Business of the month, Marketplace

Ayok’a – Afropean Business of The Month, November 2017

By Alice Gbelia

Wall framed prints.
Wall framed prints. Three People Praying © TEDA, Flower Child © Rahana Banana, Pineapple © Natasha Lisa, Jimi Hendrix © Pauline N’Gouala, Untitled 5 © Neema

Cool art. Printed your way.

Meaning ‘welcome’ in a native language of the Ivory Coast, Ayok’a is a new platform designed to make the work of emerging and established black artists from across the diaspora available in the form of fine art prints, phone cases and t-shirts.

Run by myself with the help of my sister, Ayok’a is about reflecting our heritage (we hail from the Ivory Coast via France) and our love for black culture as well as having access to the kind of artwork and fashion that we desire to have in our homes.

We hand-pick the artists (illustrators, visual and mixed media artists) and explore their back stories on the site in the form of interviews, bringing the passions and inspirations behind the art to life.

I built Ayok’a for selfish reasons: I had moved into a new flat and wanted to decorate my walls with nice art prints that reflected my African heritage. I shop mainly online so that’s where I started my search. I opened Google and realized that I didn’t even have the keywords to find what I was looking for. So I tried “posters Africa” and found vintage travel posters, maps of Africa, images of wild animals in the jungle… all the usual clichés! I then tried “African art” and it was no better: I found posters of lions, paintings of women carrying pots on their heads… I have nothing against these types of images, but I wanted something more contemporary.
Luckily, around that time, a lot of online publications were highlighting the work of black illustrators and what they produced was more in tune with what I wanted. I started tracking them down but stumbled upon another hurdle: most of them didn’t sell their art or if they did, the information was not readily available. That’s how the idea started taking shape: why not create a platform showcasing all these talented artists and allow anyone to buy the art prints? I asked friends what they thought of the idea. They loved it, so I just ran with it.

When it comes to business, I think that being black or a “minority” is kind of a blessing because big companies don’t care much about our needs. There are a lot of gaps that still need to be filled and black entrepreneurs are building businesses around those. You have Tristan Walker and Zim Ugochukwu doing great things with their aspirational brands, Bevel and Travel Noire. I’m trying to do the same thing with affordable art and Ayok’a.

It was very important to me to create a transactional site and not just a platform to showcase art. The only way artists can continue to create is if we buy from them. Every sale on pays an artist. And our success will open more doors for them. I’ve been interviewed by the BBC and I brought some of my artists with me, to give them additional exposure. They are the best placed to discuss issues of representation in the art world. In their work, they make a point of depicting black people in ways that we rarely see. Adekunle Adeleke’s portraits are very moody and show a vulnerability that is rarely associated with black men. Neema draws African women that are sensual and free, not your typical “Mama Africa”, to use her own words. Delphine Alphonse draws women with gorgeous, magical afros because she wants to fight that perception that Afro hair is not beautiful.

Current stock includes art prints (framed, unframed and Limited Editions), women’s t-shirts; and iPhone and Samsung phone cases. We plan on adding more products such as greeting cards and home accessories, so that our customers have even more ways of expressing themselves. Initially only available in the UK, expansion to Europe and the US will occur in the next year.

Follow afropean on Facebook and/or Twitter for more insight into Ayok’a during their tenure as #AfropeanBusinessOfTheMonth

To view the art and learn more about this impressive range of artistry, from Delphine Alphone’s Technicolour Dreamscapes; Infinite Minimalism by Teda; Pop Art and Feminine Illustrations with Dija Ouija; Pauline N’Gouala’s “Artivism” and Humanism; Ebz’ Art that Presents a Mirror to Society and many, many more, check out

Use the following link/code for a great discount, exclusive to Afropean readers, on all products at AFROPEAN25 (enter the code on the checkout page)

Alice Gbelia
Alice Gbelia © Pedro Nunez

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