African art takes off its mask to reveal a modern side ideal for investors

I have good news… (Isn’t that refreshing considering the news bulletins over the past few weeks?) Art collectors have discovered Africa – a continent heaving with new galleries, museums and fairs – and are flocking there for their new favourite investment pieces. While that obviously benefits artists (they make money) and art collectors (they secure investments), it benefits the world’s everyday men and women too. How? Artists require materials with which to work, creating business and sales across the world. Not only that but art exports out of Africa secure trade routes across the planet, creating jobs, adding to the global market and strengthening the global economy for all of us. That’s another blog for another day, though… Today we’re talking about why Africa is the new art mecca.

Values for some blue-chip contemporary art pieces have fallen significantly compared to a year and a half ago, which has prompted collectors to turn to Africa for their art fix. From South Africa’s colourful townships to Mozambique’s rustic coastline, Morocco’s exotic streets to the Congo’s vibrant markets, Africa’s auction houses, art fairs, biennials and museums are thriving. If the first thing you think of when you hear the words ‘African art’ are wooden masks, figures, beadwork and woven baskets, you need to keep reading. Today, African artists are exploring immigration, Chinese investment into the continent, feminism, religion, globalisation and more through smart and highly individualistic works. What’s even more exciting is that Africa’s artistic institutions are carried almost entirely by homegrown backing. The result? Independent art scenes that seem to be flourishing whether or not the rest of the planet is paying attention. Which it definitely should be…

The price of Contemporary African art is highly competitive, with works by Africa’s most famous living artists selling for a mere USD150,000 on average. In contrast, this would be the starting price for a younger, less experienced artist in a big city like Paris or New York. There are artists that sell for less, however. Well-known Congolese painter, Cheri Samba – the first African artist to have a show at the Louvre – sees some of his vivid pieces going for around USD30,000. There are some African creatives that sell for a lot more, too. William Kentridge, the famous South African artist, sees his animated drawings going for between USD150,000 and USD600,000, but even that is a lot less than what many other ‘international’ artists would be priced at.

Kenyan artist, Michael Soi, uses his works to tackle social issues in both his country and the African continent in general. In 2015, Soi did an interesting interview with Okay Africa, talking about his China Loves Africa and The Shame in Venice pieces that deal with China’s investment in Africa and Kenyan artists’ feelings about the country’s artists being underrepresented at the Venice Biennale in 2013 and 2015. (Of the 12 participating artists at the 2013 show — Kivuthi Mbuno, Armando Tanzini, Chrispus Wangombe Wachira, Fan Bo, Luo Ling & Liu Ke, Lu Peng, Li Wei, He Weiming, Chen Wenling, Feng Zhengjie, and César Meneghetti — only two were from Kenya: Mbuno and Wachira. The majority were Chinese. The show was unanimously panned, with one critic dubbing the whole affair “neocolonialism as multiculturalism.”) Take a look at Soi’s works, brought to the UAE by Akka Project.

Mozambican-born, South-Africa based artist Dario Paulino Manjate, meanwhile, uses collages to comment on global consumerism. “My artworks are unique in that, unlike most collage artists, I do not tear my paper and build an image out of colour tones – I cut out every piece,” he explains. “I use recycled magazines as my source, as I feel this paper gives me the quality and subject matter I require. The glossy look and feel of the paper, along with the message the magazines carry, lends to the overall theme of my art. Conceptually my art breaks down and unpacks the very foundations our society is built on today. By physically cutting out and removing objects from their intended context I begin to build up profiles and identities for my subjects. Today our society is built around consumerism. A person is no longer known by who he or she characteristically is, but rather by what he or she possesses. Humanity is constructed from the very items it creates. From afar these portraits look beautiful, however, upon closer inspection, the volume of material items begins to overwhelm, creating an atmosphere of obsession and greed. This characteristic of the artwork’s make-up reveals the grotesque nature of what is seen as beautiful in today’s time. By using magazine cut-outs I create the effect of a glossy surface that begins to reflect on the concept of how appealing wealth is, yet how fragile its reliability is. When people look at my art they’re really looking at their own lives and what they use to identify and define who they are. My pieces are a reflection of how the audience exhibits itself to the public.”
See Manjate’s artworks here.

The point is, Africa – that’s catering to all artistic tastes – is definitely the place to invest right now. Watch this space…