African contemporary art takes center stage in upcoming Paris sale

·3-min read
"Disco II" by Zemba Luzamba (L) and "Who is Who" by Peter Ngugi (R) will go under the hammer at Artcurial's June 15 sale.

The pandemic has done nothing to hamper the appetite for African art. So much so that the Artcurial auction house in Paris is holding a major sale dedicated to the continent's contemporary creations, June 15. The sale will see a rare collection of works from Ecole de Dakar artists go under the hammer. A date for your diaries!

Some 30 works by emblematic artists from the Ecole de Dakar -- encompassing the artistic renewal that came about following the independence of Senegal at the instigation of Léopold Sédar Senghor -- are set to go under the hammer in this forthcoming sale. These include works by Amadou Seck, Philippe Sène and Diatta Seck that are estimated to fetch €1,000 to €8,000 (approx. $1,222 to $9,772).

This collection will be presented alongside creations from upcoming figures in the African contemporary art market, such as Peter Ngugi, Aboudia and Omar Ba. One of the leading talents of this new generation is Zemba Luzamba, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose artistic practice began as the ban on wearing suits and ties in DRC was lifted in the 1990s. It's therefore no surprise to see the style and elegance of men's tailoring reflected in his oil paintings, like "Disco II." Artcurial estimates this piece to fetch €8,000 to €12,000 (approx. $9,772 to $14,655), a modest sum compared to the recent sale of "Parliamentarians Standing" in Marrakech (€26,240 or approx. $32,000).

Incredible diversity

Part of the June 15 sale will also take place in partnership with South-African auctioneers Aspire, in an effort to propose pieces from artists rarely featured in Europe. This will bring works to the sale including a rare print from David Goldblatt's 1969 "On the Mines" series, a large-scale drawing by Dumile Feni, and sculptures by Sydney Kumalo and Lucas Sithole.

This varied selection illustrates the diversity of African contemporary art, according to Christophe Person, head of Artcurial's contemporary African art department. For him, this sale shows that, far from being "one," African artistic creation is rich and abundant, and offers an incredible diversity: "From the Africanity of the Ecole de Dakar artists, sought by the poet president Senghor, to the artists reinventing the portrait and exploring identity, to Aboudia's nouchi figures, contemporary African art is attracting a growing number of collectors."

Just the beginning?

For 10 or so years, collectors have been increasingly turning to African contemporary art for its surprising diversity, as much in terms of the techniques used as the underlying messages. And this enthusiasm is being felt in auction houses, where the continent's artists -- like Ben Enwonwu, Iba N'Diaye and Demas N. Nwoko -- have recently seen their popularity grow.

And this could be just the start of things to come, according to Hannah O'Leary, head of modern and contemporary African art at Sotheby's. "This category is one that has seen a continued rise in sales even during the pandemic," she told Quartz. "From 2017-2019, we had a 30-50% growth in sales. The trajectory was lower last year given the pandemic, but was still a positive growth even as general auction sales went down across other departments."

Caroline Drzewiński

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