In the latest installment of our interview series, Sara Walker talks to Alice Gbelia from Ayok’a Deco.
Alice Gbelia is originally from the Ivory Coast but grew up in France. As she’d mostly lived outside her native country, when she was looking for some contemporary artwork from her home she was keen to look for something that reflected both her African heritage and a modern, cosmopolitan lifestyle. She quickly found that there was no easy-to-use platform that offered a variety of artwork by black artists, and decided to set something up herself.
Now, her online company Ayok’a Deco represents artists from all over the globe, including Nigeria, South Africa, the USA, the UK, Uganda, France and Germany, who sell their artwork on a commission basis through the website. We were interested to find out more about the story behind the business.
“I’m originally from Cote d’Ivoire, in West Africa,” says Alice. “My family left to go live in France when I was eight years old and it’s where I grew up. I won’t say that I’m influenced by Africa. I’m African! It’s in what I eat (fried plantain is my favourite food), how I wear my hair, the way I speak. It’s also a way of seeing the world, knowing that Western culture is not the standard and that other cultures, including mine, are just as rich. It’s for that reason that I launched the website to showcase talented artists who don’t get much time in the spotlight because their art is considered niche. On our platform, their art takes centre stage. I now run the website while still holding down a full time job.
“I find the artists online, on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. When we launched, I would just contact the artists that I saw and liked. Now that we are a bit more well known, people tend to get in touch with us directly more. I work mainly with artists who either create their art digitally or artists who already know how to digitise their art to share it online. In that sense, I don’t have much advice to give them. We sell art prints, so digital reproductions and the pricing on our website is fixed. Artists are free to pick the art they want to sell on our website at those prices.
“Our artists come from very different backgrounds and countries, so their style is quite different. Their heritage is what they have in common. For example, you will see a lot of portraits of black women on the website simply because we have black female artists painting what they know. The art tends to be colourful and often gives a nod to black culture. The artwork we sell appeals to two types of people: those of an African heritage who want to see themselves in the art that they buy, and also to people of different ethnicities, either because they have a genuine love of African or black culture or simply because our art is different from what they usually see and they just like it.
“We also offer our artwork as phone cases as well as prints, so if you find something you love you can personalise it. It’s funny, because it’s divided geographically. Our art prints are most popular with our US customers, whereas the phone cases like hot cakes in Europe. I’m planning to launch notebooks this year. I’m a real stationery addict so I’m excited by this.
“One of the first artists we signed was Delphine Alphonse, a French-Caribbean painter based in Paris. She paints dreamlike portraits of black women with gorgeous hair, often adorned with flowers. TEDA is also quite popular on our website. He’s from Nigeria, based in Lagos and does abstract art. As regards plans for the future, I want the website to grow and be the first place people think about when looking for affordable black or African art. I’d also like to offer more opportunities for development to my artists, give them the chance to do work they’ve never done before and allow them to collaborate with brands.”
To find out more about Alice or to browse artwork online, visit www.ayokadeco.com. Prices start at £30 for a 20cm by 25cm print.
Main image: Alice Gbelia of Ayok’a Deco. (c) 20190