Shainman cautioned, however, that over-emphasizing Africa as an exhibition or auction theme can deter artists who “don’t want to show in that context because they want to be seen as international artists.” It’s a sentiment echoed by some gallerists showing within the section itself. “Turiya Magadlela
is from Africa but what’s on the wall should speak for itself,” says Jonathan Garnham, owner and director of Cape Town’s blank
of the artist he has brought to the fair. “It’s a bandwagon I don’t want to jump onto. The artists I work with also don’t want to be seen first and foremost as African artists. They want to be seen as artists who incidentally come from Africa.” (Two of Magadlela’s pieces priced at $4,000 had sold by just the second day of the fair and many—though certainly not all—booths reported solid sales by Thursday morning, an indication that collectors will let others sort out the nomenclature while they sort out the wall hanging.)
Grosse and Mutumba, who founded Contemporary And, an online magazine dedicated to exploring Africa and the Diaspora, are clearly aware of the potential pitfalls. After all, “the focus is called ‘African Perspectives,’ not ‘Africa,’” says German gallerist Tanja Wagner, a reminder that Grosse and Mutumba opted not simply for a geographical requirement to entry but rather a multiplicity of connections to the continent. It’s the best, likely the only, way to invoke 54 countries, roughly 1 billion people, and thousands of languages.