Art mirrors the society from which it emanates, meaning that the contextualisation of African art must be accompanied by an in-depth and politically sensitive commentary urged by Africans. There is a shift from local to national and transnational debates around cultural policy in fast-changing Africa, where cities are in transition and political systems are in flux. But still, many governments continue to undermine the artistic production of their own countries, in many cases, incentivising the need for funding from abroad.
African art has undergone a significant transformation of late, with the economic growth of art from the continent becoming an emerging asset class, mirroring that of China, Brazil, India and other rising economies. But the new trajectory of African art tells a complex geopolitical story. If the events of the recent past have acted somewhat as indicators of an emergent phenomenon, the first truly international contemporary African art fair will serve not only as a barometer of the dynamics between art and the market, bringing sustenance to an increasingly international audience of buyers, but as a shift in the nature of engagement in the subject.
In this special supplement in association with 1:54, you will find a selection of fresh perspectives defying linearity. Together they represent the catalytic roles of three major “art world” entities – the philanthropist, the agent and the organisation. Organisations based in Africa are harnessing the validity of art to challenge indifferent governments and political schemes, philanthropists are choosing long-term funding over investing as an asset, while global agents are turning African art’s inimitable magic into a viable commercial venture. As the market for African art reaches new levels, it is time we re-thought the African territory and its conditions of artistic and cultural production, writes Osei Bonsu.