East Africa’s Monitor publications ran this essay by Osei G. Kofi outlining the rise in value of African art and the emergence of African contemporary artists:
The 1990s date the actual breakthrough into the world art market. In 1990 a 32-inch wooden sculpture depicting the earth cult priestess Queen Bangwa of Cameroon was offered for auction by the Harry A Franklin family of California. It fetched $3.5 million (Sh273 million) at Sotheby’s, New York. Modest by world market sales for unique antiques, it was nonetheless the highest ever paid for an African plastic art, breaking the record of $2.08 million (Shl62million) set the previous year for a Benin bronze.
After the Queen Bangwa and Benin bronze it took more than a decade for another sensational sale to come by. In 2005 a 19th-century writing slate from northern Angola fetched $1.1 million (Shll7 million) in Paris. The following year was an African gold rush. Drouot of Paris auctioned several stunning pieces from the Verite Family, including a Fang-Gabon mask that sold for $5.8 million (Sh620 million), and a Chokwe-Angola wooden statue of a hunter for $3.8 million (Sh406 million). Sotheby’s Paris also sold a Luba-Congo headrest for (Shl39million) $1.3 million.
Not a cent from these fabulous sales enriched any African.
Kofi goes on to argue that the loss of current African art can’t be labeled theft but neglect:
It’s a costly business, creating a world class art fair. Fortunately, a number of banks and financial houses vie to provide sponsorship – in exchange of all sorts of benefits that accrue to them. In China the government and state corporations provided substantial start-up support to the four main fairs.
When will the banks and media houses in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda cotton on to the exciting new world of the global art market, and the fact that corporate art collection or sponsorship for fairs and galleries can be good business? They are late getting on board. If they don’t know how to proceed, there is ample expertise around they can hire.
Leading Africa’s entrance in the world market where a piece of art is not only the creator’s pride and joy but also a potential store of traded value — a financial investment — is a group of talented artists and their savvy agents.
This Renaissance pack includes Ghanaian El Anatsui, Nigerian-British Yinka Shonibare, South Africans Marlene Dumas, William Kentridge, Gerard Sekoto, Gregoire Boonzaier, Maggie Laubser and Irma Stern, Mozambican Ngwenya Malangatana, Tanzanians Eduardo Saidi Tingatinga and Lilanga Nyama, Ugandan Jak Katarikawe, Congolese Cheri Samba, Bodo Pambu, Monsenguro Moke, Kenyans Wangechi Mutu, Magdalene Odundo, Kivuthi Mbuno… among others.