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 103. Untitled (Scrolls).

Property from the Collection of Mr. & Mrs. Quincy Troupe

Alexander Skunder Boghossian

Untitled (Scrolls)

Lot Closed

March 22, 04:41 PM GMT


8,000 - 12,000 GBP

Lot Details


Alexander Skunder Boghossian



Untitled (6 Scrolls)

oil on hand made paper, cloth and burlap

I: 783.6 by 12.7cm., 308 ½ by 5in.; signed and dated 1987

II: 477.5 by 12.7cm., 188 by 5in.

III: 472.5 by 12.7cm., 186 by 5in.

IV: 431.8 by 12.7cm., 170 by 5in. 

V: 355.6 by 12.7cm., 140 by 5in.

VI: 323.2 by 12.7cm., 127¼ by 5in.; signed and dated 1987


Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in c.1990s

The ‘magical scrolls’──the magnificent paintings that were made by Ethiopian debteras, a form of knowledge that Skunder believed was excluded from the disciplines of modernist thought──whose purpose is to fend off evil became Skunder’s examination of time through which knowledge gleaned from the historical past witnessed the temporal perceptions of the present. Debteras are particularly well known for their amulets in which a scroll of illuminated parchment that includes Christian and non-Christian symbols and texts──names of angels followed by symbols of evil spirits which seduce humans to sin──are scribed. People who are inflicted with illness wear these amulets around their neck to be treated from their maladies, and in some cases to protect themselves from bad spirits. In cases where the amulets are not needed, the patient looks fixedly at the scroll and enters a healing trance.

For many believers in the Orthodox Church, icons of the Church are generally worshiped as instruments of miraculous intervention and as a link between the human and the divine. But for the debteras who are trained in the traditions of the Orthodox Church and who are learned church scholars who complete the same studies as priests, equally important are non-Christian practices such as astrology, scribe and fortune telling that can invoke Satan to do good or evil. It is this unique blend of the debtera religious practice that fascinated Skunder and the source of his luminous scrolls.

Certainly the scrolls completely absorbed Skunder Boghossian until the end of his life. As Solomon Deressa had said, the scrolls proved to Skunder that “surrealism is not a one-time European invention but an innate human urge, to delve into the unconscious with or without Freud and Jung. And he painted it all, not as a recapitulating explorer might, but as a native son enthralled by the poetic power of the vision of ancestors who can only be honoured by being subsumed.” Clearly one can relate most of Skunder’s form and style to the free play characteristic of the Surrealist Movement and of this movement that he is frequently related. However, while Skunder was interested in the Surrealists’ fixation of objects that were created or discovered by the unconscious, he was also engrossed in the objects’ political potentials.

The art of Skunder Boghossian has left a quintessential mark on African modernism. His vigorous imagery presents an absorbing and critical account of the political culture of the colonial and post-colonial eras. By positing a historical continuity of ‘Africanness’ that spreads from early civilisations of Africa to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and its multiple expressions, he imaginatively combined two significant themes; a traditional approach of culture and its complex tie with the historical development of European art.