Lot 2: CHÉRI SAMBA (b. 1956), “Une Vie Ratée ( A Successful Life), 1995 (acrylic on canvas). | Estimate 20,000-30,000 pounds ($25,844-$38,766). Sold for 52,500 pounds ($67,841 including fees)


SOTHEBY’S IS HOLDING ITS FIRST-EVER modern and contemporary African art sale May 16 in London. Featuring more than 60 artists from 14 countries, the selection includes global art stars El Anatsui (Ghana), Yinka Shonibare MBE (UK-Nigeria), and William Kentridge (South Africa), alongside lesser-known figures, some whose works are being offered at auction for the first time.

The 116 lots span 1930-2016 and explore broad themes executed in a range of styles and mediums, from paintings, drawings and photography, to mixed-media, textiles, and sculpture. The low-estimate for total sales is more than $3.6 million.

“In recent years, I’ve seen an exponential increase in market demand from collectors in Africa and the African diaspora, as well as international art collectors and influencers who are embracing art from Africa as exciting, innovative and relevant. Sotheby’s entry to the market is in direct response to its current strength and its even greater potential over the coming years,” said Hannah O’Leary, Sotheby’s head of Modern and Contemporary African Art.

“In recent years, I’ve seen an exponential increase in market demand from collectors in Africa and the African diaspora, as well as international art collectors and influencers who are embracing art from Africa as exciting, innovative and relevant.” — Hannah O’Leary

Lot 3: ROMUALD HAZOUMÉ (b. 1962), “La Mére Cotivet,” 2001 (found objects). | Estimate 8,000-12,000 pounds ($10,338-$15,506). Sold for 8,750 pounds ($11,307) including fees


Individual African artists are regularly featured in Sotheby’s sales of modern and contemporary art, photography, and collector editions, such as the offering last year of works from David Bowie’s estate. The forthcoming sale is its first dedicated to African modern and contemporary art and is organized under a new department formed last year when the auction house announced O’Leary was returning to Sotheby’s to helm the effort.

O’Leary first joined Sotheby’s in 2005 before departing for Bonhams London where she helped inaugurate the auction market’s first international sales of African art. Bonham’s held a sale dedicated to South African art in 2007 and, in 2009, staged its first-ever auction featuring art from throughout the continent. O’Leary became head of Bonhams department in 2010, and the auction house continues to regularly hold its “Africa Now” sales, most recently in February 2017.

RECOGNITION OF THE MARKET is overdue. Foremost among the curators bringing international attention to African contemporary art is Nigerian-born Okwui Enwezor, director of the Haus der Kunst museum in Munich, Germany. More than two decades ago, he founded “Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art” (1994), and two years later co-curated the exhibition “In/sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present” at the Guggenheim in New York (1996). In 2009, he co-authored “Contemporary African Art Since 1980,” a lavishly illustrated, 366-page volume.

Dak’Art, the biennial in Dakar, Senegal, has focused on African contemporary art since 1996. Enwezor served as artistic director of the second Johannesburg Biennial (1996-97) and has directed a number of biennials in Europe and Asia, inviting the participation of contemporary African artists.

Most recently, he curated the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, where more than a dozen artists from throughout the continent were featured in the international pavilion.


Lot 12: UCHE OKEKE (1933-2016), “Kate,” 1965 (oil on board). | Estimate 20,000-30,000 pounds ($25,844-$38,766). UNSOLD


OVER THE PAST DECADE or so, since Bonhams entered the market, international interest in artists born and based in Africa has been growing exponentially. Phillips held a 2010 auction titled “Africa” featuring 233 lots of contemporary art, photographs and editions by African artists and artists from elsewhere whose subjects reflected the continent.

Introduced in 2013, the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair was first held in London during Frieze week. The annual fair, named for the 54 countries that compose the African continent, expanded to New York in 2015 and is presenting its third edition this week (May 5-7). 1:54 plans its first Marrakech edition in 2018.

In New York, the Armory Show 2016 Focus section was devoted to African Perspectives. Curated by Contemporary And (C&) founders Julia Grosse and Yvette Mutumba, the section featured a selection of international galleries presenting works by contemporary African artists and special live programming.

“Art/Africa, Le nouvel atelier,” a series of three exhibitions focused on contemporary art by African artists, opened this week at the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris (April 26-Aug. 28, 2017). The summer edition of Aperture magazine is devoted to African photography. Titled “Platform Africa,” the issue “profiles the dynamic spaces that have shaped conversations about photography in Africa for the last twenty-five years.”

Meanwhile, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, the first major museum on the continent dedicated to contemporary African art is opening in Cape Town, South Africa, in September.

Moreover, two of the most critically recognized black female artists in the United States were born in Africa and are breaking auction records. New York-based, Ethiopian-born Julie Mehretu was raised in Michigan. In 2013, her work reached a high mark when “Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation,” one of her large-scale abstract paintings sold for $4.6 million (including fees). Mehretu ranks high among the most expensive women artists at auction and is first among black female artists.

Moreover, two of the most critically recognized black female artists in the United States were born in Africa and are breaking auction records—Julie Mehretu and Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

The artist record for newly minted auction favorite Njideka Akunyili Crosby is more than $3 million, achieved last month when “The Beautyful Ones,” her standing portrait of a lone female figure sold at Christie’s London. It was only the third work by Nigerian born, Los Angeles-based Akunyili Crosby to come to auction.


Lot 27: SOKARI DOUGLAS CAMP (b. 1958), “Lovers Whispering,” 2016 (steel, gold leaf, perspex). | Estimate 8,000-12,000 pounds ($10,338-$15,506). UNSOLD


BOTH BLACK AND WHITE ARTISTS from the continent are featured in the Sotheby’s sale. The catalog highlights a number of key lots, including Shonibare’s “Crash Willy” (2009) and “World On Its Hind Legs” (2010) by Kentridge. The top lot is El Anatsui’s “Earth Developing More Roots” (2011), a sculptural tapestry composed of found bottle caps, with an estimate of $810,000 to $1.06 million. The auction high mark for works by El Anatsui is $1.4 million (established at Sotheby’s New York in 2014).

Those knowledgable about the market will recognize many of the other prominent artists, such as contemporary practitioners Pieter Hugo (South Africa), Esther Mahlangu (South Africa), Pascale Marthine Tayou (Cameroon), and modern artists Ben Enwonwu (Nigeria), Akinola Lasekan (Nigeria), Irma Stern (South Africa), and Ouattara Watts (Ivory Coast).

Also represented, Romuald Hazoumè (Benin) works in a variety of mediums. He is most recognized for his masks made of plastic gasoline canisters that with his creative adornment resemble traditional African masks. Since the 1990s, Abdoulaye Konaté (Mali) has been creating textiles recognized both for the beauty and symbolic references to weighty historic, social, political, and economic issues.

Featured in the Louis Vuitton exhibition, Chéri Samba (Congo) “is a founding member of the Zaire School of Popular Painting, a movement characterized by the creation of bold representational works, often incorporating narrative text, in order to comment on the political and socio-economic issues of their respective communities.”

In promoting the sale, the auction house emphasized artists from three nations: Angola (António Ole, Francisco Vidal); Nigeria (Ben Osaghae, Sokari Douglas Camp, Uche Okeke, among others); and South Africa (Nicholas Hlobo, Ephraim Mojalefa Ngatane, Stanley Pinker, Penny Siopsis, among others).

The work of a number of artists is appearing at auction for the first time. This group includes Leonce Raphael Agdbodjelou (Benin) and Nicholas Hlobo (South Africa), who joined Lehmann Maupin gallery in New York in 2015.


Lot 45: BEN OSAGHAE (1962-2017), “Untitled,” 2000 (oil on canvas). | Estimate 5,000-8,000 pounds ($6,461-$10,338). Sold for 5,625 pounds ($7,269) including fees


WHILE KNOWLEDGE AND SCHOLARSHIP about the practices of African contemporary artists continues to expand, and market interest increases, the category remains under-explored and under-recognized.

O’Leary noted: “The marketplace for modern and contemporary art from Africa has transformed dramatically over the past decade, but despite this long-overdue correction, there’s still a considerable way to go towards addressing the underrepresentation of African artists, who account for just 0.01% of the international art market.”

Sotheby’s exhibited selections from the sale in Paris and South Africa earlier this month. Works will be also be on view at Sotheby’s locations in New York (May 2-7) and London (May 12-15) in advance of the sale. CT


Editor’s Note: This article was updated post-auction with sales results


Co-authored by Okwui Enwezor and Chika Okeke-Agulu, “Contemporary African Art Since 1980” is a 366-page lavishly illustrated volume described as “the first major survey of the work of contemporary African artists from diverse situations, locations, and generations who work either in or outside of Africa, but whose practices engage and occupy the social and cultural complexities of the continent since the past 30 years.” Also consider, “El Anatsui: When I Last Wrote to You About Africa,” which coincided with a traveling career survey, the artist’s most comprehensive to date, and “El Anatsui: Art and Life” by Susan M. Vogel, who directed a documentary about the artist.


Lot 54: LEONCE RAPHAEL AGBODJELOU (b. 1965), “Untitled (Demoiselles de Port-Novo Series),” 2012 (C-print). | Estimate 4,000-6,000 ($5,169-$7,753). Sold for 12,500 pounds ($16,153) including fees


Lot 72: EL ANATSUI (b. 1944), “Earth Developing More Roots,” 2011 (aluminum bottle caps and copper wire). | Estimate 650,000-850,000 pounds ($839,930-$1,098,370) including fees. Sold for 728,750 pounds ($941,691) including fees


Lot 81: BRUCE ONOBRAKPEYA (b. 1932), “Panel of Three Images,” c. 1968-78 (original Plastocast). | Estimate 12,000-18,000 pounds ($15,506-$23,260) including fees. UNSOLD


Lot 87: ANTÓNIO OLE (b. 1951), “Memória,” 2016 (mixed media). | Estimate 16,000-20,000 ($20,675-$25,844). Sold 20,000 pounds ($25,844) including fees


Lot 99: WILLIAM KENTRIDGE (b. 1955), “World On Its Hind Legs,” 2010 (CorTen rust finish steel). | Estimate 70,000-90,000 pounds ($90,454-$116,298). Sold for 125,000 pounds ($161,525) including fees


Lot 102: ABDOULAYE KONATÉ (b. 1953), “Composition No. 25 (Soleil),” 2015 (textile). | Estimate 10,000-15,000 pounds ($12,922-$19,383). Sold for 30,000 pounds ($38,766) including fees


Lot 106: YINKA SHONIBARE MBE (b. 1962), “Crash Willy” 2009 (mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, leather, fiberglass and metal). | Estimate 120,000-180,000 pounds ($155,064-$232,596). Sold for 224,750 pounds ($290,422) including


SEE ALL lots in Sotheby’s London May 16 Modern and Contemporary African Art sale


Do you enjoy and value Culture Type? Please consider supporting its ongoing production by making a donation. Culture Type is an independent editorial project that requires countless hours and expense to research, report, write, and produce. To help sustain it, make a one-time donation or sign up for a recurring monthly contribution. It only takes a minute. Many Thanks for Your Support.