In this art gallery located in the heart of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, abstract paintings by a Ugandan artist are on display.
Charlene Komuntale's paintings, a contemporary artist, are part of the numerous works by African artists that have adorned the walls of this gallery over the years. African contemporary art has a rich and diverse history dating back to prehistory, with a variety of artistic expressions, including sculptures, masks, paintings, and textiles
For a long time, African artists have not received the same recognition as their European and American counterparts. However, a new trend is changing things: many art collectors are now interested in African contemporary art, as explained by Daudi Karungi, artist and curator at the Afriart gallery
It's an exciting time for African art and Africans because for many years, it was overlooked, not garnering much interest... until about 7 or 8 years ago," he explains. Karungi elaborates that in the past, most collectors of contemporary African art were expatriates working on the continent. Native Africans didn't pay much attention to the stories told by art and neglected the sector, leading many artists to sell their works to buyers outside the continent.
With modernization and exposure to diverse cultures in recent years, the art industry has seen a significant increase in local clientele consuming African art," explains Karungi. "The middle class has grown, people have built homes, have large walls to look at, and therefore, they need to fill those walls," he says.
Previously, the market was made up of expatriates who were already art-aware and working in an embassy, for example. Today, these individuals are still present, but the Ugandan middle class has also joined in. Art collectors like Linda Mutesi have played a prominent role in ensuring that some African artworks remain on the continent.
She recounts that for a long time, the continent lost its valuable pieces to international collectors. We realize there has been a kind of black hole in which people have confined the continent; they continue to take, and I feel we are approaching art collection as an intervention," says Linda Mutesi. "In a way, we are safeguarding and saying it should not continue, that the bleeding of these artworks and all this intellectual property should not leave the continent but stay here," she adds
Over the years, African art has evolved, reflecting social, political, and cultural changes on the continent. Lillian Nabulime has been sculpting complex artworks for decades. In her workshop located on the outskirts of Kampala, the capital, Lillian Nabulime is working on a female figure that she hopes to complete and sell soon. She is excited about the recent wave of art collection and the various supports and materials used by artists to create their works."
Art is no longer limited to painting, sculpture, or ceramics. It now extends to fashion, film, video. This means that the spectrum has broadened," she says. "There is a wide range of concepts, meaning people are drawn to a diverse array of artworks they can choose from. For Nabulime, globalization and access to social media have played a significant role in the growth of the African art market by creating opportunities for African artists to showcase their work internationally.
More and more artists are selling their works, and I believe other forms of sales have emerged, such as social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. All these artists can showcase and sell their works," she explains. "Galleries are also performing better than ever, giving hope that art will sell.
According to the Art Basel 2023 report, contemporary African artists have seen a record number of artworks sold at auctions (over 2,700), nearly double from before the COVID-19 pandemic. In just the year 2022, artworks by contemporary artists born in Africa generated 63 million dollars (USD) in auctions, compared to a previous record of about 47 million dollars (USD) in 2021.