To imagine that African art—the continent’s much maligned heritage—is being reinvigorated by the digital revolution—the disruptor of everything that is—is incredible, if not ironic. Yet, this is exactly what is happening. Cutting-edge cameras are breathing new life into ancient artefacts, internet broadband is taking contemporary African artists—and their works—around the world in seconds and the creation of new art is increasingly assisted by digital devices. However, ensuring the increase and sustained appreciation of African art requires a similar tech-tweak to art exhibition, and this is where Virtual Art Galleries can play a revolutionary role.
Despite being one of the world’s greatest repository of arts and culture, Africa has not done enough for the exhibition of its arts heritage. Across the continent, treasure troves of arts and historical artefacts are largely ignored while disconnect between contemporary artists and the general public continues to grow. This is particularly true with Nigeria where the appreciation of art is often, if not solely, viewed as elitist and esoteric. The results of such preconception are the gross underappreciation of African art, the poor recognition of African artists, a very lean and struggling art industry and, most significantly, the undermining of Africa’s heritage.
Turning the tide of arts in Africa will require several interventions, chief of which is the need for platforms that not only celebrate and exhibit African art but that also engage the populace across the continent and indeed the wider world. This is the role traditionally played by Art Galleries and Museums, but such structures are even fewer than Airports in the continent. The general infrastructure gap and limited financial resources across the continent mean that an uptake in Galleries and Museums is rather unlikely. African governments, already struggling with quite larger socioeconomic problems, do not also seem to be overtly keen on driving African art. Thus, the ball falls in the court of the private sector, as a major stakeholder in the society, to step up with initiatives to bolster African art.
This is why the initiative by leading African bank, Guaranty Trust Bank, to establish a Virtual Art Gallery is a great step in the right direction.
Virtual Art Galleries across the world are revolutionising art exhibition by opening up its appreciation to the general public and expanding the reach of art to new audiences. The GTBank Virtual Art Gallery is set to have a similar impact on African Art. The Bank, which operates in 9 countries across Africa and the United Kingdom, says its aim to, through the Virtual Art Gallery, popularise contemporary African artists and their artworks in order to reignite local interest in art as well as increase international appreciation of African artworks. The success of such a goal will create a viable platform for the exhibition and marketing of African art which will in turn tremendously boost the local art industry.
At the moment, most budding local artists have little or nowhere to showcase their works and make a living from them, and because of this some suffer a drop in the motivation to further harness or develop their amazing talents. A Virtual Art Gallery accessible to everyone with internet access, of which nearly 80 million Nigerians, over 260 million Africans and about 3.4 billion people worldwide now have, will drastically expand the exposure of these artists, provide an enabling platform for the marketing of their works and serve as a much needed motivation for the further development of their artistic skills and talents. However, the ultimate beneficiary of the GTBank Virtual Arts Gallery will be African art and heritage as a whole, which will finally get a significant part of its much needed and long overdue attention and interest.
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