Separate But Equal, Negotiating Art Market Demand & Discourse

In 2010, Giles Peppiatt, director of African art at British auction house Bonhams made a revelatory assertion on the art market. “Look at the other markets — no one buys a van Gogh because he’s Dutch or because the buyer’s Dutch. It doesn’t matter where the artist was born or what nationality he was. But I think with African art it still does matter. It hasn’t yet broken into the international market.”  [1] Peppiatt’s comment followed Bonhams March 2010 auction in New York. The sale presented modern and contemporary art from Africa as a standalone auction, the first of its kind in New York. [2]

© Chéri Samba. Quel avenir pour notre art? 1997. Courtesy of Galerie Pascal Polar, Brussels.

 

Two years later, in 2012 two curators were featured in Kaleidescope, an art magazine, in conversation for an Africa themed issue. Carson Chan who’d recently curated the 4th Marrakech Biennale interviews the Tate Modern’s recent appointee, Elvira Dyangani Ose, Curator International Art to focus on Africa for the London-based institution. Chan asks Ose, “Can we do away with the term ‘African artist’ and just say ‘artist’?” Her reply “Exactly! That would be the point for me; that would be the step forward. You should look at the way in which artists address certain topics and talk about them in that context.?” [4]

On one side a representative of the market and on the other a cultural practitioner, both inhabitants of the same ecosystem of global art practice. Yet in these two unrelated conversations, the reality of being separate but needing or hoping to be equal is evident.

 

What are the possible benefits or cons of having an Afro-centric art fair running concurrently with Frieze?

 

With very few galleries at Frieze featuring artists or work from an African perspective, the initiative for an independent contemporary African art fair dedicated to the space seems valid. On the other hand, how do the artists and galleries participating in such a fair maintain equal footing? In that the work be judged on its own merits, rather than some expectation or quota of ‘Africanicity’ or geographical provenance of the artists’.

In this edition of Another Africa’s three part In Focus series on the contemporary art fair format we look at the marketplace. If it is a case of boon or bust to create a dedicated fair from an African perspective during London’s Frieze week. We asked artists and art practitioners thematically and or aesthetically engaging with Africa their thoughts on a tricky art market.

 


 

 

Kisito Assangni | artist . curator

 

I’m not interested in this concurrence with Frieze so far. The importance is how “Another art fair” would participate in the evolving discourse related to African Art by seriously presenting the work of contemporary African artists. I mean showing that contemporary African art is not homogeneous and calling attention to Western misperceptions of what is authentically African.


 

Kisito Assangni is a Togolese-French curator, producer and visual artist who studied photography, art history and museology. Currently living between London, Paris and Lomé, his practice primarily focuses on psycho-geography and post-globalisation impact on contemporary african

cultures. His projects have been shown internationally, including the Whitechapel Gallery, London; Arnot Art Museum, New York; Torrance Art Museum, Torrance, USA; Musée des Arts Derniers, Paris; Malmo Konsthall, Malmo, Sweden; Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; National Centre for Contemporary Arts, Moscow; Pori Art Museum, Pori, Finland; Motorenhalle Centre for Contemporary Art, Dresden, Germany; Stiftelsen 3.14, Bergen, Norway among others. Assangni was also member of jury of the Award LETTERS FROM THE SKY in Cape Town (South Africa) as well as the 28th Prix VIDEOFORMES in Clermont-Ferrand (France).

timeisloveshow.org
sfip-project.blogspot.com
kisitoassangni.com

 


 

 

Godfried Donkor | artist

 

Just as artists need various platforms to showcase works and ideas, the art world is fast expanding and another art fair in London – major center for the arts, running concurrently with Frieze can only be useful. Another stage for new audiences to encounter art from the continent and current trends.

 

Godfried Donkor is a Ghanaian artist living and working in London. He is known primarily for his work in collage. He has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, both in the United States and in Europe and at the 2001 Venice Biennale and is in collections, such as the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution

donkor.net

 


 

 

Christine Eyene | art historian . critic . curator

 

The first spontaneous answer would probably be that we don’t need and don’t want to be ghettoised. But as someone who has worked on two editions of Focus – Contemporary Art Africa, a parallel event to Art|Basel in 2010 and 2011, I know too well, like many of my colleagues, that African galleries are underrepresented in major international art fairs. It does not take long to come to this conclusion. Just have a look at the list of participating galleries at Art Basel, Fiac or Frieze.

The benefits of bringing African galleries to London during the time of Frieze Art Fair would be to give them a chance to have access to buyers, collectors, private or public, that would not necessarily have the time to travel to various places in Africa.

I also think it is important for some galleries and artists to be confronted to the international art market. Because the market is a form of validation, sanction or feedback, if you want, that speaks another language than art criticism. Either art sells or it does not. It provides an indication that can help artists decide what routes they can explore.

By saying that I am not implying that artists should follow the market. History has shown us that trends take time to pick up and those who are clever enough, or have got an eye to spot little gems, are usually rewarded when the artists career takes off.

So, there is a fine line between the artist’s creative instincts and aspirations on the one hand, and the market on the other hand.

An art fair dedicated to them could give them the opportunity to be confronted to these essential questions.


 

Christine Eyene (b. Paris, 1970) After earning a D.E.A. in History of Art at University Paris 1 – Panthéon-Sorbonne in 1999 with Philippe Dagen, she was selected for the Programme Young Cultural Professionals of AFAA (Culturesfrance) to train with French curator Nadine Descendre at the French Institute of Rabat, Morocco. There she worked on exhibitions of artists Christian Boltanski, Alain Fleischer, Mona Hatoum, Shirin Neshat and designer Pierre Paulin. In 2002, Eyene moved to London and worked at the Africa Centre alongside South African critic and curator Mario Pissarra. In 2004-05, she developed a number of events for Africa 05. From August 2008 to May 2010, she was consultant for puma.creative, an initiative of PUMA. Within this remit, she co-developed Creative Africa Network and initiated the partnership between puma.creative and the 8th Bamako Encounters (2009). An art critic, she is a regular contributor to French journal «Africultures». She has written articles for «Third Text», «Art South Africa», and essays in books and exhibition catalogues. She sits on a number of panels including the jury of the Fondation Jean-Paul Blachère Prize awarded at the Dak’Art Biennale and Bamako Encounters.

eyeoneart.blogspot.com

 


 

 

Yo-Yo Gonthier | artist

 

Holding it at the same time means less visibility and focus on African issues. Between Frieze and all the other offsites and exhibitions, people will be running in all directions, consuming art to the point of indigestion. Too much information kills information. At the same time it is a spotlight, perhaps at the expense though of a fragile, intimate and complex engagement.

 

Yo-Yo Gonthier (b. 1974 Niamey, Niger) graduated with a Masters in Photography and Multimedia from Paris VIII University in 1997 and works as a freelance photographer, primarily based in Paris. The object of his work is the erasure of memory in a western world where the essential values seem to be speed, progress and technology. He seeks the sense of wonder, in a tension between attraction and repulsion, bringing his own interpretation to night-time photography and the use of light and dark/chiaroscuro. He is also interested in the remnants of France’s colonial past, investigating the friction between history and memory. He has exhibited at Trans Photographic Press, Biennale of African Photography (Bamako), Addis Foto Fest (Addis Ababa) and has been nominated for the Prix kodak de la critique, 2005.

yoyogonthier.com

 


 

 

Nicène Kossentini | artist . educator

 

I think the fair could benefit from the presence of art professionals already attending Frieze who potentially would visit this fair too. It could offer visibility to artists from Africa. In one sense the fair brings the art to the market, which professionals such as collectors etc might not otherwise see. The disadvantage however though could be the categorisation of this fair. It may be viewed as an annex or off(site) from Frieze and therefore categorises artists as “Africans”. Down the road, that could mean that fewer artists from the African continent or even the diaspora will be shown in Frieze or at other international fairs, limiting their presence to this new art fair dedicated solely to them.

 

Nicène Kossentini (b. 1976 Sfax, Tunisia) is a photographer/video-maker that lives and works in Tunisia. She is a graduate of the Institute of Fine Arts in Tunisia
and Marc Bloch University in Strasbourg, and has also studied at Le Fresnoy in Tourcoing, and Les Gobelins in Paris. Kossentini is currently an assistant professor of Experimental Cinema at the University of Tunis. She has exhibited frequently in Tunisia, South Africa, Mali, Switzerland and Norway. She is represented by Selma Feriani Gallery.

nicenekossentini.com

 


 

 

Mischeck Masamvu | artist

 

I do not see direct benefits, unless the Afro-centric art fair takes a more inclusive approach with regard to artistic attributes rather than pushing the same diaspora artists again. The continent is wide and often is represented to suit a certain prescribed ‘Africaness’; one wonders who created that template.


Misheck Masamvu (b. 1980, Penhalonga, Zimbabwe) studied art with Helen Lieros at Gallery Delta in Harare and at the Kunstacademie in Munich. Masamvu’s haunting

depictions question the continent’s current trajectory by dramatically exposing psycho-social and political realities. His work has been shown internationally at Galerie Françoise Heitsch (Munich), Zimbabwe Pavilion at 54th Venice Art Biennale, Influx Contemporary Art (Lisbon),Africa Museum (Arnhem), National Gallery of Zimbabwe (Harare), Gallery Delta (Harare), Dak’Art Biennale 2006 (Dakar) and more. Misheck Masamvu is represented by Gallery Delta, Harare.

 


 

 

Aïda Muluneh | artist . curator

 

Personally for me, we should not be pushing the Afro-centric approach to art, in the end a good artist is a good artist regardless of cultural background. I often find that artists from Africa are often put in an exotic context in the sense that it’s not their work that puts them in new heights but rather it’s their geographic location. As artists we should free ourselves from the shackles of what passport we hold and move more into the global community of artists creating work that impacts both our own society and the world. I mean, have you ever been to a French art fair with only French artists. This is not denying our cultural heritage, nor our background that you cannot erase but for me, the main issue is in this division of artists based on where they are from.


 

Aïda Muluneh (b.1974, Ethiopia) is an Addis Ababa based photographer and artist. Muluneh received her BA in film, radio,

and television from Howard University in 2001. She has worked freelance since, also founding DESTA (Developing and Educating Societies Through the Arts). Her work has been exhibited worldwide and a collection of her images can be found in permanent collections in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art and the Museum of Biblical Art in the United States. She is the 2007 recipient of the European Union prize at the Biennale of African Photography (Bamako), as well as the 2010 winner of the CRAF International award of photography in Spilimbergo, Italy. She is the director of the Modern Art Museum/GebreKristos Center/Addis Ababa University, as well as the director and founder of the Addis Foto Fest.

Addis Foto Fest on facebook

 


 

 

Victor Muteleksha | artist

 

There are both pro and cons in establishing an Afro-centric art fair but the pros outweigh the cons. Artists and intellectuals of African origin generally detest the unwarranted pigeonholing constantly experienced in the West, but our careers still depend on finances mostly from the West. Therefore a well organised and managed art fair on par or higher than Frieze, in standards exclusive for Afro-centric art and artists will bring to the fore artists constantly fighting for recognition and acceptance within Eurocentric institutions.The platform will help consolidate a narrative which is both developed and owned by artists and intellectuals of African origin. The fair will also galvanise interest in this redefined ‘Africaness’ and its central role in defining civilisation. To ensure success of this project, Afro-centric artists and intellectuals must own its official narrative.

 

Victor Mutelekesha (b. 1976 Chililabombwe, Zambia) is an independent artist based in Norway. He is a graduated of Evelyn Hone College of Applied Arts and Commerce, Lusaka and National Arts Academy, Oslo holding an MA Fine Arts from the later. His work is informed by the hybrid nature of his educational background and moreover by a deep interest in the universal human condition. His work has been exhibited at the International Culture Centre and Museum (Oslo), Gallery Palazzo Tito (Venice), the Henry Tayaly Art Centre (Lusaka), the 10th Havana Biennial (Havana), Gallery Fisk (Bergen), Videoholica Video Art Biennial (Bulgaria), Gallery Kit (Norway), Dak’Art Biennial (Dakar).

mutelekesha.blogspot.com

 


 

 

Dr. Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, PhD | curator . editor

 

I do not see a need for an extra Afro-centric art fair and the fact that it runs concurrent to Frieze doesn’t make it any more interesting. The aim should have been to make Contemporary African art a matter-of-fact or obvious part of any art fair, instead of creating an extra fair for Afro-centric art. This, I fear, will just go a long way to reinforce the stamp of “otherness”. This goes in line with V.Y. Mudimbe’s thoughts on ‘African Studies’, whereby he criticizes the fact that by focusing on the study of Africa, one just solidifies the demarcation between universal knowledge and “African knowledge”. African knowledge just like African or Afro-centric art is just a part of universality.

On the other hand, I am in the wrong place to criticise such an initiative, as I myself founded a journal of Contemporary African Art. This was for me a radical move that stemmed from my historical and geographical context. There was and is still little or no space for critical essays, reviews, features or the like for or on artists of African origin in the secular art media in Germany.

It was a radical move, as I mentioned, in this part of the world, where the idea of the Western art canon is still the norm and measure of all things. So, that is why from the very onset, the journal was seen as a temporal initiative, i.e. after doing a journal for Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe and America, it will metamorphose to just one journal, which will encompass art from the whole world.


 

Dr. Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, PhD, is the initiator and editor-in-chief of the journal SAVVY | art . contemporary . african. He is also the founder and art director of the art space SAVVY Contemporary Berlin. He has been the curator of several international exhibitions and has published numerous catalogues. He studied and earned a PhD in medical biotechnology (Technische Universität Berlin).


savvy-journal.com
savvy-contemporary.com

 


 

 

Jimmy Ogonga | artist . writer

 

I think there are only benefits. Quite obvious is visibility and the need to add a few more sentences to the history and understanding of contemporary art.


Jimmy Ogonga (b. Nairobi, Kenya) is a self- taught artist who began by drawing portraits; these images were often of political figures, the people whose stories and activities he was exposed to whilst growing up in East Africa. He has traveled to many countries, exhibiting in African and

European art galleries. He considers his mission to be the project of recreating African heroes through art. Ogonga started his sculptural works in the 1990s, and ten years later many of the collectors of his work have been drawn to his curved-wood and welded-metallic images. He founded the Nairobi Arts Trust in 2001.

jimmyogonga.com
nairobi-arts.org

 


 

 

Olu Oguibe | artist . author . curator . educator

 

This is a complicated question. I am usually quite skeptical about labels and parallel systems, especially when they’re segregated. One of the criticisms that we got when we organised the last Johannesburg biennial back in 1997 was that it should have been Afrocentric like the first biennial, and we certainly didn’t think so. By making it integrated and global, yet under our direction, we not only exposed the larger art world to African artists, but we exposed African artists to work by their peers in that larger art world, also, and the mutual exposure on a broader scale had a definite positive impact, even if the approach was politically problematic for some.

Obviously, it all comes down to control. Every fair has its focus and parameters, and I imagine Frieze does, too. Such parameters may place limitations on access. There’s clearly a great deal to be said for institutions and structures that we initiate and direct with particular objectives and focus.

My understanding is that art fairs are opportunities for galleries and dealers to showcase their artists. So, they are a market platform.

Should there be an Afrocentric market for contemporary practice? Frankly, I don’t know and I do have reservations especially since the rest of the establishment structure is not equally Afrocentric. But that’s something that I’d have to think over more thoroughly.

What can be said with some degree of certainty is that running such a fair concurrent with the Frieze fair would obviously benefit from the traffic if it’s adequately publicised. Also, this particularly fair is being organized by a stellar cast of cultural operatives, and it’s difficult to imagine a better group of people to make a success of it. On the downside, the fair is less likely to count on the participation of major dealers and galleries that represent rather prominent artists who could help raise the profile of the fair, especially since such dealers are likelier to be over at the Frieze fair. I could be wrong there, of course.


 

Olu Oguibe is Professor of art and African American studies at University of Connecticut, and a practicing artist and occasional curator.

camwood.org

 


 

Michael Tsegaye | artist

 

The benefits are that new and upcoming African artists will collectively receive exposure for their work, which is good, especially for those who are specifically looking for African art. The downside is that “African” art will not be part of the larger discourse that works in Frieze inspire.


 

Michael Tsegaye (b. 1975, Ethiopia) lives and works in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He graduated from Addis Ababa

University’s School of Fine Arts and Design with a diploma in painting in 2002. Tsegaye subsequently found his passion and particular voice in photography. He has exhibited around the world, at the Biennale of African Photography (Bamako), Photoquai 2011, Musée du quai Branly (Paris), Aksum Rediscovered: the Reinstallation of the Obelisk, UNESCO House, Snap Judgments : New Positions in Contemporary African Photography and more. He is represented by Galerie Sanaa, Utrecht.

michaeltsegaye.com

 


 

 

Rikki Wemega-Kwawu | artist

 

I do not subscribe to an Afro-centric art fair having to run concurrently with Frieze, which has become a very big institution, probably, the world’s most important art fair, with all its accompanying glossy publications and media hype. That would be a suicidal move, I am convinced about that. The art world, which actually is a small world, literally waits in anticipation every year to see the next Frieze. To have an Afro-centric art fair run concurrently as Frieze, which is already a Mega-brand, more-or-less, is pitching the Afro-centric art fair’s strength to Frieze’s. The Afro-centric art fair, needless to say, would be totally swamped by Frieze. We have to boldly face the unpleasant truth, that the art world, willy-nilly, is predominantly a White world. I attended one Frieze Art Fair a few years ago. For the two conservative days I was at the fairgrounds, I was the only Black person among hundreds of thousands of visitors, apart from one other Black person, incidentally, my compatriot, a Ghanaian, who was a security guard. The conspicuous absence of Blacks was pathetic. I wondered, didn’t Blacks in the U.K. go to art fairs, or didn’t they enjoy art?

No tree grows under the shade of an oak tree. I venture to say, a typical Afro-centric art fair would not grow in the shadows of Frieze, it surely would have a stillbirth, or better, a stunted growth. If it takes place at different times of the year, poles apart from Frieze, and efforts rather be geared towards courting not only a Black audience, but the very crowd which goes to Frieze, Basel, Miami, etc., then you would be elevating the profile of this African fair to be at par with Frieze. Then, the art world would anxiously begin to look forward to attending the next Black Art Fair.

Frieze has a universal outlook. It embraces all races and cultures. Africa’s non-appearance at Frieze is what beats my understanding. In this age of globalisation and globalism, what with geographical boundaries dissolving and with individual identities transcending geographical places of birth, it is, in my opinion, rather ethnocentric and inward-looking, I am afraid, to be pitching an Afro-centric art fair simultaneously with a globally oriented art fair.

In conclusion, instead of creating autonomous art fairs of an Afro-centric format in a European art capital, I think African art promoters should rather be striving to get deserving contemporary African art works into already-established spaces such as Frieze. It is too presumptuous to think the crowd at Frieze would automatically end up at the Afro-centric fair. The Afro-centric fair would rather flourish if its timing is moved outside the ambit of a Mega-fair like Frieze.


 

Rikki Wemega-Kwawu is an internationally renowned Ghanaian painter and installation artist. He also loves to write on art, engaging in social and philosophical discourse. He is an alumnus of the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Maine, U.S.A. In 2008, he was an Adjunct Professor in Art at the New York University – Accra, Ghana Campus, where he taught Post-Colonial Studio Practices. He lives and works in Takoradi, Ghana.

 

 


 

[1] CNN Inside Africa, Why African Art is Having a Renaissance, April 9. 2010 .

[2] In 2009, British auction house Bonhams launched its Africa Now standalone lot featuring Contemporary and Modern art from Africa. In subsequent auctions, world records for artists have been set. In 2012, El Anatsui’s New World Map sold for £541,250 (US$850,544), and in 2013, a wooden sculpture piece by Ben Enwonwu sold for £361,250 against his previous best of £125,000 along with other world records for over twenty other artists.

[3] Chéri Samba, Quel avenir pour notre art? 1997. Text inscribed reads as follows: Quel avenir pour notre art dans un monde où les artistes vivants sont pour la plupart opprimés? Une seule solution: c’est d’être accepté en France. Il parait que, un artiste accepté en France est sans doute acceptable partout dans le monde entier. Et qui dit France, dit le musée d’art moderne. Oui, mais… ce musée d’art moderne n’est-il pas raciste??? The English translation, What is the future of our art in a world where most of the living artists are oppressed? Only one solution: to be accepted in France. It seems that when an artist is accepted in France, is doubtless acceptable in the whole world. And who says France, also refers to the Modern art museum. Yes, but… isn’t this Modern art museum racist???

[4] Kaleidoscope, Summer 2012 Issue. ELVIRA DYANGANI OSE interview by Carson Chan.

 

 

The In Focus | art and commerce series has been co-edited by Stephanie Baptist and Missla Libsekal.

 

 

 

 

 

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