Sola Masha, general manager, Artyrama, an online platform launched recently to enhance the exposure of, and access to, contemporary African art, speaks with CHUKS OLUIGBO, assistant editor, on the inspiration behind Artyrama online, what the platform aims to achieve, its prospects, the future of the African art market, among other issues.
Tell us about Artyrama online and what inspired it?
Artyrama is an online gallery focused on the sale of high quality, unique and contemporary African art including paintings, photographs, sculptures and mixed media for all budgets and preferences. It is a platform that allows art lovers to engage with contemporary African art through a gallery as well as through regular exhibitions and auctions. Artyrama also goes a step further to offer advisory services which could range from assisting first-time buyers to collect art, to corporate entities or individuals buying or selling art in various quantities.
The idea initially stemmed from a non-profit art foundation focused on providence and documentation in the Nigerian art market which revealed that the majority of African art over the years was only appreciated by a few art connoisseurs, with a focus on only the popular well-known artists. The Artyrama team collectively owned pieces from lesser-known but very talented artists and felt the need to share this with anyone who was interested in purchasing contemporary African art for their home, as a gift or to buy as an investment. Further inspiration came from Artyrama noticing a trend of young art lovers who didn’t feel comfortable in a gallery or auction setting clamouring for an online alternative to appreciate art.
How would you describe Artyrama to someone who doesn’t know anything about it?
I would describe Artyrama as an online platform that caters to the art needs of art lovers, including people venturing into the art world for the first time. Artyrama will also be a source of information and enlightenment to all its clients. Artyrama, in essence, is passionate about African art and is committed to giving these works a global stage to promote the development of art and culture in Africa by showcasing the amazing talent that exists on the continent. We want to make contemporary art from Africa better known globally and to provide quality artworks through a secure and friendly online platform.
What informed the decision to launch Artyrama? What was your motivation behind the website?
Other than the inspiration behind Artyrama, the decision to launch came from studies that showed more and more people worldwide are engaging with art in less traditional manners. Technology played a huge role, it has provided artists with new tools for expression, and is a fundamental force in both the development and evolution of art. Modern ways in which art is created, produced, distributed, and marketed have shifted as a direct reaction of the world’s transition to a socially-connected, digital society. Glaringly lacking in a time where technology has become second nature, and everyone is armed with a smartphone, is where to buy authentic Nigerian art online. Where does one who does not live in Nigeria or on the continent and does not have access to Bonhams, Christie’s and all the various art festivals go? Or a first-time buyer who does not understand art but has an innate appreciation go to explore and purchase art without feeling the pressure of being that-confused-novice in a gallery? All these questions motivated the launch of Artyrama. Another factor was that a lot of upcoming artists felt this was an easier and more efficient way of getting their works noticed. Artyrama is essentially providing a platform that will not only empower the artist but also educate and procure on behalf of like-minded art lovers no matter their income.
Artyrama promises to source and curate “the finest art from all over Africa”. How do you intend to achieve this?
Within Artyrama, there is over 100 years of African art experience and with this we have direct access to local artists, hence ensuring the authenticity of every artwork on the platform. Our art advisors have experience in art research, curation and collection and with this broad knowledge of the art world, art lovers can rest assured that the art on the platform will be of the finest quality.
What is your definition of a fine piece of artwork?
I wouldn’t say there is a definition of a fine piece of artwork but most of the artworks found on the platform are from artists who have either been formally trained or undergone an apprenticeship with renowned and established artists or both. Art is relatively subjective, but Artyrama will provide a wide variety of art from the continent to suit any individual’s taste. With the advisory services on offer, we can also help customers especially first-time buyers select the ideal piece of art that will suit them.
For the benefit of art lovers who may desire to buy a piece of artwork from Artyrama, how does the platform work? How friendly is the arrangement?
The Artyrama platform is very user-friendly. The artworks within the gallery have been grouped into four main categories – paintings, photographs, sculptures and mixed media – and there are several sorting parameters to help drill down to specific needs. There is also an exhibition and auction section that caters to specific events usually for very specific works of art. These exhibitions and auctions will be announced at least weeks in advance to help sensitize our customers. The process of purchasing art is also in line with most ecommerce platforms as well using a secure payment platform as well as an option for direct transfers. A customer can pay in Naira, US Dollars, Euros and Pounds Sterling to accommodate most geographies. Once a purchase is completed, Artyrama will handle all logistics to get the artwork to you regardless of where you are in the world.
2016 was a year in which interest in contemporary art production from Africa soared, leading art analysts like Camilla Péus to project bright prospects for the African art market in 2017. In your view, how has the African market fared in 2017 and what are the prospects going forward?
The African art market has done phenomenally well in 2017 as Sotheby’s, an international auction house, broke the record for the sale of modern and contemporary African art with a figure of $3.6m previously held by Bonhams the previous year at just over $2m. These figures and the establishing of African-specific auctions by international auction houses clearly show great prospects for African art. There is also increased popularity for African-art-specific art fairs like 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair as its attendance has grown in the editions held in London and New York. Right here in Lagos, Art X held the first West African international art fair in 2016 and it was a huge success with the 2017 edition to be even bigger.
The market for modern and contemporary African art amounts to only $20m, just 0.0003 percent of the estimated global art market turnover of $63.8bn, according to the 2015 TEFAF Art Market Report. Do you see Artyrama and other similar efforts significantly changing this narrative?
Definitely, art from Africa is of similar quality to art from anywhere in the world but unfortunately has not received the same level of exposure. Artyrama aims to enhance the exposure of African art and as a result not just increase its share of the total art market turnover but also grow the global art market. The online space will significantly increase the level of exposure art from Africa is currently receiving.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give to those new to the art world who would like to invest in art?
I would advise anyone new to art and looking to invest to invest the same way they would any other asset or commodity. Investors should do their research on artists and the kinds of work they are producing to give them an indication of the future value of that piece. In addition, I would also advise them to initially start with art they actually like and gradually build their taste and over time diversify their art portfolio. At Artyrama, our advisory team has a vast trove of knowledge about the African art market. For first-time buyers, we can help them navigate the complexities of the contemporary art market and equip them with the confidence and knowledge to make informed choices on how to buy or build an art collection. Beyond this, the advisory team can also help collectors refine their tastes and provide new avenues to sell their art based on the collection to be sold and the collector’s needs.
Where do you see Artyrama in the future and will it change the global art market?
I see Artyrama as the go-to place for African art and information in the African art space in the near future. I believe it will enhance the profile of a lot of local talents and give them that platform to engage the global art world. Artyrama will also breed a new generation of art lovers and over time grow the international art market.