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5 Must-Read Books About the African Art Market

African art is more than a collection of artifacts, paintings, and sculptures, rather a living expression that embodies the vibrant and multifaceted cultures, histories, and identities of Africa. It serves as a mirror reflecting Africa’s past, present, and future, as well as the lives of its people. With several masterpieces out there, selecting the best books that will enrich and deepen your understanding of African art might be a puzzle - that's why we've curated 5 must-read books that explore African art beyond the regular horizon.

1. African Art Now: 50 Pioneers Defining African Art for the Twenty-First Century | Osei Bonsu

African Art Now offers an in-depth look at 50 of the most prolific and impactful artists whose wide-ranging accomplishments represent the shifting dynamics and boundless possibilities of African art today. The author, Osei Bonsu, profiles each artist, offering a closer look at their processes and stories along with gorgeous full-colour reproductions of their work. It includes a mix of established figures—like Amoako Boafo, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, and Tunji Adeniyi-Jones,—along with up-and-coming artists. As New York Magazine puts it, "It’s an ideal gift for the art buff in your life or the person who wants to become one.”

2. African Art | Ezio Bassani

The human figure, whether real or symbolic, is almost the exclusive subject of African art. During the last century, Africa as a continent has experienced radical transformations in diverse ways, new artistic forms are being established simultaneously with the globalization process and the creation of works for the art market, which retain less and less ties with those of the past. Ezio Bassani's African Art covers the artistic achievements of many cultures, regions, and historical periods, from ancient sculptures and masks to modern paintings and installations - exploring functional aspects of African art, as well as the historical and social contexts that shaped it.

3. The Language of Beauty in African Art | Constantine Petridis, Yaelle Biro, and Herbert M. Cole

Featuring almost 300 works from collections around the world, The Language of Beauty in African Art centres on the indigenous perspectives of the communities who created and used traditional artworks from Africa. It explores cross-cultural affinities spanning the African continent while respecting local contexts; it also documents an exhibition that is extraordinary in scope and scale, emphasizing the sculptural legacy of sub-Saharan cultures from West and Central Africa, including examples of artistic traditions associated with Eastern and Southern Africa.

4. African Artists: From 1882 to Now | Chika Okeke-Agulu and Joseph L. Underwood

Conceived by Phaidon Editors and authored by Chika Okeke-Agulu and Joseph L. Underwood in collaboration with a global advisory board, African Artists: From 1882 to Now is a comprehensive survey of modern and contemporary African art, featuring more than 300 artists born or based in Africa. The book captures the continent’s booming scene, and contextualises it geographically in relation to other art movements, and within the wider sweep of art history. You will find works by familiar figures, such as El Anatsui, William Kentridge, Marlene Dumas, Wangechi Mutu, Julie Mehretu and Lubaina Himid, as well as a huge array of lesser-known, though equally talented, engaging, and profound practitioners. Each artist profile is illustrated with an image of a representative work, and accompanied by a concise and insightful text written by experts in the field, enabling readers to gain greater enjoyment from and understanding of the art displayed. New York Magazine’s The Strategist reviewed this book as "An insightful read for art novices and seasoned collectors alike." While ARTnews recognizes it as “a comprehensive guide to the continent’s brightest stars.”

5. A History of Art in Africa | Monica Blackmun Visonà, Robin Poynor, Herbert M. Cole, Michael D. Harris

Recognized as the first book to explore the arts of Africa from an art-historical perspective, A History of Art in Africa shows how African artworks reflect and shape the changing beliefs, customs, interactions, and realities of their makers and users. It also recognizes the individual creativity and skill of African artists and presents their works in their own terms. The book covers the whole continent of Africa, including Egypt, from ancient times to the present day, as well as the art of the African diaspora. It also includes the art influenced by Islam and the Christian arts of Ethiopia and Nubia, as well as the art created by tourists and the hybrid art that emerged from contact with Europe. It considers all forms of art, from sculpture to masquerades, festivals, adornment, and everyday life, as well as royal, religious, and state art while it discusses the cultural contexts that give meaning to art in Africa. Additionally, it also examines the contemporary art forms that express the modern and diasporic experiences of Africa, richly illustrated with colourplates of artworks, historical and current photographs, drawings and plans, and individual objects displayed in museums.

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5 Must-Read Books About the African Art Market

September 29, 2023

Art Report Africa

3 min read