“A legend is an old man with a cane known for what he used to do. I’m still doing it.”
Ever wondered how many versions, copies and parodies of the Mona Lisa there are? I have!
This painting done over 500 years ago has been described (by Wikipedia) as: “the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world’. It is now estimated at a whopping US$ 782 million! Now I’m sure man Da Vinci put in loads of time and work capturing this beautiful damsel’s features in paint form (guy started it in 1503 and finished it in 1506, but the perfectionist in him had him still adding finishing touches as late as 1517), but whoosh.
Pause for a moment and think about those zeros with me. 782,000,000 million dollars.
Translate that figure into our ever humbling Kenyan currency and you could easily rent Kenya (and its people) for a year, even hop on a Rick Ross track and have one of those machines that blow money in the air in tow, instant fame, all problems solved. Call me a fairy.
We are talking about a painting so valuable that when it was stolen in 1911, Picasso was implicated as a suspected thief. THE Pablo Picasso.
Fun fact: It was actually stolen by an Italian guy. That convo went a little like this:
Mr. Italian thief to the French Government: “Fee-fi-fo-fum!!! This painting should be on display in an Italian museum, not here! ……..So I took it.”
Italian Government: “YES BROTHER! YOU ARE A PATRIOT! Okay maybe give it back to the French cause…you know…stealing is sorta illegal, BUT YOU ARE THE MAN!”
French Government: Give it…
I’ll tell you how we got here.
Last week, I had a real interesting chat with a good friend; Emmaus Kimani. Emmaus is many things, many! But I call him an art broker (he cleans it up and calls himself a private seller) because he trades in art. Pretty cool I think because he is basically a walking, talking, breathing exhibition space.
So he tells me about a certain artist uncomfortable with selling her work herself because of a certain experience she had. I’d narrate it to you but I’d rather put us all in her shoes for it to hit closer home.
Say you are an artist. You’ve been doing this professionally for a while so you have an art studio at an art space, one of the many we have around. I am Le friend and because I like your art, I often visit your studio. Now I trot in one day and see a fiiiiine piece on display. You did it. Took you about 5-6 months to finish it.
I want IT!
Me: “Yoh, I need this piece. How much are you selling it for?”
You: “Kshs. X amount.”
Me: *eyes momentarily pop* “Eeeh, Bei ya jioni? Okay look, I reaaallly like this piece and since you know, we friends and everything, si you give it to me for Kshs Half of X.
You don’t want to be that friend so you say ‘Okay’
A year later…
You are going about your day. You decide to visit Art Space ‘Y’ for whatever reason. And there on their wall is your piece. You move closer to see the price tag and do a double take. Your piece is now being sold for Kshs Quadruple X amount.
You run to the inquiry desk to find out who brought it here. They say your ‘friend’ did. But according to them, your ‘friend’ said they got it from God knows where.
Feel played yet?
Here is your hard work, being sold for some crazy value, and nobody knows it’s yours. Your creativity, your effort, all gone to sh*t. Besides, how will you prove you made it, let alone owned it first? But shouldn’t this Art Space ‘Y’ know better than to take works without actually requiring Certificates of Authenticity?
We have now arrived at the subject of this post: Certificates of Authenticity (COA) and your moral rights as the artist.
Kenya’s Copy right laws recognize COAs as an authentication device. These COAs act as titles of ownership of creators and subsequent owners of the work. They are positively essential for anybody engaging or participating in art business. Whether you are buying a work, selling it, facilitating its sale, or making it; these drafts of paper will tell you/show:
- Who made the work.
- What media was used to create the work.
- What its original price was and subsequent sale prices thereafter.
- All owners who have at one time or another owned the work before they resold it.
Here’s why COAs are important;
For You the Artist
Not only does this COA protect your copyright, but it also ensures your moral rights over the work. Copyright protects your proprietary ownership of the work. No person will be allowed to use/sell your work as theirs UNLESS you EXPRESSELY and EXCLUSIVELY divest this interest to them; could be for money or whatever consideration you both determine as sufficient.
Moreover, your moral rights will protect the personal relationship between you and your work even when you no longer own the work, or the copyright in the work.
Moral rights basically concern the creator’s right to be properly attributed or credited, and the protection of their work from derogatory treatment. They are independent of the economic rights of the creator and are more about recognition. As the holder of this moral right you have the exclusive right to:
- Claim ownership; and
- Object to its distortion, mutilation or modification.
They preserve your honour, and your reputation whilst compelling you to make original works.
For you the Buyer
People buy art for different reasons. If you buy a piece, wouldn’t it be reassuring to know that it’s an original piece before you purchase it? That it isn’t stolen? That you as a bona fide purchaser are getting good title and thus can’t be sued in a court of law for all kinds of infringement, let alone acquire criminal charges?
Then there are the art collectors.
Art collectors are persons who collect art. These individuals go around identifying and buying art from various renowned or potentially renowned artists and either keep these pieces as part of their estate, or sell them much later when the value of the piece has significantly increased. Some even buy them from owners who bought the piece ages ago whilst others choose to avail them for sale at Art auctions. (Check out this year’s Art Auction held at Circle Art Gallery Kenya here http://www.circleartagency.com/auctions/ )
This year alone I’ve met 3 Kenyan art collectors. These guys will buy any work you have if it’s by an artist that they like. I mean ANY. Even if you triple its original price! Interesting fact: one of our very own Vice-Presidents; John Murumbi, was an avid art collector. His collection has been described as ‘Africa’s best known collection of priceless heritage and artefacts’.
If you wish to read more on COAs, take a look at http://www.artbusiness.com/certaut.html
If you wish to get a view of how COAs look like, or require one for your personal use, you can find free templates here http://www.artpromotivate.com/2013/07/certificate-of-authentication.html.
If you would like a custom made one by me (at a fee), email me at email@example.com
(Provisions cited are S. 2 and S. 33, S.36 of the Copy Right Act).
Have a devasatingly lovely week!