Collaboration – the key to survival
Rebecca Anne Proctor, a journalist currently based in Dubai and the former editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar Art and Harper’s Bazaar Interiors, talks to ArtScoops about the addictive quality of African art and what a post-coronavirus art scene might look like
What are your thoughts on the buzz surrounding African art today?
It’s a fact that the art world is always looking for the next big trend and it certainly seems to be Africa’s time to shine right now. Of course, it’s argued, with some justification, that there’s no such thing as ‘African art’, on the grounds that the continent is simply too big to place all the art emanating from it under one umbrella. With so many centres carving their own niches as separate regional art hubs – Accra, Addis Ababa, Marrakech, Dakar, Cape Town and Johannesburg are just a few that spring to mind – it certainly seems simplistic to generalise. Africa is, after all, incredibly diverse, as even just a quick glance at the cultural and historical differences between the East and the West reveal.
The buzz around art from the continent is clear for all to see, with major auction houses doing really well when it comes to contemporary works and a number of African artists even selling in the million-dollar bracket. Grassroots initiatives are also gaining momentum, building on well-established events, such as the Dakar Biennale. Of course, there are challenges, such as hurdles in infrastructure and a lack of resources, but the African art scene’s vitality, creativity and cultural prowess and innovative spirit endow it with an addictive quality. I can’t seem to stop travelling to Africa! The present is bright and I feel the future is even brighter!
Rebecca with students from Malaika, a girls’ school in the village of Kalebuka in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Like so many industries, the global art market has been left reeling by the Covid-19 pandemic. What form do you think a recovery is likely to take?
The industry is undoubtedly going through a crisis of epic proportions following the coronavirus outbreak which has already resulted in cataclysmic shifts in the way it operates. Interestingly, even before the pandemic, conversations were taking place among industry players about whether the amount of travel and number of events were sustainable. Many of those involved were raising concerns about the impact of so much activity on both the planet and their own wellbeing. The pandemic has provided people with an opportunity to pause and reflect. On one level, the art world has adapted quickly, by moving art sales, exhibitions and conversations into the digital sphere, really the only platform there is at the moment for bringing people near and far together. I do believe the industry landscape will be different from what it was pre-Covid in the longer term. I think we can expect to see more collaborations, from a greater use of shared spaces to a pulling together of resources. In the short-term, collaboration is the way to survive and this, for me, is a silver lining. The number of art fairs is likely to fall and competition will rise, but on the flip side, there will be opportunities for new ways of exhibiting art, such as through cleverly devised pop-ups and maybe even more artist-run spaces and conceived exhibitions. While collectors will inevitably be cautious with their purchases, they are still buying art. I know many collectors that are now actively supporting their local and regional markets, buying work in the low-to-mid price range. Buying now is about spending wisely and also helping others in one’s community.
Given the challenges that the Middle East is facing, do you see brighter times ahead for its art market?
The last few years have undoubtedly been tough for the market of Middle Eastern art. The talent here is undeniable – there’s plenty of great art throughout the region – but economic uncertainty and conflict can make for a challenging market landscape. That said, art creation doesn’t stop during conflict and crisis. The art created is what remains after our time on this earth has passed. I believe a work of art is also a historical document, providing us with factual and emotional traces about a given period. Art documents society and serves as a zeitgeist of the times. An artwork gives you an emotional pulse on the times - just look at some of the works that were made before the Arab Spring, there was a sense of urgency and a need for change. So, while the current backdrop is certainly a challenging one, the art created during this period will, I’m sure, also play a part in the market’s recovery down the road.
Do you find yourself drawn to specific genres and styles of art?
I definitely have an open mind in terms of preferences and also tend to go through phases with what appeals to me most, perhaps because I grew up surrounded by art – my mum was a painter – and studied it too. I love the vibrant colours of African art, but also appreciate the intellectual qualities of conceptual art – its combination of harshness and beauty – and abstract expressionism. I love art that starts a dialogue; the topical works coming out of the Middle East and Africa right now are fuelling some fantastic conversations, and I find that really exciting.