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#TheFutureByDesign: African art arrives

This piece was first published in #TheFutureByDesign. Click here to download the publication with insights from leading marketing, creative, technology and advertising minds.

Africa is in the process of being rebranded as the world’s “fastest rising continent”, based on the impressive economic growth of a good number of its 54 countries. There’s increasing international interest in Africa’s economic resources and business opportunities, and contemporary art is no exception to this trend.

During the last 2 years, the Western-dominated art world has shifted its attention towards African art, based on both a rising interest in multiculturalism and an appetite for new material and markets. There are growing numbers of African sales by leading auction houses like Bonhams, as well as by a variety of online platforms such as Paddle8.

Africa and Art

Growing

Late last year, the new London-based African contemporary art fair, known as 1:54, doubled in size for its second year running, bringing 10,000 visitors through its doors. 2015 will see the debut of the first contemporary art and design fair in France to be dedicated to African contemporary art. The 2015 Venice Biennale will be directed for the first time by an African-born director, curator Okwui Enwezor, and African art professionals hope to see more African pavilions presented, as well as critique, discussion and analysis moving in new directions.

Does it matter that an artist is from a particular country or continent? In many cases an artist’s origin may not seem important in relation to the quality of the work they produce, and indeed artists often do not want to be ‘categorized’. But, as curator Osei Bonsu has pointed out, we need to question the assumption that African artistic practice has roots in the West. African art may introduce us to a new and different aesthetic, as well as different social and political subject matter.

Under-represented

Whilst African contemporary art is now firmly entrenched as trendy, African artists are still significantly under-represented on the global scene, and this is something that platforms like Guns & Rain seek to change. Fascinated by the intersection of technology, the creative spirit and the under-representation of African art in the global economy, I founded Guns & Rain, a curated online gallery of contemporary fine art from southern Africa.

Transition

Under-representation means that whilst the quality of artists’ work is often very high, it is more affordable than similar works sold in Europe or North America. Moving forward, a number of curators hope to see more maturity in the way the international art community views art from Africa: they would like to see some artists making a transition from the “African Contemporary Art” niche into the mainstream “Contemporary Art” market, as peers in terms of quality, content, and price.

The internet provides a huge opportunity for African contemporary art. Whilst the web will not supplant the entrenched mores of the art market, finding and buying art is no longer as tricky or as intimidating as it used to be, and African contemporary art is increasingly accessible. I’m greatly looking forward to watching these developments play out into the future, and to seeing African artists rise in prominence.

About Julie Taylor

Julie Taylor — founder and director of Guns & Rain (@gunsandrain) — is an anthropologist, communications guru, and art entrepreneur. She was born and raised in Zimbabwe, and holds degrees from Oxford and Cambridge. She is author of Naming the Land, a book based on her doctoral research about San identity in northern Namibia, and is based in Johannesburg. Before Guns & Rain, Julie ran Google’s communications for Africa.

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