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Monday, 5 March 2018

Publications, art criticism, research may help ascribe value as demand for contemporary African art increases

By Andrew Mulenga

With what can be identified as an increasing demand for modern and contemporary African art on the world stage, South African artist and educator Annette Loubser suggests that if the continent is to benefit more from this wave, there is need to intensify research  and writing on individual artists.

This was while addressing the audience during the opening of Signs of The Times, a group exhibition at Galerie NOKO in Port Elizabeth that opened on 28 February and features photography, sculpture, painting and ceramics by Monique Willfen Rorke, Qhama Maswana, Chantall Berise Martin, Mziwoxolo Makalima, Brunn Kramer, Christian Arnold, Dorothy Barnes, Lee Hensberg and Suyabonga Ngaki.  

Loubser -- formerly a senior educator of the Iziko art collections at the National Gallery in Cape Town stated that while South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Morocco are essentially seen as the countries with the best infrastructure for the growing art market; it is still important that more research and writing is encouraged as she pointed out a few indicators that were necessary to harness this global demand as well as continue to ascribe financial value to the works of artists.

“There is a demand that has come from Europe, particularly from Bonham’s because people are buying not only the work of emerging young Africans but also more traditional and older artists that have passed on like Irma Stern. Therefore, what are the indicators, how do you ascribe value to artworks from this market,” she asked. “You have an artist that might be a street artist, an artist who uses found objects and an artist who has PhDs and things; or International exposure or one who is more interested in Voodoo or something like that. Now how do you ascribe value?” 

Loubser suggested that there are three indicators that have been looked at by some contemporary art galleries. The first being publications, the second being the amount of art criticism and research that has been done around a particular artist, and the third thing is whether the artist has been given a one-person exhibition in a gallery or an art museum. Concerning the issue of research, she suggested this was of the utmost importance, and that it really needed to be encouraged pointing out collections such as The Contemporary South African Black Art Collection or the The De Beers Centenary Collection at the University of Fort Hare, the oldest black university in the country, founded in 1916. These collections which include works of icons such as George Pemba, Gerald Sekoto and Dumile Feni also house a wide range of disciplines such as etchings, woodcuts, wood blocks, linocuts, serigraphs, drawings, paintings and sculpture representing more than 170 artists most of whom have not been researched on in depth. Also within the Eastern Cape, she made mention of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, which houses work by Gladys Mgudlandlu whose solo exhibition in Johannesburg in the early 1960s was reported as the first for a black African woman during the apartheid era. Loubser stated not enough has been written about Mgudlandlu and the work by others in the museum and that there is much that upcoming researchers could work with despite the sometimes restrictive nature of these institutions in terms of their archive accessibility more so the Fort Hare collection. 

Asked how she thought countries such as Zambia which may not have the infrastructure of the countries she earlier mentioned would benefit from a piece of the global pie concerning the demand for contemporary African art, she suggested partnerships in terms of exhibitions and research projects within the SADC region would be beneficial to start with.

This unprecedented demand for modern and contemporary art from Africa is reflected not only by the likes of Bonham’s as Loubser points out in May last year Sotheby’s London held an inaugural sale for its Modern and Contemporary African Art department, with 115 works selling for a total of  $3.6 million. This year a long-lost Nigerian masterpiece by Ben Enwonu that was found in a London apartment set a record for Bonham’s at $1.67 million during Africa Now, the first-ever evening sale of contemporary African art at the auction house and collectors are also discovering works through ever growing fairs such as 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, in London, New York and Marrakech.
Annette Loubser graduated from Rhodes University in Grahamstown, receiving a B.F.A. in painting in 1974. She later went on to receive her M.F.A in painting, her B.A. Honors in Art History, and a postgraduate diploma in Mural Painting and Stained Glass from various institutions. She last showed her own artwork in Johannesburg three years ago, but has not been engaged with her personal art practice since then. See:

Galerie NOKO is housed in a landmark building that has recently been renovated to contemporary values on one of Port Elizabeth’s main route, Russell road.  A uniquely positioned building, it is bordered on the back by Campbell street as it faces Russell road and on either sides by Bain and Moffat  streets. See:


  1. Hello Andrew Mulenga and thank you so much for this article. The three indicators that Annette Loubser suggested as the key concerns among art galleries are also true for publishers and authors as well; namely, publications, criticism and research, and exhibition. In particular, my writing experience in Canada has not only seen the importance of these three key issues but also the need for partnerships between those with the necessary resources and those without. Hence, the whole process calls for research in view of collaborating with those that have the ways and means. Keep up the good work, Mulenga.

    ...Bakar MANSARAY, Mandingo Scrolls Series Canada

  2. Andrew, there needs to be a correction. Gladys Mgudlandlu exhibited in Port Elizabeth, not Johannesburg, in the 60s.

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