This startup wants to introduce Africa’s new contemporary artists to the world’s collectors

Could e-commerce ever replace interacting with the art?
Could e-commerce ever replace interacting with the art?
Image: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth
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The hyper-realistic pencil and ink drawings by young, unknown Nigerian and Ghanaian artists often go viral on social media. Yet, few know how to acquire their work.

The founders of an innovative new art gallery want to give talented young artists a platform to sell their work, while introducing a new generation of collectors to the growing excitement around contemporary African art. Artyrama dispenses with the intimidating white walls of a traditional gallery spacy by living completely online, allowing collectors to view and sell painting, photography and other media online.

“It doesn’t have to be pretentious,” says Artyrama director Lanre Fisher, who comes from a family of art collectors (his parents were avid collectors and his uncle was a patron of Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu).

African art: A Nigerian startup wants collectors to buy art online
The collection in real time.
Image: Artyrama

Fisher, a business consultant, is part of a group of collectors, technologists and creatives who noticed the art world’s growing interest African contemporary art.

The buzz around African art has trickled down from the world’s well known auction houses like Bonhams to smaller buyers around the world, looking for more affordable pieces they hope will turn into an investment later, says Fisher. Most of Artyrama’s customer base are collectors outside the continent, shipping to France and Poland.

“In the environment that we’re in, the past 12 to 24 months, everything about Africa at the moment is kind of cool,” says Funmi Daniel, Artyrama’s general manager who previously worked with e-commerce site Jumia.

Based in Lagos, Artyrama does enter the physical art world every few months with curated shows and exhibitions. As the business grows, they hope to sell more within the continent. In the business for six months, they’ve focused on secure payments and reliable delivery but hope to introduce virtual reality to foster trust among online shoppers.

Having an ecommerce site doesn’t exempt Artyrama from the grinding bureaucracy of doing business in Nigeria, though. Any art that is exported from the country can’t leave with certification from the National Museum, explains Daniel. So Artyrama staffers have to take each painting to the gallery where it must be evaluated so they and other exporters have to pay a percentage based on that valuation.

Artyrama isn’t the only online platform trying to connect artists and buyers across the web. Unsung Art is an online gallery based in South Africa that allows collectors to “curate your own personal collection without even leaving the house.” There are also a host of formal and informal advisory services.

There is of course the danger that online art shopping lends itself to the kind of pieces you find in doctors’ waiting rooms. Artyrama has tried to mitigate that by providing its own advisory service for first time collectors, who are usually young professionals.