By Cynthia Gibson
BALDWIN HILLS — As the 2023 Pan African Film Festival reimagines itself to appeal to the future generation of movie lovers and entertainment industry creatives, ARTFest, its companion art show located inside Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, seeks to attract the next generation of art collectors with an electric array of art from new and returning artists that span the African diaspora.
Art seller Adeyemi Chaka has been an ARTFest vendor for more than 20 years. His art distribution company, Smiles from Africa, features one-of-a-kind handmade free-standing and framed sculptures carved from wood and stone. Chaka said what he and other Art Fest vendors need most is a new generation of art collectors.
“All my clients are in their 60s, 70s, 80s and even older,” Chaka said. “The ones that are 70 and up, house, they’re not buying one thing because that means they’re going to have to move art around in their house and they’re not going to do that.
“We are looking for new clients.”
ARTFest’s Director and Curator Allohn Agbenya has been associated with the ARTFest for more than 20 years — first as a vendor, and for the last 10 years in his current position.
According to Agbenya, what makes a festival worth seeing year after year is a mix of returning artists that have built a clientele over the years and new and emerging artists who bring a fresh aesthetic. He aims for 10 to 20% new artists in his shows.
Another 10% of ARTFest vendors are art distributors who represent or resell art purchased directly from African and Black American artists.
“It takes time to build a customer base,” Agbenya said. “A festival cannot thrive if you’re only picking new artists all the time. People want what’s new, but they also look forward to coming in to see works from their favorite artists.”
A Ghanaian with a degree in chemistry and physics, Agbenya approaches the art world as artist as well as a businessman. He credits his education for developing the discipline to assemble an ARTFest’s diverse mix of more than 75 artists.
The art exhibition includes paintings, sculpture, ceramics, fashion, jewelry and home décor.
“I’m more a business person than an artist,” Agbenya said. In addition to ARTFest, Agbenya also produces art shows for New Orleans Jazz Fest, Essence Music Festival and the Chicago African Festival of the Arts.
Portrait artist Ronny Stevens has been returning to ARTFest for more a decade. In addition to commission work, the San Antonio, Texas artist carved a niche for himself by combining his love of music with his penchant for painting faces.
He would paint portraits of smooth jazz artists performing at a San Antonio club and present the portrait to the artist at the end of their set.
“They actually sign the work when it’s finished,” Stevens said. “ The owner [of the club] gets the original, I give them an artist proof and I make 50 prints. “The greatest form of payment is to receive their approval. It’s like an affirmation.”
The Water Kolours Fine Arts Gallery in Memphis, Tennessee has returned for a second year, representing a dozen Black American and African artists. One of the American artists is renowned sculptor of ceramic tribal art, Woodrow Nash.
Nash describes his near life-size sculptural busts as “African Nouveau.” The busts are dressed in extravagant costumes and ornate jewelry and represent 15th century Benin and 18th century French Nouveau.
Art distributor Chaka fell in love with African art in the early 1970s as an exchange student from Minnesota. As members of the regional Black Panther Party, his family had received word that the Panthers were being targeted by the government.
As an assistant to a Black studies professor at Macalester College, Chaka’s mother was able to shepherd him out of the country through the college’s exchange program with University of Ghana.
Chaka began his exchange studies as a music major, but switched his major to culture and history after seeing a book with photos of the history of Africa.
Every week after that, he would flip a coin to see which direction I would leave campus in search of art. He built his clientele through people he met on campus and though his travels.
Fifty years later, Chaka said he continues to travel back to Africa as often as he can to import goods. He is now on his fifth passport.
“This is what I’m supposed to be doing,” he said. “I’m supposed to be teaching through the art and the artifacts. That’s my niche.”
Pan African Film Festival screenings at the Cinemark Baldwin Hills Crenshaw & XD and other programming continue through Feb. 20.
On Feb. 18, the festival spotlights the world premiere of “A Nashville Legacy,” a story of two people (Andrea Lewis and Pooch Hall) who bond over their love for music and desire to leave their mark on the world.
Also on Feb. 18, the Spokenword Fest in collaboration with Diverse Verses LA returns. In addition to poets who auditioned and earned a spot on stage, there will be featured poets Yawo Watts, Janet C. Mitchell and Yazmine Monet Watkins.
Special guest poets include AK Toney, Artus Mansoir, Aiyana Sha’niel and Carlton the Messenger.
Produced by Christopher Wayne Usher, the festival’s Fashion Show featuring wearable art will take place Feb. 19 from 2 to 4 p.m. inside the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza on the second level bridge.
“To Live and Die and Live,” is the closing night film on Feb. 19. Amin Joseph (“Snowfall”) stars as Muhammad, a Hollywood film director, who has to battle his hidden addiction when he returns to Detroit for his revered stepfather’s funeral.
Pan African Film Festival winners will be announced on Feb. 20 at the Filmmakers Award Brunch. Films will receive awards in four categories: Jury Awards, Programmers’ Awards, Audience Awards and Ja’net Dubois Awards. Councilwoman Heather Hutt will receive the Community Service Award. Actress Angela Lewis (“Snowfall”) will be honored with the Beah Richards Award.
For more information on the 2023 festival and a digital copy of the film guide, visit PAFF.org.