By Nicole D. Batey
Special to the AFRO
As the largest continent in the world, encompassing 54 countries, over one billion people, and so many countless aesthetic traditions, the demand for African art cannot be circumscribed by the global market. The influence of African art is so far-reaching that the mainstream, more commercial sector of the global art market is taking notice and looking for ways to cash in on the culture.
According to news.artnet.com, museums in Europe and North America have hosted an unprecedented number of shows of African art in recent years.
The challenge is how, in some cases, older and traditional African art pieces were looted from their origin country. They should be where they can be on display with proper credit given in their native land and bring increased tourism and business to countries in Africa. However, the widespread exposure to African art in these museums and art galleries has led to an increased demand from buyers around the world.
Says Kavita Chellaram, founder of the auction house, Arthouse Contemporary, in Lagos. “African collectors from different regions are now interested in buying African art…”
Hemingway African Gallery & Safaris, a second generation enterprise located in New York, has been in operation since 1975 and it’s co-owners and siblings, Logan and Tuck Gaisford have noticed the trend as well. Their gallery focuses on sourcing art and home decor directly from African artisans.
“I believe we may be one of a few, if not the only gallery in New York that focuses primarily on African art and decor,” said Logan. “There is a high demand for contemporary African art, which is incredible. That’s a market that’s really made into the mainstream modern art world.”
Some high-end furniture and home decor retailers here in states have also taken notice of the demand, mass-producing pieces that definitely have some African influence or are made to look like they are from Africa, which is frustrating for those who want to support African artisans and their industry.
Says Logan, “It is a real trigger for me. Why can’t these retailers source directly from Africa, from local artists or craftsmen, supporting their industry, instead of simulating the look for their own profit and gain? I think it’s stealing from African culture. Retailers who see these amazing designs from African artists and craftsmen, take and mimic their designs to mass produce in their facilities, that’s a form of theft, and it’s not right. Africa is absolutely accessible and the artists there would absolutely love to work in collaboration with major companies here in the U.S.”
The influence from African culture is nothing new in the global art world. During the early 1900s, the aesthetics of traditional African sculpture became a powerful influence among European artists who formed an avant-garde in the development of modern art.
According to Metmuseum.org, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and their School of Paris friends blended the highly stylized treatment of the human figure in African sculptures with painting styles derived from the post-Impressionist works of Cézanne and Gauguin. The resulting pictorial flatness, vivid color palette, and fragmented Cubist shapes helped to define early modernism. While these artists knew nothing of the original meaning and function of the West and Central African sculptures they encountered, they instantly recognized the spiritual aspect of the composition and adapted these qualities to their own efforts to move beyond the naturalism that had defined Western art since the Renaissance.
Most artworks from Africa are mostly but not limited to masks, paintings, textiles, and statues. Africans used different materials depending on their environment to produce these works, materials like wood, clay, shells, ivory, bronze, gold, copper, clay, feathers, bark and raffia. Today, these works of art are appreciated, admired and proudly displayed the world over, increasing the demand for its accessibility. Hopefully, this will open more doors of opportunity for African artisans and bring exposure to their gifted work.
Help us Continue to tell OUR Story and join the AFRO family as a member – subscribers are now members! Join here!