Nigerian art is presently commanding prices never before now conceivable. Early in 2018, a 1974 painting by the late Ben Enwonwu–titled “Tutu”– fetched a staggering $1.6mn at auction in London; “Bush Babies”, a 2017 work by US-based Njideka Akunyili-Crosby, was sold for $3,375,000.
The latter has been described as a world record for an African art sale. “The world has realised that Nigeria has some of the world’s best art,” says the General Manager at The Wheatbaker Lagos, which simultaneously hosted the “Tutu” auction.
So how much is the Nigerian Art market worth? For now, it is a modest $5.55mn (Global figures stands at $63bn and global online art sales grossed over $5bn), according to Investment Banker Jubril Enakele, quoting reliable sources.
He said this at a gathering of artists and art patrons while reviewing the possibility of art as investment and lending options. “The Africa art market is growing. There is so much room for Africa to contribute to the global art market,” he says, while speaking on the topic “Nigeria Art Financing: Overview, Challenges and Opportunities.”
Enakeke is an avid collector, who recently participated at Dak’Art 2018, the African Contemporary Art Biennial. While he argues that Nigerian art is ripe to be seen as investment alternatives, he worries that the prevailing conditions are not quite adequate to make this option appealing to lending institutions.
“There are no dedicated art storage facilities here,” he says of a likely bottleneck. “So if you were to take a loan against your collection, there is nowhere to keep it safely.”
Speaking on “The Rising Value of Nigerian Art”, Hannah O’Leary of Sotheby’s London, which sold Njideka-Crosby’s work, African is currently an emerging market for global art purchase and Nigeria is at the centre of that reality. “We are seeing more art fairs, art museums and art galleries on the continent, which is a good thing,” she says.
She lists other works sold by Sotheby’s to include: “Crash Willy” Yinka Shonibare’s “Crash Willy”, sold for $290,149; Ben Enwonwu’s “Africa Dances”, sold for $264, 568; “Drown” by Njideka-Akunyili, sold for 1,092,500; “Bad School Boy” and “Boy on Globe” (Both by Shonibare), sold for $265,674 and $169,774 respectively; Toyin Ojih Odutola’s “From a Place of Goodness”, sold for $62,500; and Uzo Egonu’s “Mother and Child”, sold for $30,660.
Also singled out for special mention is Nigeria-based world-renowned Ghanaian sculptor and lecturer El Anatsui’s “Paths to the Okro Farm”, which sold for $1,445,000 (another world record), “Man’s Cloth 2”, sold for $989,000 and “They Saw us Through Puffs of Smoke”, snatched for $969,000.
Oliver Enwonwu, President of the Society of Nigerian Artists and CEO Omenka Gallery believes this is only the beginning of an even more promising future. “The future is indeed bright for Nigerian artists…the time is indeed right for investment,” he says while giving a rundown of Nigerian art heritage, from Nok Terra Cotta era through Ife Bronze Art to Benin Bronzes.