Modern & Contemporary African Art | and CCA Lagos Benefit Auction

Modern & Contemporary African Art | and CCA Lagos Benefit Auction

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 51. Lady.

Olamilekan Abatan


Lot Closed

March 22, 03:52 PM GMT


5,000 - 7,000 GBP

Lot Details


Olamilekan Abatan




signed and dated 2021 (lower right)

mixed media, including charcoal, pencil on paper and Dutch Wax cloth in artist's frame

120 by 100cm., 47¼ by 39 3/8in.

framed: 137 by 115.5cm., 54 by 45½in.

Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

Beautifully navigating the relationship between the past and present, the individual and collective, Lady is an outstanding example of Olamilekan Abatan’s continued exploration of the portraiture genre. A hyper-realistic charcoal drawing set against a vibrant patterned fabric, the present work captures the essence of the portraiture genre whilst also exploring the cultural history of the African continent. 

The subject of the portrait is a young woman in a flowy dress, a sheer gown elegantly draping down her shoulders. She wraps her arms around a dog sitting on her lap, her hands disappearing beneath the soft folds of fur. A seated pose of a lady holding her pet dog can be seen in European portraiture compositions, usually executed in oil for noble women. A reference to Africa’s colonial history and its legacy, Abatan’s black and white portraits in charcoal take the past and transform it into an image that is distinctively contemporary and African. Her hair is neatly braided back, with a simple black headband wrapped across her forehead. She wears dark stone earrings, a long beaded necklace and a delicate ring on her ring finger. Capturing the subtle nuances of expression with incredible mastery of the charcoal medium, Abatan imbues his subjects with depth and complexity that demand extended looking. Looking away in a cryptic expression, Abatan’s Lady is enigmatic and mysterious, unique and specific, and therefore distinctively individual.

The soft meticulous rendering of the lady is a powerful juxtaposition against the riotously colourful, boldly patterned background. The patterned fabric is known as ‘Vlisco’ or ‘Dutch Wax’ fabric, and is not only a potent symbol of Africa’s complex colonial past, but is also a means of promoting the rich textile history of Nigeria and Africa. Initially beginning as an imitation of the Indonesian batik fabric, the ‘Dutch wax’ found great success in west Africa in the 19th century after soldiers from Dutch colonies encountered them abroad and brought them back to their families. The Indonesians quickly noticed flaws in the fabrics which were produced industrially rather than through the authentic labour-intensive methods, but others found great appeal and formed a robust market, later becoming adapted to suit the local tastes in west African countries. The fabrics may appear to be a symbol of ‘African culture’ for those who perceive them as indigenous, but deeply threaded within are origins of the hyperconnected, post-colonial material world. A masterful weaving of personal and collective histories, Lady by Abatan is a striking example of contemporary portraiture at its best.