With the increasing knowledge that art is a viable alternative asset, the rising interest in art by Black artists, coupled with the number of ways we can now invest in art, “Black art”, or African & Diaspora art should be considered as part of your investment portfolio.
A huge advocate of this asset class is art collector and entrepreneur, Freda Isingoma. Freda is the founder of KIISA, an investment & advisory firm focused on developing investment solutions for the Contemporary African & Diaspora Art market and ecosystem.
We caught up with her to learn more about investing in art and why she is so passionate about supporting the work of Black artists around the world.
What inspired you to start KIISA?
KIISA started as a response to a need and a gap that I identified in the African and Diaspora art market. Although my background is in investment banking and entrepreneurship, I have always loved art and have been collecting African & Diaspora art for 20 years. My collecting journey gave me an insight into the market and its dynamics.
This then prompted me to do a course on “Curating Contemporary Art” and the University of the Arts London, which gave me a bit of background on the more research element of the art world. It’s then that I started to further investigate the African and Diaspora art ecosystem as a whole and really understand what the gaps were.
After many conversations with mentors, I am glad I got to where I am now, where our focus is on developing a new “story” around African & Diaspora art investments and ecosystem development, and I get to leverage my skills and experience in finance, art collecting, and economic analysis.
KIISA is a pioneer in the Art Investments sector, providing investors with the opportunity to participate in Alternative Asset Funds that are intentionally designed to not only provide long term returns, but also develop impact solutions that drive the growth, visibility, knowledge, and sustainability of the Contemporary African and Diaspora art market.
Why do you prefer the term “African & Diaspora Art” over “Black Art”?
Why is there a growing interest in African & Diaspora art?
The interest in African & Diaspora art has always been there and that’s evident by the fact Classic African art influenced Early European and American Art movements including Cubism, Fauvism, German Expressionism, and American Modernism. We see this in the works of Picasso, Matisse, and Gaugin to name a few.
Furthermore, there has been interest in Modern and Contemporary art by Black artists over the years, but the main issue is that the interest has largely been shallow and inconsistent. The current spotlight on art by Black artists has mainly been generated by a wider interest from the Black community to collect art and be part of cultural economic growth, particularly the younger generation of collectors.
While we have always had collectors within the Black community globally, there has been this misconception that art by Black artists is in main collected by Europeans and other non-Black communities. This is simply not true. The current wave of new collectors that are framing the new dynamic, is being driven by the acknowledgment of art collecting as a way of building cultural equity, preserving heritage, and also participating in an alternative investment growth story.
Saying that, there has been a rising focus on Black artists by Western art museums and institutions post the protests in the US and globally last Summer. This is due to the fact that many of them were forced to finally face the racial disparities in their collections and programming and at the same time address this bias within the Western art cannon overall. If you ask me how much impact this will make, the jury is still out. There has been more virtue signaling to date, than measurable action.
Why is it important to increase the number of Black people investing in African & Diaspora?
Any community needs to be the bedrock and foundation of their art ecosystem and cultural expression. I often draw similarities to the Chinese Art market emergence during the last global economic downturn 12 years ago and the intentional build of what is now a dominant art market player.
Although we are dealing with 54 countries and a global diaspora base, Black collectors are realizing that they are an essential part of the art ecosystem as a whole. If we look at art as a language and a way of telling the stories that document our cultural history and current social and political dynamics, it makes sense that these pieces of cultural documentation (and pride), inherent to your own cultural background, are collated and kept. In doing so, it builds a legacy of cultural heritage preservation, that will be shared with, and inform generations to come.
The other significance in Black collectors taking a greater interest in building cultural equity ownership through collecting art, is that its organically spearheading this wave of new initiatives, collaborations, and technology focused on facilitating growth within the art economy.
Not only will this intensify the much needed demand for art by Black artists, but it will also transform the number of ways in which we invest in it. Furthermore, collectors are not only custodians of art, many are also patrons. Greater patronage makes sure that art/educational institutions and cultural centers continue to serve the local community adequately.
What roles can Black owned galleries and museums play in strengthening the market for African & Diaspora?
Black owned galleries and museums on the Continent and Black communities globally, play a vital and critical role in the growth of the African & Diaspora market. We are at a pivotal time in Africa’s artistic history where the repatriation debate is gaining momentum, and additionally where the demand for Modern and Contemporary African & Diaspora art has caught the attention of the art world.
Fundamentally, art museums are shared public spaces dedicated to promoting and educating on artistic and cultural knowledge, while preserving the heritage and artistic integrity of the local community. As a result, they form the foundational pillar of any cultural ecosystem. Therefore, it’s imperative that the community from which the art, the practice, and narrative originate, are also the primary validators of that art. This should not in any way stop the art from being shown, celebrated, engaged within other regions and nations.
Black owned galleries also play an important function too. They not only serve as a powerful portal to communicate the narrative of the artistic production from the community, they cultivate and reinforce a dynamic arts culture and economy that promotes the local artistic talent. This is essential, as it supports the growth, and investment of, artists within the Black community.
Additionally, they in turn nurture the development of collectors and art practitioners (e.g. curators and secondary market advisors), which is a critical component of the ecosystem development. Furthermore, galleries naturally then become procurers of ancillary services in adjacent and complementary businesses/industries in their local communities, as well as attracting “art” tourism, which can be catalysts for economic growth and infrastructural development within that community.
Underplaying the importance of Black owned museums and galleries hinders the empowerment of home-grown narratives and talent, while subsequently weakening the advancement of the domestic artistic community.
What are the first steps to becoming an art investor?
There a few ways in which you can invest in the art market. The obvious way is through building a collection. My advice is always to just start. Once you start, you get to sharpen your eye and taste, while at the same time learning more about the industry, its nuances, peculiarities ad possibilities.
I am a fan of “burning shoe leather”, whether it’s in person or virtual, through attending Art Fairs, studio visits, galleries, auctions, Art School final year shows, and even residencies. Routinely doing this helps to build relationships with artists, curators, dealers, and other collectors, that help to inform how to build your collection. Building a collection of significance can be fun, but it does take time to really define your taste, demystify the dynamics of the market and build relationships.
There’s no cheat sheet for this. The key is to buy what you love, that way you won’t look back and have any regrets. Do your research, then buy with your eyes and heart, not your ears, because trends in this market come and go just like any other industry.
The other ways to invest in the market are through art investment vehicles, which include art funds and syndicates. The last 12 years has seen a significant increase in the number of art investment vehicles launched because art typically produces returns that have little or no correlation to traditional stock and bond investments.
There was a recent study done by Morgan Stanley that showed that HNWIs have between 5-10% of their net worth invested in art. This is not surprising as alternative assets tend to be seen as a safer way of diversifying the overall risk of your investment portfolio, particularly when stock markets are overheated or/and volatile.
Furthermore, investing in art offers tax advantages, potential hedging against inflation/currency risk, and tends to hold its value over time irrespective of economic sentiment. Structured art investment vehicles offer an opportunity for investors to pool their investment with others, thereby diversifying their exposure to individual art holdings while increasing their exposure to a wider variety of art. Furthermore, they present an opportunity to benefit from the expertise of art investment specialists who understand how to operate in what is generally regarded as a potentially lucrative, but non-transparent market.
The other channel is through Bitcoin. I am quite excited to see what impact Bitcoin will make in the market, and how it can democratize investment in art. Although the impact is still too small to measure, I believe it has the potential to be revolutionary, particularly for Black artists and Black investors in art. Currently, there are platforms being created to address this. We wait and see!
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