New African Art Gallery opens in Dubai 

New African Art Gallery opens in Dubai 
The team behind Efie Gallery, from left: Valentina Mintah, founder; Afia Owusu-Afriyie, co-curator; Kobi Mintah, co-founder and co-curator; Kwame Nsiah Adomako Mintah, co-founder and co-curator

A new gallery that specialises in the promotion of African artists from within the continent and the diaspora – with a focus on West African art, has been officially opened in Dubai.

Efiɛ Gallery, a contemporary art gallery, represents both established and emerging African artists and supports the sharing of their work in the Middle East – creating a unique platform for collaboration and exchange between the two regions.

The Gallery was launched during the All Africa Festival that took place in Burj Park, Downtown Dubai.

Efiɛ Gallery is currently located in a dedicated arts pavilion at the Burj Plaza that has been specially designed by Ghanaian architect Alice Asafu-Adjaye for its launch.

The Gallery will however be moved subsequently to its permanent location in Dubai – which will be announced soon.

For its debut exhibition, Efiɛ Gallery showcased three (3) new art pieces of the renowned and award-winning Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, who is known for his large-scale sculptures composed of thousands of folded and crumpled pieces of metal.

El Anatsui shared the space with impressive work by 20 contemporary artists from Africa and its diaspora.

Among the Ghanaian artists whose work was featured alongside El Anatsui’s are James Barnor, Ghanaian photographer; Yaw Owusu, Ishaq Ismail and Kojo Dwimoh (younger talents). Painters Larry Otoo’s and Betty Acquah’s work was also displayed.

Why Efiɛ Gallery in Dubai

Afia Owusu-Afriyie, one of the gallery’s curators, explained why the Efiɛ Gallery was opened in Dubai. She said Dubai was a good choice not only because of its location as a global hub, but also because there was a gap in the market that needed to be filled.

“There isn’t a space that you can go to any day of the year to find African art. It’s always been come and go. What we want to do is to have a permanent presence in Dubai representing contemporary African art. It’s also about bridging the two regions, Africa and the Middle East,” she said.

“We’ve connected revered and acclaimed artists with emerging and mid-career contemporary African artists,” she added.

Efiɛ Gallery was founded by Valentina Mintah, with her sons Kobi Mintah, a photographer and filmmaker whose work is also in the current exhibition, and Kwame Nsiah Adomako Mintah, a young art collector and university student. Both are also involved as curators of the gallery.

Kwame Mintah explained that the gallery’s goals are to broaden notions around what constitutes African art, and also to ensure its longevity, stating: “When people think of African art, they think of masks or traditional work. Going forward, we want to change the perception of what African art can be.

“African contemporary art today is almost becoming a trend. People are buying works and then they go to auction in the same year; so [they’re] flipping them with great success. We don’t want to see African art die with the trend. We want to protect African art and make sure that it’s here to stay,” he said.

Ms. Valentina Mintah buttressed what Kwame said, stating: “We don’t want African art to be an afterthought. We want it to blossom with the art scene here,” adding that the nascent local art market means there’s more room to grow.

“The UAE presents a very good opportunity. If you go to cities like London, it’s very difficult to innovate,” she said.

Ms Mintah said Efiɛ Gallery is also challenging narratives around African art and art history to audiences.

“Until recently, African art was almost seen as a charity. We want to show art not just as a charitable gesture. Yes, that might exist as arts and crafts, but we want to change the stereotype,” she said.

Ms. Minta said: “African art has existed like any other in more mature markets. While the art scene in the West was developing, so it was in Africa, too; but it was not amplified or celebrated by the media. Because there was a vacuum, stereotypes grow”.

A few existing galleries in the UAE do feature African artists regularly, but Efie Gallery hopes to carve out its own space with a programme that specialises in African artists from the continent and the diaspora, with an emphasis on West African art.

Efiɛ Gallery to expand

The intention is to start in Dubai, with the gallery planning to open its permanent physical space at the start of 2022 before eventually expanding to London and Accra.

Its first exhibition show, which runs until Monday, November 8, leans heavily on Ghanaian artists, reflecting the roots of its founders – including Valentina Mintah, a Ghanaian-British technology executive who sits on the executive board of the International Chamber of Commerce.

She is also the founder of e-Ananse Libraries, a new model of a public library deeply-rooted in Ghanaian, Black and African culture.

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