The second edition of L’Art pour la Paix, an initiative launched in 2014 that aims to draw the public’s attention to art’s role as a promoter of positive values in Africa, ran at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris from 29 June to 3 July. This year, Côte d’Ivoire was the guest of honour and the country’s First Lady, Dominque Ouattara, agreed to patron the event, which featured the work of twenty-eight artists from Côte d’Ivoire and thirteen other countries, including Cameroon, Togo, Senegal, Burkina Faso, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The event offers an opportunity to learn more about contemporary African creation, which seems to be enjoying renewed interest from international institutions and European collectors alike.
Proof that things are changing is that two years ago Angola was the first African country to receive a Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale. This year, the artistic direction was confided to a curator of Nigerian origin, Okwui Enwezor, and Ghanian artist El Anatsui was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. However, even though El Anatsui, Chéri Samba and Seydou Keïta can be found in some of the biggest collections, “far too few African artists have gained international popularity”, underlined L’Art pour la Paix’s curator, Fulgence Niamba.
We need to be very careful to avoid the somewhat paternalist stereotyping whereby Sub-Saharan artists are automatically deemed to have been self-taught and produce “African” works. “These days artists travel, they move around. A lot of Africans live elsewhere, and it is not because an African studied or even lives abroad that they have lost their African identity. The boundaries of contemporary art are not the same as the borders between our countries. We can no longer talk in African, European, or American terms”, explains Fulgence Niamba. Admittedly, we have often wondered if artists like Kara Walker, Kehinde Wiley, Yinka Shonibare, and Chris Ofili, one of whose paintings sold for over £2 million in London last week (See Chris Ofili s’arrache chez Christie’s), should be included in the “American contemporary art” and “British contemporary art”, or “African contemporary art” because their works reflect their origins so strongly.
In any case, many contemporary art specialists view African contemporary art as a potential new market. Some even go so far as to say that Africa will be the new China. In other words, what happened with the Chinese art market several years ago could easily happen with the African art market. Africans are going to start supporting their own artists, which will progressively push up their ratings until Westerners follow in their footsteps and also start to collect African contemporary art, which will help put the prices of Ivoirian and Senegalese artists on a par with those of German and American artists.
Fulgence Niamba thinks that this is perfectly conceivable, even though there are still few collectors in Sub-Saharan African, Congolese businessman Sindika Dokolo being one, and Marie-Cécile Zinsou, daughter of economist Lionel Zinsou and great-niece of the former President of Benin, being another of the most well-known. “The only problem is the lack of support at a government level. Culture is still the weak link for African politicians, because it is not profitable in the short term. For this reason, there are still no contemporary art museums and public collections in Sub-Saharan Africa, beyond South Africa. On the other hand, the collectors do not work together. They could help us to support our artists’ ratings, but there they are not united. In the middle term, more African artists need to feature in the international auctions so that they become familiar with the market. We also need events like 1:54 to continue growing. It is also positive that another dedicated African contemporary art fair will start in December Paris (AKAA). ”
Fortunately, some people want to change things, like the Ivoirian Minister for Culture, Maurice Kouakou Bandaman, who has great plans for Abidjan. To be continued…