African art has been having a very long moment. Over the past 10 years, contemporary artists from the continent – from the Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui to Kenyan artist Wangechi Mutu to South African photographer Zanele Muholi – have continued to build their names on the international stage.
African artists have been presenting in major museums and galleries across Europe and the United States, while increasing numbers of African countries have shown at the prestigious Venice Biennale, including Ghana’s critically-acclaimed debut this year.
Both Sotheby’s and Bonhams auction houses meanwhile have set up their own African contemporary and modern art departments, signalling that the market is paying attention, too.
“Going into the new decade, I feel we are starting from a stronger foothold,” said Marwan Zakhem, the founder of Gallery 1957, in Ghana’s capital, Accra. “The international art scene has woken up to the wealth of creativity offered across Africa and the diaspora,” Zakhem told Al Jazeera.
“A lot of groundwork has been made in terms of affirming African art as a key component of the ever-flourishing arts scene, so it’s an exciting time to be a part of it”.
What is most notable, however, is the growth seen within the continent. Addressing a crippling lack of infrastructure that has previously forced talent to look elsewhere for opportunity and support, major cities are bolstering their local scenes while establishing themselves as international art destinations.
Art fairs have popped up to seduce collectors, new residences have given creatives spaces to develop their craft and museums such as Cape Town’s Zeitz MOCAA and the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL) in Marrakech have opened to showcase the best on offer.
“There’s still more to be done though,” Zakhem said. “I hope the decade ahead sees more continent-wide investment in the visual arts – more museums, more projects, more educational support – and more events bringing international visitors here.”
As the year – and the decade – draws to a close, here are four African art events to watch out for in 2020 and beyond.
Thanks to the opening of MACAAL, 2018’s inaugural Moroccan edition of the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair and the commercial success of artists such as Hassan Hajjaj – the subject of a recent retrospective at Paris’s Maison Europeenne de la Photographie – Marrakech has become a major draw for critics and collectors.
As 2020’s African Capital of Culture – the first city to hold the designation – it will no doubt be increasing its efforts to engage art lovers and buyers alike.
“Over the last five years, Marrakech has struck an excellent balance in preserving and building on its rich cultural histories, while establishing itself as a space for artistic experimentation. Alongside this, there is a growing number of commercial spaces and both independent and government funding, giving artists more opportunities to support their practices in the long term,” said 1:54 founder Touria El Glaoui.
“I grew up in Morocco and my father [Hassan El Glaoui] was a painter who always encouraged us to engage with art histories, so seeing the scene grow and blossom has been amazing to witness.”
In February, 1:54 will return to the city’s luxurious La Mamounia hotel for the third year, hosting some 20 European and African galleries. At the same time, MACAAL, the Muse Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech and other local spaces will be staging their own exhibitions, creating an unofficial art week of sorts.
How the rest of the year shapes up will surely set the template for how future cities make use of the Capital of Culture designation.
The birthplace of art stars including Ben Enwonwu – whose Tutu, dubbed the African Mona Lisa, sold for a record $1.6m in 2018 – Victor Ehikhamenor and Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Nigeria is an obvious choise to be the home of West Africa’s first international art fair: Art X Lagos.
Launched in 2016 by entrepreneur Tokini Peterside, Art X Lagos serves as an exhibition space, marketplace and classroom for those looking to immerse themselves in the world of contemporary African art.
It is also notable for prioritising younger artists over established pioneers through both its exhibitions and the Access Bank ART X Prize, which awards one emerging artist with funding, mentoring and an international residency.
“I see how wonderful and massive [Art X Lagos] is becoming and I think it’s placing Lagos as a real arts hub, which I really love, and a serious one,” said Adora Mba, the founder of the Afropolitan Collector, an art advisory platform.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing how big it can go.”
Of all Africa’s major art events, few rouse as much enthusiasm and respect as Senegal‘s Dakar Biennale, commonly known as Dak’Art.
“It always brings together the best of the African art community to show brilliant work, engage in important dialogues and, of course, celebrate,” said Gallery 1957’s Zakhem.
“It always outdoes itself,” agreed Mba, for whom Dak’Art is the ultimate place to discover new talent and up-and-comers. “I don’t even know how they keep producing such amazing art and artists and bringing people in.”
Supported by the country’s Ministry of Culture and Communication, the 14th edition will centre on the theme of I’Ndaffa/Forger/Out of Fire – a trilingual take on the word “forge” in Serer, French and English.
“This general theme refers to the founding act of African creation, which nourishes the diversity of contemporary African creativity, while projecting new ways of telling and understanding Africa,” Artistic Director El Hadji Malick Ndiaye, a curator at Dakar’s Theodore Monod Museum of African Art, said in a statement.
“It represents the dynamics and action of creating, recreating and kneading. It thus refers to the forge that transforms, the deposit from which the raw material comes, and to the fire that creates.”
This year’s event will be held from May 28 to June 28.
Africa may not lead the world in terms of the number of major art events held annually, but there is no shortage of arts professionals looking to add to the tally.
To that end, the Stellenbosch Triennale, conceived by the Stellenbosch Outdoor Sculpture Trust, will make its debut in South Africa in February.
Breaking with convention, the event is more about engaging the community than appealing to art world insiders.
On their website, organisers say they plan to turn the city into a “curated public laboratory for creative expressions and engagements” where all are invited to interrogate our relationship with nature, the limits of technology and the definition of citizenship.
Works will be displayed at sites across the historic city, and there will also be opportunities to continue the conversation in workshops and online.