art, News and Trends

The Hows and Whys of Collecting Digital Art In Africa

HL sits down with digital media specialist Tegan Bristow to discuss the rise of digital art across the continent and if it's a worthwhile investment.


There was a special focus section at 2019 Investec Cape Town Art Fair (ICTAF) called Solo that, according to ICTAF curator Tumelo Mosaka, explores 'the effects of the digital world on our lived realities'. In this section of the fair, new and established artists from across the globe put forward their thoughts and responses to digital art and their place in this new digital existence — some in virtual reality, some in artificial intelligence, and some still on printed pages. 

But, with all the new mediums out there, where do those looking to invest in digital art begin? We spoke to Tegan Bristow, who heads up Digital Media at Wits University and directs the groundbreaking Fak'ugesi African Digital Innovation Festival, about her forthcoming talk at the fair, which is set to tackle the complex issue head-on.

READ MORE: Tumelo Mosaka on The Local Art Scene 

Digital art | 'In Dependence', Installation view, (2018) by Ibrahim Mahama at Apalazzo Gallery | House and Leisure
'In Dependence', Installation view, (2018) by Ibrahim Mahama at Apalazzo Gallery.

First off, how has the digital world impacted on art production?   

The role of digital in art production has dramatically changed in the past five years. There was a time when speaking about the digital in art meant how digital video production was bringing in new techniques or referred to questions around the positioning of artworks online. A lot of early talk (specifically in South Africa) was unique to artists who where particularly tech savvy, and pushing boundaries with how they where making work. At the time, there was still a rather large barrier for these artists to selling their work, as most commercial galleries battled to support and sell work produced in this way. 

Today, however, we are looking at much larger engagement with the digital; everything from interactive lighting to VR in production. This is because technology is simply more accessible and artists are beginning to collaborate more with technologists. But outside of straight-up production, we are also beginning to see the impact of big data and artificial intelligence on how audiences are being built and artwork is being sold online. 

Digital art | 'Live alone, dance alone' (2017) by Kyu Sang Lee at Eclectica Contemporary | House and Leisure
'Live alone, dance alone' (2017) by Kyu Sang Lee at Eclectica Contemporary.

For those used to paintings on walls, what is a digital art collection?

This is an interesting point, because the place of art has dramatically changed with the digital. Art and culture is literally at our fingertips, and with this has brought the potential for a much more diverse audience and collecting base. A digital art collection can range from owning an edition of a small art game or digitally produced print all the way to having a live interactive video installation in your living room. I think that artists responding to technology will also soon allow us to carry our artworks with us. Imagine having a uniquely made augmented reality piece that you can project up in any space from your phone whenever you feel like looking at it. 

Digital art | Sitaara Stodel at Smith Studio | House and Leisure
Sitaara Stodel at Smith Studio.

How would you recommend a first-time buyer goes about starting a collection of digital art? 

Like all collecting, you need to start with what you can afford. And with digital art, it is important to remember that the technology that holds the artwork is often part of the cost of the artwork. The next thing, of course, is to choose an artist who you both enjoy and who has a good career trajectory.

READ MORE: Inside Cape Town Art Week 2018

Digital art | 'Genesis with Reach' (2018) by Jake Singer at Matter Gallery | House and Leisure
'Genesis with Reach' (2018) by Jake Singer at Matter Gallery

In your opinion, would you say digital art is a wise investment?

As a fan of digital culture, I would say yes. There is history being written in digital culture and if you can successfully collect unique works, there is immense value in this.

digital art | 'INNER FIRE: Bow Down' (2017) by Tabita Rezaire at Goodman Gallery | House and Leisure
'INNER FIRE: Bow Down' (2017) by Tabita Rezaire at Goodman Gallery

What is the plan with the Solo section of this year's ICTAF and what are you looking forward to seeing?

This is a special focus on artists exploring the intersections of the digital in contemporary culture. They are asking some serious questions about why and how we interact with the digital and how it interacts with us. I always look forward to seeing Tabita Rezaire, because she is one of the most groundbreaking future thinkers I know and I am very inspired by her work and process. 

Bristow will be part of the talks program at ICTAF. Head to its website for more information. 

READ MORE: Cape Town Art Exhibitions You Need To See This February