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The Diaspora of African Artists

Osei G. Kofi
it’s A new dAy
The African Diaspora is a worldwide church, covering millions of peoples across the seven continents, of a plethora of cultures, and whose ancestral DNA is etched into and resonates the Mother Continent – the Homeland. As an operational tool the term is applied to first-second generation Africans with national or constitutional idendity outside Africa.

A remarkable innovation on the art scene is that many creatives have chosen to shuttle between the Homelandand Outer lands. In other words, the entire world is their inspiration, their canvas, their clay, their stone. Cameroonian Barthélémy Toguo, Ghanaian Owusu Ankomah and Kenyan Wangechi Mutu are among the exemplars.

Africa is the most recent region, barely two decades ago, to enter the global art space and its premium sub-spaces of museums, galleries, corporate & private collections, fairs and auction houses. The early years saw significant tension between the Diaspora and Homeland artists and curators. The Diaspora operated within the core market, namely, Europe and North America. Logically, they were better placed to tap into the opportunities on offer.
Nonetheless, they came under criticism from artists and gallerists in the Homeland who accused the impresarios of westernart institutions and private galleries of favouring art labelled “African contemporary” but which were often anything but. Too often the art aped uncomfortably the styles and tastes of the West, especially so in installation and performance art.
There were those who argued, art is art and has no specific ID or geographic boundary. Right, up to a degree. Some might take umbrage at the “African” tag to “contemporary.” However, geolocalization is valued more for its inherent creative distinctiveness than its perceived negative connotation. Deny it at own peril. Distinctiveness isn’t bad. It’s not ghettoization. The fact is western art, ancient and modern, has distinct geo-social DNA. Ditto, Oriental, Latin American or Asian art within the global spectrum. A Japanese painting like a Rembrandt without a Japanese cultural inflexion is soon submerged, to vanish without trace. Malian Seydou Keita’s photographs, shot in conditions that would befuddle a non-African photographer, exude a cadence, a mojo, that would escape other practitioners of the art form who hadn’t been weaned in Keita’s Mande-Bambara environment.
Ernest Dükü (b.1958) Entre nous histoire elle court, 2003 Mixed media 91x62x5 cm Court. the artist

Ernest Dükü (b.1958)
Entre nous histoire elle court, 2003
Mixed media 91x62x5 cm
Court. the artist

Julia Grosse & Yvette Mutumba
Co founders of Contemporary And
Julia Grosse and Yvette Mutumba founded Contemporary And (C&), the online platform for international art from African perspectives, in Berlin in 2013. The duo were invited by Noah Horowitz, when he was director of the Armory Show in New York, to curate the Focus: African Perspectives section of the 2016 edition of the fair features 13 galleries. This followed on from the focus on China in 2014 and on the Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean in 2015. They are the first women to curate an edition of Armory Focus in its seven-year history.
How did the invitation to curate Focus: African Perspectives at the 2016 Armory Show arise?
Noah Horowitz approached us, following a recommendation from some curators, and said that the Armory would like to put a focus on the African continent. That particular focus didn’t interest us, because for us, at C&, there’s no such thing as African art but art from African perspectives, such as an artist in Nairobi with parents from Ghana or an artist in London who comes from Tanzania. A painter from Johannesburg does completely different things from a performance artist from Cairo. But there’s still this tendency to put this overall “African art” label on very diverse practices in Africa and the diaspora. So we told Noah that we would love to curate this section but with a focus on African perspectives, including galleries from African cities and from the diaspora in Paris and London.
How did you envision Focus: African Perspectives?
We had this ideal scenario in mind that visitors would enter the Focus area, which was connected to another hall, and not realise that they were entering a section with art from Africa. We wanted them to see art mostly by very young artists and not see something typically African. There were no hints, like masks or patterns. From the feedback we got, we think people understood that there’s no such thing as African art but many styles and approaches.
What was your concept?
It was to show youngsters together with old masters. We started from the artists that we wanted to include and then approached their galleries. So we asked the galleries to focus on one artist and do solo presentations instead of having five or six artists squeezed into a small, overloaded space. From a curatorial perspective, it was great and looked like a little exhibition show curated by a gallery. But we recognised that it was a big risk to ask the galleries to bring one artist only. But the Focus was financially successful, too, because all the galleries sold work. It would have been horrible if the concept had been aesthetically pleasing but not a single gallery had been able to sell something.
Besides the galleries that spotlighted very young contemporary artists, we included two galleries, Vigo Gallery and October Gallery in London, that showed older masters: the Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi (b.1930) and Aubrey Williams (b.1926-d.1990). It was an honour for us that their galleries agreed to take part because these artists’ pieces cost several hundred thousand dollars. Our reason for including them is that at C& we emphasise that contemporary art from Africa and the diaspora didn’t just pop up 10 years ago. There are diverse African histories and modern art existed decades ago. The galleries with the young artists were in the middle of the floor plan, with the old masters on either side.
What were the strongest sales?
There was one painting by el-salahi that was almost $1 million. There were also some important museum acquisitions. For instance, Blank project, Cape Town sold out their entire booth dedicated to South African artist Turiya Magadlela. Also The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York acquired a piece by Turiya Magadlela.
How did visitors respond to the Focus section?
Visitors were surprised to discover works, like photography and painting, by young artists that didn’t fall into their expectations of African perspectives. The artists weren’t big names in the art world context and their works weren’t stereotypical. It was surprising for the black American visitors to see so much art from Africa and the diaspora in Europe that they weren’t aware of, in contrast to some of the black American artists being so huge and established. Everyone knows El Anatsui but this was a great platform to present the younger generation to potential collectors.
What feedback did you get from the galleries that participated in the Focus section?
The galleries, Addis Fine Art, from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia or Omenka Gallery from Lagos in Nigeria all said that it was worth doing because normally they can’t afford to be in an art fair such as the Armory and they wanted to be seen and present their artists. A Seattlebased gallery, Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, which was part of Focus: African Perspectives, was accepted to participate in the main fair this year and won the prize for the best booth, which made us happy.
What do you think of these country or region-focused sections in fairs and exhibitions, such as the Africa-themed exhibitions?
It’s great for the artists who wouldn’t normally get the chance to have their work exhibited in Europe or the US. But it’s a trend-driven interest: a few years ago it was India, then China and maybe next it will be Australia. But at C&, we look at what we do with a long-term, sustainable vision. The problem of putting this “African art” label on everything is that the same names keep coming up.
How are the dreams and ambitions of artists from the African diaspora changing?
If you talk to young artists working in Nairobi or Johannesburg, they’re not dreaming of finally having a show in London. That’s not the trend any more, which you may have had with artists now in their late fifties who live in Belgium or London. The younger generation is interested in working on the ground in their own cities, starting art spaces or residency programmes. Europe or the western art world isn’t the paradise or goal any longer. Thinking that once you’ve made it in London or New York, you’ve made it an artist, is less common now.
Young artists have the possibility to travel a lot and do a residency in New York or Rotterdam, or stay in Berlin for a year. Over the last 10 years, there’s been a tendency for them to return to work in their own city’s art scene afterwards and to recognise that there’s a lot going on beyond Berlin and London. A Ghanian artist might have a show in New York and then go back to Accra to establish their artistic infrastructure. We were in Congo in May, where we talked to a very established painter in his sixties. He told us, “I’m not interested in moving to Paris, I have my infrastructure and my colleagues here, and I’m about to start a residency programme and build a house in the garden where artists from other African cities can stay.” So it’s not just the youngsters who are interested in staying on the ground instead of going to Europe.
What projects are you working on?
We’ve just published our first book, featuring some of the features published on C& in the last four years. The latest print edition of our magazine, focusing on education, was launched in collaboration with documenta in June. We’re also running critical writing workshops, the third of which will be in Harara, Zimbabwe, in September. Next year we’re launching an extension of C&, focusing on the relationship between Africa and South America.
Tumelo Mosaka
Art curator
Tumelo Mosaka is a contemporary art curator whose projects have explored global and transnational artistic production, especially from Africa, the Caribbean and North America, and have examined subjects such as racial injustice, migration and identity. After being associate curator of exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum in New York and contemporary art curator at the Krannert Art Museum in Champaign, Illinois, Mosaka returned to South Africa in late 2016 and became chief art curator of Cape Town Art Fair.
What was your goal when you became Cape Town Art Fair’s chief art curator and what was your vision for the Tomorrows/Today section?
My goal was to enter into a conversation with artists from Africa again and explore how Cape Town can be a gateway to the world, especially for contemporary art. My vision for Tomorrows/Today was to offer lesser known artists a platform to participate in that dialogue. I was looking locally and internationally for under-represented artists making cutting-edge works and for whom the fair would play a pivotal role in providing exposure. I had conversations with many artists and galleries about how to make this section different. Curating at a fair is very different from curating museum exhibitions and requires constant negotiation between galleries and artists. What kept it real was the artists’ enthusiasm and their dynamic works.
Which artists from the diaspora did you work with?
Marcia Kure from Nigeria who lives in New York and is represented by Bloom Art Lagos in Nigeria, Joel Andrianomearisoa from Madagascar who lives in Paris and is represented by Sabrina Amrina Gallery from Madrid, and Maurice Mbikayi from Congo who lives in Cape Town and is represented by Gallery Momo in Cape Town and Johannesburg. I was looking for works in different media and themes, and by artists in different age groups. Besides looking at geographical location, I was interested in how they use symbols to provoke, inform and construct alternative histories. Take Mbikayi’s photographs, which make a commentary on technological waste, urbanism and popular culture in the Congo.
How does working in the diaspora influence an artist’s work?
Because artists move from place to place, their histories aren’t linear but are far more complex and don’t necessarily respond to their place of birth. What interested me was how they negotiate multiple spaces and identities. Artists are very sensitive to how place and identity inform personal narrative and reflect their locality. As a curator, I’m always thinking about how the message is communicated and relates to the everyday experience.
How have your curatorial experiences in the US shaped your perspective on the diaspora?
There isn’t one diaspora but rather several which are defined by our relationship to people and places. Being from elsewhere entails being in contact with home and family while creating new communities in new spaces and redefining our existence. The diaspora is about the experience of building bridges, maintaining relations and finding a common ground with others, as migration remains a constant reality today. So it’s about understanding the rupture and distance and reshaping one’s way of life.
What effect do you think the African diaspora has had on the art world?
It’s huge. I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world where there aren’t any black people today. Maybe Antartica! We’re talking about a history of forced and voluntary migration over centuries, which has resulted in generations of people living everywhere. The geographical distance and the historical distortions have meant that Africa has continued to be this misunderstood place. Most of the west wants to see Africa in a past image and yet contemporary Africa is very much in keeping with how the modern world has developed. With such a large diaspora, more artists are not only demystifying old narratives but resisting any stereotypical representation.
There are a lot of artists living and working in different parts of the world that have gained international attention and propose a different understanding of what “Africa” is today. It’s a challenge since the canon of art and representation of black people needs to be totally overhauled. At Cape Town Art Fair, you can see the scale and scope of creativity that’s being produced within and outside of the continent. The fair is about bringing all this to the forefront and creating a visible dialogue about these issues.
How would you describe the impact of the diaspora in South Africa?
Under apartheid, black South Africans grew up as foreigners in our own land. So the experience of internal immigration and temporary residency is all too familiar. The impact of the diaspora is also about understanding that our experience isn’t unique in terms of systematic suppression. The ongoing dialogue of the diaspora presents the potential to address issues and offer new realities that are yet to be realised. In South Africa, we can begin to talk about race and inequality in a different way, which is much more complicated than addressing them in a black-and-white, racial dynamic.
What do you think of the so-called boom in contemporary art from Africa?
I keep hearing about a boom in Africa but I don’t believe it. I agree that contemporary African art has been steadily receiving more attention, partly thanks to people like the curator Okwui Enwezor who have championed the cause over time. To claim that there’s a boom is an exaggeration as many artists from Africa continue to be marginalized or only considered within the context of Africa. Secondly, the market has not responded in the same manner when it comes to pricing works by these artists. Institutions are only now beginning to realize the gap they have in their collections when they talk about global art. Why is it so hard to accept African artists as being contemporary? Why is there the need to qualify them as African in this day and age?
Mimi ErrOl
the diaspora, in all its senses, has played and continues to play an important role in artistic production in ivory Coast. This is true for all sectors of the art system, from galleries and collectors to the production of artworks, art criticism and the academic teaching of fine art.
However, the notion of the diaspora is nuanced, especially when one is talking about Ivory Coast. Indeed, one cannot talk about an Ivorian diaspora in the same way as one talks about a Senegalese diaspora with the Mourides – a diaspora based on something that is both about community and religion and takes root in the host country. Equally, it is not a diaspora that has come about through deportation, even though this played a leading role in the development of contemporary art in Ivory Coast, especially with the Negro-Caribbean School and artists such as Serge Hélénon, the artist/painter and teacher at Abidjan’s National Fine Arts School from 19761983. He was at the inception of what became known as the School of Abidjan and the Vohou-Vohou movement. At the end of the 1960s, there was a reflux of emancipation, authenticity and black civil rights movements that followed those that happened in the US and the Caribbean.

In this context, it is necessary to highlight the highly important patronage role played by the West Indian governor Guy Nairay, who President Félix Houphouët Boigny retained as an adviser following Ivory Coast’s independence. He was the natural godfather of all the activities of Ivory Coast’s artists through the Pen Club, which he set up in order to accompany their exhibition projects. All this took place in an era when there were hardly any real art galleries in Ivory Coast.

Furthermore, the most important Ivorian diaspora, which determined the principle by which different waves of immigration evolved until 1981 when François Mitterrand came to power in France, was sparked by Félix Houphouët-Boigny. Before becoming the first president of an independent Ivory Coast, Houphouët Boigny was a deputy of the assembly (when Ivory Coast was still part of the French Federation of West Africa) and had the visionary idea of sending 146 young people from upper Ivory Coast (now Burkina Faso) and lower Ivory Coast abroad. The aim of this adventure was to train them in all domains of society. Most of these young people returned to Ivory Coast after their studies and constituted the first wave of high-level officials of post-independence Ivory Coast. This adventure, called the Adventure 1946, provided Ivory Coast with a major player in Ivory Coast’s art scene: Dalouman Simone, who created the country’s first art gallery, Galerie Arts Pluriels. 

However, it is worth mentioning that in addition to the young scholars from Ivory Coast that there were some young Ivorians who made individual trips to France that were financed by their affluent parents. The most emblematic, in the domain of visual arts, of these migrants that went to France was Christian Lattier (1925-1978). The son of a doctor, it was Lattier who instigated the era of Ivorian contemporary art – art that unfolds before our eyes and gives pre-eminence to an idea rather than the materiality of the work. Indeed, Lattier’s voluminous sculptures, which he made with his bare hands with materials like iron wire and sisal rope, overturned all the conventional techniques known to sculptural art. He justified his concept by saying, “If I’d have made them from wood, I’d have been accused of copying my ancestors. If I’d have carved from stone, people would have said that I was copying the white man. So I had to find something new.” From this refusal to imitate, an innovative work was born. The fact that he won the Grand Prix of Visual Art in the first festival of black art in Dakar, beating 219 other candidates from Africa, Europe and the US, gives an idea of the level of his artistic approach. The award was given to the artist “who, according to the rules, has attained – by deeply taking root in the black world – an artistic and human expression of a high level, regardless of the technique.” Notably, Lattier participated in exhibitions with Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Bernard Buffet.
Another fact that adds to the Ivorians’ tendency of not having a strong diaspora is underscored by Hélène Bergues in her 1973 report titled “The immigration of black African workers in France and particularly in the Parisian region”. On page 62, she describes how the countries with strong immigration are those where the land is poor and where the possibility of making use of arable land is short-lived.
This is not the case of Ivory Coast which, on the contrary, was the welcoming land of choice for all the migrants from the West African sub-region, which faced this difficulty of non-arable land.
From this, one can understand the delayed date, in 1970, of the ratification of the “Treaty on co-operation”, signed in Paris in 1961, between France and the Ivory Coast, which countries such as Mali, Mauritania and Senegal made between 1963 and 1964. The agreements also made a distinction between the immigrants that wanted to exercise a salaried activity and those that did not, and specified that the volume of migrants arriving from black Africa mentioned the relatively low number coming from Ivory Coast.
The first wave of the pre-colonial diaspora determined the principle of immigration, which was essentially that of students and therefore temporary and inscribed in the period of studies. This continued until the French presidential election of 1981, which was won by the Socialist François Mitterrand. Mitterrand’s new government proceeded to carry out a huge regularisation of foreigners who had been living in an irregular situation.

This situation enabled artists such as Ouattara Watts to officially practice their profession. This was prior to Watts, an artist-painter, meeting Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1988. Living in New York since 1988, he is a figurehead of art from Ivory Coast and is the standard bearer in international contests. He has participated in three editions of the Venice Biennale he is one of four artists representing the Ivory Coast Pavilion in 2017 – and in one edition of Documenta. His visits to Ivory Coast represent an opportunity for young artists to learn about how he got into the ferocious American art market through actively seeking out encounters.

Equally remarkable about this diaspora is the artist Ernest Düku. Born in 1958 in Bouake, he studied at Abidjan’s National Fine Arts School and has been living in Paris since 1982. Qualified as an architect and holding a degree in sciences of art and philosophy from Paris Panthéon Sorbonne, he divides his time between France, his host country, and the Ivory Coast, his country of origin. When in Ivory Coast, he teaches interior architecture at INSAAC(Abidjan’s fine arts school). His part-time presence is a considerable contribution, not only because of the quality of his pictorial production and the pedagogical level of his classes, but also because of the quality and depth of his interventions in the formal and informal debates around art.
Dorris Haron Kasco, born in Ivory Coast, is the first Ivorian photographer to have presented his images in an art gallery. His exhibition, titled “La Femme Masquée” (The Masked Woman), showed all of the woman except her face and took place at Galerie Arts Pluriels. His book, “Les fous d’Abidjan”, was published by Revue Noire, the French publishing house, in 1994 following his exhibition, ”Ils sont fous, on s’en fout” in Abidjan the year before. The political-military crisis that hit Ivory Coast in 2002 interrupted his comings and goings between his native country and France, leading him to concentrate on teaching at Montpellier’s fine arts school. Since 2011, when the crisis ended, he has been returning to Ivory Coast nearly every year in order to establish a collaboration with INSAAC, where he organises workshops for the students. Kasco co-organised the photography exhibition, “Bazouam”, in spring 2017 in the historic city of GrandBassam with the photographer/writer Armand Gauz. Gauz has been living and working between France and Ivory Coast since 1999. His novel “Debout-Payé”, published by Le nouvel Attila, was the best first French novel of 2014, according to “Lire” magazine’s “best books of the year” rating. Through their exhibition in an open-air gallery on the road, Kasco and Gauz sought to break down barriers to art and make it more accessible.
In the medium of photography, the career of Ananias Léki Dago typifies what the Ivorian diaspora has brought about in the last decade. After studying photography at Abidjan’s INSAAC, he went to live in France at the beginning of the 2000s. After re-locating, he travelled around the African continent, questioning its multicultural aspects in the urban context. This included observing the shebeens (drinking taverns) in Johannesburg’s townships in South Africa, the rickshaws in Bamako in Mali and the corrugated iron sheets defining the roofs of Nairobi in Kenya. He extended this experience to the town of Cotonou in Benin and its motorbiketaxis, called Zémidjan. This project led to his work entering the collection of the prestigious Philadelphia Museum of Art, which acquired an important collection of 20 photographs from his series on Johannesburg, Nairobi and Bamako. His success has brought immense national pride.
Then there’s the sculptor Jems Robert Koko Bi, the most emblematic sculptor from Ivory Coast. Born in 1966, he studied at the Institut National Supérieur des Arts et de l’Action Culturelle (INSAAC) in Abidjan, where he trained under the sculptor Klaus Simon in a studio initiated by the Goethe Institute. Subsequently, he received a DAAD scholarship in 1997 allowing him to further his studies at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in Düsseldorf, Germany, where his professor was Klaus Rinke, a friend and colleague of Joseph Beuys. Here he gained a Master’s degree. Currently based between Essen and Abidjan, Koko Bi establishes a link between the west and Africa in his work. His international career serves as a nice reminder of how Ivory Coast’s contemporary era opened with the sculptor Christian Lattier.
If Abidjan has become the scene of a contemporary art market, despite the crises that have slowed its pace, this is partly thanks to the movement of young people from Ivory Coast in the diaspora. These artists have enjoyed an artistic career that has opened them up to the art markets in Europe and the US. Also worth mentioning are the young, motivated collectors that have arisen from the diaspora. One such example is Georges Moulo, 47, who has been buying pieces by young emerging artists. Educated in Switzerland and with parents based in Canada, he has a collection estimated between CFA Francs 20-30 million (US$36 000-72 000). It is mainly composed of works by young artists such as Sanogo Souleymane, known as Pachard, and Agoh Stefan Mobio in the diaspora in France, Youssouf De Kimbirila in Canada and others based in Ivory Coast. From a critical perspective, the critic Franck Hermann Ekra has made a valid contribution. He is the first winner of the AICA (International Association of Art Critics) prize for a young critic who has published pertinent articles on Ivory Coast’s art scene in the respected French magazine “Art Press”. On the commercial front, Laurence Aphing Kouassi has been trying to get businesses involved in art after completing her marketing studies in Lyon and Canada.

Inversely, there are the artists living in the Ivory Coast, such as Aboudia who is represented by Ethan Cohen in New York and Armand Boua represented by Jack Bell Gallery in London.

Mustapha OrIF
Art Dealer
Algeria’s art market began in the mid-1980s thanks to two Algerian galleries:
Galerie Xenia, which closed in 1987, and Galerie Issiakhem, which was renamed Isma in 1989. They were joined by Galerie M, which closed in 1992. The market, which circulated around these three galleries, grew until 1992/1993 when it was suddenly interrupted by political upheavals from 1992-2000.
The market picked up after 2002, shyly at first before growing steadily evers since. It is mainly dominated by unoriginal works; modern and contemporary art, and historical Orientalism art (19th and early 20th century) occupy a minor place for different reasons. The rather conservative profile of the buyers explains the confidential character of the Algerian modern and contemporary art market, while the limited offer of historical Orientalism art in Algeria explains its smaller part. However, the current trend is heading towards an inversion of this. Modern art, represented by artists such as M’hamed Issiakhem, Baya Mahieddine and Mohammed Khadda, is drawing more interest, mainly due to their works entering public sales at the auction houses Gros & Delettrez, Aguttes, Ader and Million at Drouot in Paris, at Sotheby’s in Doha and at Christie’s in Dubai, where strong prices have been fetched.
Meanwhile, Christie’s Dubai is boosting contemporary artists, such as Rachid Koraichi, Ahmed Ben Bella, Abdallah Benanteur, Rachid Khimoune, Kader Attia and Djamel Tatah. The success of these artists has attracted the attention of Algerian collectors who had previously only been interested in Orientalism and unoriginal works. The prices of artworks by these artists are beginning to go up in Algiers, indicating how the contemporary art market is taking off.
Since 2005/2006, the art market has been articulated around 10 galleries mostly located in Algiers
These galleries are mostly managed by young people who evidently enjoy their profession and seek to promote young Algerian artists. The exhibitions that they organise are regular and increasingly more numerous. However, it would seem that the artistic dynamic does not translate into commercial vitality; this is undoubtedly due to the profile of the buyers but also due to the young galleries’ lack of experience.
Al Marhoon Gallery, a young gallery in Algiers, seems to have a professional approach. Besides organising exhibitions, it participates in fairs abroad, such as Art Dubai and AKAA in Paris, where it can present its artists to a foreign audience. Furthermore, its well-designed website enhances the visibility of its artists.
Another gallery, Seen Art Gallery, seems promising as does the alternative structure, Les Ateliers Sauvages, which takes a particular interest in young artists, such as the group Picturie Générale (Mourad Krinah, Walid Bouchouchi and Youcef Krache).
Alongside these galleries, the MAMA (Musée Public National d’Art Moderne et Contemporain – the national museum of modern and contemporary art) has played a central role since its inauguration in 2007. It has earnt a reputation for the quality of its exhibitions, which have enabled the Algerian public, including collectors, to discover Algerian modern and contemporary art and the artists of the diaspora, as well as those hailing from Africa and the Arab world.
The five exhibitions on African creation in 2009, coinciding with the second Panafrican festival that year, sparked a keen interest in art, Africa and the Arab world, encouraging artists – especially the young generation – to go and see what was happening in Arab and African cultures, thus broadening their artistic outlook.
Websites such as also contribute to a better legibility of art in Algeria, as do the sections on art in the daily press. The efforts of the galleries, along with the interest of auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s, have strengthened the idea that it is perhaps time for Algerian collectors to look more closely at Algeria’s artistic heritage. This indicates a progression from buying to decorate one’s interior to the desire to constitute a true collection of art with artistic and heritage strategies. This, in turn, would lead to the involvement of professional players – such as art consultants, insurers, experts and restorers – who would bring solutions to managing artistic heritage.
The Algerian artistic diaspora constitutes a model for young artists and, to a lesser degree, for artists of the same age. The increasing visibility of artists such as Attia, Tatah, Koraichi, Benanteur and Ben Bella in museums, galleries and the sales rooms is helping to make young people believe that success is possible for young artists living in Algeria. But they consider that they would have more chance of becoming successful if they settled in Europe. They reproach Algeria’s culture ministry for not having created an infrastructure with rules and key players so that there is a full artistic life. The existence of galleries and museums, such as the MAMA is certainly a necessary condition but mechanisms of public support seem to be missing. There is not a sponsorship law or any assistance for galleries developing the careers of young artists; there are inadequate budgets for museums to acquire artwroks; there are not any tax incentives and there are strict, pernickety controls on exporting modern and contemporary artworks. The system is developing solely thanks to the will of art professionals and some collectors. The influence of the diaspora is apparent as a model of success but less so in the artistic content, even though some young artists are sometimes inspired by well-known artists in the diaspora.
Algerian collectors are not numerous; one can count around 20 that have a large collection of over 50 artworks. The collections are centred on Algerian art (Orientalism and/or modern and contemporary art). Historically, collectors have been lawyers and doctors. But today, they are more likely to be industrialists or businessmen that have become wealthy through developing Algeria’s private sector in the last 30 years.
These collectors continue to acquire works and are inclined to pay for artworks by Algerian artists at higher prices, providing that the prices correspond to a real quota. This is where Algerian galleries have a role to play. It is no longer enough for them to put on exhibitions or be curators. They must transform themselves into art dealers that are aware of all the market mechanisms and have a due sense of responsibility. A deontology code fixing the rules to observe between artists and galleries, collectors and galleries, and between galleries themselves would be welcome. In the absence of a syndicate of Algerian galleries, the culture ministry could contribute to the market’s development by introducing such a code.
lionel ManGa
Art critic
Pascale Marthine Tayou and Barthélémy Toguo are the two most successful artists originally from Cameroon but living in the diaspora.
Pascale Marthine Tayou
Tayou often comes to Cameroon, where he piloted a project under the umbrella of the Goethe Institute for its fiftieth anniversary. He is a virtuoso of decontextualisation, surpassing everything that resembles a border, be it the borders between nations, the borders separating objects by enclosing them in a space of usage, or those that isolate eras.
Monumental installations constitute Tayou’s favourite mode of expression. Whether it’s tilting poles hung in a garden or the carcass of a second-hand car brought from Cameroon to Europe, he displaces objects to confer on them hitherto unseen identities that make them eloquent in the exhibition space, by means of mental gymnastics. This exuberant and prolific work, which daringly combines precious crystal with trivial, everyday materials, is deployed within the realm of translation and displacement.
Barthélémy Toguo
Toguo is increasingly present in Bandjoun in the west of Cameroon, where he has built a contemporary art centre called Bandjoun Station. He can be described as a multi-faceted visual artist. From painting, drawing, video and installation to photography, printmaking and performance, Toguo expresses himself across all media in order to treat every aspect of the human condition.
Watercolours in tender colours are never exempt from violence, and nor are his varied compositions, which are sometimes charged with irony and elicit astonishment. Or think of the dolls swathed in bandages in his performance “The Sick Opera” (Palais de Tokyo, 2004), which was rich in uncompromising remarks and political depth. Toguo also enjoys playing with stereotypes. This category-defying aptitude renders him elusive and unpredictable, which is the only trademark of his oeuvre, the expansiveness of which is the never-ending nature of life itself.
The artists of the diaspora don’t, strictly speaking, have an impact on the boom and evolution of the local scene, even if one can see in the everwidening practices, from installation art to performance, a clear effect of the exposure to contemporary art through the media.
However, the pluridisciplinary approach and the fields of questioning that Toguo and Tayou embrace is not yet common among many local artists in Cameroon. Nonetheless, upcoming artists have understood the importance nowadays of imbuing one’s practice with theory and having a coherent discourse.
Meanwhile, Simon Njami and Dr. Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung are the most successful curators with Cameroonian origins. Njami is a recurring guest of the Doual’Art contemporary art centre and recently gave a guest a talk at Galerie MAM in Douala, Cameroon’s largest port and main business city. Ndikung founder and artistic director of the art space SAVVY Contemporary in Berlin has been named curator at large of Documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany, and Athens.
Art reviewer

the eFFect/inFLuence oF the aFrican diasPora on the ghanaian contemPorarY art market

Understanding the term diaspora (people settled far from their ancestral homeland) in our current epoch is fraught with many potential problems. the issues become particularly acute when referring to the African diaspora a largely global phenomenon.
Our best objective evidence indicates that the ancestral homeland of all humankind is Africa.
Toguo is increasingly present in Bandjoun in the west of Cameroon, where he has built a contemporary art centre called Bandjoun Station. He can be described as a multi-faceted visual artist. From painting, drawing, video and installation to photography, printmaking and performance, Toguo expresses himself across all media in order to treat every aspect of the human condition.
Surely, an arbitrary set of parameters will enable us to better focus our discussion.
We shall limit the Diaspora to two groups.
First, Ghanaians that have settled (live, work) outside Ghana- and there are an estimated 3-4 million of them. Up to 200 000 live in the US, the world’s largest economy. Only an estimated 5% of them are in the top 10% threshold income level of US$140 000.
First, Ghanaians that have settled (live, work) outside Ghana- and there are an estimated 3-4 million of them. Up to 200 000 live in the US, the world’s largest economy. Only an estimated 5% of them are in the top 10% threshold income level of US$140 000.
However, two countries in the sub-region; Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire host 200 000 and 50 000 Ghanaians respectively with annual remittances from Nigeria at US$21 million and the latter at US$12 million. The proportion of the aforementioned groups earnings spent on Ghanaian contemporary art is not known. It will also be interesting to establish if the amount spent has been increasing over the last decade.
There exists another segment of the African Diaspora with a radically different genesis. It is composed of the descendants of the millions of Africans forcibly extricated from the homeland, taken across, up and down the Atlantic and made to endure the harsh conditions of chattel slavery from 1400-1900.
No, we cannot say that they were immigrants- no matter how well intentioned!
Up till today, they still experience structural long term barriers that make their social integration and upward mobility more difficult than for other groups. There is also among them (as in other Diaspora groups) a group identity that includes the ongoing creation of a community consciousness or mythology which links them to the ancestral land.
Intellectuals, professionals, artists and activists from this group (George Padmore, W.E.B. Dubois, Maya Angelou, Bill Sutherland, Maynard Rustin and others ) exerted a not insignificant influence on the thoughts and actions of the mid twentieth century nationalist leaders in Ghana especially Kwame Nkrumah.
Jean Allman describes this as, a time when the West African state of Ghana was a pivotal site for imagining an entirely new, non-aligned world; when Ghanaians, joined by a host of transnational actors (African-American activists and intellectuals, Irish and Welsh nationalists, anti-nuclear peace activists, South African communists, Caribbean Pan-Africanists) cooperated, colluded and collided over how to build a non-racial, antiimperialist, nuclear free world at the height of the Cold War.
Watercolours in tender colours are never exempt from violence, and nor are his varied compositions, which are sometimes charged with irony and elicit astonishment. Or think of the dolls swathed in bandages in his performance “The Sick Opera” (Palais de Tokyo, 2004), which was rich in uncompromising remarks and political depth. Toguo also enjoys playing with stereotypes. This category-defying aptitude renders him elusive and unpredictable, which is the only trademark of his oeuvre, the expansiveness of which is the never-ending nature of life itself.
Even when they drew on African traditions in sculpture and iconography, they persevered and formulated alternative artistic ideas thus producing a new art that spoke to the resurgent masses of Ghana. This also resonated with the African Diaspora, particularly in the US, where the Diaspora was then engaged in the epic civil rights struggles of the 50’s and 60’s.
The power of the African ancestral symbols and aesthetic forms in providing cohesion and focus to African peoples thereby empowering them to confront existential problems cannot be underestimated.
Two examples will suffice.
The Sankofa sign served to encourage African peoples to look to their past in order to retrieve and retain useful indigenous precepts and utilize them for their progress and advancement.
Second, when confronted with the apparent futility of their struggle for emancipation, they could seek to understand that the current setbacks were only temporary; all shall pass except God says the Gye Nyame symbol.
Through the incisive and glamorous interpretation of folk and indigenous African culture, the pioneering Ghanaian contemporary artists provided the ummph for a new social and political dispensation.
Perhaps both groups, on either side of the Atlantic, fed off and nutured each other in ways that were alluded to by the African-American leaders, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. In the popular culture of that time, it manifested as dashikis, afro combs, nine inch afros and beads… and, “I’m Black and Proud”.
Sadly though, within Ghana this indigenous flowering of contemporary art forms has to date not translated into the establishment of a National Museum of Contemporary Art – a commonplace occurrence in the Americas, Europe and Asia.
This lacuna is unacceptable within the context of Ghana’s presumed role as a trail blazer in Africa. But there have been private efforts to collect, promote and showcase Ghanaian contemporary art. The examples include the Loom, Artists Alliance Gallery, the Dei Foundation and ARTcapital Ghana. These voluntary institutions have permanent displays of superb collections of contemporary Ghanaian artwork and there are always also pieces available for sale.
Specialty exhibitions are also held in these institutions with accompanying well written glossy catalogs thus providing essential documentation on artworks for the local and international market. The collections include the work of promising young artists and important/ established artists who have participated in the ground breaking 1989 “Magiciens de la Terre” show in France, the Venice Biennial, Art Dubai, Art Basle and other important art events frequented by the international jet set, power brokers and trend influencers. Ghanaian contemporary artists who have benefitted from such international exposure include Ablade Glover, Ato Delaquis, George Afedzi Hughes and Wiz Kudowor.
Artists is more readily accessible and often much better appreciated by the African Diaspora; much less so for their compatriots domiciled in Ghana. Consequently, the former are more likely disposed to effect purchases of the artist’s work at the “discounted” prices when visiting Ghana.
Needless to state these “discounted” prices are often considered unfavorable by the latter- or perhaps art purchases are very low on their list of priorities. Another disadvantage for the market is the often unstable nature of the local currency. This works in favor of the diasporan buyer especially when s/he is prepared to buy several pieces.
The hesitancy of the local artists to work solely through gallery owners or a management/marketing team again disadvantages the market. All of these factors make the Ghanaian contemporary art market a buyer’s market with peculiar advantages to the diasporan buyer. Two empirical observations for Ghana are also relevant here. First, it is much easier for potential patrons to appreciate, relate to and want to purchase artwork when it is viewed in a furnished setting e.g. in a living room or an office instead of the stark white walls of a gallery.
This observation if taken seriously by art dealers should lead to an increase in the number of art buyers. Second, it is most unusual to find Ghanaian parents visiting an art gallery with their young children. They are much more likely to visit a shopping mall or a fast food joint together. Intuitively this does not auger well for the growth of the future client base for the local art market.
The preponderance of evidence suggests that the economic power of several African states is on the ascendancy in the world just as the US and Europe begins to wane but their cultural power and proclivities remain largely intact. The overwhelming majority of institutions that dictate the importance and monetary value of art are located in the west.
David Dibosa sums it up as follows, “The big collecting institutions like Tate and Moma operate rather like the big banks. They are always safe, and can guarantee the cultural value of a work of art anywhere, everywhere and forever. Which is why Tate’s recognition is such a big deal: it is a stamp of approval that will increase the value and collectability of the work.”
However, even though the numbers may be increasing, there are still only a few African diasporans within the power and decision making apparatus of these influential institutions. Clearly, the power dynamic between the loosely structured Ghanaian contemporary art market and the big western collecting institutions is skewed in favor of the latter.
In 2012 when the Guaranty Trust Bank plc, a large Nigerian bank and one of West Africa’s most respected partnered Tate in the Tate Africa Program; Tate refused to give figures for its commitment. We could only speculate and hope that the bank’s role was substantial.
Finally, the prestige value (or if you like“cool factor”) in owning contemporary african art is not lost on Ghana and Africa’s growing list of home grown millionaires and possibly billionaires. Furthermore, this group has shown that it is savvy enough to realize the investment potential in such an asset.
What is interesting is that just ten years ago, the aforementioned factors were only appreciated by a small group of cognoscenti in Ghana and the diaspora.This group is now steadily expanding. Hopefully, it will not expand to include the significant number of speculators that caused turmoil and overheating in the Western and Asian contemporary art markets.
Only time will tell.