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FunTimes Magazine

The Vibrancy of Small Africa Art Businesses

Nov 09, 2023 10:00AM ● By Gift Joe

Women working on clay pots in Ushafa pottery village, Abuja Nigeria. Source: Wikimedia Commons

A continent rich in history, culture, and artistic traditions, Africa is home to a rapidly growing small art business sector that serves as a vital pillar of economic development, cultural preservation, and innovation. From traditional beadwork to contemporary visual arts, small art businesses across the continent contribute a huge amount to the gross domestic product and exports.

This sector, often run by local artisans and creative entrepreneurs, is not only a reflection of Africa's artistic diversity but also plays an important role in preserving culture, fostering economic growth, and promoting sustainability. Each piece of art tells a unique narrative rooted in African traditions and beliefs of their communities, as artisans skillfully weave stories and symbols into their creations.

From sculptures in Kenya to intricately woven baskets from Ghana, let’s explore some of the small art businesses in Africa.

Textile artistry in Mali

Bogolan textile of Mali. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mali is renowned for its mastery of textile art, producing colorful fabrics, often adorned with intricate patterns and symbols that tell the stories of their communities. One of such exquisite textiles is the great Bògòlanfini (mud cloth), known and loved by creatives from around the world. The Malian Bogolan is one of the world's most recognized and distinctive, handcrafted African textiles. It is a handmade, Malian, cotton fabric that has traditionally been dyed with fermented mud in a painstakingly long and complex process. Making Bogolan is a long-standing part of Mali’s rich textile history. Aside from its economic value, it is a cherished national symbol and represents the identity of Malian culture.

Beadwork in South Africa

Woman modeling South African beadwork jewelry. Photo by Studio Pilot Photography

When it comes to beadwork, South Africa takes the lead. South African artisans are known for their mastery of this exquisite craft. Many small art businesses in the country are dedicated to creating jewelry, clothing, and decorative items using an array of vibrant beads. These business owners have found a global market for their products by infusing a modern touch to their traditional beadwork techniques. It is also a way to empower local communities, particularly women, who are often at the forefront of these captivating beadwork creations.

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Cultural Significance of Some Timeless African Beads

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Sculptors and carvers in Kenya

Kenyan artisan. Source: Wikimedia Commons

One of the most popular types of art in Kenya is wood and stone carvings. Kenyan artisans are very skilled at making things by hand, from wooden sculptures and figurines to large, expressive pieces. They reflect their culture through their craft, often made from natural materials such as wood, stone, and clay. These small art businesses in Kenya draw inspiration from the country's diverse wildlife and cultural traditions. They also provide vital income to artists, supporting their families and promoting their artwork both locally and internationally. There has been a growing demand for Kenya’s craft products internationally in recent years, leading to an increase in the number of artisans exporting their products to other countries.

Pottery in Nigeria

Nigerian potter. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Nigeria is home to a rich history of pottery which dates back centuries and continues to thrive through small art businesses run by skilled potters. From functional kitchenware to ornamental sculptures, the country’s skilled artisans have been creating beautiful earthenware vessels from clay. Pottery is an ancient craft in Nigeria that is still being practiced in most parts of the country today.

Over the years, Nigerian potters have incorporated new materials and technologies and are exploring contemporary designs to attract a broader market. Pottery is Nigeria’s most cultural material that has caught the attention and interest of early British archaeologists. It has greatly helped in promoting and putting the country on the world tourism map.

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Traditional weaving in Ghana

Various kente designs. Source: Wikimedia Commons

One of the small art businesses Ghana is known for is weaving. The West African country boasts of a rich tradition of weaving, which is a combination of knowledge, skills, artistic techniques, and ideas with spiritual value and symbolism. Artisans exhibit great craftsmanship in the weaving of traditional textiles, producing stunning Kente cloth and other woven fabrics. This business does not only serve an economic purpose but also champions cultural heritage, keeping the art of weaving alive and thriving.

As with every other thing, Kente has been modernized and has traveled across the shores of Ghana to the world beyond. An American fashion brand Louis Vuitton used a printed and monogrammed version of Kente in their autumn-winter 2021 collection.

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Kente A symbol of the rich culture of the Ashanti people of Ghana

Kente: A symbol of the rich culture of the Ashanti people of Ghana

Traditionally, Kente cloth was reserved for Ashanti royalty, where it originated from, who wore it during sacred ceremonies. Read More » 


Contributions of small art businesses in Africa

These small art businesses, often run by local artisans and creative entrepreneurs, are drivers of economic growth and empowerment, especially in regions where formal employment opportunities are limited. These small businesses create jobs for local artisans and offer a means for individuals and families to make a living while preserving the artistic legacies of their communities.

Not only do they contribute to Africa's artistic beauty, but they also foster creativity and safeguard cultural legacies. Serving as guardians of cultural heritage, these businesses preserve and promote the stories, traditions, and beliefs of African societies through their creations, ensuring they are passed down to future generations.

Let’s not forget the worldwide recognition Africa has gotten because of its art industry. African art businesses have been able to blend the old with the new, merging tradition with contemporary elements. This way, they have been able to reach global heights and find markets abroad, exporting African art and culture worldwide. This international recognition not only adds economic value but also promotes the diverse artistic traditions of Africa.

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Empowering Successful African Small Business Entrepreneurs and Owners

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Challenges faced

Running a business is not an easy task as it comes with so many challenges. The majority of businesses in Africa are small and informal and face so many roadblocks. Some of the challenges faced include:

  • Limited access to finance and other resources

  • Limited access to markets 

  • Infrastructure deficiencies

  • Poor access to information

  • Globalization and mass production

  • Competition

  • Access to technology

How to support the growth of small art businesses beyond Africa

Some of the ways we can help include:

  • Provide financial support by buying the works of African artists.

  • Recommend to friends and also share online.

  • Explore online art marketplaces like Etsy, Saatchi Art, or Artsy, where you can find art from artists worldwide.

  • Participate in art education programs and workshops.

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The Beauty of African Art Exploring the Richness of the Continents Creative Expression

The Beauty of African Art: Exploring the Richness of the Continent's Creative Expression

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