African Art, Curation, Exhibitions, Art Fairs, the evolving Gallery, Bitcoins, and what’s next the Market?


The last several years has changed the art world in ways that are necessary, ways that make it apparent that there is a paradigm shift taking hold and in ways that heighten the need for a more sustainable change.

Art is and has been a commodity. For African art, it has shifted in the last 20 years from sculpture, masks and objects to contemporary art as collectibles. The shift from the west to Africa as the place to buy art is reminiscent of that shift to China or Korea. Nothing new here but it is imperative for that the continent make more of what is happening so when the interest leaves its artists to the next frontier that there are some foundations established and built: infrastructure, policies, strategies and most important, a competent and competitive sustainable art market.

In some ways, African governments and the private sector need to come to an understanding and proactive collaboration to create a model for measured and scalable growth, equity sharing and a future sustainable market. Yes, African governments can be problematic but the future can not be imagined or created without them and if we keep seeing failed governments as the only way Africa functions, then the governments of Rwanda or Tanzania are not possible.

Artists need to come up with standards and modes of operation beyond that of the poverty model of starvation or the “big man” richy rich models or the “IT” artist of the moment annoited by some local or foreign curator, gallery or collector. These models are stale, extreme and create an unrealistic perspective of the art world.

The curation and exhibition of African artwork seems to be at a peak level but this curatorial process seems to only apply to a select group of chosen curators and a select group of African Artists and countries. With a continent of almost a billion people with such diversity, it is often pegged through the artwork choices af nd selections as the “South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana” African art shows with complete exclusion of the rest of Africa. Or the other narrative is franco-phone and/or anglophone artists. Where is Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Mali or Rwanda or even Liberia?

At the Art Fairs,a similar level of exclusiveness prevails, African artists are moving into “mainstream” shows where underrepresented small and “unnamed” galleries who nurtured and grew some of these artists prior to their “discovery” are not exhibiting because the extreme fees, costs and selection processes that eliminate the galleries. The creation of African Art Fairs on the continent has also grown yet the model is still the same. One questions why the continent has not redefined or re-adapted, or quite frankly, created its own model, a new voice of dynamism rather than follow the western model. Just imagine what that would be!

Today’s art market has brought more observers than real buyers. Artists and galleries are trying to find their way as the art fairs, pop-up shows and social media have transformed the market giving buyers direct access but one thing has not changed, buyers now are only looking for “cache” artists, like brand name products. There still is a lack of imagination, daring and risk taking to carve out new ways of collecting or new ways of exploring outside the “follow” mode defined by a select group.

The search for more art buyers and collectors is moving towards Bitcoins. Like the internet when it began, this untapped space will be both risky and rewarding to the pioneers who get there, but it is imperative that it has structure so that it does not repeat some of the same art market issues.

What’s next? A daring focus on building collections of newcomers and unseen work. This is a huge challenge, if taken on, it would bring a new dynamism to the art market.

BRONX: AFRICA


necklace

As an African whose father first came to the US in the 1950’s to go to school and returned in 1962 with my American mother whose Caribbean heritage is from Trinidad and Jamaica, I spent most of my summers in the US as a child and came to live like my father in the 1980’s to also go to school and unlike my parents stayed on to work professionally and grow a career in architecture, academia and a business. My base in New York City was Brooklyn like most Africans but and 60 years later, I see Africans have consolidating in the Bronx and they are a dynamic group of people with a rich culture.

So, as I begin with curator LeRonn P. Brooks to craft an exhibition, public programming and community events for the Bronx Council on the Arts with Deirdre Scott, its Executive Director, it’s important to take the time to document the process and do what we Africans say often, tell our stories in our own words. It’s been 15 years since the three of us worked together – the last time was on the Underground Railroad Project with City University.

As a child of an African journalist and also the only sister of the publisher of The African, I am aware of the enormous richness in the stories of Africans in the US. Our history in this continent came before slavery with ocean voyages and during slavery as our descendants were traded like cattle. We have always been here and my father’s generation came to be educated and to return to Africa to build our countries, I came with the same mission but the 1980’s saw most of us remain in the US, as opposed to returning home.

Today, the 2000’s have changed Africa and we are immigrants again – from Europe to the US, and mostly to the New York area in the borough of the Bronx. I remind people often, the word immigrant is a word for all Americans as we are all strangers in this land – no matter when your parents came and how. We are not the original people of this land – it is our cousins, the indigenous American Indians.

BRONX / AFRICA: Fashion, Food, Film, Performance and Language will explore Africans in the Bronx through ethnographic lenses focused on Fashion (Fabrics, Textiles, Hair, and Dress); Food (Ingredients, Markets, Tours, and Tastings); Film (Media, Webseries, Comedy and Video); Performance (Comedy, Music, Worship; Poetry, and Plays); Language (Spoken, Written and Symbolic) in an inter-generational series of public and community programs that deal with the concepts of Homeland and Identity.

Interested in BRONX: AFRICA, please email me at the.creativeside@yahoo.com and please read this article on the influx of African immigrants and join our Facebook group: Bronx / Africa.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/02/nyregion/influx-of-african-immigrants-shifting-national-and-new-york-demographics.html?_r=1

Bronx Africa at the Bronx Council on the Arts


Last month, I returned to my role as a curator – exploring Africans in the Bronx. This blog will explore my process from inception to the role of programming and community engagement. I will join LeRonn Brooks as we explore Africa in the Bronx. Here is my first draft of my curatorial concept:

BRONX / AFRICA: Fashion, Food, Film, Performance and Language will explore Africans in the Bronx through ethnographic lenses focused on Fashion (Fabrics, Textiles, Hair, and Dress); Food (Ingredients, Markets, Tours, and Tastings); Film (Media, Webseries, Comedy and Video); Performance (Comedy, Music, Worship; Poetry, and Plays); Language (Spoken, Written and Symbolic) in an inter-generational series of public and community programs that deal with the concepts of Homeland and Identity.

Interested: email me at the.creativeside@yahoo.com

Striving to be Ghana’s Premier Fashion School: Vogue Style School of Fashion and Design


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Photo of Joyce Ababio

This is the seventh blog in my series, The Pulse of Africa talking with Global Africans working in Africa and across the Diaspora. It takes an inside view on Africa’s progress, issues on arts and culture, technology and opportunities in this decade. See the series here.

I began this blog on the day Ghanaian president John Atta Mills died. I was shocked by his sudden passing but concerned for the future of the country until I heard that the vice-president as taking over peacefully. Ghana was in my spirit that day, so late night, I wrote the first few paragraphs of this blog and sent off a series of emails to Joyce Ababio, founder of the Vogue Style School of Fashion and Design.

I had heard about Vogue Style from my South African friend, Nii Botchway, who was in Accra two summers ago and got into an interesting bind. Even Africans have issues when there are in another African country. I received an email from my Chicago friend about him and reached out to introduce him to another Ghanaian I knew of – Joe Osae-Addo, an architect who another friend calls “the Mayor of Accra”. Joe is indeed that. He immediately stepped in, talked with Nii and promptly introduced him to Joyce Ababio who got him working to develop her Graphic Design program. Ironically, it was why Nii was in Accra in the first place (he was there for another school) after leaving his life in South Africa. This connecting and reaching out is the Global African way.This is the Africa I know, we collaborate and work together.

 

See the complete blog at Huffington Post Black Voices: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/atim-oton/ghana-fashion-school_b_1700583.html

The Pulse of Africa: Bongani Madondo, a South African journalist, arts critic, and writer


by Atim Annette Oton

The Pulse of Africa is a series by Atim Annette Oton talking with Africans in Africa and across the Diaspora on Africa’s progress, issues on culture, technology and opportunities in this decade.

Bongani Madondo is a South African journalist, writer and arts critic. He is my South African friend: I call him my brother from another mother. We are kindred spirits, we think alike in many ways. A bit of a radical. So when I asked him these questions, it was both easy for him to respond and difficult to edit himself.  He responded with tons of stuff. I edited as best as I could. Bongani is truth, he says it as he means it. He is direct, brash and brazen. As a critic and writer, he is doing what he is best at: dissecting, identifying and diagnosing the truth.

Journalist and Non-Fiction author, Bongani Madondo is a multi-award winning profile writer and multidisciplinary cultural commentator working across a variety of media. His work on music, inner city architecture, urban cultures, politics of style, visual & performance arts is highly respected within academia, mainline media and the streets.                                                

                             

          

1. How do you feel about Africa‘s progress and opportunities in your industry and city this decade (2010’s)?

I have always been terribly troubled [as well as, on occasion, inspired] by the world’s media and others ways of looking at Africa as a single catchphrase: A collective. Homogenous. One black block of either violence, mediocrity, barbarism, or on the other hand, a condescending liberal anthropological of over celebrating certain quaint aspects of supposed discovery.

It goes like this: “Oh, they can use technology”!, “Oh, their music is so emotional and touching,” “Oh here’s the latest African corruption crime buster”, “Oh, here look at this African he went to Harvard”, and “Oh, they still live in poverty but so happy and pastoral…” I say bullshit to all that.

We need news ways of looking at Africa. Not even the third way, no. Just a complex, simple and accepting way of looking at Africa the way you would look at all continents, even then is hardly ever employed…people don’t look at whole continents unless there’s something supposedly sexy about them: Asian Tigers, or in literature: The new magic realists after Marquez…Oh, save me from that.

 Let’s look at two not-Oppositional views, as they might appear:

  • a. Individual countries
  • b. Individual Africans making a living without economic borders [A 21st century Pan-Africanist]

Individual countries:

Several individual countries- some of course bolstered and empowered by the Pan Africanist spirit of African Union, some experimenting with new economic models and the drive to root our corruption and reboot the economy, some by pure luck as a result of mineral/natural resources such as oil, etc- have made a steady progress since the early stages of the last decade.

Although Nigeria is always cited as the most corrupt country in the continent, many people are not looking at the anti-corruption successes of the lady now returning as the Finance Minister as well as a new spirit of renewed entrepreneurship in new media, lifestyle and arts industries in cities such as Lagos.

For example, both the nascent pop culture, music, fashion and the now “sexy” ghetto DIY sensibilities and booming industry of Nollywood should count for something, in terms of jobs creation that the government wouldn’t even have dreamt of creating it. Kenya’s economy is building up and has been building up despite that country’s much documented corruption (see Michaela Wong and the Kenyan crime buster’s book It’s Our Turn To Eat).

Same as the usual success stories, South Africa and Botswana. But others aren’t doing bad at reviving their economies and helping create a positive, vibrant outlook much preferred by the new Middle Class in Africa. Countries such as Ghana, Zambia, Namibia and Uganda are in fact creating a vibrant middleclass; and with them a new lifestyle, based on African style consumerist and production culture, as well as entrepreneurial spirit.

Of course, there are plenty of sad and despairing cases…Zimbabwe [once one of the most educated, vibrant and proudest countries not long ago] Congo, Kinshasa, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Swaziland, Burundi, etc. are really not where it is at.

But that’s life. It’s not a unique African thing. Is the entire Asiabooming with wealthy Chinese style dictatorial capitalism? Are all former Soviet countries the exact beacons of democracy and technology upsurge? Gimme a break! How about the Middle East -Arab Spring anyone? Bah!

Personally, I am a very bad African. I do not measure my personal successes by the material-o-meter of where I originate from. I travel a lot and am a citizen of the world. I am one of those you have heard enough of and you have started cracking jokes about: I am an AfroPolitan, and the world is my canvass.

Although if I had to chose I would love to live in Lagos, Manhattan, Prague, Johannesburg [my city] and Dakar. I don’t know about opportunities in my “industry.” In my country, the industry I work within -the media- is still in the hands of white folks and their “newsly” created black conservatives are guarding, fiercely, ill gained white loot in exchange of a swanky address in the ‘burbs, policies for their children’s education, and a few bottles of cognacs.

Nothing’ has changed.

All the major mainstream magazines have white editors, white owners, white sub-editors and managing editors and the like. Although I am inspired by a new wave of young techy black generation [completely apolitical, scant if any sense of history] but creating their own narratives as bloggers, twitteratti, designers, music, merchandising business, etc, especially the pop-cultural and IT fields, utilizing latest technology.

Now I say that’s what the real battle was all about: for our children to be able to compete and create their own realities.

Individual Africans making a living without economic borders

I am also loving the new Pan-Africanist small entrepreneur. He/She who is from Ghana and opens several Ghanaian/Senegalese/Ivorian/Eithiopian cuisine joints in Johannesburg, in Nairobi, in Kinshasa and still be back home in Kumasi or St. Louis in Senegal, or Abidjan in time to celebrate X-mas or whatever religious/sacred days with the whole clan, often a traveling clan itself.

I love African entrepreneurs not looking at the governments for any salvation at all, but are utilizing mobile technology, to make borders obsolete. The thing that still saddens me is that none of the major billion dollars mobile technology firms are owned by black Africans themselves: It is either by Vodafone [European] or a slew of competing big time operators owned by Arabs, Indians, Chinese or ol’ money white South African entities.

2. How is technology, mobile telephones and social media changing Africa and your industry?

With a device on your hand, and access to an internet cafe’, better still, a PC or laptop, anyone can have a voice. The fact that a rural granny at some forgotten place can organize other rural grannies to create a sustainable small village business and still play leading role in the battle against HIV and the Aids epidemic while maintaining families where daddies and grand dads ARE STILL NOT there, either in big cities or were victims of civil wars, is a remarkable feat.

A Voice. A voice can be everything anyone needs at the direst of times. Technology has become the most influential personal space democratizing as well as conflict creating force. Which is good, cause out of conflict resolution should follow.   And that is often taken for granted. Sometimes its not even material indicators we should look at to measure success and progress.

3. What problems do you feel have to be overcomed by Africa in your industry? 

I just think the publishing “space” should be forced to be conducive to the creation, promotion and prosperity of African/black voices and black owned media. In my case, I don’t know a lot of African and black owned publications and radio/TV channels.

If and when they happen to be black, they are state owned [and you know what are the problems with state owned enterprises]; and if they are owned by independent entrepreneurs [Blink, Tribute magazine, etc], they are quickly shout out of business by the three or so traditionally white owned ol’ big boys club media owners.

Basically things haven’t changed that much in South African corporate sphere. Which is why you still hear such an integrationist Middle Class liberals like me still using quaint essentialist terms such as “white” and “black” instead of  “South Africans”- because, go around and ask everyone, it’s still that way in all aspects and spheres of life.

When the black government which has its hands tied in the back anyway, because of its own corrupt tendencies, and because it is beholden to bullying white media lobby groups and white media, tries to make a difference, they are met with stifling opposition and loudest, pre-emptive noise accusing it of reverse racism, which is of course the biggest pile of bullshit I have ever heard in any post-colonial setting] .

Back to the trades.

So, the existing advertising companies as well as clients themselves dish business to their old white clients/friends/ol’ money network I guess it is human nature to deal with the tried and tested.

New media such as online space has not done pretty well in terms of serving as alternative advertising revenue for new black media, either. Although, I’m sure all of that will change and all old white traditional big walls will be circumvented or fall as more and more new markets and smart media owners from all walks of life utilize the growing benefits and possibilities of what online can/offers.

Ideally, South African needs its own Arise, Ebony, etc, and black owned radio channels. The other truth is – and this is pertinent and almost peculiar toSouth Africathan any other African country –black folks here, actually love the idea of “going to look for a job”: code word for going to work for a white man. It is part of a legacy of Apartheid and the creation of new urban/industrialization of our country.

The idea of mobility… movement …trekking out of home to the big cities and coming back end of the year has its roots in the creation of mining towns such as Kimberly, Johannesburg and port/harbor enterprises in cities such as Durban and Cape Town. Hundred years later, grand-grand-grand children of the first batch of migrant workers still behave like their forebears.

So what needs to be done?

Other than a mind-shift, I have no idea what should be done. Not sure Affirmative Action as understood by captains of the industry is the answer. It just creates much dependency and not industry or production diversification.

The Pulse of Africa: Kibonen Nfi, a Cameroonian Fashion/Image Consultant


by Atim Annette Oton

The Pulse of Africa is a series by Atim Annette Oton talking with Africans in Africa and across the Diaspora on Africa’s progress, issues on culture, technology and opportunities in this decade.

Kibonen Nfi is a Certified Image Consultant who studied International Trade and Marketing in the fashion industry at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York. Based in New York, she is also the Founder and Creative Director for KiRette Couture, one-of-a kind label crossing racial and cultural borders by exploring, experimenting with and fusing textiles from around the world. She is also the co-founder for the Cameroon Fashion Industry Common Innitiative Group and co-founder for Super Model Search Cameroon. Her websites: www.kirettenewyork.com,  www.supermodelsearchcameroon.com  and www.cameroonfashionindustry.org

1. How do you feel about Africa’s progress and opportunities in your industry and city this decade (2010’s)?

Being in the fashion industry since 2009 and going back and forth between Africa,  the USA and UK, I am really very impressed with the involvement of the African fashion and Africans in fashion. It was like a new dawn for African fashion and Africans are now benefitting from their own fashion which had for long been exploited by the western fashion. It is really encouraging and I strongly believe the fashion industry in the near future when the industry is properly developed in Africa, it will be a great economic booster.

There are lots of opportunities in the fashion industry . So much of it is still virgin and untapped. To fully develop this industry, we have to create opportunities from scratch and this is very exciting. It is the time to exploit the opportunities which are coming up in this industry and make the best of it.

2. How is technology, mobile telephones and social media changing Africa and your industry?

It is great to see how much sales can be done on Facebook for instance. Many designers do not even have a website but have done a lot of publicity via social media. It is great that so many  young people get inspired by what their friends are doing and they have a venue they can showcase what they do. Using smart phones, you can even conduct business with less expenses, especially with the Blackberry. It is exciting. There is a boom and a dynamism which I love and which in Africa is taking place. Many yound designers do fashion shows just by seeing what we are doing abroad and they try to maintain the standards because they know the world is watching and their location does not matter. This is a positive factor and It puts a smile on my face.

3. What problems do you feel have to be overcomed by Africa in your industry (Fashion?

Africans have to respect their fashion and embrace it. We have to equally respect talent and develop it. African governments has to facilitate the development of this industry. We have to learn to embrace creativity. In Africa, creative people are despised and professions; and fashion, modelling, photography are considered professions for the underpriviledged. We have to change our mindsets and start seeing the dollar signs attatched to this industry because when it is properly developed, it will be a gold mine that creates lots of jobs and economic development.