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West African art boom livened up Nigeria’s Art X Lagos fair, but economic concerns lurked below the surface


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The seventh edition of Art X Lagos wrapped up on Sunday and while the atmosphere was overwhelmingly described as lively, in terms of sales it appears to have been a mixed bag.

The steady but considerable growth of the West African art market over the last five years is reflected in the fair’s increased international presence since 2016, but it is unlikely that those who participated this year did so without some trepidation.

Nigeria is just one of many countries severely affected by the global economic downturn, with its currency plummeting and inflation high. The upcoming national elections in February, along with severe flooding, are also creating turbulence.

Despite this ominous backdrop, most of the galleries Artnet News spoke to at the fair, its largest ever with 31 exhibitors, maintained a generally cheerful demeanor.

There is often a noticeable lag between the start of a recession and its impact on the art market, although this is less true in the typical mid-price range of Art X Lagos. The fair can be sustained, however, by the compelling sense of a fresh and promising future that the venue represents for its dedicated community of dealers and collectors who have so far chosen to invest.

As a period of bold speculation comes to an end, will a stable market remain?

Maria Varnava, founder of Tiwani Contemporary, is so confident in the region that this year she opened a new branch of the gallery in Lagos. She arrived, she said, with “the thought that many of us are part of a community that makes a clear long-term commitment and investment in the future of the African art scene and the cities that help create it.”

“Right now, we’re helping to continue writing Africa’s exciting future.”

Fittingly, he reported a spirited mood at the fair and the sale of works by Virginia Chihota ($45,000), Michaela Yearwood-Dan ($55,000-$65,000), Miranda Forrester, Emma Prempeh, and Portia Zvavahera. In addition to the locals, he noticed a great deal of interest from Ghanaian collectors.

Daudi Karungi, founding director of Afriart Gallery in Kampala, Uganda, since 2002, is also pleased to announce the sale of several works by Tanzanian painter Sungi Mlengeya to Nigerian collectors for sums ranging from $55,000 to $75,000.

Olugbemiro Arinoso of Affinity Gallery in Lagos speculated that “the recent economic downturn has not had much of a negative impact on the market because collectors see the advantage of art as an alternative form of asset.”

He noted that the market is driven by investors with a long-term mindset and “the rise of young collectors who collect for value and cultural preservation.”

Florian Azzopardi, who founded Afikaris Gallery in Paris in 2018 to promote emerging African artists, sees the fair as a crucial opportunity to present artwork on the continent.

“It was a good opportunity to consolidate our ties with the two artists from Lagos that we represent,” he said.

“I could really feel that the fair was a major cultural event in the city, but also a social event,” he added of the glamorous hubbub now associated with Art X Lagos. “Sometimes it was too much, and we had the feeling of attending a fashion show in our booth, transformed into a photo booth for TikTok or Instagram.”

Despite this, Azzopardi felt that there were not enough opportunities to meet new collectors when compared to the cost, time and effort of exhibiting internationally.

“Other galleries told me that there were fewer collectors than in other years and that a more limited number of ‘good contacts’ were made,” he said. “I think that [economic] the context is not helping”.

This translated into medium sales. Approximately four have been completed so far with price tags between €10,000 and €20,000 ($10,000-$20,000). Other sales have been promised but not yet paid for.

“I think it was not an easy edition for most of the galleries”, concluded Azzopardi.

His experience seems to have been echoed in DADA gallery’s Okinkansola Dada, which exhibits in London and Lagos. Although no sales were made, “we got great reactions from the public to the large-scale, colorful paintings and sculptures by our Nigerian-based artist Samson Bakare.”

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