African art used to be a style marketed to an elite group of art collectors.
While many of Byron Harper’s clients are African art curators and collectors, the Kansas City, Missouri-based gallery owner, is working to push African art to the forefront, expose more people to it and let them know it’s accessible for everyone.
“There's an effort to keep African art depressed and to give it some kind of barrier and stereotype that you have to try to overcome,” said Harper, who owns Affricana Art in the Location One building, 1734 E. 63rd St., Suite 314.
Harper meets hundreds of new faces every month at his Affricana Art pop ups all over the country and has heard a number of different misconceptions people have about African art: that the pieces hold curses, or Voodoo power and that everything costs thousands of dollars.
Since opening Affricana Art in 2017 Harper has sold hundreds of pieces originating from countries all over Africa. He sells everything from jewelry, to masks, baskets and statues, with most of his pieces coming from West, Central and East Africa.
Harper has pieces for people with different kinds of budgets, with his items ranging in prices from $5 to several thousand dollars.
African Art Gaining Popularity
When Harper saw several pieces of African art in a recent Architectural Digest video showcasing singer Alicia Keys and her husband, producer Swizz Beatz’s California beachside home, he said it helped build his confidence in the growing popularity in African art.
“It’s really important for people to see Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz having African art in their house because people always look to celebrities for the next trends,” he said.
Hannah O’Leary, head of modern and contemporary African art at Sotheby’s, told “Quartz Africa” that the company has continued to see a rise in African art sales even during the pandemic.
“From 2017 to 2019, we had a 30-50% growth in sales, O’Leary said. “The trajectory was lower last year given the pandemic, but was still a positive growth even as general auction sales went down across other departments.”
The company predicts the African art category is poised for even more growth in years to come.
Elevating Your Space with African Art
With his more than 10 years of experience selling African art, Harper has noticed that many of his clients come back to his gallery because his pieces bring attention and elevation to their home décor.
“African art can really elevate your space,” he said.
Harper says you can decorate with African art all over your home and suggests hanging masks side-by-side on walls, using statues as centerpieces on a table, baskets as key holders and some pieces can elevate your space standing on their own.
“I want people to be aware of African art, enjoy it and start to value it,” Harper said.