Thanks to Instagram, African Art Is Finally Getting the Spotlight
The African art revolution will be Instagrammed.
It's clear that in popular and academic art history discussions, and even in professional art industries, coverage of African art and artistic movements is inadequate. Go to any nonspecialized art museum or read any art historical survey book for proof.
It's also no secret that European art is more well-known to the average American viewer than African art. From the high Renaissance to impressionism, European art is more deeply established in the cultural consciousness — particularly in the West. General knowledge of African art begins with ancient Egypt and ends with carved tribal masks; this is reductive at best, and ignorant at worst. Instagram, of all things, is helping to change that.
For African artists, like Ghanaian photographer Nani Kofi Acquah and South African designer Kevin-Tumba Makonga, Instagram provides a unique opportunity to showcase their art on a global scale. Not the art favored by tourists or selected for Western audiences, but on-the-ground photography that, thanks to Instagram, is getting the global spotlight that the region has been denied for far too long.
Typically, discussion and presentation of African art movements is washed in Eurocentric postcolonialism. Most modern and contemporary African visual artists are described as "crosses" between traditional motifs and traditions and imposed or adopted Western aesthetics. And despite a recent upswing in collector interest, African art is still considered an emerging market for collectors. Instagram, though, is making this exceptional art accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.
Why does it matter that art in Africa has a presence in the cultural consciousness? Why should we care if African art is excluded from the art history conversation, or the pop culture conversation?
Because African art and artists are underexposed. Phenomenal artists, like Papa Ibra Tall, and traditions, like Senegalese film and Ndebele painting, aren't as well-known as works of their quality should be. Because African art is underexposed, it may also be underappreciated, undervalued and misunderstood.
In measurable terms, that lack of exposure could translate to: fewer museum and gallery exhibitions that might raise awareness; fewer interested collectors to support the existing art communities and fuel growth of the art industry in Africa; less revenue from art tourism to the cities and countries that may be connected to these artists; and fewer opportunities for emerging and established African artists.
Sam Vox, @sam.vox. It's beautiful to see this kind of conceptual serenity in portraiture. His city and landscape shots exude a similar peace..
Instagram can help change this.
In the past, the art world elite would have defined the new trends in art and culture. With the rise of social media, African artists can show the world their work without needing museums or collectors. Of course, Instagram doesn't allow artists to directly sell their pieces, but it gives artists a platform on which to share their art with a broader audience.
This is not an anarchical dance party on the graves of the art world Illuminati. It's simply a note that social media is increasing access to art around the world and opening the floor for artistic discussion. In this way, Instagram has the potential to redefine how and when art gets exposure around the world.
That being said, Instagram is raising the artistic profile of otherwise unknown African artists and increasing exposure to a strong artistic community. The photographic tradition is well-represented in Africa, and includes luminaries like the ground-breaking Malian photographers Malick Sidibe and Seydou Keita. That history makes Instagram a particularly compelling outlet.
In the art world, the value of traditional authority is diminishing while the value of the people's choice is increasing.
Even if the art historians and elite do not direct their spotlight onto Africa's artistic culture, African artists are seizing the social media chance to direct it there themselves.