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Where art thou? Africa needs investment in art.

The growth and success of independent visual art spaces and cultural centres across Africa has led to a significant transformation of the contemporary art scene. There exists a wealth of internationally acclaimed artistic talent living and working on the continent. But as rightly wonders, imagine if some of Africa's richest industrialists helped to finance the building of a Museum of Contemporary Art in their respective countries!

Until the mid-90s only a few venues or platforms existed to showcase work by emerging or even established artists. Notably, in 1995 Marilyn Douala Bell and Didier Schaub created Espace Doual'art, a groundbreaking gallery space with an experimental programme in Cameroon. Other collaborative spaces for exhibitions and artists' programmes were established including L'appartement 22 in Morocco, the Townhouse Gallery in Egypt, the Nubuke Foundation in Ghana and CCA (Centre of Contemporary Art) in Nigeria. "I felt that there was a gap within the provision of contemporary art," offers Bisi Silva, CCA's Director. "There has been a phenomenal shift in just under a decade ... while the intra continental interaction is also more fluid, more vibrant than ever before."

What has developed is a new generation of galleries making their mark locally as well as attracting international audiences for their artists and programme. South Africa has been quietly leading the way with the Stevenson, Goodman and Brundyn + Gonsalves galleries. Joost Bosland, Director at Stevenson, Johannesburg notes, "There is a great amount of energy in South Africa at the moment ... In Johannesburg, a group of young artists have emerged. The people I am thinking of include Kemang Wa Lehulere, Nicholas Hlobo, Zander Blom, Serge Nitegeka, Nandipha Mntambo, Zanele Muholi, the list goes on." Paris-born and Abidjan-based Cecile Fakhoury opened a new space in Cote d'Ivoire with the aim of promoting contemporary art across the continent. Fakhoury says, "For a long time, artists wanted to leave, to be exposed, in Europe or the USA, but today we are seeing many returning to the country. It can be easily explained ... We have more spaces dedicated to culture and the arts ... I am organising the First solo exhibition of photographer Nestor Da, a young and very promising photographer from Burkina Faso." While in London, Maria Varnava, Founder and Director of Tiwani Contemporary Gallery, focuses principally on contemporary artists from Nigeria, from across Africa and its diaspora.

The advent of new media and digital photography, including the success of Lagos Photo Festival and Addis Foto Fest, has aided a vibrant and seasoned visual culture on the continent. Many young artists, from Emeka Ogboh (Nigeria), Basim Magdy (Egypt), Dimitri Fagbohoun (Benin), Brothers Hasan and Husain Essop (South Africa), Nyaba Leon Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso) to Fatoumata Diabate (Mali), Ismail Bahri (Tunisia), Nastio Mosquito (Angola) and Em'Kal Eyongakpa (Cameroon) are embracing new approaches and techniques within their artistic practice.

With the global contemporary art market transforming, international art fairs are now focusing on the emerging markets of Asia, the Middle East and Africa. In March this year, the Marker section of Art Dubai chose to spotlight art from West Africa. The 2011 edition of Paris Photo showcased the past and present in contemporary photography from Africa and in October, a new art fair, 1:54, will launch in London focusing on Africa and international galleries exhibiting the work of African artists.

As prices soar and record results are being achieved by some of the continent's leading artists, auction houses are now playing a key role. Art House Contemporary in Lagos and Terra Kulture, a Nigerian Arts & Culture Centre, regularly hold auctions of modern and contemporary art from Africa to great success. Outside the continent, the market leader has been Bonhams in London though in 2010, Phillips auction house entered the market with AFRICA, showcasing the current contemporary talent with sales totalling $1,401,038. Rumours abound that Christie's is actively looking at ways of integrating contemporary artists from Africa into its auction programme.

What cannot be ignored is the success of artists like Beninese Meschac Gaba and Ghanaian-born, Nigeria-based El Anatsui, while they choose to remain working and living in Africa Gaba will have his First solo show in London at Tate Modern this year. Gaba's gallerist in Paris, Fabienne Leclerc acids, "He (Meschac) is very involved with the development of the art scene in Benin. He opened a residency for young artists and a library, giving access to international contemporary art to a young generation of students in art." Leclerc is now representing fellow Benin artist Dominique Zinkpe who she met at Cotonou Biennale.

Anatsui's woven tapestry of flattened bottle caps, titled New World Map, achieved a world record price, selling for $850,544 last May and currently he has two major solo museum shows in the US. Christa Clarke, Curator, Arts of Africa at Newark Museum in New Jersey says, "It's been great to see the worldwide impact of El's work. When we acquired our "metal wall cloth" in 2005, he wasn't very well-known and now his work is represented in almost every major museum in the US. I like to think that his individual success has encouraged greater interest in contemporary art from Africa in general."

Recently Tate Modern in London appointed Elvira Dyangani Ose its Curator for International Art focusing on Africa, while launching the Africa Acquisitions Committee to assist the institution in acquiring works of contemporary art from the continent. Fascinatingly, the US seems to have been ahead of the game in embracing art from the continent. Newark Museum has gradually shifted its focus towards contemporary art from Africa. In 2010, the museum opened a permanent gallery devoted to works by artists from its collection including Olu Amoda, Osi Audu, Viye Diba, Lalla Essaydi, Atta Kwami and Yinka Shonibare. Clarke adds, "A few modern and contemporary works were acquired in the 1990s but the museum began to collect actively about a decade ago, shortly after my arrival in 2002. I felt strongly that we needed to represent what artists were creating todav, to present to our audiences the contemporary relevance of African art."

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) brought on board former Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the Fowler Museum at UCLA, Polly Nooter Roberts, as Curator of African Art to help launch a programme and establish a gallery dedicated to the arts of Africa. Nooter Roberts affirms, "The dedicated art gallery will have rotating exhibitions, and several are in planning stages. Our inaugural exhibition 'Shaping Power: Luba Masterworks' will open this July, featuring a selection of sculptures complemented with a contemporary installation by Congolese artist Aime Mpane, who divides his time between Kinshasa and Brussels."

What is fundamentally lacking are major collectors and museums in Africa collecting contemporary art. The majority of works by artists from the continent are held in private collections and institutions in Europe and in the US. Many museums on the continent were built during the colonial era and offer limited collections while most are lacking in resources for funding exhibitions. A logical step for the continent would be a partnering of both government funding and private endowments to build and support institutions.

Imagine if some of Africa's richest industrialists like Mike Adenuga, Folorunsho Alakija, Othman Benjelloun, Patrice Motsepe, or Nassef Sawiris, helped to finance the building of a Museum of Contemporary Art in their respective countries!

The impact on not only the local art sector but on the international art scene would be phenomenal. Hopefully, some day, and in the not too distant future, there will be museums on the continent to equal the New Museum in New York, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris or the Maxi in Rome.
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Title Annotation:ARTS & CULTURE
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:May 1, 2013
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