African art ar­rives

Top in­ter­na­tional art houses and auc­tion­eers have a new des­ti­na­tion when it comes to scour­ing for art for global sales. Africa is the hottest com­mod­ity. in­ves­ti­gates the in­ter­est.

Finweek English Edition - - ENTREPRENEUR -

The year was 2008. An­thro­pol­o­gist and com­mu­ni­ca­tions ex­pert Julie Tay­lor was based in Lon­don and was work­ing for Google. “I vis­ited Zim­babwe, where I grew up and where my fam­ily lives,” says Tay­lor, who re­cently left Google to found Guns & Rain, a cu­rated on­line gallery of con­tem­po­rary f ine art from south­ern Africa.

“It was a very dark year in Zim­babwe’s his­tory. I learned that some artists were lit­er­ally not eat­ing for days at a time,” Tay­lor says. With per­mis­sion from a lo­cal gallery owner, she de­cided to post some images of art­works on a blog site. Overnight she sold three works to in­ter­na­tional buy­ers.

“I re­alised then that the in­ter­net could po­ten­tially change artists’ lives. I put the idea about an on­line plat­form on the back­burner un­til about 18 months ago, and then, in 2014, I de­cided to give up my Google ca­reer to pur­sue Guns & Rain full time,” she says.

Tay­lor’s tim­ing is spot on. Giles Pep­pi­att, from Bon­hams, is fre­quently in Africa scour­ing coun­tries like Nige­ria, South Africa and Uganda for fine art for the Lon­don auc­tion house’s next fall of the ham­mer.

At a re­cent me­dia brief­ing in La­gos, Nige­ria, Pep­pi­att de­scribed Africa, in art terms, as “one of our hottest prop­er­ties on the art block”. In an AFP ar­ti­cle, Pep­pi­att states that “in some ways, Africa is the new China when it comes to art. We are in­vest­ing time, money and peo­ple to main­tain our pres­ence in this mar­ket.”

Pep­pi­att es­tab­lished ‘ The South African Sale’ at Bon­hams some eight years ago, a sale that it now de­clares turns “over a greater value of art­work than is sold in all of South Africa” and which has “es­tab­lished Lon­don as the cen­tre for the South African Art mar­ket”.

What’s fu­elling the de­sire for art from Africa? In Lon­don’s Fi­nan­cial Times, re­spected cul­tural jour­nal­ist Maya Jaggi writes: “Un­der­ly­ing the surg­ing global in­ter­est is a more fun­da­men­tal shift in per­cep­tion. Art from Africa was tended to be viewed as tribal or pri­mal, de­spite the de­ci­sive inf lu­ence of clas­si­cal West African sculp­ture on Euro­pean mod­ernism through Pi­casso and oth­ers. The re­silience of myths of

Rich, stylis­tic de­tail and tex­tures

mark Bambo Sibiya’s linocuts

and dry­point works, which seem to give in­sight into mas­cu­line iden­tity and com­mu­nity on the streets of

Jo­han­nes­burg.

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