BY KENYA FOY
Given the continent’s rich and diverse culture, the popularity of African art and handicrafts is hardly a surprise. The pursuit of that popular work can invite some issues, though: A 2019 report by Quartz Africa revealed a rapid expansion in the market for forged African artwork, a detrimental practice that puts the artists’ reputation at risk and leads to a mass devaluing of their creative works. It’s important, as a consumer, to appreciate these works in a way that gives the artist appropriate credit and assigns commensurate value to their creative contributions.
Of course, accomplishing this feat has proven complicated: on the one hand, proportionate representation of African artwork on a global scale absolutely matters, but the manner in which we show reverence to these creative works holds equal significance. In the right hands, African artwork and handicrafts in home decor are displayed by buyers who appreciate the origin of their acquisitions while ensuring that the objects they own are purchased in a responsible manner.
To address these concerns, House Beautiful spoke with three experts on the ethics of purchasing and displaying African art and handicrafts in the home.
“I think appreciating and displaying homeware or artwork either made by someone of African origin [or] from the African diaspora generally is a positive thing if the intention is to show appreciation for both that creature and that culture,” says Manima. “I think we stray away from appreciation to appropriation if the work is not properly credited to the artisan in question and the culture that they were inspired by. Or worse still, if someone not from that culture or background creates products in the image/inspiration of African heritage without truly sharing the background and influence behind it—this is what I would consider appropriation.”
Manima says ethical buying means taking care to “[amplify] the creator and their story both in public and privately. Make sure you understand any meanings or important facts about what you are buying (this may not always be relevant). Make sure you pay a fair price for what you are buying and that it is ethically sourced.”