COPYRIGHT COUP FOR KENYAN ARTISTS

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“Africa’s problem lies in the lack of infrastructure…we need more of a market structure in order to support… careers.”
Sotheby’s, Hannah O’Leary

I’ve been sharing snapshots of exhibitions setting off the city’s 2012 social and cultural calendar; showcasing new, emerging and established Ethiopian artists. In viewing the range of art from exceptional to expected and in listening to the talk around town from who I call the WAWA’s (Watchers of Art Waters in Africa), curiosity continues to peak as to the destiny of African artists and their art in the context of advancing the African fine art industry. Well next door in Kenya, one of the cutting edge continental countries in art and tech, moves are being made to protect artists’ rights. Having managed world class performing and visual artists over 35 years, I strongly believe that protection of the artists is the foundation of the budding industry. That in mind, President Uhuru Kenyatta last week signed the Kenya Copyright (amendment) Act, 2019 permitting “visual artists to form a Collective Management Organization (CMO) in order to manage the resale royalty rights. This right provides visual artists with an opportunity to benefit from the increase in value of their artwork over time by granting the artists a percentage of the proceeds from the resale of their original artwork” according to Kenya Copyright Board (KCB) Face book post. The KCB explains, “The amendment defines an original work of art to include batiks, carvings, ceramics, collages, drawings, engravings, fine art, jewelry, lithographs, fashion design, paintings, photographs, prints, sculptures, graphics… or any other works as may be included by regulation. One of the most progressive changes in the amendment as far as visual artists are concerned is that it grants visual artists a resale royalty right…providing visual artists with an opportunity to benefit from the increase in value of their artwork over time by granting the artists a percentage of the proceeds from the resale of their original artwork.” The KCB further states, “The right will not be available when the work falls into public domain or copyright in the work ceases to exist… The artist resale right will be inalienable and will be incapable of being waived under any circumstances… the right cannot be sold, or transferred, or surrendered, neither can the artist relinquish, or renounce, or abandon the right. It is therefore a personal and non-transferable right…the CMO (will) manage the resale royalty right. The resale royalty will be payable at the rate of five percent of the net sale price on the commercial resale of an artwork. The seller, the art professional (including auctioneer, owner or operator of a gallery, museum, an art dealer or any other person involved in the business of dealing in artworks, the seller’s agent and the buyer) will be jointly and severally liable to pay the resale royalty.” WOW! Remember, I wrote about this months ago? Well, Kenya has put a mechanism in place and just in time, to protect artists more from what is on the horizon.
This is a perfect segue to the recently released 2019 ARTNET Intelligence Report, specifically the section entitled, “There Is No Such Thing As The African Market – Yet” penned by Rebecca Ann Proctor who quotes Modern and Contemporary African Art at Sotheby’s, Hannah O’Leary, “Africa’s problem lies in the lack of infrastructure… there is a real lack of public support. We are seeing lots of raw talent, but we need more of a market structure in order to support their careers.” Let’s see how they feel about paying artists 5% on re-sale as deemed by Kenya public sector. Anyway, Addis Fine Art’s Rakeb Sile, also quoted, shares her vision of a successful industry as one that depends on decentralization, “…there will be and should be different hubs in several regions of Africa.” Proctor goes on to note, “Today, Africa’s art market has plenty of room to grow. Fewer than 1,000 works were sold at auction on the continent in the first six months of 2019, according to the artnet Price Database. We have assembled a guide to six of these dynamic emerging art capitals: Accra, Addis Ababa, Cape Town, Dakar, Lagos, and Marrakech.” Cool, Addis Abeba made the cut. She continues with info I shared in my column several months ago, which hopefully encourages more African buyers, “And while the continent’s local collector base is growing steadily—Sotheby’s fourth dedicated auction of Modern and contemporary African art in April was dominated by African buyers and generated a total of $3 million, above its presale high estimate of $2.7 million.” You can access the full report at artnet.com/artnet-intelligence-report/.
In closing, the value of African art will continue to rise and like Kenya, continental counterparts including Ethiopia, Ghana and Nigeria should begin reviewing and realizing new laws that protect the provenance and posterity of art out of Africa, avoiding some of the plethora of intellectual property pitfalls looming. The time is now to be proactive and with a vehicle like the African Union, all 55 nations can create cohesive cross cutting policies, ensuring Africans are the main beneficiaries of the Africa art industry, unlike the past precedents.

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.