Tuesday, November 28, 2023


“My hope is that we begin to collaborate across the continent and artists … share their work and not just to the western art hubs… .” Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, Founder, SMO Contemporary Art, Nigeria.

As we continue to promote the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) aimed at creating a single continental market for the free movement of goods, services, persons and investments; my next couple of columns will help to popularize AfCFTA, especially for those interested in or already immersed in the growing art industry in Ethiopia and Africa in general. For my range of readers, you may be surprised to find out that though your line is banking, insurance, law, medicine, robotics or transportation, you may indeed have a converging interest in the development of the creative industry, especially in light of the opportunities on the horizon of the largest trading block in the universe, Africa!
A couple of days ago Zoma Museum, the artistic oasis of Addis, hosted a gathering of art industry folks representing various disciplines from visual arts to literature and dance. The high level discussion was set on the lush lawn of the aesthetically perfect surroundings, presenting like an organic version of a UN meeting for art with envoys from Ethiopia, Canada, France Morocco, Nigeria, Russia, UK and the USA. The gathering was part of an extensive tour for a delegation of dealers, curators, collectors etc. led by Zoma’s, Meskerem Assegued and NYC gallery owner James Cohan. Introductions revealed distinguished individuals and institutions in the field, followed by an exchange of ideas and trials and triumphs in art. The discussion was refreshing, identifying some common concerns and diverse approaches to advance artists and the field. It was the consensus that moved me, with even the mercantile minded agreeing that the African art industry should develop on its own terms, with international partners, respecting our pace and priorities.
Commenting on the trajectory of art in Africa was Ms. Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, Founder of SMO Contemporary Art in Lagos. Nigeria is known worldwide for Nollywood aka the film industry. However the ECOWAS nation, though not yet signed on to AfCFTA, can help prepare us for continental trade as it relates to art through sharing best practices for building infrastructure and partnerships for success. Nigeria has been attracting the attention of continental artists, buyers and media, with international attendees in tow, driving successful new fairs, galleries and institutions. Learning from solid examples in Lagos can help us address some of the concerns decelerating the growth of the multi-million Birr industry in Addis. Ms. Sandra’s answer to my question, “what is your perception and prediction of the contemporary art and its industry in Ethiopia…” says it all.
“I believe the Ethiopian visual arts industry is set for an exciting renaissance with a diverse and broad range of artists who have a truly unique and rich perspective and historical wealth that shines through clearly in their art. While there are so many industries which still need to be developed to support the growth if this important sector, such as printers, framers, galleries, restoration experts etc. I can see a dynamic shift in the industry with new galleries such as Addis FINE Art, making waves on the global and local scene with their exciting showcase of truly talented artists who have a fresh story to share. My hope is that we begin to collaborate across the continent and artists begin to look across the continent to share their work and not just to the western art hubs like New York and London. Artfairs like art x lagos provide a powerful platform for attracting African and international collectors, and as the last Sotheby’s African art auction data showed, over 70 percent of collectors came from the continent. So there is a growing appetite for art collecting across the continent. Ethiopia’s new Zoma Museum is a very exciting initiative that shows how art and sustainable agriculture can create value for society, inspire creativity, and teach environmentally wholesome lifestyles and consumption. Ethiopia is truly a jewel to be looked at in more depth as we share lessons in creativity for the development of the continent.”
Well said. So while we figure out our identity as an industry and admit that regardless of the “government doesn’t get it” rhetoric, if we don’t take ownership of our field; guiding, educating and even developing policy, we will be on that proverbial if not literal ‘slow boat to China’ complaining all the way. So what do we want? What do we need and how do we achieve said with the best interest of artists/creatives and society at heart? These are the ultimate questions, with answers to be curated by us and for us, in preparation for trade in art between 55 connected countries.

Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.

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