The art market from an artist point of view

an inside scoop with Sam Ebohon

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September’s digest was delayed and I can say that it is absolutely worth it!

Often times when we discuss art as a collecting community, we speak from more obvious perspectives; as a collector, an advisor, a critic, or an institution. One voice is often amiss; the artist’s. Have you ever wondered how artists view the state of the industry and the collecting standards? Wonder no more.

On a Sunny September Sunday afternoon, Art Index Africa's jury had the privilege of having conversations over wine with Sam Ebohon. Now, if you do not know who he is we are about to fix that in this digest.

Sam Ebohon is a member and past President of the Guild of Professional Artists of Nigeria. He is also a senior member of the Society of Nigerian Artists. Ebohon's vibrant brushstrokes bear a particular textual flourish not often found in artworks by his contemporaries. He is widely collected, exhibited, and celebrated.

Interview with Guest Artist: Sam Ebohon

A.I.A: What are you thoughts on the current state of the art industry in Nigeria?

S.E: The fine art industry in Nigeria is a very peculiar one. It has thrived this long because it is very much a commodity; a cash-in-hand type of business. Prices are sometimes unstable and is often determined by the economic state of an artist at each particular time. Very few artists are able to rise above this limitation. With no rules in place, it has become an all-comers business. This prompted the formation of the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) and the Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA) amongst others as a means to checkmate any unprofessional tendency inimical to the welfare of artists and the industry. One could conclude that the unfavourable situations have produced favourable reactions that balances the growth experienced daily in the industry.

Social media has created opportunities for Artists and Art enthusiasts to connect. With such a competitive market, the Nigerian artist is becoming more and more sophisticated with tools applied and inspirations gained. Social media has made it possible for a lot of Artists to get the much needed recognition. Despite the good pacing and opportunities that have opened and keep opening up, I personally believe we still have a long way to go.

A.I.A: What do you think about the collecting community in Nigeria?

S.E: The community is growing every day. Back when we had just a few collecting hands, it felt like a cult so strong that it could make or unmake an artist. Mind you, this statement is not to undervalue their importance in the development of the industry. Without these collectors, the Nigerian art industry as a whole as well as masters such as Aina Onabolu, Akin Lasekan, Ben Enwonwu, Yusuf Grillo, Kolade Osinowo, and many others would not have gotten to where they are today. The growing community ensures that more people are engaged in this industry and that's good for all artists put together. With this increase, we also experience an increase in the number of artists. For this reason, I made an earlier reference to our industry as a cash-in-hand type of business. 

A.I.A: From your perspective as an artist, what is the cost driver for your Art?

S.E: I doubt the accuracy of my answer to this question, and I will tell you why. When I work, I work without a preconceived price in mind. The cost of my works have mostly been suggested by my agents and art galleries in their bid to make good profit after sales. The sale price of my work by these agents and galleries then stand as benchmarks upon which the value of my art is pegged. I personally feel as though my works are grossly undervalued. The only time I step in to regulate my value is when I am exhibiting a new body of work. This in turn help agents, galleries, and other institutions to adjust accordingly.

A.I.A: What is your position with regards to artists earning royalties from secondary market art sales?

S.E:  It will be a good development. It will allow the artist to relive his work and it also contributes to boosting studio practice. This is not a new practice altogether as it current exists in other creative sectors so I do not see why the art sector cannot take cues from them.

A.I.A: What do you know now that you wish you knew in your younger days?

S.E: I wish I had seen my talent and skill as one to do business with, rather than a satisfying gift. Most artists see their sales as rewards for a seemingly easy vocation instead of viewing it as a tool to invest in other businesses and boost their financial standing and place in society. I could have been a lot more financially independent early in life if I had become aware early enough. I think sharing my experience will help aspiring artists. Better still, if they are taught this in school.

I also wish I had taken time out to further my studies to gain a Masters degree in Art or in Art Management.

A.I.A: Have you heard about NFTS? What are your thoughts around them?

S.E: Yes I have. I think it is a great idea for the future of viewing, dealing, and collecting artist works and data, but I do not think it is capable of shifting the idea of experiencing the original work in the physical. As much as art is first experienced by sight, it is also something to interact with. This is not to say I am not open to being a part of the direction it has opened us to now.

A.I.A: Do you think the art market is manipulated or monopolised?

S.E:  As I said earlier, art is an all-comers business, I do not think it will be easy to monopolise. But I do think it is easy to manipulate and yes, people do manipulate the process. For example, how do we explain how a fresh graduate of art can command a value at par or above professionals who have been practicing for years with great track record to back it? The all-comers syndrome brings with it the "anything is acceptable" style and with just a little hype by influential backers, we have a wiz-kid on the block. What they fail to acknowledge is that they are robbing this artist in question a foundation he needs to go the whole 10 yards. In this career path, you need to have a pedigree and that comes with experience.

Another kind of manipulation is the international kind. I have always frowned at the way works by African artists are classified as African art, even when it is obvious that it can stand with any so-called modern or contemporary art from anywhere in the world. This is commonly observed in popular international auctions where we have even seen them create special events to accommodate only African Art and Artists instead of showcasing them in their general auctions. This is a ploy to reduce the value of African Art as I truly believe that we have people who have proven themselves as fantastic artists worthy of unbiased international recognition.

A.I.A: What do you think can foster a better African Art industry locally and globally?

S.E: African art industry is worth billions and its limit is endless. In Nigeria, artists are basically on their own in terms of the infrastructures and policies that will help to elevate them for optimal performance. The National museums are almost none existent which means that we do not have a national gallery to document our art historically. The constant fluctuations of the dollar to the Naira makes it increasingly difficult to access the right materials to work with because most of them are sourced from abroad. The government should play a vital role as the value chain attached to the industry could create better employment opportunities for its populace if attention is paid to the industry.

Additionally, I will urge my fellow artists to take full advantage of opportunities that exists today; NFTs, international auction houses, galleries, notwithstanding the downsides that I mentioned earlier. The way I see it, it can only get better from here.

Art Index Top 5 monthly - September 2021

In usual fashion, Art Index Africa’s jury puts together some of the finest top 5 well researched and curated art pieces every month. These pieces are what the jury believes everyone should be talking about and collecting based on strong technique, message, style, and medium.

September’s selection features our guest artist Sam Ebohon together with some of the greats we have in the industry today.

Here are our picks for this month of September:

The innocence in a little boy’s view of the world cannot be robbed off him. A katapult and a stone on a sunny or rainy day is his happy place. The world is a much beautiful place from the eyes of a boy.

A teenager coming of age, the scare of getting to know oneself, of making decisions, of becoming.

Age long friends still being able to hang out decades after is a rarity and a blessing to hold onto

Women with kids, traders, displaced persons, migrants, as they move cross-country have one thing in common; their hope for a better tomorrow.

Tail like a horse’s, feet like a bird’s, body like a zebra’s, face like a Lion’s. A mythical animal, one of it’s kind. Only in my mind’s eye, but alive in my imagination.

See you in October!

Keturah Ovio.