The most common question I get asked by those interested in purchasing contemporary African work is:
“Is it worth it? Will it keep its value?”
Many think that there's a choice to be made between ‘art for fun’ and ‘art for investment’ in the contemporary African art market. It is easy to see value in the modern works of artists such as Ben Enwonwu, Yusuf Grillo and co, or artists that the auction houses such as Bonhams have deemed valuable and sold at strong, high prices. These artists have had years of experience, growing within a market that really has only become prominent in the last five years or so.
When it comes to the more contemporary works, one could argue it is not as easy to determine which artists will be the next ‘Enwonwu’. There is an abundance of talent and work currently in the market; some may even consider this problematic considering that it makes it difficult to know which artist will become successful. We can never make decisions when spoilt for choice after all! And with new ‘rockstars’ and ‘flavours of the month’ cropping up every few months… How can one safely back the winning horse!?
Sometimes value can skyrocket: a £2000 artist suddenly becomes a £35,000 artist. The appreciation can be exciting for the short term – and is indeed one of the allures of the African art market at the moment - but the danger of these astronomical prices lies in one word: maintenance. Will the artist continue to increase in value over the years? (This only happens to a minute fraction of the art market, Lynette Yiadom-Boaykye for example) or will the price shift begin to decrease when another hot artist becomes the ‘du jour’?
Guaranteed answers to these questions are impossible. The African art market is relatively new and unlike other art markets, there really are no rules on what’s hot and what’s not. The auction houses only determine so much because it is really their buyers and clients that show which artists are of interest. They do not reflect the whole market.
I would say that without the support of locals and nationals buying art, there is no way to sustain a solid market space. It is really that simple. Ben Enwonwu and co became who they are today regardless of tactical buying and selling: as a young, struggling artist Enwonwu not only sold his works for cheap but often gave them away as gifts. It was his talent and technique that made him the modern Master that he is today. You cannot deny talent!
I have often expressed my frustration at Africans not knowing the value of their own art and artists, choosing rather to purchase a print of an international artist (eg a Banksy) rather than an original from a local creative. It really is a shame, because it shows a greater problem: we find no value in our own. Ironically, the rest of the world is finding value in African art work and are thus the ones setting the prices.
Although, saying that, for those who genuinely have a keen interest in Africa’s budding art market, you can rest assured that in this world it is about buying what you LOVE rather than buying what you believe is good to ‘invest’ in. A piece of art you adore will always be of value - to you. So go ahead and do buy art for fun! There are price ranges to suit all types of art consumers and a range of media to suit everyone’s taste.
If you would like a tiny bit more advice in the right direction, I have compiled a list of some African artists that have got the art market (both local and international ) buzzing with excitement. Some are already established and I’m afraid will make an impact on your wallet. However, there are quite a few that won’t cause as much damage. Please do note that this is only a small selection - there's a lot more talent out there!
1.Zak Ové 2.Toyin Ojih Odutola 3.Modupeola Fadugba 4.Ndidi Emefiele 5.Taiye Idahor 6.Serge Attukwei-Clottey 7.Moffat Takadiwa 8.Aboudia 9.Abe Odedina 10.Chidi Kwubiri 11.Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga 12.Gideon Appah 13.Athi-Patra Ruga 14.Yaw Owusu 15.Olumide Onadipe 16.Victor Ehikhamenor 17.Uthman Wahaab 18.Adeniyi Olagunju 19.Gerald Chukwuma 20.Hassan Hajjaj 21.Kudzanai-Violet Hwami 22.Adejoke Tugbiyele 23.Kimathi Donkor 24.Godfried Donkor
Do get in touch for further information and available works.
Happy art collecting!
Founder & Director, The Afropolitan Collector