recent years the art world has been focusing on new and emerging markets: Middle East, Asia, Eastern Europe and now Africa seems to be taking a centre stage. There has been a surge of interest in contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora especially as its artists from El Anatsui, Wangechi Mutu, Julie Mehretu, Yinka Shonibare and Meschac Gaba achieve international acclaim and a number of important collectors have emerged from the continent.

Art Dubai 2013, the leading international art fair in the Middle East and South Asia chose to focus on West Africa through MARKER — a curated section of galleries spotlighting a country or region  — selected by curator Bisi Silva (Director, Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos).

Lagos-based Silva presented five galleries: Espace Doual’ art (Douala, Cameroon), Carpe Diem (Segou, Mali), Nubuke Foundation (Accra, Ghana), Raw Material Company (Dakar, Senegal) and Centre for Contemporary Art (Lagos, Nigeria) each reflecting the wide diversity of artistic practice in West Africa. The featured works exhibited represented the largest showcase to date of artists from the continent in the Middle East and included works across painting, photography, sculpture, sound art, and film. The artists participating include Soly Cissé, Ndidi Dike, Charles Okereke, Mary Evans, Abdoulaye Konaté, Aboubakar Fofana, Taiye Idahor, Em’Kal Eyongakpa and Ade Adekola.

Art Dubai located in the splendour of the city’s Madinat Jumeirah attracted a sea of heavy-hitters from the art world including Tate Modern Head of Exhibitions Achim Borchardt-Hume, Anne Pasternak, Artistic Director of Creative Time in New York, to Catherine Grenier, Associate Director of the Centre Pompidou in Paris and Curator Hans Ulrich Obrist. Important collectors of modern and contemporary African art were also in attendance: Prince Yemisi Shyllon, Sammy Olagbaju and Sandra Mbanefo Obiago all came to view works available from 75 galleries across the globe exhibiting at the illustrious fair.

Lagos-based writer-editor Tolu Ogunlesi who partcipated in Global Art Forum_7, the leading platform for cultural discussion and debate at the fair said, ” It was my first time at Art Dubai, and I was equally intrigued and impressed. The high-points of the fair for me were MARKER 2013 and the Yemisi Shyllon session. I felt understandably proud, as a Nigerian, listening to Prince Shyllon speak about his matchless collection, and now firmly believe that Nigerian and African art are on the cusp of deserved global prominence.”

By day one, many of the galleries within MARKER reported steady sales. Raw Material Company from Dakar sold a sculpture Valeur Marchande, 2012 by artist Senegalese Henri Sagna who primarily uses recycled materials, priced at $4000. Accra’s Nubuke Foundation solo booth of paintings by renowned Ghanaian artist Ablade Glover proved one of the fair’s star attraction and did brisk business with his series of vibrant coloured cityscapes selling for between $15,000-20,000. The wire and scrap-iron sculptures by Joseph Francis Sumégné on display at Cameroon’s Espace Doul’ art attracted serious interest from a private collector.

From Segou in Mali, Carpe Diem gallery featured a stunning collection of black and white photographs by Harandane Dicko selling at $1500 each. The 35 years old photographer based in Bamako has in recent years been making a name for himself in what has been heralded as the new school of Malian photography continuing the tradition of Malick Sidibe, Hamidou Maiga, Adama Kouyaté, Soungalo Male and Seydou Keita. MARKER curator Bis Silva and her Centre for Contemporary Art in Lagos gathered praise for its eclectic booth notably for exhibiting sound artist Emeka Ogboh, Interludes, 2009, priced $3800 an edition of five. The sound installation including prints of sound waves explores 50 years of Nigeria’s independence. Using archival sound recordings of the voices of two of Nigeria’s former Head of States, Nnamidi Azikiwe and Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the work examines the promises independence imposes itself on the contemporary present uncovering the ways in which nostalgia and memory play in the imagining of the nation.

Meanwhile many blue-chip galleries at the fair took the opportunity to exhibit a number of artists from Africa from their gallery programme. Italy’s Galleria Continua sold a work by Cameroon-born artist Pascale Marthine Tayou Chalks and Pins O, 2011, priced at $100,000 to the Belgian collector Guy Ullens.

Galerie Imane Fares from Paris showed two tapestry pieces with embroidered silk Lazy Haze, 2013 and Late Afternoon Shimmer, 2013 from Malawian-born and South African based artist Billie Zangewa’s. The Lebanese-Senegalese born dealer, who opened her self-named gallery in 2010 in the city’s fashionable St Germain focuses on contemporary art from the Middle East and Africa has drawn critical praise for her diverse programme of young and emerging artists and its elegantly curated exhibitions. Fares praised the fair and its excellent organisation, adding, “They were good curators around, and good collectors, also foundations! We sold works to a Turkish foundation. We will be doing the fair again next year”. Also at New York’s Lombard Freid Projects, the gallery displayed works from Mournir Fatmi, selling the Moroccan artist’s Father’s Carpet # 8, 2012, priced at $32,000.

Other wonderful surprises include works from a trio of distinguished Benin artists, Meschac Gaba, Dominique Zinkpè and Romuald Hazoumè. A display of Gaba’s iconic wigs’s and  Zinkpè luscious paintings on paper took centre stage at Paris’ Galerie In Situ + Fabienne Leclerc while Hazoumè’ s Water Cargo, 2012, made of reconstituted motorcycle parts and plastic canisters graced the stand at London’s October gallery. Elisabeth Lalouschek, Director of the gallery maintained that there were ongoing discussions regarding the installation being acquired by an institution  The artist himself was present at Art Dubai and could be regularly spotted elegantly roaming the fair in his exquisitely designed agbadas.

Maria Varnava, Founder and Director of Tiwani Contemporary in London focusing on visual art from Africa and its diaspora didn’t exhibit at this year’s fair but expressed what many fairgoers felt, “I thought Art Dubai 2013 was a well balanced, well organised fair with a strong talks programme. It was really exciting to see that this year’s MARKER curated section focused on West Africa and that the participating institutions from the region did very well in terms of sales. I really enjoyed Hossein Valamanesh at Grey Noise, Rana Begum at Bischoff/ Weiss but also, Em’Kal at Doual’art, Emeka Ogboh, Taiye Idahor at CCA, Lagos to name a few”.

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