The 2019 Artnet Intelligence Report has come out, and it’s official—the African Art Market is about to boom. For collectors, this is exciting news; a slew of fresh new names have entered the conversation, and while fewer than 1,000 works were auctioned on the continent in the first half of 2019, dedicated attention to modern and contemporary African art is decidedly on the rise. Of course, Africa is made up up 54 countries and 1.2 billion people, so the concept of a centralized hub or coherent aesthetic tilts from offensive to foolish, depending on the delivery system; however, incredible art schools and rapid economic development have piqued international interest in this nascent surge, poising African artists for an unprecedented spate of global recognition. In noting an increased presence at art fairs like 1-54 and Art X Lagos, collectors are starting to turn their pocketbooks towards Africa’s six emerging art cities—Accra, Addis Ababa, Cape Town, Dakar, Lagos, and Marrakesh, as reported by Artnet. These artistic communities have produced familiar faces like photographer Zanele Muholi and mixed-media painter Omar Ba alongside a host of lesser known, emerging talents.
But, where to start? If you want to get in the know, here's a curated selection of 8 cutting-edge African galleries to check out.
Galerie Cecile Fakhoury
With locations in Senegal, Paris, and French-speaking Ivory Coast capital Abidjan, Galerie Cecile Fakhoury is a relatively new endeavor—it’s Senegalese branch opened in 2018, dedicated to bringing contemporary African fare to an international audience. The gallery takes particular interest in artists with a critical, historically-bolstered position on studio practice, an approach that easily describes the work of mononymic painter Aboudia, the subject of an upcoming late-September solo exhibition in Dakar entitled Masquerade. The Ivorian artist’s bright, chaotic compositions comment on the riots following his home country’s disputed presidential election in late 2010 with vibrance, style, and pathos, an expertly balanced deployment of freneticism that has already caught the eye of many art world heavyweights. Fakhoury’s beautiful coastal locale and restrained curatorial eye makes for a sleek inculcation.
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
Founded in 2003, Stevenson Gallery has spaces in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Amsterdam, and focuses primarily on artists from South Africa. Regular participation in Art Basel, Frieze, London and Paris Photo have made Stevenson a household name in the region, and their roster boasts a litany of real innovators, like brazenly absurdist multimedia artist Simphiwe Ndzube and Capetown native Kemang Wa Lehulere, whose work is currently on show at the Tate Modern in London. Another Stevenson-represented artist, portraitist Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi received the prestigious Tollman Award in August of 2019, an open-ended grant that recognizes outstanding South African talent.
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA
Addis Fine Art
Based in London and Addis Ababa, Addis Fine Art is the first local white cube space and international gallery based in Ethiopia. Founded in 2016 by Rakeb Sile and Mesai Haileleul, the gallery centers its attention on promoting talent from the Horn of Africa and its various diasporas, often participating in art fairs like Investec Cape Town and Art Dubai as part of its programming. Addis Fine Art’s representation primarily spotlights Ethiopian talent, from preeminent modernist legends like painter Lulseged Retta to fresh, new voices like the young Eyerusalem Adugna Jiregna, whose warm, rich photographic practice reflects her education in fashion design. Recent exhibitions have included From Our Perspective: Young Ethiopian Photographers Changing the Gaze, which featured the work of Girma Berta, an up-and-comer who expertly captures day to day aesthetics of a quickly developing nation. The show was reviewed in the Wall Street Journal, International.
Ghana’s own Nubuke Foundation is a visual art institution based in East Legon, Accra. It serves as a cultural nexus, supporting the development of Ghanian artistic practice across the country and globe. Boasting a diverse range of programming, including exhibitions, readings, screenings, seminars, and lectures, the Foundation promotes the heritage and history of the region through creative production of its citizens and allies. After a year of construction, the grand August reopening of its new space included an exhibition in collaboration with the Mexican Embassy in Ghana and a conversation with iconic Ghanian photojournalist and local luminary James Barnor.
Accran mainstay Gallery 1957 highlights leading West African artists from both local and international perspectives. Founded in 2016, it now has two locations in Ghana, further bridging the gap between audiences within and without the region. Gallery 1957’s global gallery partnerships and investment in both visual art and performance set it apart as a distinct and exciting venue in the country’s artistic landscape. They also host a residency on site, designed to support artistic research and provide a solo exhibition for the hosted artist. The most recent resident, Godfried Donkor II, stayed at Gallery 1957 for seven months, culminating nearly 20 years of study in the racialized history of pugilism in a current show on view, titled Battle Royale: Last Man Standing Part I. Paintings, collage, and text cohabitate in the space to create a dense and riveting account of boxing iconography. This project coincides with Ghana’s “Year of Return”, a 12-month long initiative encouraging members of the African diaspora to visit Ghana that marks 400 years since the advent of the ‘Middle Passage’, the voyages that bore Africans against their will to work as slaves in Europe and the Americas.
A leading voice in Nigerian contemporary art, Omenka represents a selection of both established and emerging contemporary voices across a wide variety of media. The gallery’s international presence is currently mounting, and they have made waves at a range of international art events like the Armory Show and LOOP, Barcelona. Doubling as an art advisory, Omenka also offers appraisals, collections management, financial advice, and industry reportage. The gallery even produces an in-house eponymous lifestyle magazine. Among its representational ranks are Chicago-based sculptor Nnenna Okore, a mentee of El Anatsui, and Gabon-raised interdisciplinary artist Nathalie Anguezomo Mba Bikoro, whose large, detailed dreamscapes explore her creolized identity.
Lagos Center for Contemporary Art
Since 2007, CCA, Lagos is an independent non-profit organization that provides a platform for critical discourse on the contemporary art scene of West Africa. Through a suite of publications, public-facing programs, and integrated workshops, this institution seeks to prioritize new media, which has been heretofore somewhat under-fostered in Nigeria. Their fall exhibition, Ozioma Onuzulike: Seed Yams of Our Land, presents the artist’s exhaustive sociopolitical exploration into the emblematic yam, a traditional Igbo symbol of power. These rustic sculptural installations, rendered in terracotta, glass, and stoneware, will appear alongside the artist’s poetic chapbook of the same title. Since 2010, the CCA has also hosted a unique 30 day intensive, known as Asiko Art School, which focuses on equipping would-be art students with the critical methodologies and experimental confidence needed to transform traditional education into authentic artistic inquiry.
Museum of African Contemporary Art, Al Maaden
This institution is invested in the promotion of creative Moroccan voices. Its collection consists of digital art painting, sculpture and video, simultaneously supporting cultural development and providing local access to contemporary art. Sporting the MACAAL Residency programme and university-centered Lab project, both of which encourage educational, innovative dialogue with Moroccan culture, alongside a permanent sculpture park featuring globally recognized artists, this museum takes a holistic approach to art outreach. Their current temporary retrospective of Mohamed Melehi’s career also tracks the history of the Casablanca Art School, an African outpost of the Bauhaus movement.