Modern & Contemporary African Art – 3 October, Bonhams, London
We are delighted to share a few of the highlights in the upcoming Modern & Contemporary African Art auction at Bonhams, New Bond Street, on 3 October 2019.
One of the sale’s top lots is an atmospheric oil painting of Venice’s Grand Canal (1945) by the South African grande dame, Irma Stern (estimate £350,000-500,000). Stern was one of the first South African artists to be invited to exhibit at the Venice Biennale, and represented the nation on four occasions over the course of her career.
Also on offer is a work by South Africa’s most celebrated contemporary artist, William Kentridge. The charcoal and pastel is a still from Kentridge’s famous film sequence, ‘Felix in Exile’ (estimate £60,000-90,000). The drawing depicts the devastated landscape surrounding Johannesburg – the result of years of mineral mining. Composed just before the first general election in South Africa, the film asks the question whether the new government will be able to heal the social and geographic trauma inflicted by the Apartheid regime. The piece remains as powerful 20 years on, foreshadowing present days concerns about climate change and sustainability.
‘Isililo XX’ is a self-portrait by photographer and visual activist, Zanele Muholi. The title, translated from Xhosa as ‘The Cry’, references the challenges facing black lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer people in South Africa. In the photograph, the artist wears a black balaclava that covers her nose and mouth, effectively rendering her mute. However, her unwavering gaze meets the viewer’s courageously, defiantly. It is a powerful assertion of identity in the face of external pressures.
Other highlights include an impressive bronze head by the South African sculptor, Dumile Feni. The work was acquired by the celebrated American actor, Anthony Quinn, who had become friends with the artist during his self-imposed exile in London. Far from being cowed by his patron’s fame, Dumile responded to Quinn’s commissions with characteristic tongue in cheek, requesting more funds “for inspiration”.
The sale will also feature a rare early portrait painted by Gerard Sekoto shortly after moving to Eastwood, Pretoria in 1945. The portrait most likely depicts Mary Dikeledi, who had married his brother Bernard earlier that year. The sitter appears to be reluctant to meet our gaze – simultaneously shy and stubborn. This is consistent with the artist’s description of his sister-in-law as a “tough character”: “we got on well and…I could moderate her into a mild mood, even of gaiety, whenever she was in a contradictory state”. The few, brief sittings that resulted produced some of the artist’s most intimate and revealing character studies.
We are excited to announce that Bonhams will be holding its first Modern & Contemporary African Art online auction in conjunction with the live sale. The online auction will be published on the website on 4 October and finish on 18 October.