In a new episode of Africa Avant Garde, CNN explores the importance and value of participating in international art fairs, following several African galleries and artists as they prepare for and participate in Miami Art Week.
“The whole experience of the art fair is mad, hectic, and chaotic. There’s so much going on and it’s like visual overload,” according to Nigerian visual artist and painter Nengi Okumu.
Nengi describes her work, “I make paintings on sanyan. Sanyan is a pre-colonial textile that was produced in Nigeria, in the western parts among the Yuroba people. I’ve shown at a couple of art fairs, but usually I don’t go for the fairs because they are quite short.”
It is her first time travelling to Miami for the Art Basel. “I was a little intimidated because it is bigger than I had imagined. But I was also excited to be showing here, especially at Meridians because it’s like a curated section,” she says.
“The piece I’ll be showing at Art Basel is in the Meridian sector, which is basically a curated section for about 20 or so galleries. Each artist brings one piece, one sort of like installation. It’s the largest standalone piece that I’ve done so far. It’s about five meters wide and two meters high. It took two months to complete.”
The textile is called Son, “It is a vintage textile, made by the Ura people in Nigeria. I source it from the local markets and so I usually like recover ones that are no longer wanted.” Nengi was pleased to hear that her art was appreciated by art enthusiasts, “People have said that the painting brings them joy, so that for me is already success.”
For Assistant Director of Addis Fine Art, Ikenna Malbert, the right fair creates the right conversation and exposure for a gallery and the artists. Addis Fine Art London is a gallery founded to shine a light on the artists emerging from the Horn of Africa region.
Ikenna says that “Participating in art fairs is really important for the business. Whether it’s selling to new collectors, building new relationships, curators, private collections, it’s a really, significant part. It’s also an opportunity to just exhibit our artists to the biggest audiences possible.”
Daudi Karungi, a gallerist with Afriart Gallery, attended the event after he was first invited. He shares his experience, “The intention is to create an inclusive environment not only for Black Africans but Africa as a continent.”
He continues, “If we do sell out this booth, we’ll make a profit. But that’s not why we have come here. We could make that same amount of profit if we just stayed home. But to us, being here is an opportunity for everybody to see the artists that we were working with because we believe in the long-term goal.”