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Investing: The New Art Form

It’s an asset and an investment, and far more exciting than stocks and bonds. Art is proving to be worth more than its emotional and aesthetic value. But buying can be risky if you don’t now your way around. Here’s our how-to guide…



Art can pull you in deeply. Expressive and raw, it can be believably real, and not. Just like life, it has a fascination; it shows us that it goes on all the time, in straight lines, or abstract.

For all our over-civilized attitudes toward art, our relationship with it is still primal. We are consumed by its emotional involvement with us, constantly wanting to understand its intuitive physical movement in all that stillness, captured on canvas, paper or stone. No wonder it is known as an ‘investment of passion’.

But art is turning out to be more than an unthinking love affair with the aesthetic. It is a tangible investment, and the numbers do not lie. In 2011, the European Fine Art Foundation estimated the global art market was worth $60 billion, a six-fold increase over the past two decades. In 2012, sales at Christie’s auction house were more than $10 billion, up 10% from 2011. And the Citadel Art Price Index, which looks specifically at the South African art industry finished 2012 on a high, at 12.2%.

True, in the past, art was considered a high-end collectable, available only to extremely wealthy individuals. But thanks to the emerging market, trends are finally changing and art acquisition is far more transparent, less guarded and opaque.

Like most investments, buying art requires thought and consideration – it is not only about what is pleasing to the eye. FORBES WOMAN AFRICA spoke to the CEO of Business and Arts South Africa, Michelle Constant, to get a clearer understanding of what you need to get started.

“Let’s face it. Investing in art is a dual investment – both emotional and

financial. Once you invest, you’re stuck with the work as a long-term investment. So first and foremost you must love it. It’s an incredible relationship, owning but also loving the piece of work you’ve bought,” Constant says.



Art is not that much of an enigma. Sometimes it is best to keep it simple. According to Constant, it is useful to visit “galleries, auctions and art fairs, they are good places to get a feel for art and the type of artwork you might want to buy”.

It is also about being informed; you have to learn how the market operates. Sometimes it is best to take at least a year to wrap your head around the ins and outs of the creative space of the industry, before you set out to choose your first artwork. Most importantly, you need to understand your aesthetic, Constant advises. What kind of art do you like? Do you lean more toward painting, sculpture or print, to name just a few?

“Read art magazines and websites (The SA Artist Magazine or to find out about openings,” she explains. If you are inte-rested in learning the basics or the history of art by studying a formal course, there are several on offer in South Africa. A good place to start is probably the online directory: “A great book to read, which will give you wonderful insight, is Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton,” Constant suggests.

Once you have a feel for what you want to buy, engage.

“Go to galleries, auctions, talk to curators and collectors, the market’s expert consultants, so that when you buy your first piece, you are competent in the subject matter.” Try to attend the annual FNB Joburg Art Fair in South Africa, or the Affordable Art Fairs, which take place in America, Asia, Europe and the UK.



“When it’s time to buy, buy according to what you love, because the return on investment is not guaranteed. What is guaranteed is that you’re going to have to wait at least 10 years, so you really should love it,” Constant advises.

“Remember, once you’ve bought your first work you need to grow your knowledge and become informed in your participation. The more you know, the more you like or don’t like, the more astute you will be in your buying.”



You are looking for the kind of company that can offer a range of services – from helping you choose your art, to helping you avoid buying fakes, or stolen goods. Remember that even with all the advice that comes your way, there is no guarantee that you will make queenly profits on any work that you acquire.It is best to book an appointment with auction houses.

Some of the most well known in South Africa are:

Stephan Welz & Co. ( Strauss & Co. (

Artinsure ( Russell Kaplan Auctioneers  (



Consortiums, an art fund, or as a lone buyer? “As far as I know, there are no real art funds active in South Africa, so you would have to invest in one primarily in the UK or North Ame-rica. The problem with art funds is that they’re set up like private equity funds… but that doesn’t align with the 10-year plan. Their track record is apparently not that brilliant, in general. There are successful consortiums in South Africa. It’s a bit like a ‘stokvel’ (rotating credit unions) and it also provides excellent opportunity for emerging buyers. Importantly, though, all the individuals in the consortium must have the same long-term view.

“For me, lone ownership has been the best way to go. It has meant I can go out and buy smaller works and build my collection. It’s a much more personal process and ties into the concept of a dual investment – emotional and financial,” Constant says.



“If you buy from a gallery they will be sharing 40 to 50 percent of the sales price. The work then takes a long time to sell at that or a higher price in the secondary market (auctions, etc). In essence, you need to account for dealer costs, maintenance costs – such as archival and framing – insurance and security. This is why you need at least 10 years. In that time your artist is also building his or her brand, thus growing the value.”

Keep in mind that your artwork must remain in perfect condition. Many experts will advise you to rent proper storage facilities. South Africa is not known for major natural disasters such as earthquakes, tornados or floods, but if your pieces are stored under suitable conditions, they will not deteriorate.

For those storing art at home and on the wall, specialist insurance is key. Barrington Insurance Brokers in Johannesburg is a good place to start:



“A common argument is that for contemporary art you hold on for 10 to 12 years, whilst with modernist art  (a Pierneef or an Irma Stern) it’s around five to seven years. My personal opinion? If you love the work you hold on forever.”


The Art Of Survival: The Art Of Adire Gave This Textile Artist Global Fame, She Now Educates Generations Of Women In Nigeria



Textile artist Nike Davies-Okundaye worked as a construction laborer and carried water and firewood to survive. The art of adire gave her global fame and she is now educating generations of women in Nigeria.

There was no way Nike Davies-Okundaye could look the other way. For after all, she too had been a victim in her early teens. 

Too many women were being pushed down the traditional path of marriage and child-rearing in her country.

Born in 1951 in Ogidi-Ijumu, a small village in western Nigeria known for its spectacular rock formations and traditional art industry, Davies-Okundaye resolved to fight this practice four decades ago.

“By the age of 13, they wanted to marry me off because my father had no money. I had to run away from home and join a traveling theater. I said I didn’t want to marry and wanted to pursue art,” recalls the internationally-renowned Lagos-based artist.

Not wanting to become one of six wives to a minister, Davies-Okundaye found her escape through adire, the name given to the Yoruba craft of tie-and-dye where indigo-dyed cloth is made using a variety of resist-dyeing techniques. Growing up in a predominantly art and craft household, Davies-Okundaye is a fifth-generation artist who decided to take the craft seriously due to poverty.

“I had no money to go to school and the first education parents give you is to teach you what they do. So, when I finished primary six and I had no support to go to secondary school, I said to myself, ‘let me master art so I can teach other women to also use their hand to make a living through their own artwork’.”

Davies-Okundaye was forced to work in the male-dominated construction sector, carrying concrete in pans to builders in order to save one shilling, just enough to buy a yard of fabric to create what she called wall-hanging art.

Her goal was to use the traditional wax-resist methods to design patterned fabric in a dazzling array of tints and hues. The adire design is the result of hand-painted work carried out mostly by women and through that, Davies-Okundaye saw a way to help women to become economically empowered. After all, her first break in life came as a result of that.

“There was no other job I was doing apart from adire. I was lucky the American government came to Nigeria to recruit an African who will teach African Americans how to make traditional textiles or crafts in the state. That is how I was lucky and got picked.”

Davies-Okundaye was the only woman in a class of 10 men who were flown to Maine in northeastern United States in 1974. That is where her whole outlook on life changed.

“Before I went to America, I used to carry three drums of water every day and carry firewood to be able to survive. It was like a breakthrough in my life when I reached America. I said ‘is this heaven?’ I was the only woman in the class and all the men were learning women’s looms and I kept telling them ‘this is for women’ and they said ‘yes, in America, what a man can do, a woman can also do’.”

This was in stark contrast to what she knew to be true in Nigeria at the time.

“If your husband is an artist, you are not allowed to do art. In the 1960s, if your husband has a PhD, you are not allowed to also have a PhD. You had to give room for your husband to be your boss.”

She decided to beat those age-old stereotypes.

As one of 15 wives to her then-husband at the time, Davies-Okundaye, with her newfound knowledge gained in America, started a revolution at home. She encouraged the other wives to create their own art business using adire.

“I said ‘if you learn this, you can earn a living by yourself and get your power because your money is your power’ and that is how they also started learning it. I didn’t stop sharing the knowledge there. I gathered girls on the streets who were selling kola nuts and peanuts and started training them. I said ‘if this textile can take me to America, let me teach other people’,” says Davies-Okundaye.

And that has been her calling ever since. Davies-Okundaye is the founder and director of four art centers, which offer free training to 150 young artists in Nigeria in visual, musical and performing arts.

One of the centers is the largest art gallery in West Africa comprising over 7,000 art works.

“They used to get the police to arrest me because they said I was trying to teach feminism in Nigeria because I went to America. They said I was going to corrupt our Nigerian women but I believe God sent me to liberate a lot of women who have the passion for what makes them happy but are afraid to do it because of what people will say. I say do what makes you happy always!”

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Why This Photographer Looked Up During The Lockdown



Steven Benjamin chose to focus on the bird life in his garden in Cape Town to escape the confines of the lockdown.

During South Africa’s five-week shutdown (the country is still on Level 4 restrictions), Cape Town-born underwater photographer Steven Benjamin more used to sharks, whales and dolphins, used the period to look up instead – and indulge in bird-watching, another passion of his.

“Ever since the age of five or six, I have been interested in birds. I was dyslexic as a young child and I still have my first bird book where I ‘ticked’ backwards. I was trying to identify the birds that flew into my pre-school class and begged my mom to let me mark off what I’d seen, so birding has always been a passion,” says Benjamin, who also runs a seal-snorkeling business.

He has spent his life capturing South Africa’s marine world, and now, Benjamin had to redirect his focus to his Kalk Bay garden during the lockdown to photograph Cape Town’s resident birdlife.

He says photographing these feathered beauties is a way to bring joy during these uncertain times.

“They are so beautiful but incredibly difficult to photograph because they are shy and extremely fast. Photographing birds is a challenge but it creates a mental space to observe and admire nature.”

Soon after the lockdown started, Benjamin put white sugar in his bird feeder every morning and enjoyed the sight of local birds and documented them. He posted the images on Instagram and that garnered some online attention.

“The lockdown has made me relax and take the time to do things I would never have gotten around to doing. I settled on this project, which I work on every day. I’m always adding something new to the scene and there are always new birds and interactions happening. It’s made the days fly by,” he says.

During the lockdown, there was only one male Cape Sugar Bird that landed in his garden. This spectacular bird is unique to South Africa and mostly only found in the Western Cape. All of this will go into an exhibition Benjamin is working towards in Cape Town.

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‘Our Home Became The Film Set, Blankets Became Props, Windows Became Locations’



A poem exclusively penned and performed in lockdown in the US for the readers of FORBES AFRICA, by Rwandan artist Malaika Uwamahoro.

Malaika Uwamahoro, an artist born in Rwanda, and a Theatre Studies BA graduate from Fordham University in New York City, has performed her own poetry on stages around the world including at the United Nations headquarters in New York, and at the African Union summits in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and Kigali (Rwanda).

In 2014, she made her Off-Broadway debut at Signature Theatre in the world premiere of Katori Hall’s Our Lady of Kibeho.

Currently resident in Portland, Maine, in the United States, she speaks to FORBES AFRICA about her life in lockdown, and about a poem she penned exclusively for the readers of the magazine: “To fight this pandemic, essential workers and medical doctors are doing their best on the frontlines to ensure everyone in need gets the necessary support and best care possible… Before we are all choked and out of breath just by thinking about this, I extend this poetry piece as an invitation to look inward.”

How did she come up with the poem, titled I Don’t Mind!, and its accompanying video?

“It was late in the night, my fiancé was fast asleep, and I thought to myself, ‘how do I really feel about all this, what are my true thoughts about this pandemic, what can I do’? I opened my notes and the words began to flow.”

A few days later, she shared the poem with her fiancé, Christian Kayiteshonga, a filmmaker.

“We had previously been pondering ways to make art in our home. This poem seemed like the perfect push to set us in our new path. Our home became the film set, using blankets and cake mix as props, windows and office space as locations, myself as the talent, him as the crew, and now you as the audience,” says Uwamahoro, who also performed for the ‘In the Spotlight’ segment at the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit in Durban, South Africa, on March 6.

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