Showing posts from September, 2013

Aljazeera America on Nigerian Art and the Market

Beautiful little piece on arts and the market for Nigerian and wider African contemporary arts by Aljazeera America. Can’t embed the video but here’s the link. Features artist Ndidi Emefiele* and gallery owner Hussein Akar.  
*Link to gallery of her work at Mutual Art. Here's also an article about her and her work that was published in the Daily Trust earlier this month (via

The Business Daily on Nigerian investors in African art

Article by Tom Cocks in the Business Daily on the rising number of Nigerian investors in African art. Excerpts:
… That revival coincides with a turn by the country’s super-rich elite and small, but growing, middle class towards art as a store of wealth. An art investment boom is under way across emerging markets, but it has been seen as largely centred on China, India and Gulf Arab countries. …
Note, art as INVESTMENT rather than ‘just as something nice to hang on the wall’. So, collectors ‘no longer just dive in [but] try to find out more about the artist, how much their other works sold for’. That neatly confirms Jacob Jari’s observations that were reported in the Tribune (Nigeria) early this month.
… Artist and designer Nike Davies-Okundaye sees growing interest by local as well as foreign collectors in the Nigerian art in her four-storey Lagos gallery, part of which is given over to traditional work: wood carvings of priests and statues of Yoruba deities. A growing number of wealthy Nigerians are adding such pieces to their collections. …
… Oscar Onyema, CE of Nigeria’s stock exchange, has a very small but growing portion of the exchange’s portfolio in Nigerian art, about 20-million naira ($122,400) so far. "People are now using art as an alternative to other asset classes. We think this is a wise thing to do," Mr Onyema said. "We certainly expect that our own collection at the exchange will increase in value." Nigerian auctioneer Yemisi Shyllon — whose own collection is valued at roughly 5-billion naira — says there was virtually no domestic art market in 2008. …
… "Southern Africa and East Africa are still ahead of our region when it comes to producing internationally recognised art, but Nigerians are becoming Africa’s biggest collectors of art," Mr Shyllon said, in a room crammed with realist paintings, totem poles and carvings of gods of fire, fertility or water. Incongruously, he also has a Jesus statue, which he says he got because devout friends kept questioning all his "fetish" sculptures. "They were wondering where I stood on religion." …
Which gets us to the ‘but’ in all of this …
… Yet for many Christian or Muslim Nigerians, traditional African art, because of its link with animist religion, is still viewed as taboo — an invitation to dangerous black magic or idolatry. That is a hurdle for artists trying to resurrect their suppressed culture. …
... The rise of US-style Pentecostal churches has done the most damage, say Yoruba revivalists, because their allure lies in being "born again", in breaking with your past. "It’s a reason there is still big resistance to our traditional culture and arts," Mr Shyllon said. Most only buy western-style art, he said, but added that "the fact that now art is money is our best hope of revival". …

Jacob Jari: How the Price of Art Affects Practice

I stumbled across an interesting pieceby Akintoya Abodunrin about Jacob Jari’s talk on the art market, prices andpractice in the Tribune (Nigeria) the other day. Only got around to blogging it today. Here are some interesting excerpts.

Written by Akintayo Abodunrin, Sunday, 01 September 2013 00:00


He thereafter narrated humbling experiences that made him realise that the price of a work is not determined by its quality but by the reputation of the maker and how this has impacted art practice in Nigeria.

He recalled that around 1991, Gani Odutokun told him a gallery owner in Lagos was interested in his drawings and he selected four of his works to bring to the collector.  Jari disclosed that at the time, he had not sold any of his works in Lagos but had told Odutokun how much he was going to sell each work and the artist said his prices were fair.

A shocker, however, awaited him when he arrived in Lagos. “The owner appeared happy to see me and even happier to see the four drawings I brought with me. Upon telling him the price of each drawing however, his countenance suddenly changed and he became instantly hostile, prompting him to speak acidly and unintelligibly. Amidst the muttering and hissing, the two questions I could pick out repeatedly were, “Who do you think you are?” and “Who knows you?” I was shocked at this tantrum and I remained frozen until he finished his outburst at which point I asked him how much he was prepared to offer for the drawings.

“He looked at me intently and without batting an eye offered the price I was asking for one drawing for the entire four! In response, I too looked at him in a similar manner and told him to pay! He was so shocked at my response that he asked me to repeat what I said, so I did. He suddenly became jovial once more and putting his arm round my shoulders, he declared that he could do business with me. He implored me to bring more drawings and my paintings when I got back to Zaria.


He said he brought out four of his old drawings and showed them to the students. “I tagged them, A, B, C, and D. I told the students that A was produced by me; Gani Odutokun produced B; Bruce Onobrakpeya produced C while Jimoh Akolo produced D...I then asked them how much they were willing to pay for each drawing.

It was interesting to note that while drawings B, C, and D attracted substantial amounts, nothing significant was offered for A. Yet, in reality, I created all the drawings. I asked the students what informed their decision to award such prices and they simply explained that the other artists were more established than I” …


He contended that the manner in which works are collected in Nigeria encourages artists to remain in a certain mould of creation which targets sales and that this also explains why some artists copy successful ones. “There is therefore, the tendency for artists who wish to sell works to ape those who successfully sell theirs. This perhaps accounts for why forgery is particularly rampant in Nigeria not only perpetrated by artists but by gallery owners,” he noted. 

Of course, a lot of this is true outside Nigeria as well. Nobody INVESTS – and increasingly it’s an investment like any other rather than a matter of taste – in the work of artists that do not have a reputation. After all, one of the attractions of INVESTING in art is that the prices of the great masters, i.e. those who are established and preferably dead (i.e. increasing demand cannot be met through the production of new works) will remain stable or indeed increase in the future. INVESTING in the work of an artist whose reputation still needs to be established, on the other hand, is risky. – None of this says anything about the quality of his or her work. Or at least that’s what I believe. But, then how do you define quality in art anyway? I’d argue it boils down to taste – and tastes are acquired and shaped by exposure and fashions.

I guess, what’s differs is that there are other sources of funding and publicity for artists and for exhibitions that allow artists to make a name for themselves in other parts of the world that may not be available to Nigerian artists – or indeed the vast majority of contemporary African artists. And, of course, Jacob Jari made that point as well when he argued that

… art patrons and foundations need to assist creative artists with new ideas which might not be, from the superficial point of view, commercially viable but which sharpen the artists’ desire for freedom of expression. This, he noted, would take Nigerian art forward instead of so called contemporary works appearing to have been done in the 50s, 60s and 70s by the masters.

By the way, it saddens me to read that his own students didn’t rate him as a great artists and that he has to see ‘his works sold for lesser prices compared with works by younger artists with less impressive CVs.’ He’s done such interesting stuff.

First Contemporary African Art Fair in London

There’s an art fair of a different kind coming up: The first contemporary African Art Fair and it will be held between 16 and 20 October 2013 at the Somerset House in London. Here’s the blurb from the website
1:54 is a platform for galleries, artists, curators, art centres and museums involved in African and Africa related projects and aims to promote art by established and emerging talents amongst an international audience.
1:54 is initiated by market developer Touria El Glaoui under the auspice of Art Africa Ltd. Designed by David Adjaye, 1:54 will be held at Somerset House, a historic building and major cultural arts centre in the heart of London.
1:54 will be accompanied by an educational and artistic programme curated by Koyo Kouoh and will include lectures, film screenings and panel debates featuring leading international curators, artists and art experts.
1:54 is a high quality event which will showcase a limited number of 15-20 carefully selected galleries.

Everyday Nigeria with 'Everyday Africa' and Helon Habila

More photography from Nigeria, this time iPhone and instagram images selected by and with comments by Helon Habila
‘… when Mr. Habila looks at American newspapers, magazines or Web sites, the photos he sees give at best only a partial view of the Nigeria he knows. Most photographers come to the country either to show poverty or political violence … When he was approached to help choose and comment on smartphone photos of ordinary life in Nigeria for the Instagram feed “Everyday Africa,” he reacted enthusiastically, since the photos evoked many memories. “They showed people just being people, without the intention, without the politics, without the biases — whether it’s positive bias or negative bias,” he said. “It’s just people as they are, and I think that’s the way people should be seen, wherever they come from. Not idealized, not debased, but just people.”’
Follow @EverydayAfrica on Instagram and Twitter.

The Art of Translation: The Simon Ottenberg Gift of Modern and Contemporary Nigerian Art

The New York Times has recently published a review of an exhibition held at the Newark Museum that showcases the work of contemporary Nigerian artists from the collection of Simon Ottenberg. They write:

Newark has one of the country’s oldest collections of art from Africa. And it has the greatest collection of Tibetan art in the world, complete with an altar dedicated by the Dalai Lama.

Little wonder that when Simon Ottenberg, an emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Washington in Seattle, was considering where to place his lifetime collection of 20th-century African work, Newark, so welcoming of the not-obvious, was his choice. Last year he donated 145 pieces, mostly works on paper. Two-dozen of these make up “The Art of Translation: The Simon Ottenberg Gift of Modern and Contemporary Nigerian Art,” a show modest in size but heavy with history, a history that no New York museum tells.


In that history [modern and contemporary African art] he has great subject: deep, vivacious, volatile and happening, here and in Africa, and around the world, right now.

You would barely get a hint of that from our big New York museums. So it comes down to this: to see the world, really see it, you have to travel. The Newark Museum is about a half-hour from Midtown by the PATH train, then a short cab ride or walk. Just go. 

The Art of Translation: The Simon Ottenberg Gift of Modern and Contemporary Nigerian Art” runs through Nov. 3 at the Newark Museum, 49 Washington Street; (973) 596-6550,