Championing Contemporary African & Diaspora Art With Freda Isingoma (Part 1)

James Ardis
Published on
Self Portrait by Amoako Boafo. Image from MutualArt.
Self Portrait by Amoako Boafo. Image from MutualArt.

In 2020, the lack of diversity in auction houses and the art market was under increased scrutiny. Although many in the art world made changes over the last year, experts worry these organizations embraced tokenism over more robust, systemic changes. 

Freda Isingoma is a category expert on Contemporary African & Diaspora art. Her organization, KIISA, helps build long-term connections between art patrons and African and Diasporic artists. In the first segment of a two-part interview, Isingoma discusses how she makes these meaningful connections and the current state of the Contemporary African art market. 

Auction Daily: You’re the founder and CEO of KIISA, an art advisory and investment company. Could you tell our readers a bit about your organization? 

Freda Isingoma: KIISA is an art investment and advisory company focused on developing transformative investment solutions for the Modern and Contemporary African & Diaspora art market. The immense influence of the African & Diaspora art market globally has always been evident, and it has received growing attention.  However, there is still much work to be done as modern and contemporary artists still fall under the radar in terms of global recognition. 

Although dynamics are changing, African & Diaspora artists are still largely underrepresented in the global art world.  This is where KIISA comes in, as we are positioned to strengthen the category through our art investment funds. We are lucky to have a really strong investment team, which includes Alistair Hicks, who is a titan in the sector and managed the Deutsche Bank collection for over 20 years.

We believe art investment funds can be used as powerful tools for change, particularly within emerging markets, where the widespread visibility, recognition, and validation of artists is still in its infancy.  

The importance of investing in artists (mainly living artists), supporting the advancement of their careers and ability to participate in milestone projects should not be underestimated. Additionally, we are also working on projects that directly support the advancement of art infrastructure and ecosystem development that will lead to the kind of much-needed change that is critical to the sustainability of this market segment.

The Bathers by Amy Sherald. Image from Phillips.
The Bathers by Amy Sherald. Image from Phillips.

Auction Daily: I know that one important mission of KIISA is building a bridge between potential collectors/ patrons and the Contemporary African & Diaspora art market. Give us an idea of what that looks like on a day-to-day basis. What steps does your company take to foster those long-term connections? 

Freda Isingoma: Trying to foster a deeper collector culture within the African & Diaspora community has been both a personal and professional focus of mine for a while now. When I founded KIISA just over two years ago, the focus was always on how investing impacts the market. There are a plethora of contemporary artists and art collectives on the African continent and diaspora communities who are underrepresented in the global art world, despite immense talent, and many have contributed immensely over the years with very little acknowledgement of their contribution. 

We definitely live in the age of the collector, and collectors are now being seen as essential voices in the art market. They are increasingly becoming validators. Therefore, in an emerging and high-growth market like the African & Diaspora sector, it is important to empower collectors, particularly younger collectors, to see themselves as a fundamental part of the growth of the art ecosystem. Essentially, this will create a deeper understanding of the art market as it evolves and foster a sense of belonging. 

We regularly take part in art and investment talks amongst different potential collector groups. We are also developing a series of programs in collaboration with museums on the continent to help develop the local collector culture and create visibility for local artists.

Lotus Land by Jadé Fadojutimi. Image from Phillips.
Lotus Land by Jadé Fadojutimi. Image from Phillips.

Auction Daily: What is the state of the Contemporary African and Diaspora art market in 2021? And, as tricky as it is to predict anything right now, how do you see it developing over the next few years? 

Freda Isingoma: The Contemporary African & Diaspora art market is thriving. It’s now evident that there has been a pivotal shift in how these artists’ work has been represented, engaged with, celebrated, and valued. I have no doubt that this will continue in 2021 and beyond as the local and broader art world starts to appreciate the depth of talent within the African & Diaspora communities. 

More recently, the spotlight has been on figurative paintings, which is a very shallow focus when you bear in mind the extent of new and bold works that are coming out of the African & Diaspora artistic community. What I see developing over the next few years is a wider appreciation of other mediums, narratives, and art forms, including abstract art, contemporary interpretations of traditional African art methods, as well as sculpture and installation works exploring innovative ways of using materials. 

Furthermore, with the collector base growing, more galleries representing and advocating for Black artists in Africa and Diasporic communities, and major museums addressing the glaring racial disparities in their collections, there is going to be a continued upward value correction of African & Diaspora works. From an investment perspective, I truly believe that now is the time to invest in African & Diaspora art, as the landscape will be very different in a few years.

Photo from Freda Isingoma.
Photo from Freda Isingoma.

Next week, in the second part of this interview, Freda Isingoma will discuss how her personal collection of artworks influences her career, among other subjects. In the meantime, those interested in learning more about KIISA can visit the organization’s website.

Want to read more interviews with category experts? Auction Daily recently sat down with Tremont Auctions’ Cameron Ayotte and Jim Callahan to discuss the state of Asian arts at auction.

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