If you want to collect quality African art today cast your eyes over Europe

A major auction of African art, including works by big names in South African contemporary artist, such as Sam Nhlengthwa, Ayanda Mabulu, Misheck Masamvu will take place in Paris on June 15, 2021.

By Edward Tsumele

I know it sounds both weird and ironic, but is true, and that is that to collect some of the best pieces of African art, by some of the leading artists on the continent and those working in the African Diaspora, someties one needs to look elsewhere besides the continent.

And we are not talking about the African treasure trove of art that was produced several years ago and then shipped to especially Europe by hook or crook by the then colonizers and their proxies in Africa. We are talking about now, when the 54 countries on the continent have since shaken off the shackles of colonialism. This is because art follows money, and in often times, the developed parts of the world, such as most European countries, is where big spenders in art,collectors with fat bank balancers are located. It is also in north America and Europe where art fairs are the hunting spaces for art, and that is in addition to art galleries there that sell art on the primary market. Another place where to find quality African art overseas is on the secondary market (auction) for those with big pockets.

For example, this June, the place to look for quality African art in Europe is none other than Paris in France. Co-curated by Aspire Art Auctions and Artcurial, a major auction dubbed Modern & Contemporary African Art Auction will take place on Tuesday 15 June 2021, 7 Rond-Point des Champs-Élysées, 75008, Paris, France. Contemporary painting by artists in Africa and the African diaspora in the post-independence era, is attracting collectors around the world.

The high demand is hardly surprising, given the extraordinary variety of subjects and approaches from artists living and working on the continent and in the diaspora and those who move freely across boundaries and between destinations. Aboudia for example lives and works between Abidjan and Brooklyn, NY. During the riots that stirred up Côte d’Ivoire in 2011, the young painter remained in the country and testified on large canvases to the violence of the civil war.

These silently screaming faces were included in Pangaea: New Art from Africa and Latin America at the Saatchi Gallery in London in 2014. They have become catalysts for artists striving to mark a turning point in the visibility of contemporary African art on the international scene. Inspired by the “Nouchi” style specific to the art of the neighbourhoods of Abidjan, the works of Aboudia are a tribute to street children around the world.

Cameroonian artist, Jean David Nkot, expresses his reaction to the international community’s indifference to the precarious status of the victims of migration, particularly in Africa. By affixing stamps, envelopes, postcards and road maps to his canvases and representing characters captive in these networks, Nkot questions the viewer’s conscience in order to galvanise action.

Better known for his often controversial paintings depicting well known historical and political figures, Ayanda Mabulu offers an archetypal Mother Africa with her child, surrounded by flowers, symbolic of peace, but with an AK47 at hand to protect her precious offspring, should they be threatened. Blessing Ngobeni highlights both current and past socio-political conditions in Africa.

His work has a strong focus on notions of oppression, powerfully illustrated in this triptych. Ngobeni is the recipient of the 2020 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art and his work forms part of numerous important collections worldwide. Slimen El Kamel, was born in Mazouna in the region of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia, a rural environment where his childhood was shaped by the tradition of folk tales and popular poetry and his imagination flourished. Exploring the relationship between observed reality and the imaginary, his figures appear to levitate in a beautiful space. Kenyan artist, Peter Ngugi is known for his larger than life contemporary portraits of figures dressed in contemporary African fashion.

The strong presence of traditional and contemporary African design is deliberately employed in the narration of an African story. By contrast Zemba Luzamba, born in Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo, favours the Sapeurs, urbane and elegant subjects who subscribe to La Sape, Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (Society of Ambiance Makers and Elegant People), a fashion subculture in cities of Kinshasa, DRC & Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo. Women painters also feature strongly.

Making their auction debut in Paris are South African artists Teresa Firmino and Georgina Gratrix. Gratrix’s first major solo museum exhibition, The Reunion, is currently on show at Norval Foundation in Cape Town. In 2020, she exhibited at the Armory Show in New York City, following her presentation at Artmonte-carlo in Monte Carlo, Monaco in 2019 and Miart in Milan in 2017. In 2018, she was awarded the Discovery Prize at Art Brussels in Belgium. Visually striking and expressive, Gratrix’s thickly painted canvases continue to challenge the limits of painterly representation as she delights in distorting shape and form to offer a new visual reality – sometimes found in humour.

Misheck Masamvu studied at Atelier Delta and Kunste Akademie in Munich. His vibrant abstract expressionism, characterised by energetic loose brushstrokes and vivid colours, is employed as a critical practice to comment on the socio-political environment of post-independence Zimbabwe.

He exhibited at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011 and the São Paulo Biennale in 2016. Sam Nhlengethwa’s work remains a favourite on the scene. Willie Bester’s legendary painted assemblages, documenting the achievements and challenges of South Africa’s extraordinary political transition from pariah state to independence and universal suffrage, have brought him to the attention of curators and collectors worldwide.

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