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Contemporary African art at Bonhams 'Africa Now' sale in London mirrors the continent's economic expansion
Ben Enwonwu, Princess of Mali. Estimate: 80,000 to 120,000. Photo: Bonhams.
LONDON.- Since Bonhams ’ inaugural Africa Now Auction in 2009, interest in Modern and African art has increased dramatically, mirroring the exponential economic development of the continent. The next Africa Now Sale on May 21 at Bonhams in London will focus on this interest.

Africa has made a phenomenal leap in the last decade. Its economy is growing faster than that of any other continent. Foreign investment is at an all-time high and Africa’s mood is more optimistic than at any time since the independence era of the 1960s. Yet factors unconnected to resources have been equally or even more important contributing to the fabrication of the Africa’s resurgence. This confident mood is reflected in her buoyant art market, which is at the forefront of the cultural renaissance and has spawned a thriving market which is rapidly gaining international interest and momentum.

Since Bonhams’ inaugural Africa Now Auction in 2009, interest in modern and contemporary African art has increased dramatically, mirroring the exponential economic development of the continent. Over the last two years, we have achieved some spectacular results, most notable was the record breaking sale of the Ghanaian artist, El Anatsui’s ‘New World Map’ (£541 250) in 2012. The art of Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu took centre stage in 2013, with a new world record for the artist at £361 250 (against his previous best of £125 000) for a set of seven wooden sculptures commissioned by the Daily Mirror in 1961. Other records were set for his painting ‘The Durbar of Eid ul – Fitr’, (£193 250) and bronze sculpture ‘Anyanwu’, (£133 350). The sale grossed over £1 million for the first time. This year’s auction is stamped with diversity and boasts a fine selection of artworks by the masters of African modernism and other well-known talents from the contemporary scene.

Among the many hilights of the sale are four important oil paintings by the Nigerian master Yusuf Grillo, which are characteristic of the artist’s celebrated style, with their particular elongated figures and rich yet serene colours. Particularly noteworthy is the vibrant and narrative painting ‘The Flight’, which undoubtedly is the finest example of the artist’s work to appear on the open market in the past decade. Fans of the work of Ben Enwonwu are also spoiled for choice with such master pieces on offer as the oil paintings ‘Princess of Mali’ and ‘Workers in the field’ as well as the sumptuous sculptures ‘Snake Dance’ and another version of ‘Anyanwu’. Enwonwu often used dancing figures as metaphors for identity throughout his career, as beautifully demonstrated in the paintings ‘Ogolo’ and ‘Dancing Women’ and the arresting ebony sculpture ‘Africa Dances’. Works by the Mozambican artist, Malangatana Valente Ngwenya who was known for his figures which exude crazed stares, powerful demon forms and voluptuous women, are also amongst the premier lots from the African masters.

Described as one of the most dynamic and vigorous spaces of artistic practice, contemporary African art is an exciting and emerging scene. This forthcoming sale includes a diverse spectrum of these creative talents. Using her artwork to interpret and portray Africa’s socio-economic realities and political challenges, Nigerian born artist Sokari Douglas Camp’s steel sculpture ‘Bike 2000’ is a stellar lot amongst the contemporary selection. Douglas-Camp has created a large, semi-abstract figurative work on an oil-dependent motor cycle, acting as a symbol of the instability of her hometown Buguma, which is part of the oil rich Niger Delta. Most notable for his long collaboration in designing album covers for the pioneering Afrobeat musician and human rights activist Fela Kuti, We are thrilled to include Lemi Ghariokwu’s collage work ‘Felarama’ – a tremendous tribute to the musical icon. Described as the Jeff Koons of Africa, Ghanaian artist, Paa Joe has sculpted a coffin which also takes the form of a car. Like Koons, Paa Joe makes use of the kitsch to highlight consumerism, which is firmly entrenched in our society. The Johannesburg based artist, Frances Goodman has delicately stitched in beads and glittery sequins into gaudy elliptical plaques. The emotions are each qualified by an adjective usually relating to a bodily function and a related play on words, such as Gory Details. The artist is currently exhibiting similar works to these beaded cushions at one of Johannesburg’s leading contemporary galleries. We are anticipating keen interest in this lot.

Other leading lots include works by Camille Pierre Pambu Bodo, Cheri Cherin, Cheri Samba and of course ‘the eye of Bamako’, the renowned Malian photographer, Malick Sidibe. This year’s annual Africa Now Sale is a testament to the expansion of modern and contemporary art beyond western borders and canons. Overall the sale includes a stimulating equilibrium between well-known names and emerging talent, capturing the artistic essence of the continent.

Bonhams remains at the forefront of the market and is the only international auction house with dedicated sales to African modern and contemporary art. We are delighted to host this year’s Africa Now auction in our spectacular new £30 million headquarters building at 101 New Bond Street for the first time. We look forward to your participation on the auction, whether through our online live bidding system, by telephone or by personally welcoming you to view our exhibition.



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