19.11.2018 - Africa Department

African contemporary art : the hidden potential of growth

The sector of Africa Priority and External Relations, held a roundtable on African contemporary art, on Wednesday, 7 November 2018, at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. On the theme The Art World Eco-System - How Different Actors Work to Develop the Industry, the meeting brought together some of the leading experts on the visual arts on the continent today, including forerunners in the art world and the artists themselves. Chaired by Hannah O’Leary, the Head of Modern and Contemporary African Art at Sotheby’s (London), the event featured a lively debate on the wellspring of talent emanating from the continent, and the policies and infrastructures required for the industry to continue to flourish.

Opening speeches by Firmin Edouard Matoko, Assistant Director General for Africa Priority and External Relations of UNESCO, and His Excellency Ambassador Oumar Keita, President of the Africa Group at UNESCO, reaffirmed the Organisation’s commitment to protecting and promoting the diversity of cultural expressions and underlined the necessity of recognizing culture as an essential component of social and economic development.

The panel included Azu Nwagbogu, curator and Director of the Lagos Photo Festival; Ayo Adeyinka, art consultant and founder of the Tafeta Gallery in London; Salimata Diop, Director of the Museum of Photography in Saint-Louis (Senegal); Nelly Wandji, art and design entrepreneur and owner of the Nelly Wandji Gallery in Paris; Alioune Ba, Franco-Senegalese photographer and architect; and Richard Mudariki, a Zimbabwean artist based in South Africa.

Throughout the discussions, each expert insisted on the centrality of the African art scene to today’s global market, the need for African governments and other international actors to invest in their artistic talent, and the importance of putting in place policies that protect the rights of artists and encourage economic, social, and cultural development on the continent itself. The participants also testified about their own paths through the contemporary art world, insisting at each turn on the need to defend artistic expression as a conduit for African history, identity and innovation. The importance of investing in artistic education on the continent and the imperative to make art that reflects local and country-specific realities also emerged as particularly salient themes.

This roundtable was the first in a series of discussions on the cultural and creative industries in Africa that the sector of Africa Priority and External Relations intends to hold under the framework of UNESCO’s 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

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