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Updated Feb 26, 2020

Renowned contemporary art museums like the Tate Modern in London and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York have been investing heavily in African artwork over the past decade, in what African art curators call “playing catch-up”. In an interview with The Guardian, Maria Varnava, director at the Tiwani Contemporary, an exhibition space in London that focuses on African and Afro-Caribbean diaspora artists, noted several developments in the 2010s that illustrates a “seismic shift” in how African art is being valued and displayed at these institutions.

In 2012, the Tate Modern bought several African art pieces. A year later, Touria El Glaoui founded the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, a showcasing of African art with annual editions now held in London, New York, and Marrakech. Sotheby’s Institute of Art began selling contemporary African art in 2016, and the Museum of Modern Art hired Nigerian curator Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi in 2019. These all reflect an “element of correction”, as Varnava calls it, by recognizing African artists as part of the global contemporary art scene.

Why It Matters

The curation of artworks at major institutions like MoMA confers a legitimacy to the cultures and communities represented by said art. Placing focus on previously neglected groups helps to develop empathy, showcasing the artistic output and expressiveness of those who were ignored in favor of promoting works from dominant cultural groups in the West. Modern art from different parts of the globe and from different ethnicities, religions, and racial backgrounds will also put new perspectives in front of museumgoers, expanding collective understanding of social and political issues like war, parenthood, discrimination, love, and individual growth.

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