My African (He)artbeat
By Leigh Cann
It’s that time of year again. It’s misty and cold, the sky is gray and I long for some African sunshine. Luckily for me, I get to stare at the logo of my new business every day, which is bright yellow, modern, and, in my opinion, striking. So, in a small way, I get to feel connected to home each day.
I started African Artbeat (www.africanartbeat.com) because of my love of Africa, which I will always call home, and because I am an art lover. I come from an artistic background myself, having worked for many years as a graphic designer, and am constantly in touch with what is happening in the art world.
As an expat in the Netherlands – and especially because I am from South Africa – I have come to realize that there is still so much ignorance about my home country (and the rest of Africa), and lack of understanding of who we Africans are. There really are still people out there who think wild animals roam our city streets! And too many people think Africa is a country. Africa is NOT a country; it is a continent made up of 54 countries!
So I want to change that. Or at least endeavor to bring more knowledge about African artists to the rest of the world. The continent is brimming with talent, but very few of the incredible artists are ever discovered. My aim is to market them abroad. How happy I would be if I could change even one artist’s life by giving them a platform to showcase, and sell, their work.
But starting a website was the easy part. I am a designer after all, and putting a website together is (sort of) child’s play. The actual business side of it is another story altogether.
People not responding to emails is par for the course, I suppose, but I find it not only disrespectful, but unprofessional. My husband tells me, “People are busy. They don’t have time to read so many emails in a day.” My response is that if a struggling artist with sporadic Internet connection (at best) in Tanzania or Uganda can respond to me, then surely a swanky gallery in Amsterdam can do the same?
One of the biggest issues for me starting my own business here is that I don’t have much of a network. Back in South Africa I knew so many people in the art industry – artists and gallery owners alike – to whom I could have turned for advice and further connections.
Here, I have none. So I have had to start from scratch, spending hours and hours (and more hours) Googling shops and galleries here, finding email addresses (not as easy to find as you would imagine) and writing endless emails to strangers. Some are in my not-too-shabby Dutch; some are in English. It doesn’t seem to matter which language I use, I am still awaiting responses from many several days later.
A Cape Town Pop-artist who has joined my site has sent me ten of his paintings on consignment. The paintings he has sent me are all of the iconic Nelson Mandela. I am trying to get them into a co-operative shop/gallery in Amsterdam or Utrecht, to show and hopefully, sell.
I was overjoyed when a gallery in Amsterdam finally did respond to me last week. I’d explained that I was acting as an agent for various African artists. She invited me to the shop in the über-trendy Westergasfabriek, and off I went on the train, lugging five paintings with me. A 1.6-mile walk from Amsterdam Central later, I arrived, only to leave after five minutes when she explained that they only dealt with artists directly, but that she had just wanted to see the paintings because she had liked the look of them.
So, it’s back to the drawing board, more emails and, no doubt, more trekking into town with the paintings under my arm! But in a way, I don’t mind, because the paintings of Mandela are marvelous, really, and I am somewhat comforted by them surrounding me in my little office, bringing me a slice of South Africa every day.
Images courtesy of Leigh Cann.