Collecting with purpose – how Nish McCree is advancing the cause of African art

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For the past decade, McCree has collected work by artists based in Africa and from the continent’s diaspora. She has amassed a collection of more than 80 pieces that includes figurative painting, portraits, collages, masks and abstract works from emerging and mid-market African artists. Her collection is currently housed at her home in Accra and its spirit also lives virtually on her newly launched digital platform, the Cowrie Culture, where McCree provides education and professional development support to artists, collectors and cultural workers in the arts in Africa. In this way, the focus of McCree’s collection is not an -ism, a particular trope or a theme, but rather action – the doing, the advocacy, the supporting that comes with acquiring an artwork.

McCree was born in the American South, in Citronelle, Alabama, where as a child she would marvel at how her grandmother, an avid collector and maker, would synthesise folk art, jewellery and antique collectables in her home. McCree learned from her grandmother that ‘even making jam or making quilts’ was a way to bind people together, fostering community and a shared identity. These traditional art forms helped her to understand how engaging with art involves intimacy and coming together. Living with these objects helped her appreciate how aesthetics can shape a life.

Some of the earliest pieces she bought were paintings by the Washington, D.C.-based abstract artist Rushern Baker IV in 2015. She went to his studio and was so excited by his work that she bought two on the spot. McCree was intrigued by the artist explaining that his works were an ode to African American artist Sam Gilliam, the abstract colour-field painter associated with the 1950s Washington Color School. Through Baker’s intense scrutiny and study of Gilliam’s work, McCree felt she was purchasing a piece of African American art history. In turn, she knew that as a collector she could also play her part in telling the story of African American art by supporting younger artists.

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