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Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga Abandonnés 2015. Courtesy, October Gallery London
Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga Abandonnés 2015. Courtesy, October Gallery London
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African Art: Going Global Via London

Picture of Bella Stephens
Updated: 23 March 2016
Contemporary African art has become an important market for art observers and collectors alike. Until recently, African art operated in a small, fragmented market supported by a few avid collectors like philanthropist Jean Pigozzi, through his long-term collaboration with Andre Magnin. Today, African Art has gone global and inspired by last month’s 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, we decided to delve a little deeper to explore how London is influencing this growth.
JP Mika: Prétendant sapeur (le prestigieux enfant)
JP Mika: Prétendant sapeur (le prestigieux enfant) | Courtesy of Galerie MAGNIN-A, Paris

1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair

Touria El Glaoui founded the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London in 2013. Such is the interest in art from the region that visitor numbers to the annual fair at Somerset House rose from 9,000 in 2013 to 15,000 this year. El Glaoui summed up the October 2015 fair by saying: ‘I am absolutely delighted with the response to the latest edition of 1:54. As the only international contemporary African art fair, it is a great joy to showcase the world’s best African and African diasporan artists here in London. With high visitor numbers, extensive press coverage and requests from galleries to return already pouring in, I think it can be judged as a roaring success.’

Art Africa, Somerset House, South Wing, Strand, London

George Edozie, Thoughts of Obiageli
George Edozie, Thoughts of Obiageli | Courtesy of AabruArt London
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Aabru Art

Aabru Art is a gallery that specialises in West African Art. It showcases artists through pop-ups, online and collaborative exhibitions with other galleries. Since its establishment in 2010, Aabru Art has seen interest for African art grow in the UK and from Europe, the USA and Asia. Founder Anshu Bahanda sees the ‘centre of gravity’ shifting to London, where art comes from all over Africa, with new artists emerging confident that they will have a platform to show and sell their art internationally. An example of this was the 56th International Art Exhibition (aka The Venice Biennale), curated by Okwui Enwezor, where a number of African artists exhibited their work.

Aabru Art is observing a growing interest for modern and contemporary sculptures, as the ‘Thought of Obiageli’ above illustrates. Overall, they believe that art institutions including the Tate Modern, Royal Academy, Serpentine Gallery, Saatchi Gallery and Gasworks have played a central role in encouraging African artists; giving them a voice and presence in London.

Aabru Art Gallery Space, Jacob’s Well Mews, Marylebone, London

Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga Abandonnés 2015 | Courtesy of October Gallery London

Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga Abandonnés 2015 | Courtesy of October Gallery London

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October Gallery

The October Gallery was the first gallery in London to present contemporary African art in what might be termed a ‘non-orientalist’ context; i.e: as art, rather than African art. While a small number of dedicated collectors and institutions supported this programme from the beginning, in the last decade or so wider public interest has bloomed. This has led to the astonishing rise in prices for artists like El Anatsui – whose tapestry masterwork sold at Bonhams in 2012 for £541, 250 ($850, 544), creating a world record for African art — and the establishment of dedicated art fairs for African art, such as 1:54 in London. In the last five years in particular, African art has become a key player on the international art scene, with many museums adding to their collections and many galleries adding African artists to their programme. London is naturally a centre of activity, largely as a result of the city’s cultural diversity and important role in the art world.

October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester Street London

Ed Cross Fine Art

Curator Ed Cross reflects on the capital’s influence on Africa’s growing art scene saying, ‘London is, I would say, the key centre for contemporary African art outside Africa. It ticks the boxes as multiethnic powerhouse and former colonial HQ. The London I:54 Fair has cemented all this. Bonhams has blazed a difficult trail, and run up a major flag for African art in this city with some real successes. A growing group of complimentary and dedicated galleries, dealers and curators are creating a London scene which has depth building on the work of the October Gallery dating back to the seventies.’

Ed Cross Fine Art, email

British Museum_AfricanArtCloseUp, 2015 by Chris Spring
British Museum_AfricanArtCloseUp, 2015 by Chris Spring | Courtesy of Bella Stephens

The newly published book ‘African Art Close-Up’ by Christopher Spring offers a unique introduction to the global phenomenon that is African art. Courtesy of The British Museum, The Culture Trip is offering two lucky UK-based readers the chance to win a copy, by following our competition on our London Twitter page.