Contemporary Conversations: African Artists

12 October 2021
Join us to celebrate African art and artists from the late 19th century right up to the present day. Focusing on Phaidon’s new book ‘African Artists: From 1882 to Now’, curator and writer Ekow Eshun, Head of Modern & Contemporary African Art at Sotheby’s Hannah O’Leary, and artists Sokari Douglas Camp, Samson Kambula, and Ibrahim Mahama will take part in an unbarred conversation on the history of modern art on the continent and the rising global interest in a new generation of African artists. The talk will take place ahead of Sotheby’s Modern and Contemporary African Art online auction on the 20 October.

Meet the Panel

Samson Kambalu, Artist

Samson Kambalu (b. 1975, Malawi) is an artist and writer working in a variety of media, including site-specific installation, video, performance and literature. His work is autobiographical and approaches art as an arena for critical thought and sovereign activities. Kambalu’s work fuses aspects of the Nyau gift-giving culture of the Chewa, the anti-reification theories of the Situationist movement and the Protestant tradition of inquiry, criticism and dissent.

Kambalu has been featured in major exhibitions and projects worldwide, including the Dakar Biennale (2014, 2016), Tokyo International Art Festival (2009) and the Liverpool Biennial (2004, 2016). He was included in All the World’s Futures, Venice Biennale 2015, curated by Okwui Enwezor. More recently Kambalu was the Malawi Cultural Consultant for the film The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind and translated the script into Chichewa. He also was included on the 2019 Dallas Medianale.
Kambalu studied at the University of Malawi (BA Fine Art and Ethnomusicology); Nottingham Trent University (MA Fine Art) and Chelsea College of Art and Design (PhD Fine Art). Kambalu, who began his academic career at the University of Malawi, has won research fellowships with Yale University and the Smithsonian Institution, and is an associate professor of Fine Art at Ruskin School of Art, and a fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford University

Sokari Douglas Camp, Artist

Sokari Douglas Camp is an internationally renowned sculptor who creates her works primarily in steel. Her often large-scale sculptures make frequent reference to her Nigerian roots, at the same time encompassing contemporary international issues. Sokari was one of the winners of the Memorial for Ken Saro-Wiwa in London and was also one of the shortlisted artists for the Fourth Plinth in 2003.

Ibrahim Mahama, Artist

Ibrahim Mahama is a Ghanaian author and an artist of monumental installations. He uses the transformation of materials to explore themes of commodity, migration, globalisation and economic exchange. Mahama was the youngest artist featured in the first Ghana Pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale, and has had multiple solo installations in Accra and Kumasi, as well as solo exhibitions in Dublin, Michigan, and at White Cube in London.

Hannah O’Leary, Director, Head of Modern & Contemporary African Art, Sotheby’s

Hannah O’Leary is a director at Sotheby’s auction house, the global market leaders in Modern & Contemporary Art from Africa. She established the Modern & Contemporary African Art department in London in 2016 and spearheaded the first sale of this category in May 2017; she now oversees more sales in this category than any other auction house or fine art platform.

Hannah first joined Sotheby’s back in 2005, initially working in the Dublin and Melbourne offices. In 2006 she moved to Bonhams in London, where she helped pioneer the first international auctions of South African Art and Modern & Contemporary African Art, becoming Head of Department in 2010. With 10 years’ experience in this field, and having overseen record-breaking sales in both categories, she was delighted to return to Sotheby’s in 2016 to further develop this burgeoning market. Over the past 5 years she has overseen the highest-grossing auctions of Contemporary African Art ever held and has set almost 90 world record prices for African artists. In this time Sotheby’s has consistently dominated this market, holding the record prices for all the top-selling artists from the continent.

Ekow Eshun, Writer and Curator

Ekow Eshun is Chairman of the Fourth Plinth Commissioning Group, overseeing the most prestigious public art programme in the UK, and the former Director of the ICA, London. He is the author of Africa State of Mind, nominated for the Lucie Photo Book Prize, and Black Gold of the Sun, nominated for the Orwell prize. He has contributed to publications on artists including Chris Ofili, Kehinde Wiley, John Akomfrah, Wangechi Mutu and Mark Bradford, as well books including Masculinities: Liberation Through Photography, Between Worlds: Voyagers to Britain 1700-1850, Seen: Black Style UK. His writing has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Financial Times, The Guardian, The Observer, The Independent, Granta, Esquire, GQ Style, Aperture, Wired and L’uomo Vogue.