The Africa-focus art fairs are also significant platforms: 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London, New York, and Marrakech; Also Known As Africa Art (Akaaa) and Design Fair in Paris, FNB Joburg Art Fair, and Cape Town Art Fair.
It is important to recognise the Joburg Art Fair’s contribution, not only as the first of its kind in Africa, but also for continuing its operation “to showcase the rise of contemporary African art to an international audience” under the directorship of Mandla Sibeko, who is passionate about delivering an art fair that speaks to Johannesburg as an international metropolis quite comparable to other economically viable and culturally vibrant cities in Africa and around the world.
Worth mentioning, too, is the auction house Bonhams’ African Now auction, as well as the two new museums — Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa and the Norval Art Foundation in Cape Town — which are adding an institutional incentive to the rising flare of contemporary African art. It is hoped that the young Wits Art Museum in Johannesburg will soon make itself a scholarly and culturally active platform, so its contribution to the significance of African art is recognised.
There are also innovative platforms that are contributing to the spotlight on African art. They are Bisi Silva’s Centre for Contemporary Art Lagos in Nigeria, Koyo Kouoh’s Raw Material Company in Dakar, and Ndikung’s Savvy in Berlin. Aida Muluneh’s Addis Foto Fest in Ethiopia, the LagosPhoto Festival in Nigeria and Bamako Encounters in Mali contribute immensely to the evolving practices of photography on the continent.
Equally important are the instructive publications of Sue Williamson’s ArtThrob, Brendon and Suzette Bell-Roberts’ Art Africa, and Julia Grosse and Yvette Mutumba’s Contemporary And (C&). Their written and visual contents are indispensable archives and edifying literature about the unfolding discourses, practices and developments pertaining to contemporary African art.
It is these platforms and cultural producers who keep contemporary African art alive, contributing to its expansion and circulation in the global arena of cultural flows. Much of what they are (and are becoming) is due to several decades of unrelenting struggles of assorted minorities against neglect, marginality, humiliation, and exclusion by Western institutions that dictate the terms and procedures through which contemporary art is mainstreamed.
The sudden hype about the newfound international visible presence of African art in the global arena is unthinkable without recognising and contending with the political deliberations accomplished through pioneering projects such as Third Text: Third World Perspectives on Contemporary Art and Culture, Revue Noire, NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art; The Studio Museum in Harlem and Institute of International Visual Arts; Black arts collectives and movements; Thupelo and Triangle Networks; The Other Story, Seven Stories of Modern African Art; Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa 1945-1994; Authentic/Ex-Centric: Conceptualism in Contemporary African Art; Fault Lines: Contemporary African Art and Shifting Landscapes; and Africa Remix.
The creators, intellectuals, curators, activists, and agents who have laboured for the existence and effective operation of these projects include Rasheed Araeen, Eddie Chambers, Njami, Enwezor, Oguibe, Salah Hassan, Gilane Tawadros, Chika Okeke-Agulu, Thelma Golden, Stuart Hall, Sarat Maharaj, Gavin Jantjes, Clémentine Deliss, David Koloane, Robert Lorder, and Everlyn Nicodemus. Thus, any sincere discussion about the current spotlight on and newfound international interest in contemporary African art should also recognise and attribute the long overdue credit to their radical, ground-breaking work.