West Africa is now home to one of the most exciting art scenes on the continent—and with its rise comes that of a number of collectors based there. From Ghana to Nigeria to Senegal, these collectors actively support artists in their respective countries and invest in the local art ecosystem. What is most impressive about the area’s art-buying culture is the pace of its progress: there were not many active collectors of note there until recently.
Some date the beginnings of that vibrant growth to the past 10 years, with the opening of commercial spaces like Gallery 1957 in Accra, Ghana; Cécile Fakhoury in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, and Dakar, Senegal; and LouiSimone Guirandou in Abidjan. Touria El Glaoui, founding director of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, which has staged editions in London, New York, Paris, and Marrakech, called the inauguration of these galleries “a visibility moment” for the West African scene that spurred international recognition. By way of example, El Glaoui pointed to Amoako Boafo, the Accra-born, Vienna-based painter whose portraits of Black figures have sold in the low millions at auction—a rare feat for an artist still in his 30s. Also boosting momentum is the ART X Lagos fair, which launched in 2016. While still small in scale, with just 30 exhibitors in 2021, it is notable for “regrouping all those galleries from that region and trying to present those artists to the local collector base in Nigeria,” El Glaoui said.
Kola Aina, an early-stage VC investor based in Lagos, Nigeria, is one of those collectors. He told ARTnews, “Appreciating and preserving artworks [serves] as a means to nurture heritage, tell stories, and record history. More recently, I have become very fascinated [with] the power of the arts to regulate and improve the ability of a people to ascribe value and understand meaning.” Aina has been buying works by Victor Ehikhamenor, Alimi Adewale, Ken Nwadiogbu, Modupeola Fadugba, Abdoulaye Konaté, and Ben Enwonwu—and that’s not his only undertaking in the arts. According to Dolly Kola-Balogun, founder of Retro Africa gallery in Abuja, Nigeria, Aina has also been a “strong advocate for the repatriation of stolen artifacts.”
Some prominent collectors in the local art environs hail from the uppermost echelons of society. Prince Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon, of Nigeria’s Ogun State, reportedly has one of the country’s largest private collections, comprising 7,000 artworks and 55,000 photographs of Nigerian cultural festivals.
Others come from the business and arts industries, and their collecting is often instrumental in helping expand their communities. The British-born, Ghana-based artist Joseph Awuah-Darko, who has shown with Gallery 1957, has begun his own collection, buying works by Dela Anyah and Zandile Tshabalala. At the same time, he runs the Noldor Artist Residency, one of the most prominent independent programs of its kind in Ghana.
Adora Mba, the founder of Accra’s ADA\ Contemporary Art Gallery, praised Awuah-Darko as a “rare collector due to his extensive knowledge of the continent’s art, [the] eclectic taste of his own collection from modernists to the most adventurous contemporary artists, and his amazing support of Ghana’s local art industry.” Mba credited him with introducing her to the young Nigerian painter Samuel Olayombo, whom her gallery now represents.
The Alabama-born, Accra-based collector Nish McCree works in a vein similar to Awuah-Darko. She began collecting in 2013, and was joined by her husband, lawyer Ofotsu Tetteh-Kujorjie, in 2018; to date, she has acquired a painting by Boafo and a piece by Anya Paintsil. Last year, she branched out, founding the Cowrie Culture, a digital advisory that aims to grow Africa’s art scene. “It’s fascinating to witness the extraordinary pace of the changes happening in Ghana’s art scene,” McCree said. “I believe the momentum is sustainable, and will translate into a stronger art ecosystem.”
Names to Know
Marie-Cécile Zinsou, art historian
Idelphonse Affogbolo, CEO, Africa Capital Investors
Joseph Awuah-Darko, founder, Noldor Artist Residency; president, Institute Museum of Ghana
Nish McCree, founder, Cowrie Culture
Kola Aina, VC investor
Femi Akinsanya, investment banker
Frank Momoh,President, FROT Group
Bimpe Nkontchou, founder and CEO, Wealth8
C C H Pounder,actress
Oumar Sow, CEO, CSE Group
A version of this article appears in the 2022 edition of ARTnews’s Top 200 Collectors issue, under the title “West Africa in the Spotlight.”