Issue 4, African Art - ita

Auction House. Arthouse Contemporary. Lagos. Nigeria.
We met its founder, Kavita Chellaram.

5 maggio 2016
Ablade Glover, 'Townscape', detail 2002. Courtesy of Arthouse, Lagos

Arthouse is a progect that arose from the experience and the passion of the art collector Kavita Chellaram. Her meticulous research in art auction houses has lead to the global recognition of numerous modern African masters, including Ben Enwonwu, Kolade Oshinowo, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Ablade Glover, Yusuf Grillo Uche Okeke. Kavita Chellaram still keeps her eye on the young African artists, who have a dedicated space in the auction.

We met her.


Arthouse Contemporary, an auction house in Lagos. How did it start and why?

I founded Arthouse Contemporary in 2007 with the support of my friends in the art world as well as my family.  I’ve always had a keen interest in art and have been collecting for many years, yet I wanted to go beyond merely being a collector and patron, and more actively seek to contribute to the development of the arts in Nigeria.

The decision to create an auction house was in response to what I experienced in the art scene in Lagos at the time. Artists kept works with multiple galleries across town and also sold directly to buyers from their studios. As a result, prices varied greatly and all efforts to market art in Lagos were fragmented. We saw how auctions transformed the Indian art market, fostering greater awareness of artists, their works and values, and we felt the same impact could be generated here. At Arthouse we position ourselves as a trusted, reliable avenue for buying, selling and evaluating art from Nigeria, the West African region and the artists from here who live abroad.

Ablade Glover, 'Townscape', 2002. Courtesy of Arthouse, Lagos

Ablade Glover, ‘Townscape’, 2002. Courtesy of Arthouse, Lagos

Over the last few years, thanks also to the work you’ve done with Arthouse, the art scene in Lagos has changed significantly. Now there are some new art galleries (like Art Twenty One and Omenka Gallery), an increasing number of artists live there, Nigeria is the guest country in this edition of Dakar Biennale…

In this dynamic context, has art collecting also changed?  Can we say that art collectors are more knowledgeable about art? How have their tastes in art changed? Also, is there a new generation of young art collectors?

It is exciting to see that the contemporary art world in Nigeria is expanding, and we need all the spaces and platforms that we can get. There has always been a dynamic art world in Nigeria historically, but we are seeing now the emergence of new galleries and platforms that aim to provide more infrastructure and support for its artists. Of course, there is still a long way to go and much more work to be done.

The growing interest in contemporary Nigerian art has created a new base of emerging collectors that are interested in learning more about the art world in Nigeria. At Arthouse, we recently inaugurated a new auction series, The Affordable Art Auction, which targeted new and emerging collectors who are looking to enter the market at a more affordable and accessible price point. It is important to grow the network of collectors to reach new audiences, and we were happy that the Affordable Art Auction brought in a new group of young professionals who had not bought at our auctions before.

Athena Epelle – ‘Nine lives’, 2016. Courtesy of Arthouse, Lagos

Athena Epelle – ‘Nine lives’, 2016. Courtesy of Arthouse, Lagos

Sure, and is that why in your recent sales you have shown a growing number of young artists?

Our aim at Arthouse Contemporary has always been dually to showcase the modern masters as well as the emerging group of contemporary artists. Each edition of the auction, we include new artists for the first time.


Apart from South Africa, what is the most prolific African region  in term of contemporary art today?

While the South African art scene is clearly strong in its infrastructure and market, Nigeria is growing at a very rapid pace and creating its own voice on the continent. There are also a strong group of Nigerian collectors who like to buy Nigerian art, which helps to boost Nigeria’s market power and potential.

Bruce Onobrakpeya , ‘Good Governance’, 1980. Courtesy of Arthouse, Lagos

Bruce Onobrakpeya , ‘Good Governance’, 1980. Courtesy of Arthouse, Lagos


Some interesting topics in contemporary African art today are?

I think it’s fascinating the way technology and new media are bringing about new ways for artists and practitioners in the field to represent themselves. It will be interesting to see what developments this will bring to the industry. It’s also interesting to see the new ways in which contemporary artists like El Anatsui, Kainebi Osahenye and Olu Amoda incorporate found objects and waste material into their work. Some of these works have spurred conversations about the nature of human life, what constitutes art and what, if any, the boundaries of artistic expression should be. Also, photography has been attracting more interest and a larger following in recent times, with works from the likes of George Osodi and the late Okhai Ojeikere.

Victor Ekpur, ‘Head 5’, 2015. Courtesy of Arthouse, Lagos

Victor Ekpur, ‘Head 5’, 2015. Courtesy of Arthouse, Lagos

As an art collector, can you mention three  women artists you have or you would like to have in your collection?

Three female artists I especially admire are Sokari Douglas Camp, Peju Alatise, and Nnena Okore.