Statistics say that the biggest buyers of Contemporary African art are the Nigerians and the South Africans. This, of course, is understandable due to both countries having the largest economies in Africa as well as the largest populations. The wealthy elite of both have the capacity to indulge and invest in art both back on the continent and abroad.
Yet, despite this stat, the UK is currently the central hub of the Contemporary African art market. So, who are the people responsible for discovering, collecting and bringing African art to the foreground of Great Britannia?
One such man, is Edward Cross – founder, owner and curator of Ed Cross Fine Art. I had the chance to sit down for a chat with Ed on a rare, warm, sunny evening in London and over a couple of glasses of Malbec, we spoke about how and why he has such love for Contemporary African art.
“I am also an artist… although, somewhat dormant”
Ed has always loved art although initially, he had no connection with Africa. Having studied the History of art at Cambridge University, he first worked in educational publishing before making the somewhat punchy and dramatic decision –well, dramatic for 1988! – to leave the world of publishing, and set off to make a new life as an artist in Africa.
Living on the beautiful, serene, sandy beaches of Mombasa for 10 years inspired Ed and his artistic flair. He fell in love with the visual aspect of Africa, “Africa is like an instillation in itself” he said fondly. However, sadly, he quickly realised that he could not make a living out of his own artwork, as so re-established his publishing interest and did his art in his spare time.
It was when he got to the grand age of 50 that Ed realised that one of the few regrets he had was not following his hunches, as he has a natural skill for seeing potential. During this time in the early 2000s, Contemporary African art was a burgeoning art movement growing within the more traditional or “tribal” African art that tourists and foreigners, such as Ed, were used to seeing.
Ed bought the work of a “tingatinga” Tanzanian artist and was struck by not only how beautiful the painting was, but the style of the painting. **"Tingatinga" is a painting style that developed in the second half of the 20th century in the Oyster Bay area in Dar es Salaam and later spread to most East Africa. "Tingatinga paintings are one of the most widely represented forms of tourist-oriented art in Tanzania, Kenya and neighboring countries. The genre is named after its founder, Tanzanian painter, Edward Said Tingatinga.**
The discovery of the story behind "tingatinga" was an eye-opening experience for Ed. Exposed to the genre, history and subculture of the "tingatinga", Ed realised there was more to African art than what he saw on the streets and craft shops. He believed that the art galleries in Africa sold mundane and uninspiring works just to make money with foreign faces and that the real talent lay within the undiscovered, African artists in what was a semi-hidden world of contemporary African art.
To get to grips with the “contemporary art” genre, Ed started to conceptualise his own art work and began to write. He was advised to do this by the famous gallerist, Nicholas Logsdale (from Lisson Gallery) who believed that all art was conceptual (a notion that Ed, at that time, strongly disagreed on) and so by writing he gradually became intrigued by the notion of “contemporary art”. That intrigue led to interest, that interest led to love and here he is today. Ed Cross Fine art – Ed’s gallery - was set up with a little help from his Old Cambridge buddies, and has been representing African artists across all genres of art and media since 2009.
From someone who has seen the inception of the Contemporary African art market, Ed laughed when I asked where the art market would be in 5 years:
“I have been asked this question for the last 5 years"
He believed that although the genre and contemporary African art market “scene” has taken off, the market itself is still lagging behind due to a lack of support of national buyers. Ed maintained that unlike the Chinese or Indian markets which had intense support from locals and nationals buying art in vast amounts, Africa still needs its people to get more involved and buy. Though saying that, he had a strong positive outlook to the future. Globalisation has been terrific for the African art world with African galleries and fairs showing in London, Paris and New York; South African galleries showing Nigerian artists and visa versa. In addition, there is a growing young generation of collectors of African art that is most exciting who Ed believed would be instrumental in bringing up the value of the contemporary African market.
It has been quite the ride for African art. For those, like Ed, who have been watching and waiting, this is an exciting time to be within the African art world. He always knew it would get there, but did not anticipate how quickly it would.
Neither did we.
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