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ART X and the rising ‘bourgeois’ visual art scene in Nigeria4 minutes read

“Africa is one of the fastest-growing markets in the art world today, and Nigeria is equal on the top with South Africa,”

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ART X and the rising 'bourgeois' visual art scene in Nigeria
In this file photo taken on February 07, 2018 Nigerian author Ben Okri poses with a work of art by Nigerian painter and sculptor Ben Enwonwu entitled 'Tutu' sold for 1.5 million dollars at auction in Bonhams auction house London on February 7, 2018. - Tutu, a recently rediscovered portrait of the Ife royal princess Adetutu Ademiluyi painted in 1974 by the Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu, led Bonhams Africa Now sale in London on February 28. The painting, one of a series of three versions, once thought lost came to light after having gone unseen for decades in a north London flat. The whereabouts of the other two versions remains a mystery. In the vibrant megalopolis of Lagos, with its 20 million inhabitants, the cultural season culminates this weekend with the international fair "ART X", which has established itself for three years as an essential event, a high mass of modern and contemporary art with a mixed business, recreational and aesthetic objectives. (Photo by BEN STANSALL / AFP)

First, there was Tutu, the “African Mona Lisa” sold last year for 1.5 million dollars. Then a second portrait by revered Nigerian painter Ben Enwonwu, called Christine, sold in mid-October, for 1.4 million dollars.

Both record sales of famous works by the late “father of African modernism”, captured the emergence of Nigeria’s art market. 

A decade ago, major African artists were largely absent from international auctions. But the continent is now a major attraction in contemporary and modern art. 

Since his death in 1994, Enwonwu’s star has only risen, epitomising the growing industry and value for art. 

His two masterpieces were sold by two of London’s most prestigious auction houses, Bonhams and Sotheby’s.

“Africa is one of the fastest-growing markets in the art world today, and Nigeria is equal on the top with South Africa,” Giles Peppiatt, director of African art at Bonhams, told AFP. 

His auction house was one of the first in Europe to bet big on the continent with “Africa Now” beginning in 2007, auctioning African art as a stand-alone sale.

In the vibrant commercial capital of Lagos, with 20 million people, its cultural season, awash with literary fashion and art festivals, culminates this weekend with the international fair “ART X”.

Three years after it began, the fair has emerged as one of the premier art events on the continent, exhibiting the rich array of African modern and contemporary art. 

The famous Tutu, “lost” for almost 40 years and spectacularly found in 2018, almost by chance, in a London apartment, was the surprise attraction of the last edition, drawing several thousand attendees. 

A show-reel of Nollywood’s actresses, traditional leaders, wealthy collectors and artists trooped to the painting of the mysterious Yoruba princess.

At the end of the year, Nigeria’s economic-hub becomes awash with glamour and arts. 

Thousands of visitors rush from one exhibition to another, from ART X to the Lagos Biennale of contemporary art, Lagos fashion week and LagosPhoto, all of which take place between October and November. 

But alongside the art, is an increasing market and appetite amongst investors and collectors. 

New galleries like Art Twenty One have opened in recent years. 

And the auction house Art House Contemporary Limited, whose turnover is more modest than that of its European peers, regularly exhibits the most notable artists in the region: Enwonwu, Yusuf Grillo, El Anatsui or Peju Alatise. 

ART X – Collectors or investors?

This year, some twenty galleries and more than 90 artists will be represented at ART X, with representatives from Tate Modern (London) and Smithsonian (Washington) expected to attend. 

Creative audio installations by renowned artist, Emeka Ogboh, based between Berlin and Lagos, will grace the background of the anticipated fourth edition of the fair.

If the appetite for contemporary African art continues to grow, apart from outliers that exceed one million dollars, the majority of works are still sold at “reasonable” prices in comparison with the rest of the world: “between $10,000 and $60,000,” Peppiatt says. 

“Events like Art X are changing the game, they enable cities like Lagos to shine and attract many enthusiastic collectors,” he explains. “This is a very exciting moment.”

The West African oil giant and largest economy on the continent has a growing middle class of rich bankers and industrialists, with a burgeoning appetite for purchasing contemporary art. 

The biggest bids still take place in Europe, where the market is better structured, and better protected against fake works. 

Yet collectors increasingly fly to buy works in London or New York and then bring them back to Africa, says Jess Castellote, director of the Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art, a private museum that will open next year in the suburbs of Lagos. 

“There are collectors, art lovers who want to reconnect with their culture, their legacy,” he says, explaining that as well as art enthusiasts, serious investors have taken interest in art.

In Nigeria, as in South Africa, multi-million dollar investment funds have sprung up to acquire works and resell them as dearly as possible, again betting on rising demand for art. 

“Rich Nigerians who used to spend 250,000 pounds on a watch or a luxury car now prefer to invest in a painting or a sculpture,” Castellote says. 

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How young people are changing the African narrative

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How young people are changing the African narrative

For non-Africans who have never visited the continent, the perception of the second largest continent in the world has always been that of a place of impoverishment and raw savagery; a place ravaged by horrible epidemic and war. 

This is largely attributable to an agenda-driven western media which sell these bogus tales about Africa to their global audience viewing the world through their reportage. Sadly, some of our local media are also guilty of this disservice to the mother continent.

As much as Africa, like other continents have its challenges, the positive stories to tell about the continent far outweighs the negativity found therein. 

The good news, however, is that young Africans – the new generation, are striving to change the negative narrative of Africa through their excellence in different fields within and outside the continent.

These young Africans are pushing the frontiers of knowledge in their respective fields of interests, discovering new things and making landmark achievements. Whether in Technology, Fashion, Literature, Music and more, they are forging paths necessary for the sustenance of development in Africa. These crop of individuals are passing the message that Africa has a lot to offer the world through its rich human resources. What better way to be true ambassadors of the continent? 

Let us take a look at some of the young individuals championing the change of an age-long African perception in their different fields.

Technology & Innovation

Over the years, we have seen some of the most innovative minds in technology come from Africa. Notable figures like Philip Emeagwali who invented the world’s fastest computer and who also won the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize for an application of the CM-2 massively-parallel computer, Jelani Aliyu who designed the Chevrolet Volt,  Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, among very many others make this list.

One young African that is gradually making waves in technology is 35-year-old Jamila Abbas. Abbas is a Kenyan computer scientist and software engineer who is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of MFarm Kenya Limited. MFarm is an android application that Abbas developed to solve the challenge of lack of pricing transparency Kenyan farmers faced.

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How “African” is our modern-day storytelling?

The tune of today’s African literature may still be dictated by the finances of the West

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Photo Credit: KUER

African literature in its earliest stages (of recognition) was mostly “protest writing” with a tinge of history. Most of the books published by African authors at the time were, at the very least, reactions to the socio-political reality that pervaded the continent at the time.

Between the 1940s and 1960s, it was rare to stumble on texts that did not attempt to address the subject of colonialism. Peter Abrahams’ “Mine Boy” dwelt on South Africa’s pre-apartheid days, Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” and “Arrow of God” were centred on narratives that focused on British incursion into Eastern Nigeria, and “West African Verse” (a poetry anthology edited by Donatus Nwoga) comprised poems from all corners of the continent that were large cries for freedom and calls for unity in the struggle to rid the continent of (direct) European subjugation. 

How "African" is our modern-day storytelling?
Photo credit: Poshmark

READ: Nigeria’s Chimamanda Adichie receives UN Global Leadership Award

The final two decades of the 20th century and the turn of the millennium ushered in what seemed to be new African narratives. Focus appears to have shifted from the themes of old, and African storytellers as well as poets have ventured into new terrain, unafraid to tackle the issues of gender fluidity, identity, mental health, sexuality and even Afro-futurism.

One art form that has majorly benefited from this paradigm shift is the short story. No longer seen as wholly inferior to the novel, short stories have slowly but surely assumed a pivotal role in influencing the direction of new African storytelling. They are compact, they are intricately woven, and they come with a huge sense of perspective. Short story collections like Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Thing Around Your Neck”, Igoni Barrett’s “Love Is Power Or Something Like That”, Chinelo Okparanta’s “Happiness Like Water”, and more recently, Lesley Nneka Arimah’s “What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky” provide insight on the new flavour of African stories being told.

However, there has been the question of what (and who) influences the kind of stories being told by African writers. There have been accusations levelled against authors of this continent bordering on “pandering to the West”. Writers have been chided for dwelling too much on themes like poverty, war and all the other topics that the West perceives as “uniquely African”.

How "African" is our modern-day storytelling?
Photo credit: Kobo

READ: 10 Young African authors making Africa proud

The late Kenyan author and journalist, Binyavanga Wainaina, in his essay “How To Write About Africa”, satirised what Western observers usually expected from literary works authored by African. “Jumping Monkey Hill”, one of the stories in Adichie’s “The Thing Around Your Neck”, is a fictional account of a writers’ conference wherein the protagonist’s manuscript submission is panned by a white facilitator for not being “African enough”.

There is also the matter of how African writing is being currently funded. It is telling that The Caine Prize for African Writing, one of the highest literary honours in the short story category, was created in the United Kingdom. The Prize has provided a springboard of sorts to many promising African writers, but it has also been criticised for subtly reinforcing Western stereotypes of what African literature should look like.

In the words of Nigerian literary critic Ikhide Ikheloa, “the creation of a prize for ‘African writing’ may have created the unintended effect of breeding writers willing to stereotype Africa for glory. The mostly lazy, predictable stories that make the shortlist celebrate orthodoxy and mediocrity. The problem now is that many writers are skewing their written perspectives to fit what they imagine will sell to the West and the judges of the Caine Prize….”

READ: Late Kenyan writer and human rights activist, Margaret Ogola gets Google doodle

It has also been argued that most of the writers who earn critical acclaim are usually based abroad, and in discussions about African literature are rated a lot more highly when compared to their contemporaries who ply their trade indigenously.

How "African" is our modern-day storytelling?
Late Kenyan writer, journalist and author of “How To Write About Africa”. Photo credit: Africa Is A Country

It is hard to fault this argument, considering how modern-day literary darlings like Ayobami Adebayo, Oyinkan Braithwaite, Chika Unigwe and Akwaeke Emezi are all practising their craft in the diaspora. Again, this reawakens the debate as to whether African creatives have to go out of the country before they can earn some recognition.

These arguments go to show that African literature, to an extent, still draws some of its validation from the best. However, credit has to be given to platforms like Kwani, Chimurenga, Kalahari Review, Saraba Magazine, Brittlepaper and the Ake festival for promoting African writing as much as possible.

A lot of funding is needed to motivate and reward African storytellers, and while it is wished that there wasn’t so much Western financing, maybe the fact that stories are being told is some sort of consolation.

Related story: Nobel winner Mahfouz lives on in Cairo’s alleyways

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UNESCO adds Morroco’s Gnawa culture to list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

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UNESCO adds Morroco’s Gnawa culture to list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
(Photo credit: multiculturalkidblogs.com)

Gnawa culture, a centuries-old Moroccan practice rooted in music, African rituals and Sufi traditions, has been added to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

UNESCO announced this via its Twitter account, on Thursday, December 12, 2019.

Gnawa refers to a “set of musical productions, fraternal practices and therapeutic rituals where the secular mixes with the sacred”, according to the nomination submitted by Morocco.

Often dressed in colourful outfits, Gnawa musicians play the guenbri, a type of lute with three strings, accompanied by steel castanets called krakebs.

They practice “a therapeutic ritual of possession… which takes the form of all-night ceremonies of rhythms and trance combining ancestral African practices, Arab-Muslim influences and native Berber cultural performances. The tradition, which includes the veneration of Islamic holy men, dates back to at least the 16th century.

Originally practised and transmitted by groups and individuals from slavery and the slave trade”, today it is one of the many facets of Moroccan culture and identity.

Gnawa was popularised by a festival that started in 1997 in the southern port city of Essaouira. 

Until then, Gnawa brotherhoods had been little known, even marginalised.

Now, they attract waves of fans each year from across the globe to the Gnawa and World Music Festival in Essaouira that highlights a unique mix of musical styles. 

Gnawa groups “form associations and organise festivals” year-round, which enable the younger generation “to have knowledge of both the lyrics and musical instruments as well as practices and rituals” linked to Gnawa culture.

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