In the ever-evolving world of contemporary art, the African art market has emerged as a force to be reckoned with. With its bold expressions, diverse perspectives, and compelling narratives, contemporary African art has captured the attention of collectors, curators, and art enthusiasts around the globe. Today, Artsper delves into the world of the African art scene, exploring the forces that shape it and the talents that define it, helping you stay up-to-date on the growth of this increasingly established market.
The contemporary African art market : an overview
In recent years the African art market has witnessed an unprecedented resurgence. From a once-undervalued and overlooked sector, it now stands as a dynamic and thriving landscape, offering a journey through creativity and cultural expression.
Baudouin Mouanda, Sapeurs de Bacongo, 2008 © Artsper
Growing continental appreciation
As the artistic climate develops, new galleries have opened across the continent to accommodate increasing demand for contemporary African art. The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art, the world’s largest museum dedicated to contemporary African art, opened in 2017. More recently, the Nike Art Foundation opened its gallery in Abuja, Nigeria in May 2023 and Fondation H in Madagascar, an ambitious project by Madagascan entrepreneur and art collector Hassanein Hiridjee, opened its doors in April 2023. The prevalence of new galleries and art centers across the continent is a testament to the burgeoning recognition of the importance of African art.
Enhanced global recognition
The emergence of the art scene in Africa is reflected by the growing prominence of African art on the global stage. Several fairs dedicated to African art now take place in the Western hemisphere. 1-54 Art Fair, which began in London in 2013, now holds three annual fairs in London, New York and Marrakech, alongside a pop-up in Paris. When the Venice Biennale opted for an African curator, Okwui Enwezor ensured his show included more African artists than ever before, challenging the traditional Eurocentric narrative and acknowledging the important role that African art plays in shaping the global artistic landscape.
1-54 Art Fair © Somerset House
Although the African art market is growing, it still represents a relatively small proportion of global art sales - and the market is experiencing growth at a slower rate compared with its counterparts. Between 2021 and 2023, dealers in the American art market witnessed a growth of 6% year-on-year, whereas dealers in the African art market reported an aggregate increase of just 1%. Challenges and opportunities coexist within the African art market. Further efforts to invest in infrastructure and foster art education and entrepreneurship are required to continue supporting emerging artists in order to fuel the growth and integration of the African art market into the global art landscape.
Trends in the contemporary African art market
Although the African art market encompasses 54 diverse and culturally distinct countries, there are some common trends across the contemporary art landscape which reflect their universal and shared experiences.
1. The prevalence of political art
As the African art market develops, artists are using their platforms to raise awareness of the political climate through their art. In particular, art has centered around the social inequity, police brutality and political instability experienced by those living on the continent. Following the End SARS protests in Nigeria in 2020, many artists responded to the movement; renowned Nigerian artist Arinze Stanley’s hyperrealistic drawings were one such example.
Arinze Stanley, Portrait of Resilience #1, 2021 © Corridor Contemporary
Raising awareness of the environmental crisis has also been a key undercurrent of artworks by contemporary African artists. In 2022, the African Space Art Project, initiated by African Artists for Development, embarked on a unique endeavor. They sent the collaborative work of artists Michel Ekeba, Géraldine Tobé and Jean-David Nkot into orbit, on a missile intended to collect data of the impact of global warming on Africa. This innovative project combined art, science, and activism to shed light on the urgent environmental challenges faced by the continent.
2. The emergence of digital art
The African art market is reflective of trends in the global art world in its adoption of digital art. As artists across the continent have embraced technology, it has opened the African art market up to new audiences. NFTs by tech-artist Osinachi have been sold by Christie’s and Art Basel, whilst Google commissioned Joe Barake, a Kenyan digital artist, to create a doodle for its homepage. Senegalese artist and curator Linda Dounia creates works from AI models which she trained to recognize her artistic practice. Her work has been exhibited at key fairs including Art Dubai and Art Basel. As African artists continue to explore the intersection between technology and art, they are helping reshape the narrative of the African art market.
Osinachi, Man in a Pool III, 2021 © BBC
3. The fight to reclaim their heritage
As the contemporary market expands, the legacy of previous colonial looting has not been forgotten. Across Africa, a core section of art market individuals are working to see the return of their cultural heritage. In December 2022, Germany returned 21 Benin bronzes to Nigeria, whilst France returned 26 artifacts to Benin in 2021. Belgium is currently in talks to return a collection of artworks back to the Democratic Republic of Congo. These repatriation efforts mark the commitment of individuals in the contemporary African art market, such as art-educator Yaa Addae and artist Grace Ndiruti, to reclaim their legacy.
5 artists to watch in the African art market
1. Amoako Boafo
Originally a semi-pro tennis player, Ghanaian painter Amoako Boafo has been redefining the art world with his reimagined portraits. His paintings, which have sold for seven figures at auction, are characterized by his distinctive style: Boafo uses his fingers to add texture to the skin of his subject. His innovative approach of depicting Black bodies has challenged traditional representations, earning his paintings positions in the collections of the Guggenheim Museum, the Rubell Museum and the Albertina Museum. In December 2022, Boako opened an artist residency in Ghana to support young creatives.
Amoka Boafo, Hand’s Up, 2018 © Culture Type
2. Wangechi Mutu
Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu has gained international acclaim for her provocative and unconventional artworks. Unafraid to confront difficult themes, Mutu explores cultural trauma, the objectification of black female bodies and the intersections of race and gender in her compositions. Utilizing painting and sculpture to aid her complex narratives, Mutu’s works have been exhibited at several respected institutions including the Centre Pompidou, the Tate Modern and the Miami Art Museum.
Wangechi Mutu, Yo Mama, 2003 © MoMA
3. Toyin Ojih Odutola
Nigerian artist Toyin Ojih Odutola is known for her multimedia drawings. Her intricate pen and ink artworks weave together fictional narratives which reflect historical references, individual memories, and imagined worlds. Ojih Odutola’s contributions to the art world have been celebrated with exhibitions of her work taking place at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Barbican Centre and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In 2020 she was awarded the Jean-François Prat prize, further solidifying her position as a leading contemporary artist.
Toyin Ojih Odutola, The Firm, 2018 © Ojih Odutola and Jack Shainman Gallery
4. Njideka Akunyii Crosby
Njideka Akunyii Crosby is a Nigerian mixed-media artist. Exploring themes of identity, culture and memory, she utilizes her personal experiences to create vibrant narratives. The winner of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 2017, Crosby works are in high demand in the market. Her painting The Beautyful Ones (2012) sold for $4.7 million at Christie’s in 2022, solidifying her position amongst the African contemporary artists to watch.
Njideka Akunyii Crosby, Something Split and New, 2013 © BOMB Magazine
5. El Anatsui
Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui is known for his “bottle-top installations”, large-scale tapestries made from discarded aluminum. His captivating works have been exhibited and celebrated globally. Following two notable participations at the Venice Biennale (1990, 2007), Anatsui received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at its 56th edition in 2015. He was included on the Times 100 list of the world’s most influential people in 2023.
El Anatsui, Earth’s Skin, 2007 © New York Times
A market to watch
Overall, the African art market is a rapidly evolving landscape that holds immense potential and cultural significance. From traditional crafts to contemporary masterpieces, African artists continue to push boundaries, challenge stereotypes, and captivate audiences worldwide. The vibrancy and diversity of African art have fueled its growing demand in the global art market and although its performance is not - yet - on par with the European, American and Asian markets, the sustained, continued demand bodes well for the future. For more insights on the contemporary art market, explore our latest e-book "Art in Design 2023".