Posted on 08-Aug-2017

What comes to mind when you think of investment? It is probably property, land or shares. However, little by little the East African region has begun to accommodate a different kind of asset, art. For the longest time, appreciation and by extension purchase of art has been a preserve of foreign diplomats and tourists. This tide is slowly changing with more locals appreciating and buying art.


Some of Africa’s artists are now able to sell their works for hundreds of thousands of dollars, prices that would have been unimaginable a few years ago.

The growing art sector has been especially elevated by Circle Art Agency’s annual modern and contemporary East African art auction. Considered to be the only one in East Africa, the Circle auction has given drive to the art scene in Africa, getting East African artwork recognised internationally and locally. In 2015 alone, the auction brought in sales amounting to more than 20 million dollars, an example of the lucrative investment possibilities capable of resulting from art in the region. Their very first auction showcased various works with about two selling for more than ($10,000). In 2015, four art works beat that price; the most expensive piece, by Ugandan painter Geoffrey Mukasa, was worth 1.7m.

Art works are beginning to attract numerous high-class individuals and companies, not simply looking for nice paintings, but beautiful and rare art pieces with a view to invest. This stretches a little beyond the Circle Art Auction, with various other institutions looking to create investments in this growing market.

Safaricom, one of East Africas largest corporate players, has its own modern art exhibition that inhabits the ground floor of Safaricom House the Safaricom Centre in Westlands. The idea is that Safaricom does business with a lot of people, not to mention the hundreds of employees who work in the building. They all get exposed to the art every day, with some of them possibly looking to purchase one or two.

Mr Peppiatt of Bonhams a privately owned international auction house said half of the buyers of contemporary African art were from Africa. Interest in contemporary African art has exploded, particularly among international collectors, who expect it to be the next market where values increase in the same manner as contemporary Chinese art, he said.


Giles Peppiatt 
believes increased interest from international buyers and African buyers has come with economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Given the rapid economic growth in the continent I see no reason why contemporary African art should not continue to attract greater interest, and therefore increase in price, Mr Peppiatt said.

Much of the top contemporary African art comes from Nigeria and, to a lesser extent, Ghana. One of Mr Peppiatts tips for future stardom is Paa Joe, a Ghanaian artist who makes highly decorated coffins. His piece Porsche 55 is expected to fetch £4,000£6,000.

The most sought-after contemporary African artists attract the attention of museums and private collections, boosting prices. Many of the masks and carvings were brought to Europe by colonists. Now pieces from those original collections are coming to the market, Mr Reeves said, as the original owners descendants sell their inherited pieces. A piece known as Baga Serpent on sale in Sothebys New York in 2008 was expected to fetch a low six-figure sum but sold for $3.6m (£2.1m at current rates) a record at the time for African art.

Mayfair gallery owner Michael Backman ( said: The main market for top-end pieces is in Paris, which is where record auction results for tribal art tend to be achieved. Top-quality items that might have sold for £20,000 a decade ago can sell for millions now.

However, while the top end of the African art market has risen markedly, prices in the middle to lower range have remained fairly flat. Prices have not gone down but by and large have not risen so steadily either, Mr Backman said. This is an area where a person with a good eye can enter the market without spending a fortune.

The realisation of this investment potential has seen numerous endorsements of the art market through facilitating exhibitions in various galleries across the world. Encouragement to create art continues to grow, with the increasing middle-class population, providing more clientele to various artists looking to expose their creative works.


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