Exposing contemporary art in Africa: new dynamics and unresolved inequalities

Posted by Maxence Zabo on

Asserting itself on the world art scene, contemporary African art is gaining increasing visibility. This considerable growth is not without generating some questions as to the modalities of exhibitions: if African works circulate more and more, the number of museums structures in Africa remains low.

As analyses Babacar Mbaye Diop, philosopher and art critic from Senegal, the lack of legal and economic framework coupled with the low investments by African states maintain the state of an art market monopolized by Western powers. Since then, the works of the most renowned African artists remain the prerogative of famous auction houses like Christie's or Sotheby's.

Nevertheless, the desire for a more equitable redistribution is gaining in intensity, initiating a movement of appropriation by the African continent of the works and artists who are intimately connected. This intention is reflected in the birth of new exhibition spaces, which come under different legal conditions.

The creation of a Centre for Contemporary Art (CAC) in Benin, a structure distinguished by its expanded vocation to serve as both the production and diffusion of contemporary art, is part of this logic of institutionalization of the art exhibition within Africa itself. Named Le Centre and opened in 2015, this space combines original performances, projections and contemporary paintings with historical objects thanks to the presence of the small Museum of the Récade.

The latter gathers forty traditional Beninese sceptres of power. The opening of new exhibition venues is also taking place on the initiative of collectors, be they European, such as Jochen Zeitz and MOCAA in Cape Town (South Africa), or Africans, like Sindika Dokolo and his eponymous foundation in Luanda (Angola).

Sindika Dokolo, congolese collector
Congolese collector, Sindika Dokolo

For the different actors, the choice to exhibit their collection within Africa is motivated by a lot of interest. The aim is to contribute to a policy of restitution, to promote contemporary artists on their continent and to once again evoke the appropriation of African art by inhabitants and visitors.

In general, exhibition spaces in Africa are emerging at a significant pace since the early 2000s and until today. Nevertheless, the nuances to be made are many and flagrant. The status and type of structures vary little: they are foundations or private museums, support donors or collectors, they are palliating the lack of cultural budget suffered by Africa. Then, inequal distribution among the different African countries is emphasized: of South Africa, South Africa, Nigeria or Morocco are more favored than others. Finally, acquisitions of African works are mainly in the West, this monopoly increases the risk of Africa of his creations.

If the success of contemporary art in the world positively contributes to the recognition of new artists, sometimes unknown, and the dynamism of the economy, a challenge remains: exhibiting artworks on the African continent itself.


Written by Eléa SICRE