Shifting the conversation: How the pan-African based African Art Galleries Association is addressing erasure by championing the growth and sustainability of art in Africa

Patrick Bongoy, Erode, 2020. Recycled inner rubber tube, valves, 250 x 265 cm.

By PETRA MASON, June 2021 

To drive attention to its projects -- and politics -- the African Art Galleries Association has engaged in several brave, bold and ambitious international collaborations including a partnership with Artsy known as ‘African Galleries Now’ online only until June 27th, 2021. 

Representing about 15 African countries and as many member galleries including Congo, Cameroon, Mail, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Kenya, Egypt, Botswana, Tunisia, Nigeria, Namibia, Uganda and Sudan and proving that African art is not only worth taking seriously and worth paying money for, but is staking a claim to art history. 

While the term ‘glass ceiling’ is a metaphor for the seemingly impenetrable corporate sector, it could just as easily be applied to the art-world. Despite a progressive veneer, and recent, belated radical efforts to actively become more inclusive and diverse, there is a glaring blind spot in the diversity narrative: African artists living and working on the continent. Contemporary African art may be getting a lot of play internationally, and it’s (arguably) fashionable for artists of African descent to reclaim African identity as zeitgeist. Facts are, black African artists on the continent are frequently overlooked in the global scheme of things, inadvertently allowing people not on, or even from the continent to dictate what it is to be African.

Pebofatso Mokoena, Magic City, 2021. Acrylic on canvas 130 x 100 cm.

As a gesture of re-dress, WHITEHOT is running a series highlighting African and Africa based artists, curators, critics, art dealers and collectors. This week we feature quotable quotes from five of the 15-member African Art Gallery Association gallerists.

'All too often African contemporary artists are considered 'new', 'emerging' or 'under-discovered' and this acts as a price ceiling. Art from Africa is equally valuable and we are drawing attention to that fact, and highlighting those artists in our respective programmes.' Comments Elia Gemuce, Director of Arte De Gema in Maputo, Mozambique. 

‘Africa needs African art’ says Valerie Kabov, owner of First Floor Gallery in Harare and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and AAGA founding member. ‘Our African Art Galleries Association offers an alternative to African art players prioritizing the West, making us genuinely relevant to African audiences’. 

Tafadzwa Tega, Makoti, 2021. Oil on canvas, 140 x 130 cm.

'For a Pan-African project like this, economies of scale are really important, and allow us to negotiate important global initiatives like our ‘African Galleries Now’ collaboration with Artsy’, says Selma Feriani, owner of Selma Feriani Gallery in Tunisia. 

‘Emerging galleries need the support of a professional community, especially in countries where arts infrastructure is under-developed, and where it is important to set industry standards for professional practice. It can be more financially efficient to team up on projects. We’re certainly demonstrating our African talent for collaboration!’ Says Dr. Julie Taylor, owner of Guns & Rain Gallery in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

Through collaboration, the African Art Galleries Association joins a host of global gallery initiatives proving that galleries are not always in competition.``In these unusual times, working together is more important than ever,'' says Sónia Ribeiro, Director of This Is Not a White Cube Gallery which has two spaces in Luanda, Angola and Lisbon, Portugal.

African Galleries Now 2021 is now live on Artsy: https://www.artsy.net/fair/african-galleries-now-2021WM

 

 

Petra Mason

 
Cultural historian and publisher. Beefcake 100% Rare, All Natural is her first Universe title, Bettie Page Queen of Curves and Bunny Yeager's Darkroom are her Rizzoli titles. Mason edited Fall 2015 Skira/Rizzoli's Imperfect Utopia.

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