New York – Bold works by some of Africa’s most exciting contemporary artists, such as Athi-Patra Ruga, Toyin Ojih Odutola, Wangechi Mutu and Zanele Muholi, are to be offered at Bonhams Modern and Contemporary African Art sale on September 2. These artists have received particular recognition in New York, with works exploring themes of identity, race, gender and self-expression that have a continent-crossing resonance. The sale will also feature notable works by well-established names, including Irma Stern, William Kentridge and Benedict Enwonwu.
Helene Love-Allotey, Bonhams specialist in Modern and Contemporary African Art, commented: “This auction has a really strong selection of contemporary art from some of the most exciting names in the industry. Many of these artists have practised, performed and exhibited in New York, and it feels particularly poignant to be able to offer these works in our New York saleroom. Including more women and non-binary artists than ever, it’s wonderful to be able to explore themes of race, gender and sexuality in this auction.”
Athi-Patra Ruga (South African, born 1984) works across a variety of mediums and blends elements of performance into his explorations of identity, diaspora, utopia, form and memory. Many of his works, including Ilulwane as uNtsikana, which has an estimate of $25,000 – 35,000, examine the physical body in relation to sexuality, culture, ideology and queerness – themes that are often expressed in relation his own experiences. Ilulwane as uNtsikana forms part of a series of homoerotic portraits of male figures. ‘Ilulwane’ is Xhosa for ‘bat’, though it is also used as a homophobic slur. The work sees ‘Ilulwane’ reflected in the mirror as the visionary Xhosa prophet, Ntsikana. In 2011 Ruga participated in the fourth edition of Performa, a New York-based performance biennial, where he staged a synchronised-swimming performance exploring the complications of tradition and modernity embodied by the ambiguous insider-outside character of ‘Ilulwane’.
Similarly to Ruga, Toyin Ojih Odutola (Nigerian, born 1985) explores the malleability of identity with her bold portraits – as evidenced in The Original (Binary State), estimated at $20,000 – 30,000. Ojih Odutola moved to the US when she was young, and her works have gained a huge following. In 2012 Forbes featured Ojih Odutola in its list of 30 notable individuals under 30, and in 2018 her work was on the cover of The New York Times Magazine. Her first solo museum show in New York, To Wander Determined, opened at Whitney Museum of American Art in 2017. A Countervailing Theory, her first UK solo exhibition opened at The Barbican in London this August.
Another artist soon to be given a major solo show is Zanele Muholi (South African, born 1972) whose work Sasa, Bleecker, also features in the sale, estimated at $6,000-9,000. The first UK survey of Muholi’s work is due to open at Tate Modern in November. Sasa, Bleecker is one of many powerful self-portraits from the series Somnyama Ngonyama, meaning ‘Hail, the Dark Lioness’. In many of the images within this particular body of work, Muholi provokes the viewer with an intense and intimate gaze, thus making them question their own voyeurism. A non-binary artist, Muholi was forced to produce challenging works outside of their native South Africa, where there is a lack of freedom to challenge both race and sexuality in such an explicit and sensual way. This particular work was produced in New York. Somnyama Ngonyama has been exhibited widely, most recently at Autograph ABP, London and the 2019 Venice Biennale.
Wangechi Mutu (Kenyan, born 1972) has lived in New York for more than 20 years and has established an esteemed reputation for her works which often take the female body as their inspiration. Two watercolour sketches of Crystal Waters, which has an estimate of $20,000 – 30,000, were executed by Mutu in 2001 as part of a commission to create watercolor storyboard illustrations and the styling for a photoshoot for a fashion lookbook featuring the black pioneer, innovator, and dance music legend Crystal Waters. Fashion photographer Jason Mickle interpreted the artist’s watercolors through the lens of his camera creating the shots at the Giraffe Hotel in New York. Jason Mickle was also used for the cover shoot of Crystal Waters’ ‘Come on Down’. Wangechi was recently commissioned to create sculptures to stand outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Other Highlights include:
- Irma Stern (South African, 1894-1966), Swahili Woman. Estimate: $950,000 – 1,200,000
- William Kentridge (South African, Born 1955), ‘Another Country’. Estimate: $190,000 – 250,000.
- Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E (Nigerian, 1917-1994), Hausa Girl. Estimate: $50,000 – 80,000.
- Alexander “Skunder” Boghossian (Ethiopian, 1937-2003), L’Eternel. Estimate: $40,000 – 60,000.
- El Anatsui (Ghanaian, Born 1944), The Awaiting Crowd, 1991. Estimate: $35,000 – 50,000.
- Ibrahim Mahama (Ghanaian, Born 1987),Navrongo, 2017. Estimate: $20,000 – 30,000.
- Gerard Sekoto (South African, 1913-1993) The Afternoon. Estimate: $25,000 -35,000. Following the killing of George Floyd the current owners of this work have asked that the proceeds be donated to the Equal Justice Initiative. Bonhams is also donating the sale commission on this work to the same non-profit organisation.