Tuesday, 11 March 2014

For All That We Art..

From a Rwandan Superstar:

Blah, blah, blah, non, non, non, c'est pas 



The Nigerian Art Scene by Eva Obodo

The Nigerian Art Scene: Patrons And Patronage

Eva Obodo
Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka


Contemporary Nigerian art suffers an auspicious propagation whereby a legion of factors and forces are in full play to overwhelm sound art practice. Art professionalism seems to have been trampled down as artists and art collectors struggle to make financial fortunes out of art. Consequently, this has led to a pervert commercialisation of art which threaten the sustenance of virile art practice in the country. The artist produces anything just to survive, while the collector on the other hand, collects from the artist whatever he believes can be sold. In the light of these facts, this paper discusses some of the factors that constitute the soul of the problems of art patronage in Nigeria. It also examines the role of Nigerian art galleries and collectors, motives of patronage, artist’s price index and the role of Nigerian government in patronising art. From the research, however, it is discovered that the level of patronage in Nigeria is generally low. The support from the government for a sustainable art development is inadequate and infrequent. And in spite of the fact that individuals and private institutions patronise the artist much more than the government, particularly through art collection and sponsorship of art events, their efforts are regrettably characterised by excessive commercialisation of art. But there are indications that art patronage in the country has prospects.


There is pleasure … in working for people who are capable of sensing the fine points of an art, who can offer a sweet reception of the beauties of a work, and, by gratifying approval, repay you for your labour. Yes, the most delightful reward you can receive for the things you do is to see them understood, to see them feted by an applause that honours you … but the adulation does not keep you alive; praise by itself does not make a man well off; and the best way to praise is to praise with open hand (Moliere, 1968: 217).

Throughout the ages, patronage has always been a catalyst to the art practice. Art tends to flourish more whenever and wherever its patronage is high. In the early Occidental renaissance, for instance, art blossomed with an increase in the level of patronage. Artists were handsomely rewarded for their labour that by the end of the fifteenth century, many artists were earning the sort of money out of their talents that others could hardly earn out of quite a large capital investment Open University (1972). The increase in the level of patronage at this period however did not just encourage production of plenty works; it also enhanced professionalism in art.

But the case is different in contemporary Nigerian art scene. Many people in Nigeria do not understand that patronage of art transcends mere buying and selling of works and that it goes far to include both the encouragement of the artist and the appreciation of art in an attempt to ensure excellence and continuity (Obodo, 1992). The problems of art patronage tend to pull hard at the prospects of art patronage so much so that the equilibrium in the production and consumption of art is threatened. The creation and the enjoyment of art are not independent of each other; art is not complete with the artist alone; the audience has its own role to play. The artist does not create art just for his personal consumption but for the public’s too. He strives to satisfy, according to Chuta (1997), the aesthetic urge of his client,which, if achieved, results in giving him his own satisfaction. This notwithstanding, an artist is satisfied by the sheer act of creation.

Actually the Nigerian art scene has always been an unpredictable scroll that unfolds many problems and prospects. Some of those problems are inextricably linked to the thorny questions of art patronage: Is there really an authentic and adequate patronage in the country? How do avarice and ignorance affect art patronage? To what extent has the present economic situation in the country influenced the buying and sponsorship of art? How helpful to the patronage of art are the roles played by various art institutions and artists who, by the virtue of their profession, constitute the main actors in the art arena? This paper seeks to answer these questions by examining the activities of some Nigerian public and private galleries, museums and art institutions. It also discusses the attitude of some Nigerian artists towards art professionalisation.

Nigerian Galleries and Collectors in the Making of the Artist

Within the last two decades, a number of private galleries, museums and individual collectors cropped up, particularly in Lagos and Abuja. The emergence of these new art institutions and collectors rather worsened the situation of art professionalism in Nigeria. Their activities have tended to paralyse art practice owing to the zeal with which they seek to reap folds and folds of fortune out of art without caring much about quality and value. Many of the institutions function like market places where collectors and artists meet to haggle over art works as people would haggle over goats or other commodities (Chuta, 1997). This development has an apparent negative effect on the growth of art in the country.

In any case, the sustenance of art is dependent upon the survival of the artist. In a bid to survive, the artist yields to the whims and dictates of his patrons even at the expense of sacrificing art professionalism. No wonder the kind of art he creates is often determined, to a large extent, by whatever condition his society has placed him in. The need for a sustained energy for creativity has made the typical Nigerian art dealer to exploit the struggling artist with baits of hopes guaranteed upon financial upliftment. He dictates to the artist the theme, the material, the technique, and every other thing that make the creation of art work possible. Consequently, the artist is reduced to a mere craftsman who is used to actualise a work someone has conceptualised. The contention here is not that the client should not make some input into a commission he is giving out to an artist, he can make some contributions but he should rather be guided by the artist who should be allowed as a professional to take the final decision on matters concerning the production of the work.

The trend in art business now has reached a disturbing point. Some artists devote most of their time and energy chasing collectors and gallery proprietors, trying to persuade them to buy their works. Sometimes they sell some of the works but only on the collectors’ terms. Most of the collectors would always insist on such piece the art merchants refer to as “collector’s work”. Jerry Buhari called it “art wey de move market” (Buhari, 2001). According to him, the art merchants never failed to show or describe to the artists that come their way the kind of art that sells. They always urge the artist to produce such types of works if they desire to be successful.

Unfortunately, the number of works an artist sells has generally become a determining factor of professional success. Success is therefore measured in terms of monetary acquisition, and not necessarily by the level of aptitude the individual exhibits. An artist who sells plenty of his works in an art show, for instance, is regarded as a star even when most of the works are what Collingwood refers to as “pseudo art” (Olapade, 1985:43).

The making of an artist by these money-bag collectors, museums and galleries breeds quackery in art. It encourages all kinds of persons to parade themselves on the corridors of art as artists. Sometimes authentic artists find it almost impossible to exhibit in some of the public and private art centres either because of the outrageous fees and commissions charged in such places, or because their works are not the kind that “move market”. This situation does not allow the artist to season through experience and develop to a high level in his career. His ambition will no longer be to strive towards producing art forms that can stand the test of time but to discover some prominent art merchants whom he will rely on as his image maker. And as long as he keeps producing those kinds of works that “move market”, he will surely never lack buyers. His name and works shall cover the pages of newspapers and screens of TV sets.

But the problem with this is that what is produced is perhaps no art. Or if it is, it certainly is not his work per se, since the artist himself was used like a robot or artisan to actualise an idea. In many cases, just to earn his money, he allows into the work ideas and elements he could not explain or understand.

Motives for Patronage

Genuine art patronage is motivated by sincere love for art. It flows out from people who appreciate art and understand that it means more than mere commodities. Such people encourage the artist so as to ensure excellence and continuity in art. Their patronage is often geared towards propagation of art. They take extra steps to establish art organizations or institutions and occasionally organise workshops and lectures on art and art related issues in addition to acquiring works of art for art’s sake. This way they chart a fertile course for the growth of art – a course not based on gross financial motive. In other words, they try to nurture art as life because they believe art is an indispensible part of life.

But there is also patronage that is characterised by crude commercialism. This type is more or less a buying and selling kind of business whereby mercenary artists, collectors and promoters exercise their perverse ingenuity. Partakers in this sort of patronage hope for salubrious profit and give little or no consideration for the development of sound art professionalism. Many of Nigerian private museums and galleries, collectors and media people belong to this mercenary group. They have made the art of art collection degenerate to a point where even the man in the street views art work as nothing but “money”. No wonder at every art show people are more curious to see the exhibition price list than the work on display.

Of course there are people who are bent on personal aggrandizement. When such people patronise art they do so in their effort to display their affluence and power because they believe art is an insignia of wealth. People in this category of patrons are often art-illiterates. They can neither appreciate works of art nor differentiate an artist from an artisan. All they want is to let their homes and offices be adorned with art works that would never again be refurbished. And whenever they feel the works have gone out of vogue, they destroy them for new ones. No doubt they patronise art, but this kind of patronage is not completely different from the type arising from commercialization. It isolates art from its various meanings and functions, and presents it as a mere commodity which value stands as the money exchanged for it. This attitude portends the danger of causing a disjointed or crooked history as such people keep on destroying or wasting some old works for new ones.

Artist’s Price Index

It is a general notion that the prices of art works are high in Nigeria. At exhibitions, many visitors will often complain at the price lists, even before seeing the corresponding art pieces, that works are tagged with outrageous prices. Such complainants seem to be more anxious to find out how much each work is fixed at so as to make certain their belief that art is nothing but money and that artists are magnates. But is it really true? The question is: what factors determine the artist’s price index, and how do we ascertain that a work is overpriced? Osa Egonwa (2001) has suggested four factors – “the status of an artist, place of transaction, the prevailing economy, and the nature of the work on sale”.  This means that the work of a celebrated artist is likely to cost more money than the work of a young artist. As an artist grows (gets more known), the value of his works correspondingly appreciates. In other words, increasing prices becomes justified as one’s market grows, and besides, a heightened demand for a fixed supply bestows on the sought-after works increased value (Grant, 1991). Thus, it is ideal that an artist should incrementally raise the price of his works from time to time depending on the market he has.

Of course, works on exhibition in a small city centre, for example Otukpo, a local government headquarter or even Makurdi, a state capital, are likely to be cheaper than works in prominent galleries in Lagos. An artist who is sustained by a market of smaller town collectors would require setting prices of his works at the level of those buyers. In the same way, those artists whose ambitions are represented in larger urban centres depend on those city prices in determining their value (Grant, 1991).

The nature of the piece for sale also plays an important role in determining the price of the work in question. That is, is the work in wood, bronze or paper-mache? Or is it a water colour work, a ceramic ware or a textile material? But irrespective of whatever form an art work may assume, its price is not dependent upon the equation of the cost of its material and labour. Art along with its price is unique. This is because it possesses intrinsic and extrinsic values which ordinary goods do not have.

It is common in Nigeria today that several artists fix unreasonable price tags on their works. Such artists are either mercenaries who are insensitive to the plight of some genuine patrons (who are perhaps constrained by the prevailing economic regression) or nascent artists who do not know how to incrementally raise their prices. They fail to attend exhibitions to see other works of comparable size, imagery and quality in other to ascertain how to establish their market value. All their efforts are usually just to make money from art irrespective of whether the codes of conduct in art profession are observed or not. Unfortunately, these mercenary artists always have untenable reasons for hanging outrageous prices on their works. When confronted at an exhibition over high price list, for instance, one young artist explained that he decided to place tags for huge sums of money on his works because he knew that collectors would never fail to haggle with him over the works, even if he had fixed only a hundred Naira to each of them. Another reason he advanced was that high price on works helps the image and status of the artists as most renowned collectors prefer dealing with well established artists. No wonder some young artists hawk their works from one gallery to another with outrageous price tags – an attitude that demeans them the more.

It could be contended that more often than not some galleries and museums cause people to look askance at price tags on works displayed in those art houses. Filled with greed, they add some money – sometimes more than sixty percent of the price approved by the artist – to the work. This is in a bid to make more money for themselves at the expense of the artist. This happens especially in situations where they know that the artist involved is still an “emerging” one who, even if he knows his rights, will not have the ability to take actions against them. Of course the artists sometimes do not know they should insist on signing explicit consignment contracts with their galleries. Even when they know, they are afraid they may lose securing a place in the art dealers’ galleries to place their works for sale. Sometimes, disagreement arises between the gallery owners and these nascent artists when they insist there should be specified written agreement (Grant, 1991). This is attributed to the power imbalance between the young or lesser-known artists and the dealers which causes the artists to accept otherwise unacceptable arrangements.

Classifications of Patrons and Patronage

Patrons of the art fall into three categories, and not two as Crowther (1978) observed. They include the sponsors, the buyers and the promoters. Each of these groups patronises the artist in a different way. The sponsors assist the artist by sponsoring him; say in organising art exhibitions, symposia, workshops, biennales, residencies, competitions and other related programmes. In sponsoring the artist, they do not usually have remunerative motives as their preoccupation. Their efforts are inspired by the genuine interest which they have in art. And with the conviction that art should rise above the level of mediocrity, they strive to achieve a sustainable and virile development of art practice that will be illuminated by excellence.

The buyers, on the other hand, buy works of art and, or give out commissions to the artists. Their interest is to acquire as much works as they can afford. They build up a collection of works in their quest to satisfy their aesthetic desire. Among this category of patrons are typical art merchants who accumulate piles of works with the sole motive of making a fortune out of them at the most available opportunity. For them any art venture that does not target financial profit as its end is worthless.

There are also other categories of buyers who buy art works because they love the works and can appreciate them, and not because they have much money to throw about or because they hope to make fortunes subsequently from the acquired works. Their admiration for successful works of art is naturally genuinely motivated. In spite of the financial support they give to artists for their labour in creating artistic works, these collectors also encourage them by giving them the moral support that gets them fired for more creative and productive explorations in art. In fact, it is this class of patrons that promote professionalism in art practice. No wonder Nsikak Essien, a painter, acknowledged that he considered them favourably too whenever they approached him for some work. According to him, “I sold one of my works to Wole Soyinka not because he came with a large sum of money but because he knows the real value of the work and will always appreciate it” (Obodo, 1992: 38). There are some other patrons like Professor Soyinka in Nigeria today, though they may be quite few. Alhaji Abdulaziz Ude, Engineer Yemisi Shyllom and Mrs. Dafinone are other examples of collectors who, besides buying art works from different classes of artists, also encourage the development of art through sponsorship.

Finally, there are art promoters whose activities help to build the image of the artist. Their main objective is usually to project the artist as somebody of high renown whose works are without equal. Many patrons in this category are found in the media houses where they write or broadcast unfounded essays and reviews, sometimes for a fee. One artist recounted his encounter with a TV star that approached him at an exhibition in Lagos and demanded for one of his works in exchange for a fifteen minute review of his exhibition. According to the artist, the journalist promised that following the media package, collectors would rush and buy off all the works on display before the end of the exhibition if only he (the artist) would comply. 

Governments, Museums and Galleries in Art Patronage

Patronage of art comes from two basic sources: private and public. In contemporary Nigeria, the bulk of whatever patronage the artist enjoys emanates from the private sector. Although once in a while, a generation of administration, particularly at the local and state government levels, initiates large-scale projects that support the development of art as they embark on city beautification scheme. They usually commission the artists to create monuments at some strategic roundabouts within the cities. These commissioned works electrifyingly set the cities in a splendiferous atmosphere as long as the administrations lasted. Important cities like Enugu, Kaduna, Awka, Makurdi and Asaba are examples. But it is quite regrettable that most successive administrations neglect the works to degenerate. For instance, a survey of the public sculptures mounted at some strategic locations within Enugu metropolis are observed to have been severely deteriorated, save a few that were renovated recently by the Sullivan administration. Most of those works, which were mostly acquired by the Group Captain Emeka Omerua (now retired Commodore) administration in the 1980s, were abandoned by the subsequent governments so much so that they became popular stands for posters and banners of deceased people, politicians, religious groups and social events. It was so until 2008 when Governor Sullivan Chime took over the administration of Enugu.

Like Omerua, the governor had embarked on intensive rehabilitation and beautification projects within the Enugu metropolis. The project, in addition to refurbishing some of the deteriorating old monuments, has put in place new ones at some strategic locations, which hitherto were not adorned with art works. As it is now, virtually every important junction and roundabout in Enugu urban displays one glittering monument. This effort is however a positive move towards the development of art in the state.

But it should also be noted that art patronage transcends the commissioning of artists for public monuments. It includes sponsoring art programmes and events, and encouraging artists’ participation in relevant art programmes. The typical Nigerian government fails to patronize the artist as much as it should (Ikwuemesi, 1997). In 2001 for instance, two Nigerian artists approached their state government (Enugu State Government) for assistance in crating, shipping and travelling to Japan for the prestigious Osaka Triennale Contemporary Art Competition. Their entries were among the only 8 selected from Africa/Oceania, and among the 150 selected from no fewer than 11,497 works from 99 countries and areas for the competition and exhibition (Osaka Triennale, 2001). The works were to go for the final round of selection. Unfortunately for the artists, they were thrown out of every government office they went to. Moreover, in February 2010, the Planning Committee for the Enugu Centenary celebration sent out flyers for exhibition and youth art competition as part of events to commemorate the centenary year. Close to the deadline for the submission of entries for the show, the Committee sent out messages that the State Government had aborted the art exhibition and competition plan. The government was unwilling to pay the honorarium recommended by the committee due to “lack of fund”. These attitudes tend to imply that the government is only interested in giving the city a facelift through what art can offer, and not necessarily in the development of the profession.

But this is a mark of sheer insincerity by the government which has always preached that the promotion and development of art and culture is the right effort geared towards a sustainable social development. This is not so with other ministries. In the Sports Ministry for example, talented athletes are rather financed by the government in both local and international competitions. They are recognised and given awards on return if they win trophies. Even at the local level, the athletes are generously rewarded, not only by the sports enthusiasts, but by the government also, if they show satisfactory performance. On the other hand, when an artist wins a prize at an international art competition, the case becomes different; it becomes his personal affair.

The situation is not quite different in some other states. All levels of governments seem to believe that funds spent in collecting art works or sponsoring art events and programmes are unnecessary expenditure. They scarcely acquire works for the ill equipped government owned galleries and museums. Even some of the few works donated to the government by some good spirited individuals are either looted or poorly preserved. In fact it is no surprise that the government institutions entrusted with the responsibilities of ensuring a sustainable development of art and culture in Nigeria are incapacitated by mismanagement, corrupt practices and lack of vision. The little fund that the governments eventually dedicate to art commissions is usually eaten up substantially by instituted corruption, and only a paltry sum ultimately gets to the artist. In many occasions the artist ends up receiving less than fifty percent of the total contract sum. This eventually results in poorly executed works; hence, defeating the motive behind the commission.

On the other hand, the National Museum is entrusted with the responsibility of collecting certain amount of money as tariff from artists, and issuing them with clearance certificates for their exhibits intended to be shipped out of the country. Even as this may constitute bottleneck for artists who are taking works outside for one event or the other, it is however right that those artists should pay their tax, and that the Nigerian antiquities are preserved from smugglers through the process.

But one wonders to what extent the government has made effort in developing this art sector from where it reaps. National Museums are one organ through which the government can help develop the arts. But they have become like eateries and social clubs which objectives are strongly built upon financial gains. They cannot give out their exhibition space to artists for art events at affordable rates. Most of them prefer to hire out the space to individuals who can pay the high fees for their marriage receptions and social meetings. For instance in 2009, the Pan African Circle of Artists (PACA) was refused holding their annual art exhibition and conference at the Enugu National Museum because it could not raise the sum of one hundred and forty thousand naira (#140,000. 00) fee demanded from it by the Museum. A fee like this is outrageous, particularly for the emerging artists who are struggling to register their imprints on the profession. Even if it resorts to running some commercial activities as means to supplementing the grants from government, it is more civic-minded to consider carrying out its basic responsibility to the society first.

The story about the activities of private museums and galleries is not different. Although these art houses are fundamentally commercial ventures which objectives revolve around financial profits, their desperate pursuit of monetary gains tends to deaden every effort they seem to be making towards the development of art practice through patronage. This is particularly so with the pressure of inconsiderate market deals, which they often exert on the poor and emerging artists. In 2000, for instance, one burgeoning artist exhibited at the Alliance Francaise, Lagos, where Nimbus Gallery approached him for some works. After a written agreement was made between them to buy some of the works and have some displayed for sale in the gallery, the proprietor carted away the selected pieces. He invited the artist to come to the gallery immediately after the exhibition for his money. According to the artist, he received less than the cost of two of the works in the end after several visits to the gallery even when it seemed obvious that most of the works had been sold. The artist further complained that he could not contemplate taking legal action against the gallery because he could not afford the cost and still practice his art. Some other emerging artists have complained that the same gallery owed them substantial amounts. There are also many other galleries that run the artists down in this way.

However, a few of the private and non-governmental galleries and museums occasionally take some good steps towards promotion and sponsorship of art events. It was in one of such good gestures in 2001 that Mydrim, Pendulum and Nimbus galleries made their exhibition space available for a controversial art show which brought ten young artists from the Nsukka Art School into sharp focus before the Lagos art audience. The exhibition, New Energies, was curated by El Antsui. Fortunately, the show became a springboard for the young artists, as well as an eye-opener for the public who was thrilled more than ever before in recent times by the uniqueness of the works. Similarly, Pendulum Gallery has sponsored series of art programmes including art exhibitions and conferences within and outside the gallery. It has sponsored different publications arising from the activities of the Pan-African Circle of Artists. Supports like these encourage the artist, particularly those emerging artists, to find means of practicing and showcasing their works. Regrettably, only few art houses commit their resources, time and space to patronising art genuinely.

Foreign missions in the country have done much better than the government and most of the indigenous art institutions in the propagation of art in Nigeria. The British Council, Alliance Francaise, Goethe Institut and USIS have variously patronized Nigerian artists, and made more contributions to the upliftment of the arts (Ikwuemesi, 1997). For example, Goethe Institut and Alliance Francaise regularly sponsor and exhibit Nigerian artists at their centres while Nigerian galleries and museums (both government and private) charge exorbitant fees for their space. They also hold art workshops at intervals in different parts of the country. The question therefore arises: why is the government reluctant to commit much time and resources to develop the art sector, even when it is aware that other African countries like Senegal, Zimbabwe, South Africa, etc are investing in and reaping from art through biennales and residency programmes? Hopefully, the African Regional Summit and Exhibition on Visual Arts (ARESUVA) which the National Gallery started in 2009 will be a step forward if it takes root. It will likely be a big art event that will be celebrated annually or biannually in the country.


Art practice in Nigeria has become an all-comers business where mercenaries are in full play. Genuine art patronage, characterised by sincere appreciation of art and encouragement of the artist, seems to have been thrown out of the window for pecuniary motives. Even the artist himself has jettisoned art professionalism in a bid to survive. He no longer cares whether or not his works are pieces of history.

In the last decade, however, the level of support for art by both private and government institutions appreciated favourably to some extent. This is attributable to a growing awareness for the crucial needs of the artist and his products in the country. Private collectors, public and non-governmental art institutions are gradually sponsoring art events and giving out commissions to artists. This is evident in the way individuals and governments commission the artists for monuments, billboards, posters, architectural sculptures and paintings. But these are not yet flowing at the expected rate, looking at the history of the Nigerian art as well as the place of art in social life. Patronage, as the artist enjoys it today from his audience, comes in trickle which neither encourages the artist nor promotes art adequately enough.

Essentially, several factors and forces combine to work against any meaningful art propagation in Nigeria. To salvage the Nigerian art and art professionalism, government should play its role by putting in place proper infrastructures and policies necessary for the development of art. It should also encourage the artist to create and project art beyond his frontiers through sponsorships of art event. Museums, galleries and individual collectors, on the other hand, should design and accommodate programmes capable of reshaping the already warped art practice. Exhibition centres charging high fees for their spaces should consider the plight of many artists, especially those emerging and lesser-known ones who are not yet established. They should be encouraged to develop without being choked by financial strains. Finally, the artist himself should shun perverse commercialisation of art. He should remember that he is a professional who should keep to codes of conduct which befit art practice.

Buhari, J. (2001). Art wey dey move market (Lecture delivered at PACA Convention, National Museum, Enugu).

Chuta, C. (1997). Sometimes, I Weep: conversation with C. Krydz Ikwuemesi, Enugu: Art-In Africa Project.

Crowther, M. (1978). The contemporary Nigerian artist, his patrons, his audience and his critics, Presence Africaine, Nos. 105 – 108, pp.130 – 145.
Egonwa, O. (2001). Art mercantilism: antithesis to Nigeria’s visual art growth (Lecture delivered at PACA Convention, National Museum, Enugu).

Grant, D. (1991). The Business of Being an Artist, New York: Allworth Press.

Ikwuemesi, C. K. (1997). Money, patronage, and the Nigerian artist. In Chimezie Chuta, Sometimes I Weep, Enugu: Art-In Africa Project, pp. 11 – 16.
Moliere, (1968). The Misanthrope (Translated, and with an introduction, by Donald M. Frame), Chicago: Signet Classics.

Obodo, E. C. (1992). Art patronage in Enugu, Unpublished B. A. Thesis, University of Nigeria Nsukka.

Olapade, O. (1985). The autonomy of aesthetic experience, Nigeria Magazine, Vol. 53 No. 4, p. 43.

Open University (1972). Florence, Buck: The Open University Press.

Osaka Triennale (2001). Synopsis of Osaka triennale (10th international contemporary art competition catalogue), Osaka: Osaka Prefectural Government, Osaka Foundation of Culture, pp. 13-14

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Cape Town to get Museum of Contemporary Art

Source: http://futurecapetown.com/2013/11/cape-town-to-get-museum-of-contemporary-art/#.Uw9sM-N_ut8
Today, 19 November, the V&A Waterfront unveiled the ZEITZ Museum of Contemporary Art Africa(MOCAA) as the major new cultural institution to be housed in the Grain Silo building. Built in 1921, and at 57m tall, the Grain Silo remains an icon of the Cape Town skyline.It will become a platform for artists across Africa and house the largest collection of African contemporary art across 9,500 sqm of space.
a major new cultural institution that will focus on collecting, preserving, researching, and exhibiting cutting edge contemporary art from Africa and its Diaspora.
Zeitz MOCAA, is a new not-for-profit institution, with the V&A committing over R500-million to the development required for the establishment of the Museum.  This investment will further the development of art in Africa and acknowledges the important cultural and financial contribution the visual arts sector makes.
The height of the Grain Silo and its strong silhouette gives it a character that has set it apart as an unusual structure within the V&A Waterfront. The reuse of the structure to house Zeitz MOCAA combines ingenuity, resourcefulness and beauty in a way that will be unique for Africa and give greater respect to the work displayed.
Zeitz MOCAA forms part of a master plan for the Silo district that includes mixed-use developments of residential, commercial, leisure and hotel property with the transformed Grain Silo as the central focus of a public plaza.

Source: Visi and Zeitz MOCAA
The architect for the new museum will be announced in February 2014.
  • 9 floors
  • 6,000 sqm exhibition space
  • an entire floor dedicated to education
  • 1 floor for events of up to 1,000
  • 2 floors to a permanent collection
  • 2 floors for traveling exhibitions
  • rooftop sculpture garden
  • archival room, restaurants, book shops
Zeitz MOCAA is set to welcome its first visitors at the end of 2016. Until the extensive renovations to the Silo complex are complete, selections from the Zeitz Collection will be presented at Zeitz MOCAA Pavilion, a museum-quality temporary exhibition space also at the V&A Waterfront. The inaugural exhibition which opens at Zeitz MOCAA Pavilion on 23 November, will present the work of Swazi artist Nandipha Mntambo.
Despite facing some initial difficulties, work on the foundations of Cape Town’s elevator began in 1921 with Mr. Xavier Brain as Resident Engineer. By February 1923, these difficulties had been overcome and work on the superstructure commenced in June of the same year. Up to 1,000 men were employed on the construction at any one time and work continued on what was called the “grey towering slab of concrete” throughout the day and night.
Apart from claiming the record as South Africa’s highest building, at 180 feet (57 metres), the elevator also claimed a world record for having had 4,800 cubic yards of concreting done in 14.5 days. According to statistics made available to the Cape Argus in May 1924, it was recorded that 17,500 bags of Cape Portland cement and 145 tons of reinforcing steel was used in the storage bins.
Read more about the history here.
View images of the interior of the Grain Silo building here.

Source: SMCT at flickr.com
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Saturday, 1 February 2014

Frédéric Bruly Bouabré - 1923 -2014

Ivory Coast artist Frederic Bruly Bouabre dies

其中一位非洲的最著名視覺演出者,象牙海岸弗雷德里克 · Bruly 布瓦佈雷,已死了 91 歲。



在過去的 25 年中,在的幾個世界上最重要的藝術畫廊和博物館展出過他的工作。





"布瓦佈雷是自己一種產生器的百科全書的因為他個人的工作範圍包括發明一個具體的非洲字母表,"象牙海岸策展人和藝術評論家雅各巴科納特當時告訴 BBC。


科納特先生說: 布瓦佈雷還記錄了在西部非洲各國人民臉上的劃痕。

威尼斯雙年展主辦機構,布瓦佈雷工作作為一名公務員直到 1948 年,當他有後,他獻身于藝術的視覺。

喬納森 · 沃特金斯,從 Ikon 畫廊在伯明罕和館長的最近一次一展布瓦佈雷在漢城,說,在他看到了在天空中的不同彩色的圓圈的遠景。

"它導致他他作為一種預言字元放在地球上的結論。他把自己叫做 ' 謝赫 Nadro'......'一個人永遠不會忘記,'"他告訴 BBC 的重點在非洲電臺節目上。

他的視覺字母語言被描繪用圓珠筆和蠟筆,包圍文本的象徵性意象與 400 多個小卡片上。

弗雷德里克 · Bruly 布瓦佈雷的作品一系列由布瓦佈雷在外交和非洲聯盟顯示在象牙海岸館在威尼斯雙年展上

Alternative English Version: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/3667687/Frederic-Bruly-Bouabre-A-childlike-world-of-goodness-and-colour.html

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Ibrahim El Salahi

One of the Sudan’s greatest cultural ambassadors, the majestic Ibrahim El-Salahi, is also one of the continent’s greatest contemporary artists, as Beverly Andrews discovered at a recent one-man show.
A visionary modernist
The Sudan has a rich history which dates back to antiquity where its fortunes were very much intertwined with that of ancient Egypt. The country was in ancient times the home of the great Nubian and Kush empires but much of the Sudan’s contemporary history has been mired in conflict. Two successive civil wars have plunged the region into armed chaos but with the peaceful succession of South Sudan there are now hopes that the country can once again be celebrated for its rich cultural life, and Ibrahim El-Salahi is at the forefront of this renaissance.

London’s prestigious Tate Modern is now playing host to a long overdue retrospective of this great artist’s work. This mammoth show chronicles his exhaustive career and in doing so also charts his turbulent personal life – a life that includes early acclaim as well as subsequent imprisonment. Salahi said in a recent interview: “When people ask me what I do and I say I paint, they ask, do you paint houses? I say no, but if I did I would have a lot more money. What I paint are ideas which come to me in my mind and seem to develop independently, ideas which I am always not aware of but that seem to exist somewhere in my subconscious.”

The concept of the subconscious is a powerful one and can be very much seen in El-Salahi’s work, work that is a wonderful fusion of traditional African, Islamic and European art forms. Both his paintings and his drawings on the surface initially appear to take the viewer on one single journey but after closer inspection, the images seem to take on a life of their own, a life filled with multiple meanings, the surface meaning and then the deeper subconscious one.

An example of this would be his painting dedicated to the late Patrice Lumumba. Lumumba was the first democratically elected prime minister of what was then the Republic of Congo, now DRCongo. He helped win the Congo its independence from Belgium, but subsequently found his socialist government deposed in a military coup, a coup that was backed by the West. Lumumba himself was captured and tortured by the military government and then finally murdered by western assassins.

Many African commentators trace the Congo’s current problems to Lumumba’s overthrow and this is very much echoed in the painting. It depicts skeletal mourners carrying the corpse of their dead leader on their heads. It is as if his death drains away their own life force in the same way
Lumumba’s assassination propelled the country into a period of instability that it has yet to emerge from.

Some of El-Salahi’s paintings are simply labelled “Untitled”. El-Salahi states: “In many ways they are like children, you give them names and then they grow up and the names no longer suit them. I gave up naming them because to do that in some ways dictates what paintings should mean to people who see. The most important thing I feel is the meaning people bring to them, not one I want to impose.”

So much of El-Salahi’s work does seem to fuse the present with the past. It is of Africa now, with all its contradictions with Africa of antiquity. One painting called, “The last sound”, is of a African mask which seems to literally depict not only the death mask itself and its physical essence but also to be reaching for a more mystical meaning, an attempt to trace the very moment at which the soul actually departs from the body.
Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 17.14.33

It is both haunting and beautiful and contains an image that appears in many of El-Salahi’s other works, the crescent and the moon. “Another,” appears to be not so much a literal depiction of a tree but rather the female essence of all of creation. One of the most beautiful pieces in this wonderful retrospective is a collection of images simply called “Reborn sounds of childhood dreams II” in which there appear to be depictions of images from our dreams – the fragments that lurk in our subconscious and only emerge in the middle of the night.

Now at the age of 80, El-Salahi’s journey to his current status as one of Africa’s most renowned contemporary artists has been a long and torturous one. Born to an Islamic teacher in Sudan’s second city of Omdurman, his first commission was decorating writing slates at his father’s Qura’anic school. He went on to study art at Khartoum’s Goron Memorial College and subsequently won a scholarship to London’s Slade art school in 1954. He says of his experience in London that it was a place where he was able to discover Cezanne, Giotto and various other European artists.
On his return to the Sudan, however, he found resistance to his new artistic vision. He describes the experience in this way. “I organised an art exhibition in Khartoum of still lifes, portraits and nudes. People came to the show just for the soft drinks. After that no one came.”

So he started to look for something that would help the people there to connect to his work. In a recent interview he recalls: “I started to write small Arabic inscriptions in my paintings, almost like postage stamps and people started to come towards me. Then I began to break down the letters and a Pandora’s box opened. Animal forms, human forms and platforms began to emerge. That was when I really started working.”

El-Salahi then travelled to Nigeria and met Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka and started to become aware of the cultural renaissance that was underway throughout Africa. He says of this time: “It was exciting, but also frustrating, because there was little response from the rest of the world or even Africa itself. Everything went quiet.”

El-Salahi subsequently fell out of favour with the Sudanese government and was imprisoned in appalling conditions: “There were 10 of us in a cell, sharing a bucket that was overflowing. The penalty for being caught with writing instruments was solitary confinement but I kept working, drawing on scraps I buried in the ground.” He simply states of this traumatic time that “I learned a great deal.”       

El-Salahi now lives in Oxford in a kind of self-imposed exile but his work still transports those who see it back to his homeland, even with the colours he uses – the ochres, browns, black and green are all very much the colours of the Sudanese soil.

The abiding impression one gets from seeing El-Salahi’s paintings is that of his ability to paint both spirit and form, to paint not only what he sees but mystically the very essence of what gives it life; be it a tree or the portrait of a person, he treats both with the same reverence and respect.
For so much of the last century contemporary African art has struggled to be accepted on the international stage but that struggle appears now to be coming to an end; with an increasing number of contemporary African artists now taking their rightful place. No one deserves this more than El-Salahi, who fought, at times, a solitary battle to have African art taken seriously. Seeing his breathtaking work on display at London’s Tate Modern you feel that his name most certainly can and should be mentioned in the same breath as many of the other European artistic giants of both the 20th and 21st centuries. He is truly a remarkable artist.


New African 1:54 Special – Newfound Visibility

Posted on 29.09.2013

The art dealer André Magnin has played a pivotal role in the dissemination of African contemporary art outside Africa. In 1989, he co-curated the global art exhibition Magiciens de la terre in Paris, after which he became director of the well-known Pigozzi Collection for 20 years. In 2009 he founded Magnin-A, his eponymous agency which represents a diverse array of artists including Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, Romuald Hazoumè, Chéri Samba, Kura Shomali and Billie Zangewa. He explains to Olivier Coutau how the African art market has evolved from a situation of relative non-existence in the 1990s to a situation of newfound visibility.
Photo: Mart Engel
Photo: Mart Engel
Olivier Coutau: You first gravitated towards Africa while investigating the continent for the exhibition, Magiciens de la terre, which opened at the Pompidou Centre in 1989. How did the art world respond to the exhibition at the time?
André Magnin: Magiciens de la terre was innovative in the sense that, for the first time, artists from all over the world were shown on an equal footing. While asking many questions to art history, institutions, galleries and collectors, the exhibition exposed several African artists. But, at the time and in the following years, the market for African contemporary art was non-existent.
In the early 1990s, access to mobile phones or the internet was scarce. You had to go up to Lagos, Kinshasa, Dar es Salaam, Maputo or Abidjan to discover the artists and their work. A situation that discouraged dealers and other art professionals.
Following Magiciens de la terre, the Jean Pigozzi Collection gave to a group of about forty African artists an international visibility. This was not a commercial en- deavor, but a non-conventional adventure aiming at challenging the cannons and broadening the field of art history through a number of collective and solo shows. It is only at the end of the 1990s that a market for African art started to be thinkable. Artists from the Pigozzi Collection began to sell, consequently their success created a momentum that encouraged a younger generation of African artists. I believe the collection played a vital role in this respect.
The above painting by Kura Shomali [Je tire le premier, 2011] is an example of an African artist who is going beyond visual traditions and appealing to a global audience
The above painting by Kura Shomali [Je tire le premier, 2011] is an example of an African artist who is going beyond visual traditions and appealing to a global audience
OC: In 1999, Sotheby’s auctioned works from the Pigozzi Collection. This was the first major auction sale dedicated to contemporary art from Africa. How was the event organised and what was the outcome?
AM: Sotheby’s was the first auction house to ask us for pieces from the Collection. It was an opportunity to contribute to the creation of a market and to raise the attention of collectors to an area they did not know. Twenty-eight artists were selected, including Romuald Hazoumè, Frédéric Bruly Bouabré and Chéri Samba among others.
Estimates ranged from €800 to €9,000. Fifty-six lots out of fifty-seven were sold and, on the whole, the results were higher than the estimates. Some positive results, but prices remained reasonable and could not compare with Western art auctions. It was neither a success nor a failure. For Sotheby’s, the test was not conclusive. The African contemporary art market was still hesitant and the main Western private collectors were absent.
OC: Since 2008 and 2009, auction sales of contemporary art from Africa have been more frequent. Specialised African galleries have emerged, some of which participate in international art fairs. You yourself have started a commercial activity with your agency Magnin-A. How do you explain this current market trend?
AM: Yes, indeed, during the last few years, auctions dedicated to contemporary Afri- can art have proliferated. But, with some exceptions, outstanding works are rare and results for the lesser-known artists are weak.
Paintings like this by the Congolese artist Chéri Samba [Lettre de la CPI, 2013] are now selling for in excess of €100,000
Paintings like this by the Congolese artist Chéri Samba [Lettre de la CPI, 2013] are now selling for in excess of €100,000
In 2009, noticing with Jean Pigozzi the limited presence in international art fairs of artists living and working in Africa, I decided to devote all my time to the promotion of African artists in the international art mar- ket. Other galleries or agencies dedicated to African contemporary art were created in Europe; they have brought a new energy to the market in the UK, in Germany, in Belgium and in Paris.
In addition, many in Africa have started to become aware that investing in art matters. I am thinking of the many biennales, private foundations, auction houses, art centres and galleries that contribute to the emergence of a market and stimulate artistic creation. However, it appears that the only African galleries present in major art fairs are from South Africa, where institutions and collectors support creation.
OC: From your experience, who buys contemporary African art today?
AM: With the growing interest of biennales, fairs, and other Western institutions in contemporary art from Africa, the visibility of artists from the continent has never reached such a level. As a consequence of this proliferation, buyers are very diverse. Most of them are Westerners; they can be private persons who, without being collec- tors, couldn’t resist the drawings of artists like Bouabré. African artists have also been integrated into public and private collections internationally, such as the Tate Modern and the Smithsonian Museum, not to mention the Charles Saatchi collection, the Sindika Dokolo collection and other major collections.
Prominent African collectors are still too rare, but things are moving and some of them, like Alami Lazraq in Morocco or Gordon Schachat in South Africa, are thinking of creating private museums on the continent.
OC: Certain African artists have reached the one million euro mark at auction. On the other hand, most artists living and working on the continent are still very far away from it. How do you explain this disparity?
AM: Yes, some African artists have reached important prices, but they are still far from the market records of the Western, Chinese or Indian ‘stars’. There are also numerous well-established Western artists who never reach this level. African artists from the di- aspora benefit from the important network of their own countries, where there are of- ten serious markets. With the exception of Nigeria and South Africa, the art market in Africa Sub-Saharan is still in its infancy. But, some African artists, without reach- ing these records, still do very well in the international market. For example, works by the Congolese artist Chéri Samba, can sell for €50,000 to €100,000, or a big series by the Ivorian artist Frédéric Bruly Bouabré can also reach a very high price.
OC: You have been visiting Africa for over 20 years. How has it changed as a continent and what kind of impact will this have on the future?
AM: With an economic growth of 5% a year, Africa is now a driving force. A new African middle class is emerging and eager to live and consume. In 2050, with 30% more inhabitants than China, Africa will be the biggest market in the world! I believe that the well-off African middle class will make a difference in the development of an African art market. When this sector of society begins to buy national artists, it will undoubtedly help to support the continent’s vast artistic production, reflecting that of China and India. I foresee a real market emerging from Africa’s rise, impacting on African artists’ international ratings.
I think African institutions can help the public to better know and understand con- temporary art. For example, the Foundation Zinsou in Cotonou has been a pioneer in carrying out a tremendous work to advocate cultural democratisation, while the Raw Material Company, in Dakar, aims also at reinforcing artistic creation and dissemina- tion. Major international initiatives such as London’s 1:54 contemporary African art fair, will show all the richness, diversity and dynamism of artistic production from the continent. In my view, the trend is deeply rooted. We can be optimistic in spite of all the difficulties.
André Magnin’s agency Magnin. A will be participating in 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, please see our exhibitors page for more information
(This feature was originally published in New African magazine’s special on contemporary African art in association with 1:54, available to buy from October, 2013)


White Mischief

Issue 7 November-December 1992

'Out of Africa'
The story begins one day in 1989 when an idiosyncratic and disillusioned European art collector visits an exhibition. The artists have unpronounceable names, they speak in languages unknown to the collector’s ears and they live in distant locations which he cannot find on his big plastic globe. It is like no exhibition he has ever seen before and he falls in love with it. Unable to buy what he sees, which already belongs to a big corporation, the collector engages the services of a young curator. He sets him the task of researching and acquiring new art from the most exotic places in the world. Gradually the collector’s dream comes true and before long the young man has returned with hundreds of works by artists from Africa. Delighted with the marvels he has brought home, the collector proudly displays his treasures to his friends. An exhibition is born…1
Out of Africa, the exhibition of eleven contemporary African artists which has been touring Spain, Holland and Mexico with a slightly different cast and title (Africa Now), has arrived at the Saatchi Collection in London. The exhibition, which marks a new move in Saatchi’s programme in showing a guest collection, is directly related to Magiciens de la Terre, the hotly-debated global art show which took place in Paris in 1989 and in many ways opened the doors of contemporary art to non-Western expressions of Modernism. André Magnin, who was responsible for ‘discovering’ the majority of African artists included in the notorious Magiciens exhibition, has spent the last three years trekking through the African bush in search of art which he feels embodies the present expression of the immemorial past. Africa, that much abused ‘reservoir of the esoteric’,2 couldn’t provide a better playground for the fantasies of a jaded collector and an adventure-hungry curator.
Unlike Magiciens de la Terre, the choice of artists in Out of Africa does not extend to Europe, America or Asia, although André Magnin and Jean Pigozzi, the collector to whom the works belong, intend eventually to cover other ‘Third World’ territories. The show has no discernable curatorial concept other than Africa now, which places it in a very vulnerable position. It is primarily the private collection of a rich enthusiast, and as such it has a highly personal flavour - possibly its only saving grace. When questioned about his selection criteria at the first showing in Las Palmas last year, Magnin showed slides of sunsets and landscapes he had photographed on his travels through Mozambique, Madagascar, Zaire and Nigeria. He spoke of personal encounters, of feeling empathy with the African artist’s working environment, finally revealing his decision to avoid ‘official’ artists - in other words artists who have received formal art training and are patronised locally to the point where their work reflects national identities.
Several artists I spoke to recently in West and East Africa are unhappy about the way their work is currently exhibited on the international circuit. Their criticisms are rarely directed towards details in the art itself, an unfortunate reflection of the huge isolation they experience working at different ends of the continent. What they question is the nostalgia inherent in the efforts of French curators and museum administrators, in particular, to search out the ‘primitive’, ‘tribal’, untutored African artist. The most problematic distinction to date rests on a predilection for self-taught artists who, as Jean Pigozzi writes in the catalogue that accompanies Out of Africa, ‘have the internal fire of creation’ and therefore do not need to ‘go to art school or visit the Louvre or the Whitney’.3 Primitivism now extends beyond the specific period associated with cubism and l’Art Negre and re-emerges in the 90s as a search for the neo-exotic: the authentic African artist still working in the isolation of the African bush and without influence from Europe. As Eddie Chambers put it bluntly in a recent seminar in London, the Black artist, ranging from the Haitian-American Jean-Michel Basquiat to the Namibian John Muafangejo, has to be illiterate, surrounded with an aura of ‘juju’, and ideally deceased, to fit the appropriate Western stereotype. Efiaimbelo, the carver from Madagascar, whose funeral posts were displayed in a mock burial ground in the Africa Now exhibition corresponds in large part to this projection. Other artists in Pigozzi’s Contemporary African Art Collection such as Cyprien Tokoudagba and John Fundi, whose work is directly related to voodoo and beliefs in the spirit world, provide ample source material for the white man’s perennial thirst.
The Zairian painters Moke, Chéri Samba and his brother Cheïkh Ledy were well established in their home country before the arrival of Magnin. Their genre of painting, with its combination of richly detailed scenarios and biting social commentary, is part of the visual history of urbanisation in post-independence Zaire. While it lends itself well to encapsulation by a Western art market eager for new authenticity, this work is less favoured amongst fellow African artists, many of whom view this style of painting as an extension of popular graphics and sign-writing. Moke paints large-scale cartoons of his surroundings in Kinshasa with its night crowd, drunk on Skol and Primus beer, giving in to corruption or mythologising the experiences of the Gulf War. The Self Portrait, 1990, so the story goes, was inspired by Magnin at a point when Moke’s imagination was momentarily stymied. But that rumour does not weaken the power of the tryptich to point a cynical finger at the imaginary African artist who, in the third painting, has apparently disappeared into Van Gogh’s chair and lost his true African identity (the fateful premise of the Pigozzi collection). These paintings stand out because unlike the contrived translation onto canvas of Cyprien Tokoudagba and Esther Mahlangu’s mural art, or the grotesque tourist figures of Ivoirian Emile Yebo Guebehi, the Zairois group, sometimes described as ‘artistes provocateurs’,4 operate deftly between assimilation and subversion.
The international situation surrounding contemporary African art is changing so rapidly that the issues relating to its presentation outside of Africa often blur a vision of the aesthetic and conceptual concerns of the artists themselves. The temptation is far greater to write about the conditions generated by an exhibition of African art, than it is to explore the art. The vocabulary of 20th century African art is largely unfamiliar terrain to a Western audience, and so to speak of ‘African art’ is still in many respects to refer to the West’s understanding of ‘traditional art’ from Africa. Increasingly the term is being recognised as a discursive construct not unlike ‘Orientalism’, implying an imaginary realm with very real political consequences, a field of knowledge deeply entwined with the histories of colonialism, anthropology, museums of ethnography and the lucrative trade in ‘tribal’ art. In the past, interpretations of ‘traditional’ African art have generally fallen into two modes: ethnographic contextualisation, whereby objects act as testimonies of culture and artists are seen to be operating more within a social community than as individual creators, and a purely aesthetic approach, oblivious to ‘deep description’, that contents itself with the formal and evocative dimensions of the foreign object. This impossibly reductionist set of alternatives continues to bedevil the presentation of historical art from Africa. Ethnographic museums in Europe and America have been debating the crisis for several years, yet still seem unwilling to involve African artists and historians directly in the negotiation of their own artistic past.
The sudden interest of European and American museums and private collectors in purchasing contemporary art from Africa, which in a period of recession is considerably cheaper than its Euro-American counterpart, has aggravated this situation. Dealers and curators are placed in the immediate position of having to find a more compatible means of framing the works and ultimately commodifying the new aesthetic which doesn’t always fit neatly into its ‘tribal’ antecedent. It is clear from the current curatorial dilemma which has characterised recent exhibitions, such as Susan Vogel’s Africa Explores, 1991,5 that too little faith is invested in the ability of the art to stand its own ground without intervention from the West. The artists’ own reflections on their work are given anecdotal significance and written art criticism from Africa is generally treated as non-existent. The intellectual dimension to African art, claims the Ghanaian art historian Kojo Fosu, is rarely or never understood.6
Faced with a vast continent of over forty countries extending from Egypt to South Africa, Sierra Leone to Mozambique, and an unfathomable diversity of visual artistic expression, the urge to reduce 20th century African art into manageable categories (‘urban art’, ‘international art’, ‘popular art’, ‘self-taught’) overpowers any effort to accommodate a sense of the artists’ own decision-making process. Any exhibition has to take into account the desires of the artists whose works are being shown, and this applies to African as much as it does to European artists, but somehow this obvious channel is only intermittently pursued. Without direct feedback, a blanket-term such as ‘African artist’ remains uncontested. Is the disenfranchisement of the African artist still part of the narrow procedures of anthropological research, or are we encountering here an inadvertently Post-Modernist ploy? To rejoice in the hypothetical death of the author is one thing, but this disassociative strategy, when transposed onto the subjects of centuries of colonial oppression loses all the sovereignty of its philosophical position.
The latest travesty of Magnin and Pigozzi, which favours the untampered inspiration of the self-taught artist against the academically-trained painter or sculptor, effectively cancels out a significant proportion of African artists, many of whom have travelled abroad and whose concerns incorporate current critical and art-conceptual questions. Art departments have existed in universities right across Africa since the early 40s and although several are still run along an anachronistic Beaux Arts model, many artists are keen to benefit from this additional perspective, if only to rebel against its strictures. Oil on canvas is the dominant medium in West Africa and yet a number of younger artists have succeeded in forging an independent position through a conscious and sometimes political reappraisal of local materials and pigments. Atta Kwami, an artist based at Kumasi’s University of Science and Technology in Ghana, compresses hand-made paper dyed with pigments into grid-like permutations. Apparently convention-bound, these ‘Tana paintings’ seem to float between rational knowledge and instinctive action. This floating is likened by Kwami to the act of breathing.
‘Vouhou Vouhou’ is another spirit or movement which emerged in 1986 in Cote d’Ivoire as an expression of pictorial research in which ‘materials of retrieval’ could be made to redefine a new specificity within the multifarious identity of the Ivoirian artist. Saturated by a diet of Rambo, Dynasty and the Surrealist and Freudian inclinations of their professors, N’Guessan Kra, Youssouf Bath, Theodore Koudougnon and Yacouba Touré wrote manifestos and began to paint on jute and stretched animal skins with earth, sand, local chalk and natural pigments. This wasn’t collage as their French art school teachers had taught them, but a case of sticking together the fragmented inheritance of 20th century African art. Although Magnin’s speculative eye has wandered into ‘Vouhou’ country, these artists represent the ‘official’ domain he is keen to avoid. Their material works contain too many reflections of the ‘intellectual morgue’ of the West, and for Magnin, art in Africa ‘has nothing to do with a progressive history, composed of problems that are successively posed and answered’.7 The annulment of an African ‘avant-garde’ is yet another example of the Pigozzi/Magnin procedure. Whether or not an ‘avant-garde’ exists in the European sense of the word is a crucial point which needs to be debated within the complexity of the African context. For, as Efua Sutherland, the respected Ghanaian writer and initiator of literacy programmes put it to me recently: art in Africa was designed to aggregate social wealth. To be anti-society in the sense of the ‘avant-garde’ is for Africa to repeat the West’s history…
Issa Samb, artist, critic and founder of the Laboratoire Agit Art which has existed in Dakar since the late 70s, is wary of the numerous officialdoms which smother present practice. Unlike most of the West African states, Senegal has nurtured its home brood and artists have benefited from the social and cultural philosophies of poet and statesman Leopold Senghor. Even so Samb, like his colleague Etale Sukuro in Nairobi, whose paintings are treated as seditious material by the Kenyan authorities, stands happily outside this warm nest. He has no desire to couch his work in a new heritage industry, nor is he seduced by the razzmatazz of international art world glamour. His concerns lie with the immediate problems of dispossession and displacement in Africa and the lack of status accorded to the Tuareg and other nomadic peoples. If the world is moving fast toward a near pathological obsession with ethnic and racial differentiations, then all the more reason, he feels, to shift the power invested in boundaries. Perhaps that is why Samb chooses to paint on perishable materials, tarpaulins sewn together with daubs of shellac, paint and tar and hung from wooden poles like the makeshift banners which help to shelter the homeless. A blackboard with a chalk text defying the destruction of the Xelcom forests in Senegal commemorates Labour Day, a wire sculpture is rendered indiscernable against a mound of dead leaves, and as Issa Samb treads over the surface of his paintings in his studio in the rue Jules Ferry, one can’t help wondering how much longer it will be before artists from Africa are given a direct line. It may be possible to relegate to historical circumstances the misconceptions produced by the primitivist painters and collectors of l’Art Negre at the beginning of the century, but it is seriously debatable whether today European and American academic and commercial interests should once again be allowed to ventriloquise the other’s desires and thereby frame the access to art produced in Africa today.
Out of Africa, with its unfortunate title evoking scenes of Meryl Streep running into the arms of Robert Redford, may be part of the largest collection of its kind in the world, and does include some great pieces, but ultimately represents the imaginary Africa of its collector, an exotic safari into a world he has never personally experienced and probably never will.
1. Scenario to Out of Africa based on Jean Pigozzi’s own words in the introduction to Africa Now, catalogue pp.13-14
2. Wole Soyinka, ‘Between Self and System’ in Art, Dialogue & Outrage - Essays on Literature and Culture, New Horn Press, Ibadan 1988, p.64
3. Jean Pigozzi in Africa Now p.14
4. Graeme Ewens in World Beat, September 1991, p.30
5. Centre for African Art and The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York
6. see Kojo Fosu, Intellectual dimensions of Ghanaian visual art of the last decade, Paper presented at the National Festival of Arts and Culture, 25-27th August 1992, Kumasi College of Art, UST, Ghana
7. André Magnin in Africa Now, pp.17-21
Clémentine Deliss

frieze is now accepting letters to the editors for possible publication at editors@frieze.com.