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Nigerian Startup Artyrama Is Creating An Online Market for African Art

What chance is there of a little known African artist having his works showcased and sold at world’s biggest art exhibitions and auctions? Here’s a sympathetic answer: slim.

And that’s because the art market is heavily skewed in favour of a relatively small number of ‘big name’ painters and sculptors, who take most of the revenue from the bigger art auctions and get celebrated at the more prestigious exhibition events. The ‘less well known’- the vast majority of artists -scrape it out at the other end of the earnings pyramid.

Artyrama

Artyrama was founded to level this steep playing field. This startup is leveraging modern digital technology to bring otherwise little recognized art to the world. It’s being steered by a team of Nigerian art enthusiasts, who are taking African art online and helping the continent’s artists showcase and sell their works to a global market on the web – an expanse much bigger than the exhibition halls and auction rooms of London, Paris or New York. Buyers who may not be able to access these events can examine and purchase some the best works from the continent’s emerging artists, from wherever they are.

Given how sensible the idea of an online marketplace for African art seems, it might appear odd that it hasn’t been jumped on much earlier, and by many more people. But there’s a reason why it’s only just catching on- apart from an exploding army of talented artists eager to make a mark.

Sola Masha, Artyrama’s General Manager, points out that there’s a growth in interaction with art via digital media.

“The decision to launch came from studies that showed more and more people worldwide are engaging with art in less traditional manners.”

— Sola Masha (interview with Business Day)

He reckons that this expansion into the digital space creates enormous opportunities for artists to connect with willing buyers, without the traditional constraint of distance.

How Artyrama Works

Artyrama welcomes artwork from anyone who intends to showcase and sell their art to a global audience. Artists can upload images of paintings, drawings, photography, sculpture or mixed media, on the startup’s website. If they’re accepted by Artyrama’s curators, they’ll go on display at the platform’s online exhibitions and auctions. Besides this, artists can also get featured on the site’s blog.

Artyrama also takes orders for artwork displayed on its platform, and handles delivery for pieces held in its store. Artists whose works have been ordered are informed via email; they’re also free to make their courier arrangements if they have their works with them. The customer who orders the work pays for shipping as well. Artyrama gets 30% of the price of the artwork as its commission.

Trends elsewhere on the planet indicate that ecommerce is eating into the once safe spaces occupied by traditional on-location stores. But Masha insists the Artyrama team isn’t a threat to the offline art market.

“Artyrama does not intend to replace the brick and mortar experience, but rather provide an alternative in line with the digital revolution, one that reaches everyone.”

–Masha (writing in the Guardian.)

The Artyrama team think they’re “heralding a new age for African art”. Perhaps they are. It could be that they’ll help bring an African art renaissance to a world increasingly eager to see the continent’s contemporary creative masterpieces.

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Ikenna Nwachukwu

Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.

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