in 2016?” , “what are your expectations in connection to the global art world?” and “what would you like to see change in the narrative, (the market) and other areas?”
The following are the responses we got. These may not capture events and thoughts in all 54 countries, but it gives perspectives and opinions we believe touched on general happenings on the continent and those in the Diaspora.
2015 was a very important year for African Art, the most significant occurrence being the unusual representation at the Venice Biennale which was curated by Okwui Enwezor. I believe 2016 will see more visibility for African artists and curators. It has been a slow but progressive process in making those critical changes in the global art world in the last two decades. We have made progress in terms of the international reception of contemporary art by African artists. The challenge going forward is how to increase the value of this art and to secure a stronger market for it. The artworld is driven by neoliberal capitalism and always in search of the next big thing. One wonders when the train will move from the so-called African hype to next destinations in Cuba and Iran. It behoves us therefore to begin to imagine the future of African Art in more concrete terms and in our own terms. A crucial aspect of this imagining is to invent our own rubrics for artistic productions by African artists beyond the meta-rubric of African art. After all, there are about 53 colonially-invented countries in Africa. Within the continent, I am hoping that there would be greater emphasis on building infrastructure and institutions at national and transnational levels that would enable art to thrive in the long term. Ugochukwu Smooth Nzewi, Curator of African Art at the Hood Museum of Art, New Hampshire, US.
There is an urgent need to support African contemporary art from the inside. I expect more respect of African government for African culture both from an economic perspective in terms of employment and gains. And I call on these leaders to take responsibility to promote not only creative industries from an economic perspective but in honour of their own cultures. A good start would be to protect the resale rights of the works of artists in their own countries. Barthelemy Toguo, Artist, Paris and Bandjoun.
We need more content, more in-depth research and writing on art in Africa. Bisi Silva, Curator, Founder CCA Lagos.
I am neither overly optimistic nor pessimistic about the journey. Suffice it to say that there will be incremental gains. On the upside, Julia Grosse and Yvette Mutumba, the founders of the Africa-focussed online art magazine Contemporary And have been invited to curate/supervise the selection for Focus at the 2016 Armory Show in New York. Their artist selection is exciting and offers a platform to new(ish) names like 2015 FNB Art prize winner Turiya Magadlela, Paris-based performance artist Kapwani Kiwanga and Zimbabwean sculptor and printmaker Dan Halter. With art fairs now pretty much holding their own against biennials as career launch pads, it will be intriguing to see how this showcase is received — and if there is appetite in the market for new artists for Africa in an economically bearish market. Last year Bisi Silva was curator-in-chief at Bamako Encounters, while Okwui Enwezor was the artistic director of the Venice Biennale. I am curious to see what Simon Njami will come up with for 12th Edition of the Biennale of Contemporary African Art, Dak’art. In many ways, 2016 – the year – faces the hard slog of emerging out of the shadow of 2015, at least curatorially. In South Africa, I am excited about the forthcoming Walter Battiss retrospective at the Wits ArtMuseum. Battiss was a syncretic modernist and trickster who drew on his early research into rock paintings and petroglyphs to develop an indigenous idiom. Sean O’ Toole, Art Jounalist and Critic, Cape Town.
As contemporary African art gains more focus in the global art world, there are many opportunities for everyone to grow outside of the local space, but it is equally important to concentrate on the livelihood of artists in their country as well as broaden the local collector base to create a more sustainable market. In 2016, Arthouse Contemporary is excited to unveil two new projects that will continue to support the development of the local art scene in Nigeria — a permanent venue for artist residency and the first edition of Affordable Art Auction. Both projects are important steps in looking inward to provide more opportunities on a grassroot level. Hopefully there will be more media attention focused on local happenings. Kavita Chellaram, CEO ArthouseContemporary Ltd, Lagos.
2016 will certainly be another strong year for Art from Africa. While art events globally will continue to increase their representation of artists from the continent. For example The Armory Show, Art Basel, or 1-54 Contemporary African Art to name a few. 2016 will also host key art events on the continent itself. The first half of the year with the Marrakech and Dakar biennales will certainly capture high global attention. I see here a great opportunity for those involved to not only showcase the works of local talents but also to stimulate, inspire and engage the African public towards the arts. This is one of the conditions to a long-term and conscious appropriation of contemporary African art by Africans. Celine Seror, Co-Editor Intense Art Magazine (IAM Africa), Amsterdam and Paris.
I see the interest in art from Africa continuing to grow on the inside and outside of Africa. I therefore expect more people and institutions to start collecting art from Africa. There should also be research and publications on the subject as a result, and as a necessity. Neil Coventry, Bonhams Representative, Lagos.
Many African countries made it to the Venice biennial art 2015, but not Nigeria. We had no Nigerian Pavilion. Art from ‘Nigeria’ in 2016 would probably remain in the same place it was last year. And where is that? Lekki, Ikoyi and Victoria-island. Except for a few individuals who are gaining attention internationally, what else is there to consider? Peju Alatise, Artist, Lagos.
I worry that the litigation involving Los Angeles dealer Stefan Simchowitz and Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama is indicative of a skewed and unchecked system of ‘patronage’ that will continue. I don’t mean between Simchowitz and Mahama specifically but in a broader sense. There are a number of young artists who have slipped into a comfortable situation hawking cliché to voracious collectors in the Euro-American art markets. This is partly the outcome of the obvious cleavage between local and international markets for art from this continent. When it comes to a local market, I suspect that this is a conceptually fragile notion in many African countries but for Nigeria and South Africa, and some of the Mediterranean states. In 2010, the New York auction house Phillips de Pury held a one-off Africa Auction. It netted sales of $1,4 million. The company shelved further auctions. Personally, I think these continental-scale auctions are a bad idea. They lack focus and reiterate the sloppy epistemological tropes that postcolonial curators have been actively working to subvert for 25 years, and more. Still, Bonhams, a London-based auction house, has picked up the slack where Phillips left off. The thinness of the offerings on each Africa sale, as well as the relatively poor prices achieved for works other than those by Cheri Samba and El Anatsui, suggest that London has a long way to go in becoming a central marketplace (commercially as much as conceptually) for art from the continent. For now, I think, New York remains the single most important city for artists from the continent aiming to stage an international career. During a November visit, I counted five solo exhibitions by South African artists alone in this city. Sean O’ Toole, Art Jounalist and Critic, Cape Town.
Compiled by Bukola Oye. Featured image from Richard Taittinger Gallery.