African art is rapidly becoming a sought-after genre around the world. From Los Angeles and London to Sydney and Stockholm, African art rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars in sales every year. The rapid development of this industry is being supported by technology and a global network of auction houses and couriers. As a result, the worldwide sale of traditional and contemporary African art is creating entrepreneurs and generating income for the artists.
This is one industry that has not been too badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; if anything, more African artists are turning to online sales during the global lockdown. This time has been used effectively to create new paintings, carvings, sculptures and artworks. The lack of foreign visitors to African towns and cities has forced many of the local artists to sell their pieces online.
In addition, the international desire for African artworks has not decreased much amid the pandemic. Foreign buyers are still looking for charismatic and eye-catching art from the African continent. These works are painstakingly handcrafted using a variety of mediums, from paints and canvas to metal scraps and wood. Every sale has helped to support an African artist and to enable their growth and development.
The demand for African art is growing
There are three basic driving forces behind the growth in African art sales. This investment comes from international buyers and locals too – Africans themselves are investing heavily in local art and sculpture. The following driving forces outline why the industry is growing so fast:
1. Africans are becoming richer
Africans are the major reason for the growth of the African art industry. Most of the sales are being made on the continent to local buyers. According to the United Nations Africa Renewal (UNAR), the number of dollar millionaires in Africa is growing at twice the rate of the global average. This means more disposable income on the continent, which is being used to fund local art projects and purchase works from local artists.
South Africa tops the list of African countries with the most millionaires, followed by Egypt and Nigeria. The demand for local artworks in these countries is increasing, which means more support for African artists. Purchases made in Africa are also easier to ship and have delivered, so many of the online sales during 2020 have been made within the same countries (or neighbouring nations) as the artists.
2. African art is getting more international investors
Sotheby’s, one of the world’s biggest art auction firms, says the following about African art; “If you are looking for an excellent rate of return on your money, invest in African art. There is a bull market for artwork from Africa right now and investing in, say, a Dogon fertility statue from Mali or a Dan mask from Liberia is a better bet than investing in blue-chip stocks.”
African art is providing bigger returns for investors as the industry grows in popularity. This means that more international investors are searching for bespoke artworks from Africa. These investable assets are commanding higher prices due to their authenticity, uniqueness and rawness. It’s like a snowball – the more popular the genre becomes, the more investors start to buy, and so on.
3. The appreciation of African art is rising
Africa is a hub of vibrant cultures and artistic talent. The paintings and sculptures created by local artists are often incredibly detailed and realistic, but they can also be abstract and symbolic. The true talent and skill of the African artist are undeniable; using whatever tools and mediums are available to create stunning paintings and sculptures. This creates more appreciation for the genre from a global audience.
The raw talent, creativity and artistry exhibited in every painting and sculpture is refreshing and desirable. This drives appreciation and a craving for African art by foreign audiences. The artists are starting to reap the rewards of their effort and skill as more business ventures start to revolve around online sales of African art.
African artists turn to online sales
Traditionally, art is sold in person at galleries and auctions. African art is similar as it is most commonly sold in person at curio stores, galleries or on the side of the road. However, more African artists are starting to utilise the internet to set up online sales, whether through a dedicated art website or a Facebook marketplace.
The global online art market is estimated to be around US$6-billion. This is evidence of a huge shift from in-person viewing and buying of artworks to an online market that sees works being delivered around the world. African art is no exception; even small-scale artists in Africa are benefitting from the internet and the power of online sales.
The web has undoubtedly contributed to the growth of the African art industry by creating bigger audiences for local artists. These painters and sculptors have become entrepreneurs in their own right, selling their pieces to international buyers and creating a sustainable income in the process. As the African economy continues to develop, the spending power of local buyers also improves the performance of online art sales.
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