The destruction of patronage networks and the subsequent isolation of African art and artists during colonialism and early independence is a thing of the past for a group of artists who made their way into salons and conference rooms at worldwide.
This article was contributed to TechCabal by Patrick Nelle of Bird Story Agency
Huddled in a tiny office, young workers carefully package canvases, ready to be shipped. The silence in the room is strong – only interrupted by the occasional sigh, heavy breath, or cough. In the back of the room, a young man is multitasking, his fingers hammering the buttons of a laptop, while he chats on a smartphone. An air of urgency floats through the room and he, like the rest of the team, seems pressed for time.
In an age that welcomes and pays for digitally signed images of all types, and in which vast volumes of garments chosen from digital catalogs travel the world, it is perhaps unsurprising that digital manifestations of art offer artists ready markets all over the world. . What might come as a surprise to many is that this system of works of art being marketed, paid for and delivered digitally is booming here in Kinshasa.
Welcome to the engine room of Bandombe Galerie, a virtual art gallery created by Sisqo Ndombe. Bandombe presents and connects contemporary African artists with potential clients, all over the world.
“A majority of African artists cannot make a living from their creations because there are not enough channels dedicated to their promotion,” Ndombe explained.
This is where Bandombe comes in, attracting potential buyers, connecting them with artists, and then providing the platform for negotiation, payment and delivery of creative works.
“As an artist, if you don’t have a place where you can show your work to an audience, you will never succeed,” Ndombe added.
While traditional art galleries prefer to work with big-name artists and often shy away from budding and unknown designers – often simply because a gallery has limited space – Ndombe felt he could solve this digital problem. As the idea began to crystallize, his “eureka” moment struck…he could leverage the internet not only to showcase unknown talents – including his own – but also to market and sell the best African art, to worldwide.
“I remember when I had to reach out to galleries, travel long distances with my paintings, try to find buyers. I couldn’t afford to do things that way anymore,” he says, recalling his career as an artist.
The power of the internet has been a game-changer not only for him, but for many other artists, who have signed up to his network across Africa.
With limited finances, the beginning was going to be difficult. However, thanks to his salary as a graphic designer at a local company, he managed to save some money, and through constant sacrifice, his dream began to come true.
“In 2018, Bandombe Galerie, website: bandombe.com, went live,” he said.
As the idea of selling more than his own art evolved, he brought in other artists. Some were reluctant but Ndombe is nothing if not persuasive and he has managed to convince enough of his fellow artists to sign with the platform. Where there was reluctance at home, artists from other African countries jumped at the chance.
“I thought my Congolese compatriots would be the first to intervene, but that didn’t happen. However, when they saw artists from other countries filling the platform, they started to join in,” he said.
At first, it wasn’t easy to get buyers to trust the concept or the platform, but Ndombe’s unwavering spirit has kept the project focused on its goal: attracting buyers with works of unique art.
“What’s key to attracting art lovers and buyers to our platform is having a good selection of works on display,” he explained.
It took the team eight months of anxiety, patience and sacrifice before selling their first piece.
“Our first client was a European. She had been working in Congo for a few years, and now she was leaving the country. She wanted to take a piece of art from the Congo with her as a souvenir,” Ndombe recalls.
Over the next four years, the Kinshasa-based Bandombe Galerie virtual gallery has grown by leaps and bounds across Africa, making it one of the most popular, if not the most popular virtual galleries. popular for patrons of African art launched on the continent. Currently, it has 800 registered artists from 30 African countries and over 3,000 works of art in its catalog.
Looking back on her journey in the gallery, Ndombe said what started as a small idea to solve her dilemma is now helping some budding artists to emerge and gain visibility among art collectors far beyond borders. of their country and their continent.
“It has given many African artists and their works access to a wider audience and market,” he said.
One of those who joined the initiative of the virtual gallery of Ndombe is the Rwandan painter Izere Antoine.
“Bandombe is very supportive of emerging talent and African art in general,” Izere said.
Izere said through the virtual gallery that he found buyers for three of his paintings. And above all, beyond visits and surveys, Bandombe transformed his life and equipped him with technical skills to digitally market his works and make himself known.
“Most of the time it also encouraged me to be more into online marketing like websites and more,” he said.
nigerian artist Onofua Denniswho also signed with Bandombe speaks enthusiastically about the virtual gallery.
“Their marketing skills, their ability to build lasting relationships between artists, collectors and the gallery team through communication, packaging and delivery of artworks are excellent,” he said. he declares.
In particular, Onofua praises Bandombe’s payment policy and logistics management, which he says have played a key role in building this lasting relationship between all artists and customers.
“The percentage of payment due to the artist is taken care of in a short period of time. More so, I have seen fantastic reports from buyers – delivered publicly – on receipt of their package,” he said. he adds.
When asked if Bandombe had helped him achieve greater artistic recognition, he quickly replied, “Well, yes”, adding that; “To date, we have sold over 214 pieces…and that’s remarkable”.
For Ndombe, the growth and future success of Bandombe Galerie means more work and a commitment to developing its clientele.
He is also determined to end the current trend that the global emergence of contemporary African art is primarily driven by non-African buyers, rather than a local market.
“It is important to sensitize our people to consume more art. We plan to open a showroom and organize art fairs across the continent.
“The potential is huge for African arts, and a bright future awaits those who have the courage to embrace the endless opportunities afforded by technology to shine on the world stage,” he concluded, signing another agreement with a distant patron.
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