So, you may have friends who come back from holidays across the globe showing off the art they bought back, and maybe they even have tried to convince you that it’s not only a nice holiday memoir but also a potential investment. Asian art, European art, even Latin American. But what you should be investing in right now – despite it being so often overlooked – is undoubtedly African Art. The steady increase in African Art exhibitions, such as the inclusion of the African Art Fair in the New York Frieze art week in the United States – proves that art connoisseurs and investors are slowly but surely recognising the spectacular potential of African art. And perhaps even more encouraging is that over half of these investors are African themselves – proving that there is a correlation between Africa’s continued economic growth (especially in cities such as Lagos and Nairobi) and the increase in revenue from African art investments. And if you wanted yet more evidence of the value of investing in African art, you only need to consider the fact that gold and art are the two main commodities that provide the greatest returns for investors across the world.
Courtesy of sharyn morrow/Flickr
Tretchikoff is a contemporary painter from South Africa. In 2012 at Bonhams in London, England, a piece of his contemporary style painting ended up selling for over five times it’s estimated value, at £337,250. And in the following year another painting – named Chinese Girl – broke the record by selling for just under £1,000,000: This was three times the estimated value. It is little wonder now that the auction house, Bonhams in London, now has an entire department dedicated to the promotion and development of African art.
Courtesy of byhandproducts/Instagram
While it is true African art is experiencing a boom in investment, some artists struggle to find a market despite their talent and often have to resort to trying to sell their art on the street or in shops by themselves. Ken Karangi however, an ex-web designer, came up with a solution to this problem in Nairobi by promoting and marketing works of art through the internet. Karangi has the philosophy that art does not need to be prohibitively expensive, and this is why he focuses on selling customised paintings (and also crafts), initially through his Facebook page, teaming up with 6 other local artists. Potential customers or investors can contact him by telephone to arrange an inspection or organise a delivery. Today the business – ‘By Hand Products’ has blossomed to the point it has its own website and is a fully registered business. By the second year of business, Mr. Karangi’s annual revenues doubled to $20,000, which is very impressive for such a small-scale business. Now Karangi has even opened a showroom in Nairobi for potential investors and customers who would prefer to see the art in person before committing to buying. Though his business is still relatively young, the results are very encouraging and promising for the future. Karangi has certainly found an interesting and profitable niche for mixing painting and technology.
Courtesy of H&T PhotoWalks/Flickr
It is certainly not just paintings that are grabbing the attention of art investors in Africa, but some truly fascinating and original sculptures. The ones that have become particularly famous are by Goncalo Mabunda from Mozambique. A bit of a niche artist, he uses recycled AK-47’s to create his sculptures: Turning Mozambique’s dark era of civil war and violence into objects of beauty that have been exhibiting and selling in Europe, the United States and in his native Africa for very tidy profits. This represents a shift away from the world viewing African art as something confined to the early centuries before and after 1AD, with such things as ivory sculptures and wooden tribal masks filling the only real art stagnating the imagination.
Studying fine art at the Royal College of Art, Sokari has had over 40 solo exhibits internationally, representing both Nigeria and the United Kingdom. One of her most famous pieces was a full-scale replica of a Nigerian steel bus, named Battle Bus: Living Memorial for Ken Saro‐Wiwa (2006). This was a monument to the late Niger Delta activist and writer, which gives her work an interesting and powerful political edge. In 2003 she was included in the shortlist for the Trafalgar Square Fourth Plinth, and her work is in permanent exhibitions in places such as Washington D.C, London’s British Museum and the Setagaya Museum in Tokyo.
She was awarded a CBE in recognition of her services to art. More recently, her piece ‘The World is Now Richer’ – a memorial to commemorate the abolishment of slavery – was exhibited in the House of Commons in the United Kingdom, and then in St. Paul’s Cathedral in 2014. Her Battle Bus piece travelled the Niger Delta region in 2015 as part of a project named Action Saro – Wiwa; a campaign to clean up the Niger Delta region. In fact, Sokari feels so strongly about the environmental destruction of the Niger Delta by mass oil drilling and production that she often utilises recycled oil barrels in her sculptures, one famous piece being named ‘Green Leaf Barrel’, which is housed in an artists studio in London to this day. Sokari is just one of many African women who are actually at the vanguard of the budding African art scene, and this could only be a good thing for furthering gender equality and feminism in Africa, which will also undoubtedly mean more artists and more growth, profit and investment in art across the continent and globally.
Courtesy of tribalgathering.com
Although the boom in investment in African Art is focused primarily on contemporary pieces mentioned previously in this article, you cannot ignore the fact that African artefacts are extremely valued and prices in France and Belgium for artefacts are rather extortionate. This has put the UK market at an advantage, as prices here remain cheaper, all due to the fact Britain had colonies in East and South Africa where tribal art was less developed than in the West and Central colonies which fell under mainly French control. So, at galleries such as Tribal Gathering in the UK you can still find pieces of tribal artefacts and ancient crafts for a few hundred, whereas in France these tribal artefacts have been popular for much longer and command greater prices. For example, tribal masks that may have sold for £20,000 a decade or so ago can now go for millions.
Courtesy of michaelbackmanltd.com
The top-end artefact pieces have soared in value over the past few years, however, Michael Backman points out that the value of mid-range and low-range artefacts have remained constant. Mr Backman is quoted as saying that “This is an area where a person with a good eye can enter the market without spending a fortune.” For example, he has pieces on sale such as Lukwakongo Lega mask from the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo for £950, and a tribal hat for only £280, amongst other relative bargains. However, Backman points out to be cautious in investing in the artefact area of African art despite the bargains amongst the mid and low-range items, as fake and counterfeit items are relatively common, and because the most valued qualities of artefacts are their age and use in rituals. He even goes as far as saying that as much as 95% of all artefacts could be fake and of little to no value to the serious buyer or investor.