Another buyer is Nigerian businessman Yemisi Shyllon, who has amassed a collection of more than 6,000 pieces of artwork, which he displays at his private museum in Lagos. Shyllon considers art a commodity like any other and expects to make hefty return from it.
“Gold and art are two commodities” says Yemisi Shyllon bluntly, “that are doing well. Art is definitely one of the fastest growing investments in Nigeria today.”
Shyllon is correct. In 2013, the Nigerian art market rose by over 21%, making anyone who invested in it, and made the right purchases, very happy, indeed.
“There’s a lot of money in Nigeria,” Giles Peppiatt, director of contemporary African Art at Bonhams auctioneers in London, said in an interview in The Economist. “And though it might sound cynical, money and art are inextricably linked.”
It is thanks, in part, to Giles Peppiatt, and Bonhams auction house, and because prices are still comparatively low, that there has been a boom in sales in both African antique tribal art and also in modern, contemporary African art, as well.
Once the poor relation of antique tribal art, contemporary African art received a boost in 2009 when Giles Peppiatt convinced Bonhams to hold the first ever London sale of Contemporary African Art, ‘Africa Now’.
Poor relation no more
It was a big success, financially and critically, and helped bring attention to art works that had been mostly ignored outside of a few, select collectors and dealers.
As a result of the ‘Africa Now’ show, interest in modern African art increased enormously. In 2010, Bonhams in New York City followed from Bonhams in London and held its first commercial auction dedicated solely to contemporary African art. Since then several art fairs, offering a platform for modern African art, have popped up, including London’s 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, which is named after the number of nations in Africa and was begun in 2013 by Moroccan Touria El Glaoui, daughter of celebrated Moroccan painter Hassan El Glaoui.
“I don’t like to use the words ‘trend’ or ‘boom’ or creating a ‘buzz’,” El Glaoui said recently. “I prefer to think that this is just a moment that we are having, giving visibility to these African artists; I do hope that it’s not temporary.”
But if this art boom does prove temporary, there will, at least, be monuments, and permanent reminders of what a great moment once existed for African art.
To this end, a wealthy Beninese family, the Zinsous, recently opened a museum in Ouidah dedicated to contemporary African art. In Nigeria, the Danjuma family will open a special modern art gallery in a section of their Wheatbaker Hotel in Lagos in 2015.
Overseeing the gallery project is Theo Danjuma, the 28-year-old art collector son of retired general and multimillionaire businessman Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma. Theo Danjuma also intends on building special artist studio spaces at local art schools and establishing artists’ residency programmes that will help launch Nigeria’s future painters, sculptures and art historians. Danjuma does not expect Nigerians to quickly take to his contemporary art gallery.