Artnet Collaboration featuring Phumulani Ntuli, Stolen Songs, 2019.
Artnet Collaboration featuring Phumulani Ntuli, Stolen Songs, 2019.
Image: Supplied

Latitudes Online started life in 2019 as a physically staged alternative art fair running in parallel to what was then the Joburg Art Fair. From its inception it was focused on broadening the buying and selling bases for contemporary art beyond SA borders to the rest of the continent, which required them from the beginning to have an online presence.

With the sudden arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns in early 2020, this online sales channel became the dominant identity for the fledgling art marketplace.

The original idea behind Latitudes was twofold: first, to offer an accessible destination to explore and buy contemporary art from Africa; its site brings together artworks presented by galleries, curators, studios, not-for-profit organisations and independent artists themselves, which is the first platform of this kind dedicated to art from Africa.

Second, its intention was to break down perceived and actual structural and geopolitical inequalities in the art world, to create voices for independent artists and bring together artists and collectors on an affordable sales platform. While the arrival of Covid lockdowns was challenging for the event-based art fair, the enforced pivot to a purely online model has proved felicitous. 

We caught up with founding directors Lucy MacGarry and Roberta Coci to understand how Latitudes Online is progressing and its plans for the future.

Billy Monk, The Catacombs, 14 October 1967, Pigment Ink on Archival Paper, Edition of 12
Billy Monk, The Catacombs, 14 October 1967, Pigment Ink on Archival Paper, Edition of 12
Image: Supplied

JS: Has Latitudes Online been growing over the past couple of years? What’s the progress of the marketplace?

LMcG: It has been growing strongly, which has enabled us to stick to our original vision of providing a truly African art marketplace. From a couple of hundred artists at first, we now have more than 1,500 artists and galleries, but there’s a lot of work to be done to expand Latitudes Online through the rest of Africa from its SA base.

RC: We see ourselves as a third-party marketplace, but our growth has been organic — an important strategy is to make our work accessible and affordable to encourage new collectors, which is happening. We’re always looking for new avenues, so a new part of that strategy is our Latitudes Limited, our monthly drops of limited-edition prints by established artists that are accessible generally.

Latitudes Art Fair 2023 (New Venue).
Latitudes Art Fair 2023 (New Venue).
Image: Supplied

JS: How are you positioned relative to a big international player like Artsy?

LMcG: They’re way bigger than us, but our focus is really on expanding the African markets, and we were early in offering artists a platform to sell work directly and for buyers and collectors to have access to artists directly. That meant establishing some logistics infrastructure, but it’s really been worth it for us.

RC: It’s very important for us to be identifiable as a community and to have direct involvement in our platform and transactions. We’re always trying to foster opportunities and relationships on our site, which is another point of difference to the likes of Artsy.

JS: How do you work with artists who are represented by existing galleries?

LMcG: We don’t deal only with independent artists, but also co-operate with many artists represented by galleries. So in those cases we deal with the gallery, and maintain a respectful distance in that relationship — we really want to collaborate with all the galleries as well as offer artists mentoring and advice about how to represent themselves if they are independent.

JS: And what are Latitudes Online’s next steps?

LMcG: We’re going back to a physical fair in May 2023. We’ve partnered with a major financial institution for a new fair that develops on our first iteration in 2019.

RC: Yes, it’s a bespoke event, not based entirely around a convention centre, but engaging different exterior and interior spaces. We’re really looking forward to it!

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