Speaking Volumes: Africa at Art 15

By Highet, Juliet | New African, May 2015 | Go to article overview

Speaking Volumes: Africa at Art 15


Highet, Juliet, New African


This month sees the return of Art15. Since its inception three years ago, the fair has had different flavours. Last year, at Art14, Africa brought some arresting yet controversial works critical of the social and political dilemmas on the continent. What will the motherland offer this year? Juliet Highet gives a glimpse.

Expectations are high as to what Africa will bring to Art15, London's global art fair that showcases contemporary and modern art. Last year, photography, a chosen medium for many of today's African artists, was much in evidence. As Giles Peppiatt, Director of African Art at Bonham's auction house told New African: "Certainly it's one of the most important media coming out of Africa. It's made for the continent--wonderfully portable, especially now it's digital--anyone can use it."

But how will the African component of Art15 wow the thousands of art-hungry global visitors this year? London is hot cakes for contemporary African art right now, with at least five galleries specialising in the genre, and others featuring it strongly.

However, there are only three stands at Art15 dedicated to African art this year. Why, for such a big continent? Maria Varnava, Director of a London gallery named Tiwani Contemporary, which deals only in African and African Diasporic art, (and which does not have a stand this year, although she exhibited at Art 14) proffers an answer: "The reason is that we have experienced that these fairs, wonderful as they are, are more for art lovers, than for art buyers." Although London is still regarded as the clearing centre for art in the world, along with New York, crucially the landscape of buyers for contemporary African art is changing. Giles Peppiatt says that now 60-70% are African, others European and American, a reversal from just a few years ago when the market really started taking off. "I started our sales seven years ago, when there was no apparent market, no-one else was holaing auctions, and when we produced a catalogue, we had no-one to send it to. Certainly, even with the recession, I've seen nothing but improvement and increase, with a lot of private buyers in Africa, and they are terribly important. There's an awful lot of money in Africa today looking for a home in art."

He adds: "For a lot of wealthy Africans, London is a second home, they love coming here.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Slowly and surely African interest in and support for its own contemporary < art is gaining pace on the continent itself. Not only are the number of commercial galleries and auction y houses burgeoning there, so are the art fairs, biennales--and crucially, as Peppiatt points out--the number of committed private local collectors, as well as corporate buyers. No longer do African artists, curators and other art professionals have to emigrate, they can develop creatively and technically, and make a decent living based at home. Key countries active in this art market are South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, while the Republic of Benin, Angola and Ghana are rising stars. In fact the three African exhibitions at Art15 are from these market leaders--South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.

The latest kid on the block on the London contemporary African art scene, is the Sulger-Buel Lovell Gallery, which is situated near the iconic Tate Modern art complex and opened its doors in October last year, operating in conjunction with the Lovell Gallery based in Woodstock, Cape Town. An important concept for the artists they represent is to link contemporary African art with its cultural heritage. The first evidence of art, created around 80,000 --years ago, was discovered at the Biombos caves in South Africa. Such rich, complex art histories, often very ancient and found across the entire continent, are a resource that inspires some of the artists showing at Sulger-Buel Lovell. Both of the artists at Art15 exhibited by Sulger-Buel Lovell--who are women--are offering complex installations. …

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