ART for FUN vs ART for INVESTMENT

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!

A.

Adora Mba
Founder & Director, The Afropolitan Collector

 

20 African photographers to look out for in 2018

2017 has been quite the year for contemporary African art! And the market just keeps going from strength to strength.

We fell in love with many contemporary African artists from Toyin Ojih Odutola  to Yaw Owusu to Ndidi Emefiele and more!

And we are going photography crazy in Africa! It is not difficult to see why as artists capture the beauty, the grit and the rawness of our great continent. 

So, in no particular order, check out 20 talented African photographers that we believe are going to be even bigger deals come 2018:


1. Lakin Ogunbanwo

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2. Siaka Soppo Traoré


3. Colin Delfosse


4. Fouad Maazouz


5. Farida Hamak


6. Eyerusalem Adugna Jirenga

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7. David Uzochukwu


8. Nicola Brandt


9. Joana Choumali


10. Osborne Macharia


11. Nobukho Nqaba


12. Girma Berta

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13. Safaa Mazirh


14. Mauro Pinto


15. Mohau Modasikeng

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16. Ishola Akpo


17. Kudzanai Chiurai


18. Eric Gyamfi


19. Hicham Benohoud


20. Justin Dingwall

 

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Yaw Owusu : a Black Star in the making

 Yaw Owusu, the artist, photo by Nii Odzenma ©

Yaw Owusu, the artist, photo by Nii Odzenma ©

Yaw is a little nervous about his first solo exhibition. The young artist, who only just turned 24, is feeling the pressure of his show and despite his smiles there are quiet moments of contemplation  as he looks at his works being installed.

I am late for our interview and it is a busy time at the gallery. As I apologise to all involved, I ask the man of the hour for just a quick 10 mins of his time for us to have a talk. He is honest about his nerves as we sit down outside in the damp, leafy courtyard of Accra's Kempsinki Hotel.

'I'm really feeling it now' he mutters quietly.

I assure him all will be well and this is merely a chat to get to know him more as I am such a fan of his art, fiddling with my now broken iPhone in the process to start our recording.

For those unfamiliar with his work, Yaw is affectionately known as the 'coin artist' due to his work using countless 'pesewas' - an old currency of copper coins with little to no financial value in modern day Ghana. His installations are a commentary on excess, waste and the country's ever-changing economic and political climate as young Yaw turns objects seen as worthless into beautiful pieces of art. One of his most notable works is Back to the Future (2017) a coin-clad large scale Ghana flag on canvas that was draped on a wall during Ghana's 60 years of independence celebrations. 

'I needed to do something that I felt people could relate to easily and it needed to make sense.' he explains ' the space I was given was so huge, I couldn't cover it entirely. I was worried it wasn't going to work, but it came out nice.'

It turned out more than nice! And now Yaw is getting ready to present his inaugural body of works All that Glitters that will be showing at Gallery 1957 until 3 August. 

 Yaw Owusu, Midpoint, 2017, 72 x 72 inches. Treated copper coins on wood. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957, Accra 

Yaw Owusu, Midpoint, 2017, 72 x 72 inches. Treated copper coins on wood. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957, Accra 

 Yaw Owusu, Gold Rush, 2017. 72inches diam. Treated Coppper coins on wood. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957, Accra 

Yaw Owusu, Gold Rush, 2017. 72inches diam. Treated Coppper coins on wood. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957, Accra 

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

To be honest, I didn't know art could be something I could survive on. My interests were in architecture and I had support for that rather than art. I do love to draw and I do love art so when my dad would buy people books on Sociology, Philosophy or similar he would buy me colours.

It became more serious when I went to university as I was forced to choose what I wanted to do. I had four options and I chose painting for all four! 

Oh, you are originally a painter?

Yes

Yet this work is installation and you are using coins and organic materials - when did you transition from painting?

For the first year in university we did painting (first semester) and sculpture (second semester) which opened up the conversation around materials and although I continued painting through my second year, by the third year I was open to using secondary materials as my art became more contextual so I didn't have to have a brush to be a painter.

To me, I don't feel the function of art being decorative. Even with these [he points towards the gallery] I don't consider these as a canvas that I make 'pictures' or images but I consider the content of each and the context in which I want to portray them. 

So you chose to use the old currency of peswas -  where on earth did you find them? Do people still use peswas?

Only the Bank of Ghana I believe. After some tough negotiations they agreed to give them to me. I was fascinated about the fact that most people wake up to make money and this particular money, no one wants to use it. There's an irony of money that can't be used or money that no one wants. Devalued to the point that it is worth nothing. This is evidence of the economic and political situation in this country.

 Yaw Owusu, Night in the Dark, 2017. 72 x 72 inches. Treated Copper coins on wood. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957, Accra

Yaw Owusu, Night in the Dark, 2017. 72 x 72 inches. Treated Copper coins on wood. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957, Accra

 Yaw Owusu, Remnants, 2017, 72inches diam. Treated Copper coins on wood. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957, Accra

Yaw Owusu, Remnants, 2017, 72inches diam. Treated Copper coins on wood. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957, Accra

Would you say you were a political artist?

Yeah, I have an agenda. There are other artists who are putting their work and voice out there too but I believe that our systems can be better and our economy needs to grow. In 20 years time I don't want to see myself or my family in the same position. We have to develop.

All That Glitters - great title - tell me about this collection

This collection.. the struggles I went through from getting the coins themselves and the contradictions and complexities of this process have all come together. I feel that this is the loudest voice I have as I am showing on my own. In all my previous exhibitions I have been part of a group. 

Yes, your first solo exhibition - congratulations!

Haha, thank you. I  am not sure how people are going to react or interact with my works but I am excited to see.

You are very young for an artist, being 24, so this is an amazing opportunity for you to have your works in a great gallery like 1957. Do you have any favourites? Or any works you are more attached too?

I like the drape-like canvas pieces because I was afraid to do them. The first time I did do them, was about a year ago. I tried it in an exhibition in Kumasi and I didn't like them. I was on canvas and changed materials, working on things like metal sheets and wooden panels. So when I returned back to canvas, I wasn't so sure how it was going to turn out to be honest. Yet, it felt like one of the greatest pieces I'd ever done. And then I did the flag. I believe that now I have improved my technicality.

 Yaw Owusu, Then and Now 'I', 2017, 81 x 60 inches. Treated copper coins on canvas. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957, Accra

Yaw Owusu, Then and Now 'I', 2017, 81 x 60 inches. Treated copper coins on canvas. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957, Accra

 Yaw Owusu, Then and Now 'II', 2017, 81 x 60 inches. Treated Copper coins on canvas. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957, Accra

Yaw Owusu, Then and Now 'II', 2017, 81 x 60 inches. Treated Copper coins on canvas. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957, Accra

You've found your groove! Personally, I love the canvas drape work because I always enjoy movement in a piece. So lastly, are there any artists you look up to or wish to emulate?

I look up to El Anatsui and the way he uses materials; and also Ibrahim Mahama. I am close to him so I know his enthusiasm and energy . And a few others  who are more like activists, ideologists and Pan-Africanists. They influence me and my work. 

Thanks so much Yaw

© All images courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1957
Yaw Owusu, All That Glitters, Gallery 1957, Accra  www.gallery1957.com

Welcome to the House of Ové

  © Aliona Adrianova

 © Aliona Adrianova

If you saw Zak Ové's Masque of Blackness – an army of statuesque, graphite, African 'Invisible Men' on plinths at Somerset House during the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair last year – you won't have forgotten it. In fact you probably have a selfie. The statues held court like giant chess pawns in the vast entrance of the British institution, and it was honestly one of the most amazing things I had ever seen. Definitely Instagram worthy.

Zak has established his career in the contemporary art world over the last 15 years by working in film, sculpture and photography. Showing internationally, his works have part of prestigious fairs such as Art Basel and the Venice Biennale.

Although he is most certainly an original and proud north-west 'London Boi', his works reflect both his Trinidadian and British upbringing as well as paying tribute to African cultural and spiritual identity.

This is evident in his home. It is an explosion of colours, statues, installations and photography; a combination of the vibrancy and richness of the continent and its diaspora with a touch of British history. There is nothing quite like stepping into the personal space of an artist. It is very much like being allowed to enter their private mind and see the way their mind works.

Beautiful, bold pieces hang from his walls in every single room and it feels like you've stepped into a wonderland where you find all sorts of artistic surprises: adapted turntables a la Ové with masked faces, animal skulls, Invisible Men scattered about, spray paint cans, photographs of his past life, works by his father, lobsters, chickens and various animals, spiritual artefacts, animal skin rugs, black dolls, skateboards, a Hassan Hajjaj piece or two - welcome to the House of Ové!

'Would you like to ask me a question then?' he asks as I explore – the British directness kicks in. So, we begin and chat about his life as a young boy living in Camden during the '70s as I ask how he got into art.

I was very lucky to grow up through a streamline of situations, people and places that put me in the direction leading me to where I'm at

Zak is the son of Black-British filmmaker Horace Ové and worked as his assistant for years. You can tell that Zak is very proud of his father. Horace Ové immigrated to Britain in the 1960s, a point at which many West Indians were moving over. His father was one of the few people responsible for documenting what it felt to be black in Britain, going beyond his own experience as a Caribbean immigrant. He worked with some of the greats of the time such as American novelist and social critic James Baldwin, black filmmakers and even with the BBC for the documentary he directed, Skateboard Kings in 1978.

'I was very lucky to grow up through a streamline of situations, people and places that put me in the direction leading me to where I'm at,' says Zak.

 Meeting with Michael X by Horace Ové

Meeting with Michael X by Horace Ové

Being a complete 'fangirl', I am very aware of Zak's close relationship to another one of my favourite artists - Hassan Hajjaj. I eagerly ask him about his friendship with 'The Andy Warhol of Marrakech' and what it was like growing up as part of their Camden kids creative clique.

'I met Hassan in my teens', Zak explains. 'I knew Hassan from Camden a lot because he used to sell flowers and my mum had her clothes shop round the corner. When I started studying at St Martin's in Long Acre, Hassan had a shop round the corner in Neal Street (Covent Garden). We became really tight from that time. Much later on, he rented my mum's shop in Camden after she passed away and he had a Moroccan tea room while I lived upstairs.'

 Zak Ové by Hassan Hajjaj (2016)

Zak Ové by Hassan Hajjaj (2016)

Zak reminisces about the good old days as he sips his coffee: a world of film, music, art, colour and culture. He made the move from filming music videos to being a fully fledged artist around 2000 after a trip to Trinidad in order to film and photograph carnival.

'I was interested in the mythologies and stories that had run traditionally through the old masquerade. It is a collection of stories around characters that different bands of people play. For example, those who played like a sailor or midnight robber, usually became attached to a character like that forever and each carnival played was a new rendition of that character, like a new episode of yourself.  You became attached to this alter ego'

If you don't stand up for your own culture, in the end you become secondary car park attendants in a back lot to the Americas.

Having grown up between Europe and the Caribbean, he identified with the push and pull between the two cultures.

'There is an incredible resistance art that takes place ... The Caribbean were resisting the tides of change that was being enforced from other countries, for example the United States. If you don't stand up for your own culture, in the end you become secondary car park attendants in a back lot to the Americas.'

The cultural imperialist movement from across the seas has influenced many aspects of black art, music, tradition and life. So it remains critical that art and old world African traditions continue to define culture - and that new materials and new technologies allow artists to, as Zak Ové says, 'develop a nuance in the language that keeps that timeline alive.

'If I can use plastics or polyurethane in transition between African sculpture-making and ebony wood, suddenly you are modernising a moment,' he says about the Masque of Blackness. He took a small, African sculpture, carved in ebony wood, and upscaled it in graphite, multiplying it 40 times (at Somerset House ) and 80 times (at Yorkshire Sculpture Park).  It is Ové's way of questioning what it is to be an African, born abroad, while keeping your sense of self-identity alive - the graphite signifying a future world of black people.

We see black men in a certain light, and we put this story on them, compartmentalising them which is a mistake.

Zak quotes the American literary critic and scholar Ralph Ellison, best known for his novel Invisible Man, winner of the National Book Award in 1953: 'We see black men in a certain light, and we put this story on them, compartmentalising them which is a mistake. Because he may not be the person we imagine him to be.'

African art risks being compartmentalised too. Many ignore the internationalism and multiculturalism of the continent and how its art has united and taken influence from so many different cultures.

Zak Ové is fascinated by  identity, stories of migration, integration, and bringing people together. He was commissioned by the British Museum to make two pieces of work that spoke about the relationship between the Caribbean and Africa. He chose the mythological characters Moko Jumbie – Caribbean, African deities that protect people. Legend says that during slavery they accompanied the captives in ships to protect the people who would then become Caribbeans.

 Moko Jumbie 

Moko Jumbie 

'I like the full circle of it,' Zak continues. 'Now they are back in the UK, sitting in the British Museum opposite traditional African masks. The Caribbean masquerades are together with the great masquerades of Africa.'

He is part of a movement that allows African and diaspora art to take a seat at the table: 'I'm a 50-something year old black artist, right, and I've grown up through an era where we have had to create and fill in all these blanks and missing spaces, where we didn't exist. So how do we imagine a better future and a better world? We must use our art work to enhance that.

'One of the things that has always been important to me, wasn't just to take influence from great black artists, but was to actually take the baton. To wear a cape, to stand on a little box, and be counted.'

Zak Ové’s 'Black and Blue: The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness (2016-17)' is currently on display at Yorkshire Sculpture Park as part of a series of new open-air displays celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Park.

All artwork © Zak Ové

Represented by Vigo Gallery

This article was published on TRUE Africa