Ismael Kateregga’s painting titled `Buikwe fishing boats 2018’ composed of fishing boats docked at one of the landing sites on Lake Victoria, recently went under the hammer for £ 12,500 (approximately Shs61 million) at the Bonham’s Auction house.
Earlier on in 2014, the artist had sold another painting `Boats’ for £8,750 (Approx. Shs38.7 million) at the same auction house in London. And he is not the only artist from Uganda and the east African region making big money in art auctions.
At the 5th edition of East Africa Art Auction in Nairobi recently, Geoffrey Mukasa ( deceased) was acclaimed as the bestselling artist from the region when he sold his paintings `In the Sugar Plantations’ for Ksh1,937,100 ( Approx. UShs72 million) and `Birds at Home’ for US$9,688 (approximately UShs36 million) respectively. In one evening, Mukasa sold works worth more than Shs295 million.
These relatively high prices for Ugandan and east African art pieces are unprecedented. They are attributed to the perception of art from the region as fresh and generally inexpensive. Ugandan artists like Xenson Ssenkaaba, Eria Sane Nsubuga, Joseph Ntensibe and Michael Soi create fresh art that blends traditional art practices and motifs in interrogation of political social contexts.
According to Dada Jaroljmek, Director Circle Art Agency who organise the Modern and Contemporary East Africa Art Auction, the surge in interest of art from East Africa is partly influenced by the Circle Art Auction that enables regional artists gain international recognition.
“[It] is an opportunity to introduce modern and cutting edge contemporary artists from six countries from both secondary and primary markets and prove that art from this region is worthy investment,” she says.
Art from West Africa and South Africa is the most expensive on the continent with artists like El Anatsui, Abdoulaye Konate and Tracey Rose tagging their artworks with more than US$200,000. The likes of these have already featured in major biennials across the globe like Venice art Biennale, Berlin art Biennale and Shanghai art Biennale.
Back home artist Michael Soi (Kenya) debuted at the 56th Venice Art Biennale with his series of paintings satirically interrogating the Sino-Africa relationship. Since then, Soi’s work has been identified as one of the most selling from the region priced at an average US$ 20,000. In this league of the A-list artists from Kenya are Paul Oditi, Richard Kimathi and Beatrice Wanjiku. Ugandan high flying artists include Ssenkaaba Xenson Samson who is a seasoned feature at the East Africa Art Auction and averagely costs at between US$8000 and US$ 15,000, Sanaa Gateja who often features at the Johannesburg Art Fair and Paul Ndema whose landmark painting `The Last Supper 2015’ sold for a whopping US$10,000. In Tanzania, the market is largely dominated by Tinga tinga artists like Edward Saidi Tingatinga (founder of Tingatinga movement) David Mzuguno, and George Lilanga. The price for their artworks is averagely €4,500 – €10,000.
This reference to the vibrant art scene in the region is further cemented by the growing economies of East African countries. Similarly, South Africa which boasts the most impressive art market on the continent has the second biggest economy, after Nigeria. If the economic-political climate continues to improve and the social-political situation remains favourable, regional artists and collectors can be assured that their fortunes will improve.
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