Babajide Olatunji sold his first portrait for about $7. Seven years later, his charcoal renderings of faces with tribal markings sell for thousands of dollars.
This 24-year-old’s success is part of a new global recognition of the value of contemporary African art.
“It’s a rather different kind of tussle that is making art a viable occupation for artists across Africa,” he said.
Nigeria, with the continent’s largest economy and population, is leading the art field, too, with a host of established and up-and-coming painters, sculptors, printmakers, potters, photographers, glass and bead workers and batik masters.
Olatunji struggled through art school, with help from his mother, who runs a small grocery stall from her home. He managed to sell some portraits. “But some days, I went to college on an empty stomach,” he told The Associated Press at his apartment-studio in Ile-Ife, a city about 200 kilometers (125 miles) northeast of Lagos, the commercial capital, that is one of several art centers in Nigeria.