“Buying African art is also an investment”
Sidi Mohamed Kagnassi, an entrepreneur and director of several companies in West Africa, is also an art lover. He shares his views on the West African art market.
Where does your interest in art come from?
Sidi Mohamed Kagnassi: My introduction to art happened gradually. I had the opportunity to participate in dinners and openings on the occasion of business trips, to hold discussions with artists. Finally, after a heart attack in a gallery in Abidjan, I started buying my first piece of art.
Contemporary African art has received renewed interest in recent years. How can it be explained?
Sidi Mohamed Kagnassi: Several factors can explain this. Internationally, Paris and London are two major art market places, many galleries specialize in African art (MAGNIN-A, Afikaris, Art-Z, etc.). At the same time, artists from the continent and diaspora are exhibited and promoted at major events. This refers to the 1-54 art fair or Paris AKAA (also known as Africa) which takes place in London, New York, Marrakech and Paris. Two joint fairs created by women, Touria El Glaoui (1-54) and Victoria Mann (AKAA). There is also the economist Marilyn Douala Manga Bell, who in 1991 founded Doual’art, the first art center on the African continent, with her husband Didier Schaub. Both internationally and on the continent, many women play an important role in promoting African art.
A renewed interest in African art can be seen on the continent, particularly in West Africa. Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire appear to be engines for the French-speaking countries of the region. Senegal has been organizing the Dakar Biennale dedicated to African art since 1989, while the network of galleries and museums in Côte d’Ivoire is getting denser. In 2020, despite the health crisis, the country managed to open the first museum of contemporary African art. All these initiatives are a real springboard for the artists of the continent.
However, the sale of contemporary African art remains a minority compared to the market as a whole. They are valued at 4%. Therefore, the room for improvement is significant.
Have African artists found their audience?
Sidi Mohamed Kagnassi: It is an ongoing process. Internationally, West African artists are gradually making their mark. As evidence, Ghanaian artist Amoako BOAFO is the leading contemporary African artist in terms of sales, with $11,500,041 between 2020 and 2021, according to Artprice.com.
The art market in Africa is also thriving thanks to a favorable economic context. The proportion of poor people in sub-Saharan Africa is falling dramatically, which is a good thing. In 2019, the proportion of people living on less than $1.90 a day fell from 56.3% in 1999 to 35.1%, according to World Bank figures. At the same time, GDP per capita is increasing and will reach $1,645 in 2021 (compared to $594). in 2001). A report by the American think tank Brookings Institute even sets the total spending of African households at $2.065 billion ($1.420 billion in 2015) by 2025. According to experts, the figures bode well for the emergence of the African rich class, a pool of potential buyers.
This observation is made by the artists themselves. Some who leave to pursue careers outside the continent return to exhibit their art at African art events. These are internationally known artists such as Ouattara Watts or Ernest Duke. These returns prove that there is an audience in West Africa and it is worth the trip because sales can happen.
In addition, buying art, specifically African art, is also an investment. The market has significant room for improvement, so it’s worth investing now. Works are encouraged to increase their value.
Are digital tools good for artists and the art market?
Sidi Mohamed Kagnassi: Yes, they are. Digitalization gives artists more power and freedom. It allows you to promote yourself everywhere, regardless of geographical boundaries. You don’t need to go to a gallery to discover works of art, you can do it from your smartphone. The experience is certainly different, but it is an important springboard for artists who master these tools. I am thinking particularly of Abidjan photographers Malik Kebe and Prince Gyasi of Ghana. Both use their smartphones to create and promote their art on social media, especially Instagram.
And there are NFTs. For nearly two years, these digital certificates of ownership have significantly disrupted the art market. They give more autonomy to artists who can sell their work more easily. NFTs are therefore an exciting prospect for African artists, but also for art buyers and collectors: sales of artistic NFTs are expected to reach $2.6 billion in 2021, up from just $20 million the previous year. The market is very lively. Enthusiasm is such that artworks in NFT form will be exhibited at the next AKAA exhibition in Paris.
How would you define contemporary African art? What are its specific features?
Sidi Mohamed Kagnassi: Contemporary African art is intrinsically linked to the history of our continent. In many works we find historical, cultural, political and sometimes satirical references. In addition to this general color, many artists take sides and touch on issues specific to our century and continent. I’m thinking, for example, of photographer Malik Kebe, who spoke to France 24 about choosing to enhance black subjects in his work by working on contrast and saturation. Behind this prejudice, he explained, he wanted to oppose skin bleaching, which is still very much present in Africa. We can also mention French-Senegalese photographer Delphine Diallo, whose works talk about the underrepresentation of black women in Western society, and Zimbabwean artist Prudence Chimutuwah, who places black women at the center of her work.
Another theme that mobilizes many contemporary African artists is the environment. More and more artists are working with recycled materials. This is the work of Ivorian Désiré Mounou Coffi, who recycles old electronic gadgets (phones, computers, keyboards, etc.) for her work. The process is the same for Pascale Marthine Tayou, a Cameroonian visual artist known for reusing and recycling everyday materials, or El Anatsui, this Ghanaian sculptor who recycles waste like bottle caps. There are many works and artists who intend to raise awareness on the continent and the wider world about the main problem in Africa: poor waste management. 69% of it is dumped into nature, out in the open, and according to World Bank estimates, Africa will have to produce three times as much waste by 2050, so it’s a hot topic.