The Business Daily on Nigerian investors in African art



Article by Tom Cocks in the Business Daily on the rising number of Nigerian investors in African art. Excerpts:
… That revival coincides with a turn by the country’s super-rich elite and small, but growing, middle class towards art as a store of wealth. An art investment boom is under way across emerging markets, but it has been seen as largely centred on China, India and Gulf Arab countries. …
Note, art as INVESTMENT rather than ‘just as something nice to hang on the wall’. So, collectors ‘no longer just dive in [but] try to find out more about the artist, how much their other works sold for’. That neatly confirms Jacob Jari’s observations that were reported in the Tribune (Nigeria) early this month.
… Artist and designer Nike Davies-Okundaye sees growing interest by local as well as foreign collectors in the Nigerian art in her four-storey Lagos gallery, part of which is given over to traditional work: wood carvings of priests and statues of Yoruba deities. A growing number of wealthy Nigerians are adding such pieces to their collections. …
… Oscar Onyema, CE of Nigeria’s stock exchange, has a very small but growing portion of the exchange’s portfolio in Nigerian art, about 20-million naira ($122,400) so far. "People are now using art as an alternative to other asset classes. We think this is a wise thing to do," Mr Onyema said. "We certainly expect that our own collection at the exchange will increase in value." Nigerian auctioneer Yemisi Shyllon — whose own collection is valued at roughly 5-billion naira — says there was virtually no domestic art market in 2008. …
… "Southern Africa and East Africa are still ahead of our region when it comes to producing internationally recognised art, but Nigerians are becoming Africa’s biggest collectors of art," Mr Shyllon said, in a room crammed with realist paintings, totem poles and carvings of gods of fire, fertility or water. Incongruously, he also has a Jesus statue, which he says he got because devout friends kept questioning all his "fetish" sculptures. "They were wondering where I stood on religion." …
Which gets us to the ‘but’ in all of this …
… Yet for many Christian or Muslim Nigerians, traditional African art, because of its link with animist religion, is still viewed as taboo — an invitation to dangerous black magic or idolatry. That is a hurdle for artists trying to resurrect their suppressed culture. …
... The rise of US-style Pentecostal churches has done the most damage, say Yoruba revivalists, because their allure lies in being "born again", in breaking with your past. "It’s a reason there is still big resistance to our traditional culture and arts," Mr Shyllon said. Most only buy western-style art, he said, but added that "the fact that now art is money is our best hope of revival". …

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