Photo credit: Fine Art by artist Frank Morrison

How much do you think African art is worth these days?

Can you hazard a quick guess?

I’ll give you some perspective.

In November 2014, a collection of antique African art from Mali, Gabon, Congo and Liberia was sold in New York at Sotheby’s for a record-breaking price of $41 million. This is the largest ever sum realized from the sale of African art in the USA.

If you think it’s only antique African art that’s hot these days, think again.

In 2012, at Bonhams in London, a piece of contemporary painting by the South African painter, Vladmir Tretchikoff, sold for five times the expected value, at £337, 250. The following year, another painting by the late artist, Chinese Girl, broke the record by selling for £982,000, three times as much as expected.

Wait, that’s not all.

In the last five years, African art pieces have been selling at breakneck prices. Not too long ago, a set of wooden sculptures by the Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu sold in London for £361,000, three times the expected price.

New World Map, the aluminium and copper sculpture of El Anatsui, the Ghanaian artist, sold for £541,250, one of the highest prices ever fetched by the work of an indigenous African artist.

Across the world, from New York to London, both antique and contemporary African works of art are now commanding high prices in the major art markets of the world.

So much so that the biggest art auction houses in the world, like Sotheby’s and Bonhams now have departments and teams dedicated to promoting and developing the business of selling African art.

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Princes of Mali, by Ben Enwonwu | Nigeria (1976)

Figures show that the number of new buyers of African art have risen quite remarkably. For example, between 2012 and 2013, the number of new buyers of African art grew by more than 70 percent.

But wait. Do you know the best part of this interesting trend?

You’ll be quite impressed.

According to the figures from leading art houses like Sotheby’s, nearly half of the customers who buy contemporary, modern African art are from Africa.

Yes, apart from the global demand for African art, Africans themselves are the biggest buyers of African art.

This interesting fact just shows the amazing growth potential of African art.

Although ours is only a small slice of the worldwide multi-billion dollar art market, the current realities prove that African art is becoming an explosive worldwide phenomenon.

In this article, I’ll share with you some of the interesting reasons why the demand for African art is booming, and how some young and smart African entrepreneurs on the continent are already exploiting the growing demand for African art.

And trust me, it’s not just Africa’s rich that’s embracing and investing in African art. The continent’s middle class also have eyes for beautiful works of art too.

In this article, you’ll see how one smart Kenyan entrepreneur is carving a niche for himself in the ‘affordable art’ market.

This is one eye-opening article you’ll totally love. 🙂

Why is the demand for African art going up and up?

It’s our tradition on Smallstarter to not just share great business ideas and opportunities, but also let you in on the underlying factors behind the lucrativeness of every idea we share.

In this section, I’ll be looking at three key reasons why the demand for African art is booming. Understanding these ‘behind-the-scenes’ factors will open your eyes to more possibilities in the fast-growing art market.

1) The number of ‘dollar millionaires’ in Africa is rising

Did you know that between the year 2000 and 2013, the number of Africa’s dollar millionaires increased by more than 150 percent?

That’s two times faster than the worldwide growth rate of 73 percent, according to the United Nations Africa Renewal.

In the latest report, South Africa topped the list with 48,800 dollar millionaires, followed by Egypt with 23,000, Nigeria with 15,900 and Kenya with 9,000.

All of this massive wealth is coming from lucrative sectors like telecoms, financial services, retail, manufacturing, imports and exports, agriculture, commodities and several others.

As art is often the luxury of the rich, it’s not very surprising that more wealthy Africans are investing huge amounts in African art.

The size of Africa’s economy is expected to double from $2 trillion to $4 trillion before 2025. And with this gigantic economic leap will enter more dollar millionaires.

And as the population of the continent’s HNI (high net-worth individuals) continues to grow, so will their demand for antique and contemporary, modern art.

2) African art has become a big attraction for global investors

Sotheby’s is one of the world’s most famous and prolific art auction houses. And here’s what it says about African art:

If you are looking for an excellent rate of return on your money, invest in African art. There is a bull market for artwork from Africa right now and investing in, say, a Dogon fertility statue from Mali or a Dan mask from Liberia is a better bet than investing in blue chip stocks.

Around the world, gold and art are two commodities that are currently providing the best returns for investors.

In Nigeria, for example, the art market rose by 20 percent and has been making steady gains in the years after.

And African art is relatively a newcomer to the ‘investible assets’ market. After being ignored for decades, both antique and contemporary African works of art are now commanding high prices, and providing huge returns for global investors.

3) There is a growing appreciation of African art

Africa is a hotbed of creative artistic talent.

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this article, it’s not only pre-historic antique African art that’s in growing demand. The demand for contemporary, modern African art is booming too.

Everywhere you go on the continent, from Dakar to Accra, Banjul to Lagos, Nairobi to Kinshasa, Luanda to Johannesburg, it’s impossible not to notice the growing presence of locally-inspired African art, even in public open spaces like parks, walkways, streets and markets.

With a distinctly young population (over 50 percent of Africans are aged below 30), there is a flurry of creativity, youthfulness and beauty in the air.

More and more young Africans are creatively using art as a form of expression to capture the realities and dreams around them through painting, sculpture, carvings and several other art forms.

As a result, there is a huge supply of beautiful and unique works of African art on the market.

Before now, tourists and the wealthy upper class used to be the major buyers of local African art. These days, Africans in the middle class have pitched in too. They are the ones who are becoming interested in, and buying, art that’s locally-inspired, beautiful and affordable.

Selling Art Online In Africa: The New Trend That’s Taking Over

Traditionally, art is sold ‘in person’. People usually buy works of art like paintings, sculptures and carvings in art galleries, auctions, and during art exhibitions.

But the internet is changing all of that.

According to the Hiscox Online Art Trade Report 2015, the value of the global online art market has risen from just under $1 billion in 2013 to an estimated $2.64 billion in 2015.

Based on this growth trajectory, the value of the online market for works of art is expected to be worth nearly $6.3 billion by 2019.

This is really huge indeed!

This data clearly shows that more people around the world are getting comfortable with buying art online, without really needing to see it first.

Even the big galleries, auction houses and traditional heavyweights of the art world acknowledge the growing influence of the internet on the art industry and are already moving online or making moves to.

In March 2014, for example, Sotheby’s, a key art auction house, announced a new partnership with eBay, the online giant, as part of a redesigned online auction strategy.

And where is Africa in the booming multi-billion dollar online art trade market?

Not very visible.

But it can be.

According to the Global Internet Geography report, Africa’s internet bandwidth grew 41percent between 2014 and 2015, and 51percent compounded annually over the last five years, to reach 2.9Tbps. Today, a growing number of Africans, especially in the urban areas, have access to the internet.

Now presents a great time for smart African entrepreneurs to take advantage of the market opportunities for trading African art online.

Success Story: How This African Entrepreneur is Building an Impressive Online Art Trade Business in Kenya

Across Africa, one of the biggest challenges faced by talented artists is promotion and marketing.

Many artists who have created beautiful, and often amazing pieces of art often cannot find a transparent, trusted and effective way to market and sell their works.

Sadly, it’s common to find artists ‘hawking’ their art works in the street and in open places by themselves, trying to sell their stuff.

But one smart entrepreneur in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, is already solving this problem for the artists in his country.

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Ken Karangi, ByHand Products – Nairobi, Kenya (Photo credit: CNN Africa Start Up)

Ken Karangi is not an artist, per se. Although he has always been an art lover, he used to work as a web designer. That’s before he quit his job to focus on promoting and marketing works of art through the internet.

Ken strongly believes art doesn’t need to be expensive. That’s why his focus is to make beautiful and ‘custom-made’ works of art affordable to ordinary people.

After he quit his job, he teamed up with six local artists in Nairobi to produce beautiful art pieces which he sold through his Facebook page. Interested customers contact him by telephone to arrange an inspection or delivery.

Today, this business – named “ByHand Products” – now has its own website.

His top selling products are hand-woven mats, wall paintings, and artfully crafted customized wall clocks.

By the second year of business, Ken’s venture had doubled its revenues, and currently makes more than $20,000 per annum.

Small, but quite impressive.

On the average, his business sells about six items of art per day and Karangi has opened a showroom in Nairobi for customers who’d like to see the items before buying.

It’s still early days in this young business but his results are quite revealing. It’s indeed an interesting mix of art and technology.

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Some of the art pieces Ken Karangi has on sale

The future is bright for the business of African art

As Africa’s economies continue to develop and the spending power of the average person increases as more Africans enter the middle class, the demand and appreciation for African art, especially modern and contemporary works, will continue to grow.

This would be great for our continent as thousands of young and talented people can earn a living from their art creations.

It would also be great for the investors and entrepreneurs who can exploit the lucrative opportunities in this fast emerging industry.

If you enjoyed this article as much as I did writing it, please share it with your friends using the Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus icons below. I’m sure you’ll make somebody’s day.

What do you think about the potentials of African art? I would love to hear from you in the Comments section below.

To your success!