In case you missed it, the genie left the bottle, married a oil billionaire’s daughter in Lagos and bought an El Anatsui.
In short, anyone with even the slightest interest in Africa’s creative arts would need to be blind, deaf and illiterate to escape the rising prices in the African contemporary art market.
The piece of abstract African art above is entitled “Drunk Palm III” (2007) by Wangechi Mutu, a renowned Kenyan artist whose work is showcased at the revered Victoria Miro Gallery in London. What do you see when you look at this image? Confused? If yes, read on……
Before we begin, an apology. We are all aware that there are far too many of these types of Internet articles, which command us, in various guises, to read or include certain African writers on our summer/autumn reading lists. The largely imaginary risk of non-compliance is exclusion from a tightly bound community of Africa’s literary elite endorsed by Western publishing houses. What is the objective of these lists? Is it to promote certain African authors who have been overlooked by the literary cognoscenti; both domestic and international?
The issue is this, when standing in a bookshop in a mall or idly browsing on Amazon before a holiday or after a tough day at work, where does one find the African equivalent of a John Grisham novel, i.e. an easily digestible thriller or mystery with no weightier theme than the pursuit of a villain and triumph of a hero or similar fare in the realm of romance or comedy?
Outside of the English speaking world, authors whose nationalities hail from Asia, the Middle East, Russia, continental Europe and South America will be widely published (and in some cases will write) in their native tongue for a local audience.
In 1975 Chinua Achebe wrote a speech entitled “The African Writer and the English Language”. It raised the vexed, emotionally fraught question of why most of our celebrated African literature is written and published in Sub-Saharan Africa only in the English language.
Social media and the blogosphere are groaning under the weight of interest in the contemporary art of Africa, in large part due to the escalating prices at European and American galleries and auction houses which smell a profit in the wind blowing in the direction of African art. However, little if anything is said about where these acclaimed artists learnt their craft. The assumption is that most are self taught, wielding a brush across a blank canvas or a chisel to a block of marble or metal, with nothing more than sheer talent to guide them. The evidence, however, suggests otherwise.