Travels Through a Continent: Modern & Contemporary African Art Highlights

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Sotheby's will stage its first ever auction of Modern and Contemporary African Art on 16 May 2017. Sculptures by El Anatsui, oil paintings by Irma Stern and steel figures by Sokari Douglas Camp will be presented alongside many other works by modern masters and contemporary artists. The narrative of the auction is one of beauty that celebrates different aesthetics. The connecting thread is the relevance each work bears to the history of the continent, and the diverse production of artists working across the 20th and 21st centuries. Click ahead to see highlights of of the sale. –Carolina Mostert.

Modern and Contemporary African Art
London | 16 May 2017

Travels Through a Continent: Modern & Contemporary African Art Highlights

  • Irma Stern, Sunflowers. Estimate: £350,000–550,000.
    The ability to track the sun and to follow its course across the sky is particularly visible in young sunflowers. This movement fades as they bloom. Irma Stern's Sunflowers lean forwards, towards the viewer. Sunflowers was painted in the same year as Stern’s seminal trip to the Belgian Congo. The Second World War had prevented her from returning to Europe, and her wanderlust inspired travel within Africa instead.

  • David Goldblatt, Diepsloot. Estimate: £8,000–12,000.
    David Goldblatt condemns the inhumane conditions in which the people of townships like Diepsloot live. His critique comes in the form of an aerial photograph: as if to say that the only help people can hope for is that from above. Known for his work surrounding one of South Africa's most divisive periods in history, David Goldblatt never intended on using his lens to simply document the apartheid era. Instead, the artist strives to make lyrical photographs as a means to reflect on and to scrutinize the sometimes-harsh realities of his surroundings.

  • Mikhael Subotzky, Playing with plastic, Toekomsrus, Beaufort West, 2007. Estimate: £6,000–9,000.
    Intent on exploring post-apartheid life in South Africa, this work by Johannesburg-based photographer, Mikhael Subotzky, is part of a larger photographic series that focuses on the South African town of Beaufort West. The children in Mikhael Subotzky’s print walk the rugged land with no shoes. They escape their poverty by playing a game. With their feet well on the ground, they find a way to break free and live with their head in the clouds, even when these are made of plastic.

  • Meschac Gaba, Le Pavé Dans La Mère.
    Estimate: £20,000–30,000.
    Jute sacks are used to package and transport goods to and from African ports. Meschac Gaba recycles one to make this flag. The words and coins that are woven in the fabric draw a disquieting relationship between men and things, and compel us to consider the effects of commerce on people. 

  • No Name
    Vincent Michéa, Before the Bigger Splash.
    Estimate: £5,000–8,000.
    Before the Bigger Splash implies a subtle irony. It is a dialogue with David Hockney's famous Pool Paintings, but in Michéa's work, the pool is the background. We see it through the eyes of the swimmer, who towers over it: so the water becomes a metaphor for diving into something new. 

  • Wosene Worke Kosrof, Beauty of Your Own IV.
    Estimate: £20,000–30,000.
    By breaking the structures of figure painting, the abstract composition of Beauty of Your Own IV means to recall a jazz improvisation, which eludes musical canons. The history of jazz is entangled with that of slavery, with the soulful songs of Afro-American workers laying the foundations for the powerful music. This deeper, dark association is perhaps also evoked by Wosene Worke Kosrof's thick black strokes across the linen. 

  • El Anatsui, Earth Developing More Roots.
    Estimate: £650,000–850,000.
    The basic units of El Anatsui are liquor bottle caps. The discarded materials are crumpled, flattened and pierced. The life is crushed out of them, and the threads picked up in a woven tapestry rooted in this rebirth. 

  • Amon Kotei, Untitled, 1992. Estimate: £6,000–9,000.
    Amon Kotei is known for designing Ghana's coat of arms in 1957, just before the state became independent. Untitled sheds new light on this politically involved artist. The scene is a moment of intimacy, which Kotei captures delicately: he leaves the woman unnamed, as if to protect her identity.

  • William Kentridge, World On Its Hind Legs.
    Estimate: £70,000–90,000.
    World on its Hind Legs was conceived as a public art piece by Kentridge and his long-time collaborator Gerhard Marx. Kentridge builds legs to support the world; yet his globe doesn’t appear strengthened but tattered. Curiously, this design embodies a fundamental human question: what it takes to stand on one's own two legs. 

  • Meschac Gaba, 11 Diagonal Street, Johannesburg; SA Reserve Bank Building, Pretoria. Estimate for each work: £5,000–8,000.
    These hair sculptures are from Meschac Gaba's Tresses, a series inspired by iconic buildings in South Africa. 

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