Contemporary African art is an exciting dynamic movement, that continues to make its mark on the global stage. As the names of existing talent and emerging stars command greater attention, the African art industry as a whole is responding in kind with galleries springing up across the continent; prestigious auction houses hosting evenings dedicated to the work of Africa’s artists; and art fairs such as 1:54 connecting artists, galleries and buyers. To find out more about this exciting scene we caught up with Adora Mba, art consultant and founder of The Afropolitan Collector to talk life as an art consultant, collecting African art and tips for artists looking to get noticed.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself: your background, where you are based, and what led you to a career as an art consultant?
I am a Ghanaian (mother)/ Nigerian (father) who grew up in London, Lagos, and Accra. I am currently based in London but I will be relocating back to the continent because there is so much going on art wise and it is important to be on the ground.
I have always loved art, I used to do it myself actually and wasn’t bad at it but not good enough to make it a career (although I did sell some of my artwork in school to parents!). My father has been an art collector for years – since he was in his twenties I believe – so our home has always been surrounded by paintings and sculptures.
The journey here wasn’t initially planned, it was while working in broadcast media a few years ago that the art focus surfaced.
An editor at BBC Africa advised me to ‘write and film about what I love’ and so I set up an African art blog. I felt that it was a movement within the art world that was growing and expanding and yet not many people knew much or spoke about it. I almost felt a duty to highlight it and put it out there. So I began to interview artists, gallery owners and collectors of contemporary African art. The blog did well, I wrote for other publications about the African art market as well as spoke about it on TV and at the Venice Biennale.
I then began to have a lot of requests from friends and people who wanted to buy African art but didn’t know how to even start or what to do. So, stemmed from that need, the blog became a consultancy!
2. For our readers who might not be familiar with the role of an art consultant what exactly does your work consist of, and what are the most interesting, or most challenging, aspects of your work?
I essentially help my clients buy or sell artwork. Not just experienced collectors, but first-time buyers too. For anyone wanting to buy artwork, I get it for them through facilitating the deal via a gallery, auction house or independent artist. I also advise my clients on the market, upcoming artwork and artists to look out for, whom they should invest in, and provide general information on African art.
The challenging aspect of being an art consultant is the market itself. Contemporary African art has no infrastructure or rules – price wise it is literally anything goes! – so although there is an abundance of talent it can be difficult to know you are getting the best price for the work. As it is also a new and niche market, knowing who to invest in can be a gamble.
3. Part of your role as an art consultant is to recommend suitable artworks to your clients, so what are the most important factors when it comes to advising clients on art? And given that art is subjective is what constitutes good or great art something for the individual collector to decide and therefore choose what appeals to them as opposed to simply selecting an artwork just because it is by a well-known or sought after artist?
There are two types of buyers: those who want to buy because they like something; and those who want to buy purely for investment purposes. It is about listening to your client and understanding their needs and tastes. I try to combine both elements and get them a piece of artwork that they will not only love but will make them some money too one day should they wish to sell!
4. What advice do you have for those new to art collecting who may be wondering where to start, and what are common mistakes to avoid?
I always tell first-time buyers to get something they LOVE. Do not buy just from an investment viewpoint, buy something that you want to look at.
If you do want to go the investment route and want to play it safe, it would be smart to either buy from an already established artist (although they tend to be more expensive) or go for an artist who has just had their first solo exhibition. This means they are in the lower end price wise but have backing and support from a gallery.
In rare circumstances, one can find an independent artist who is just spectacular and the work is exactly what you love (especially in this digital age where many artists share work via social media) You could then become a patron to that artist.
“We, as Africans, have always told stories and communicated via art forms whether it be through songs and music, or sculptures and paintings” – Adora Mba
5. The above quote on your website reminds us of Africa’s ingrained history of storytelling through various mediums. What stories is African art telling us today that is attracting local and global attention?
I think it is about time that the world paid attention to African art and I am surprised it has taken this long to do so! We have always provided more than ‘tourism art’, a lot of European artists were influenced by our art and sculptures.
The African artists are telling the stories they always have – they reflect their heritage and history, their identity, their struggles, their joys and their lives. Nothing has changed in the stories told, it is just now people are opening their eyes to it.
6. What is the most exciting thing about the contemporary African art scene right now and how do you see this shaping the future of the industry across Africa?
It is exciting seeing its growth and that it is beginning to look like a viable industry. The amount of talent coming out of the continent is super cool too, especially the different mediums artists now use and explore. We have come a long way from just sculptures of women and paintings!
There is still a long way to go though. Until people and their governments support artists the market won’t get to where it needs to be. Africans need to support African art.
7. In addition to galleries and auction houses you also work directly with individual artists, and like many other creative industries there are many challenges in pursuing a career as an artist, not least getting noticed, so what advice would you give to an artist trying to get their work in front of a wider audience?
The digital age has made exposure much easier. Artists now have platforms such as Instagram to promote their work. Utilise it. Tag galleries (and me!) in images of your work. Get it out there.
Partnering is also a smart way to get your work in front of people. A lot of shops and restaurants have wonderful ‘pop up’ like exhibitions.
8. What does the future hold for the Afropolitan Collector?
Gosh, who knows! Hopefully a gallery of her own. That would be something.
You can find out more about Adora Mba and the dynamic African art scene by visiting her website http://afropolitancollector.com/
– Tapiwa Matsinde
Artists and image titles from top:
El Anatsui, Earth Developing More Roots, Sotheby’s
Ablabe Glover, The Beauty and the Beast, Sotheby’s
Njideka Akunyili Crosby – Drown – Sotheby’s
Mary Sibande, Her Majesty, Queen Sophie
Aida Muluneh, Dinkenesh Part One, David Krut Projects
Cheri Samba – A Brief History of the Future