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Fighting for Visibility

Loaded cultural encounters between Africans and Europeans have been occurring on major global platforms for art. Biennales such as the one in Venice, is where African countries such as Zimbabwe, Angola and South Africa have secured national stands displaying their art. Art fairs have democratised the art scene to some degree, allowing for African galleries or those representing artists from the continent and diaspora to show their art in New York - the Armory fair in that city had a special focus on the continent this year – or London, where the now annual 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair takes place. Commercial galleries dedicated to promoting and specialising in African art are popping up too. Such as the newly opened Circa London gallery by the Everard Read gallery, which has galleries in Joburg and Cape Town.

That these ‘encounters’ are taking place in the West might suggest that the power relations between Africans and Europeans (and Americans) are in the process of being reversed. However, the battle is centred on visibility rather than challenging how African culture is framed or ‘consumed’.

Exactly what kick-started heightened interest in contemporary African art is tricky to pinpoint.

“It is like trying to study the particles of water that take to make a wave; so many things come together to make it happen. I think it is just part of an exploding interest in art and the search to find the next big thing, whether it is Chinese art or African. There is a recognition that there is considerable value to be found in African art,” suggests Georgie Shields, director of Circa London, which opened its doors in Fulham a few months ago. Circa London deals primarily in art from South Africa and the continent but it was not conceived so as to cash-in on this “wave”. Shields along with South African gallerist Mark Read and their London partner, the John Martin gallery, had been planning the gallery for around a decade.

Originally published in Wanted magazine: read the rest here


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