Making contemporary art attractive: The Kuenyehia factor
The world over, contemporary artists remain the most significant creatives.This has been asserted by numerous literature and studies on the creative industry.
For instance, information from the United States (US) Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) indicate that the arts contribute $763.6 billion to the US economy, more than agriculture, transportation or warehousing.
It also employs up to 4.9 million workers across the country with earnings of more than $370 billion.
Inherently, the arts motivate people to travel, enhance social pride and contribute significantly to a country’s economy.
Despite this glowing potential for a gold mine by African economies and its numerous talented artistes, the African art ecosystem, which has existed for centuries, has not received much support.
In fact, in recent times, concerns have been raised by private individuals and scholars about artistes not receiving the needed support.
The situation is even worse as many talented artistes who graduate from school would prefer to
join the corporate world than focus on their craft since it is easier to get corporate support for a beauty pageant or a reality show than it is to receive support for the visual arts.
The Kuenyehia factor
With collectors invading the continent and investing in arts as the value of art keep appreciating by the day, the Kuenyehia Prize for Contemporary Art is the flagship programme of the Kuenyehia Trust for Contemporary Art that has stepped in to, among others, promote and advance contemporary African art.
Established in 2014 by Professor Kuenyehia, the prize which was inspired by the world’s most famous art prize, UK’s Turner Prize, Kuenyehia Prize for Contemporary Art aims to encourage talented West African artistes to pursue their dreams and to support them to build sustainable careers in art.
The Trust provides its artistes with multiple platforms to showcase and promote their work.
These include opportunities to participate in exhibitions, talks and publications.
The prize’s previous winners and shortlisted artistes have had opportunities to showcase their works at leading art fairs such as FNB Johannesburg Art Fair and at events in the United States (US) and Spain.
The prominence that the Trust gives to artistes provides them with an accelerated career boost, direct financial gain and opportunity, both locally and internationally.
The Trust provides its artistes with multiple platforms to showcase and promote their work
The prize has also built collaborations with renowned cultural institutions, including ANO Gallery, British Council Accra, Alliance Française and the Dei Centre for Contemporary African Art.
The Prize is gradually taking centre stage and fast becoming a continental initiative serving as a pedestal for artistes on the continent to thrive.
For the first time since its inception, a non-Ghanaian, Daouda Traoré, has emerged the winner of the coveted prize with a Nigerian, Odinakachi Okoroafor, and a Ghanaian, Dela Anyah, emerging first runner-up and third runner up respectively.
The three were among a pool of 178 artistes across West Africa who submitted their works to a five-person independent jury that analysed the entries based on the trajectory of the artistes’ work and their artistic statement.
Traoré, who was awarded a prize of $5,000 and a plaque, is a contemporary artiste from Mali who prides his artworks by giving life to neglected materials such as worn sheets, boxes of preserves, sacks of millet, wire and wool.
His work captures and reflects his daily life experiences, the experience of his society and the world at large, the major challenges facing the world, the multiple crises surrounding immigration and conflicts and the current situation of Malian education.
Okoroafor, on the other hand, is a mixed media artiste from Nigeria whose work is an exploration of detailed and delicate lines, inspired by barcodes and lace patterns.
He uses imagery from his childhood and community and as a point of departure, his paintings examine a Black figure through the lenses of daily life and social and political struggle.
Some guests at the event
Anyah is a self-taught textile artiste from Ghana who uses the transformation of discarded tyres and tyre tubes to represent classic artworks.
His work focuses on sculpture and installation, drilling, riveting, stitching and repurposing discarded tyres and tyre tubes as an act of sustainability.
The Founder of Kuenyehia Trust for Contemporary Art, Professor Elikem Nutifafa Kuenyehia, called on the public to invest more in art by purchasing artworks for their homes, offices and gifts for their loved ones.
He said the African art ecosystem had a tremendous potential to bringing more value to people who invested in it; hence, instead of purchasing clothes and hampers as gifts, the public should rather buy artworks as their value increased with time.
“Art is an asset and we need to invest more in it by buying artworks for our offices, homes and even as gifts for our friends and family instead of clothes,” he said.
That, he justified, was the surest way to support artistes on the continent whose work received little recognition on the continent despite their infinite potential.
Nana Kobina Nketsia IV (left), the Paramount Chief of Essikado Traditional Area and Abdourahamane Diallo (right), the Head of Office and Representative of UNESCO to Ghana after the event. With them is Ms Gloria Nathias who received the award on behalf of Daouda Traoré
Prof. Kuenyehia said the narrative about artworks on the continent was improving as demand for art globally began to increase; hence, the need for people to invest in the craft of artistes on the continent.