Not since 2016, when it had a whole sector devoted to artists and galleries from the continent, has The Armory Show featured so many galleries with spaces in Africa. This year galleries with locations in Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa are showing at the fair.
The Armory Show represents a crucial sales opportunity for galleries from Africa, where the market has been slower to rebound from the pandemic dip. Clare McAndrew’s most recent The Art Market report found that dealers in African markets saw sales increase by just 5% from 2020 to 2021, compared to a global aggregate increase of 18%.
The fair is “an opportunity to situate exciting artists from Nigeria on the world stage, effectively contributing to the global conversation around evolving artistic practices from Africa”, says Adenrele Sonariwo, whose gallery Rele, with locations in Lagos and Los Angeles, is participating in the fair for the second time. The gallery’s two-artist stand in the Presents sector for galleries founded in the last decade features paintings by Michael Igwe and IyunOla Sanyaolu.
Making its Armory debut is the Lagos-based Kó Gallery, which is participating in the Focus sector for one- and two-artist presentations. It will show two affiliates of the revered Nsukka art school at the University of Nigeria, ceramicist Ozioma Onuzulike and installation artist Nnenna Okore. Their works “embody the spirit of the Nsukka School’s conceptual approach to art-making, exploring issues concerning the natural environment, gender and social connectivity”, says Kavita Chellaram, Kó Gallery’s founder and director.
For Danda Jaroljmek of Nairobi’s Circle Art Gallery, which participated in the fair’s African galleries sector in 2016, one reason to return was to reconnect with The Armory Show’s network of museum representatives. “During the fair in 2016 we met a lot of institutional and museum curators, which has not always happened at other fairs,” she says. The gallery is showing paintings by the Egyptian artist Souad Abdelrassoul and works by the Kenyan photographer, collage and installation artist Tahir Karmali, also in the fair’s Presents sector.
Jaroljmek adds: “West and South African galleries and the artists they show have had more exposure already in America and our remit is to promote East African artists, who are much less known there.”
The fair’s only other gallery from East Africa, Addis Fine Art, operates locations in Addis Ababa and London. For its fourth Armory Show outing, it is presenting a solo stand of video, textile and collage works by the New York-based artist Helina Metaferia. Also returning to the fair are Lagos- and London-based Tiwani Contemporary, Johannesburg-based Afronova Gallery (which has a solo stand of works by Madagascar-born artist Malala Andrialavidrazana) and Smac Gallery, which has locations in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Stellenbosch.