As Ethiopia continues to prepare and/or participate in the advancement of an art industry, the Galerie Mamadoula blogger shares food for thought. “The Nigerian Art Market Report, published in 2018 indicates that the value of artworks created by Nigerian artists has risen from $3.8 million in 2015 to $7.2 million in 2018. A thriving art scene, combined with the increase of the perceived value of the works created by artists associated with that scene, is never a byproduct of just one social force. Hence, such a significant increase in value of the artworks produced by Nigerian artists is not a coincidence. In fact, it is a consequence of the dedicated effort made by private art institutions like, Foundation Blachère, The Nubuke Foundation or the Zinsou foundation, as well as curators and art collectors to build an internationally recognized contemporary art scene.” Interesting.
In the case of Ethiopia’s contemporary art scene, there are a couple of diverging schools of thought that can either drive or delay development. One end of the spectrum is the dated Euro-centric conception of “art for art sake”, embracing the notion of the “suffering artist”. At the other end is the new notion that galleries are the way to go with a dealer who can manage, promote and sell for the artist so they stay in the studio creating. Obviously, there are also middle ground and converging positions. But art is not about right or wrong in my estimation, and we must always speak truthfully acknowledging artists as dignified and important proponents who mark space, time and circumstance. And in the historic African context we know them to be healers, noble and essential.
What does the 21st century or for that matter 2020 look like in Ethiopia for art? Will boundaries be pushed by artists, galleries and institution that are not self-serving but working for the greater good of an industry? Will the public and private sector make commitments, realizing numbers don’t lie and whether you like of buy art or not? Will we accept that Ethiopian culture is best promoted and protected through art? Do we realize that the contemporary art of today is the ancient art of the 22nd century and what we do today will reflect on our society? Can the concept of Foundations be a gap-filler in Ethiopia?
“Establishing an art market on the African continent has long been a challenging task, due to a myriad of cultural, economic and social factors. The lack of funding for art in many of the continent’s nations has sparked an unintentional response, as new privately-owned art foundations have emerged across the continent. Even though the art market in Africa is still in its infancy, a number of art foundations, that present the work of artists from Africa locally and on the global scale have emerged in the last few decades. The contemporary art museums, galleries and art foundations that support artists through exhibitions, grants and residencies have largely contributed to the creation of a booming art scene on the African continent. However, it remains to be seen for how long these organizations can keep African contemporary art hotter than gold. However, the contemporary African art scene is not strictly confined to the African continent, since the art markets in countries like France, Britain and the United States have opened their doors to their African heritage and to the artists who were born on this continent. In 2019, names like Seydou Keita, Julie Mehretu or Zwelethu Mthethwa are commonly heard at auction houses around the world.” The blogger, Koyo Kouoh is an independent curator and cultural producer born in Cameroon and studied business administration in Europe before moving to Dakar, Senegal in 1996 to work in the creative sector. She also established RAW Material Company, contemporary arts center in 2008.
So as we prepare for 2020, enjoying the benefits of two New Years thanks to our Ethiopian calender, I invite you to become more aware and support the growing contemporary arts scene in Addis Abeba in particular. Next year is already shaping up with great shows through out the year from LEFT HAND by Prince Merid Tafesse at Alliance Ethio-Francaise February 10th to Aida Muluneh’s landmark Addis Foto Fest on December 3rd. It’s well worth the effort as art contributes intellectually, socially, economically; not to mention aesthetic value to be provided for the thousands of new buildings and homes popping up like mushrooms around town. So I will look for you in the near future and New Year, toasting to the success of a dynamic contemporary art scene that may just rival Lagos, one day, after all, anything is possible. Happy New Year!
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.