Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E (Nigerian, 1917-1994), Africa Dances, oil on canvas, 105 x 114cm (41 5/16 x 44 7/8in). Estimated at £60,000 – 90,000-US$90,000 – 140,000. Image courtesy of Bonhams
LONDON — African Modern and Contemporary Art is again generating excitement as artworks by famous African artists are set to go on auction the block as part of Bonhams Auction Africa Now series. Currently one of the hottest properties in the art world, the quest by collectors to acquire works by African artists has continued to grow every year. This year is no exception. Alongside collectors are museums and opinion formers who cannot wait to add the works of famous African artists to their collections.
As a way of reaching collectors and museums from across the world, Bonhams has restructured the Africa Now auction. This year, Bonhams Auction has divided the auction into two sections: African Modern and Contemporary Art. The first section of the auction, Africa Now – Modern Africa will be held on May 20, 2015 at Bonhams in London, while the Africa Now – Contemporary Africa sale will be held on October 15th to coincide with the annual Frieze Art Fair and 1 – 54 African Art Fair.
Africa Now – Modern Africa will showcase works by a small group of famous African artists whose lives bridged the gap between Africa and Europe. Among the revolutionary artists whose works will stand out during the Bonhams auction is Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu (1917-1994).
Anyanwu Simplified, an elegant bronze figure by Enwonwu is one of the major highlights of the auction. Estimated at £60,000-90,000, this highly valued sculpture in the Bonhams Auction Africa Now sale is expected to make record auction price. Enwonwu’s painting titled Africa Dances 1973 is also expected to engender a bidding war among collectors. The painting which depicts an energetic dance that could serve as a metaphor for Africa itself is estimated at £60,000-90,000.
The works by UK-based Nigerian artist, Uzo Egonu (1931-1996) will feature prominently alongside artworks by Ben Enwonwu at this year’s Bonhams auction of African art that is expected to attract more art collectors from across the globe. Second Poetess painted in 1981 as part of his Stateless People series is expected to make record auction price at this year’s event. Estimated at £10,000-15,000, the painting has amazing provenance. It was exhibited in London at the Royal Festival Hall in 1986. Egonu is member of the ‘Commonwealth generation’, and spent the majority of his career in exile in Britain, rising to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s.
Works by Ben Enwonwu and Uzo Egonu included in Bonhams auction Modern Africa reveal an important aspect of Nigeria’s art history. Paintings and sculptures by these prominent Nigerian artists show the influence of Western artistic traditions on Nigerian art and artists who took their mainly Western art training and applied it in distinctly African context.
Prior to 1950, African and European art had largely followed independent trajectories. However, all that changed as many Western art instructors became teachers and professors in African institutions. Also, many African artists began to travel to Western countries to further their art education. The result is a confluence of Western artistic tradition and African ideologies. Among African artists who bridge the two traditions were Ben Enwonwu and Uzo Egonu.
In addition to works by Ben Enwonwu and Uzo Egonu, paintings by Yusuf Grillo (Nigerian, born 1934), another important Nigerian artist, will feature significantly at this Bonhams auction. Bata Drummers by Grillo is expected to do well during the auction. Estimated at £50,000 – 80,000 US$75,000 – 120,000, the oil on board measuring 123 x 92cm (48 7/16 x 36 1/4in) is expected to generate strong bidding from art collectors.
Ben Enwonwu, Uzo Egonu, and Yusuf Grillo were pioneering modernists who paved the way for other contemporary artists such as the Ghanaian artist Ablade Glover (born 1934). Celebrated for his use of color and the textural qualities in his works, Glover’s work call to mind the brightly-colored and textured Ghanaian fabrics and textiles.
Six paintings by Glover will be part of Bonhams auction, one of which is A luta Demonstration 2007. Estimated at £8,000-12,000, this is perhaps the most striking of all the works by the artist to feature in the auction. The piece borrows from the chant ‘A luta continua’, ‘the struggle continues’ in Portuguese. The chant was the rallying cry of the FRELIMO movement during Mozambique’s war for independence. Miriam Makeba, the legendary South African songstress made the chant popular in her song ‘A luta continua’ released during the anti-apartheid struggle. The phrase became the war cry for rallies not just in South Africa but across the African continent.
All the paintings by the African art masters and emerging artists will be offered at auction at Bonhams London on May 20, 2015. Since its inception, Africa Now has been attracting collectors from across the globe who compete to collect works by emerging and established African artists. Beyond art collectors, major museums have also been reaching out from across the globe to add works by African artists to their collections, and Bonhams has continued to provide the platform for the collection of African Modern and Contemporary Art.
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