Bonhams’ Contemporary African Art Sale to Feature Works by Toyin Ojih Odutola and William Kentridge

Liz Catalano
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Contemporary art from across the African continent will feature in Bonhams’ upcoming sale, held on September 2nd, 2020, in New York. Rising young creators from diverse backgrounds take the lead in this auction, but collectors of established African artists will still find familiar names in the catalog. 

“This auction has a really strong selection of contemporary art from some of the most exciting names in the industry,” said Bonhams’ modern and contemporary African art specialist, Helene Love-Allotey, in a press release. “Many of these artists have practised, performed and exhibited in New York, and it feels particularly poignant to be able to offer these works in our New York saleroom.”

Toyin Ojih Odutola, The Original (Binary State), 2008. Image from Bonhams.
Toyin Ojih Odutola, The Original (Binary State), 2008. Image from Bonhams.

Among the featured makers is Toyin Ojih Odutola, a Nigerian artist known for her detailed pen-and-ink drawings that explore gender roles and issues of colonialism. Ojih Odutola’s watercolor drawing titled The Original (Binary State) is offered in this event (USD 20,000 – $30,000). Executed in 2009, this piece was created in the artist’s early career. It shows a Muslim woman of Nigerian descent wearing a green headscarf. The viewer’s eye is drawn to a map at the center of the portrait that is labeled with words such as “respect,” “independent,” “exotic,” and “pain.”

Ojih Odutola now uses her art to explore those themes in greater detail, particularly in her recent show at the Barbican Centre Curve Gallery in London. Ojih Odutola says about her newest pieces: “My initial aim was to tell a tale of two beings, one born, another made/manufactured, who exist within a system that enterprises and stratifies war, imperialism and hierarchies— and how these two… come together to bring the whole system down.”

Athi-Patra Ruga, Ilulwane as uNtsikana. Image from Bonhams.
Athi-Patra Ruga, Ilulwane as uNtsikana. Image from Bonhams.

Another rising artist featured in the upcoming Bonhams event is Athi-Patra Ruga. The South African artist has dabbled in a wide range of mediums, from performance and video to photography and tapestry. Ruga frequently uses mythology to critique and understand the world today. Ilulwane as uNtsikana, Ruga’s wool thread tapestry offered in this sale, uses an invented character named Ilulwane to discuss sexuality and social acceptance. It carries a presale estimate of $25,000 to $35,000.

Drawings and paintings from William Kentridge will be available, as well. Also from South Africa, Kentridge has spent a career documenting the dismantling of apartheid. Offered is Another Country, a charcoal sketch created for the South African band Mango Groove ($190,000 – $250,000). The drawing and corresponding animation were completed months before the historic 1994 general election that brought Nelson Mandela to power.

Kentridge’s market is slightly more established than those of his contemporaries, as noted in the auction house’s price analysis. His art has steadily risen in value since the early 2000s, with originals often crossing sale prices of $1 million.

William Kentridge, Another Country, 1994. Image from Bonhams.
William Kentridge, Another Country, 1994. Image from Bonhams.

Those familiar with Wangechi Mutu will find one of her early 2000s watercolors up for bid ($20,000 – $30,000). This piece was part of a storyboard collection for a photoshoot with American singer and songwriter Crystal Waters. Mutu, a Kenyan artist now based in New York, is known for her exaggerated collages that function as social criticism. She is joined by many other feminist, Afrofuturist, and LGBTQ+ artists who are aiming to change the conversation around African art.

“Including more women and non-binary artists than ever, it’s wonderful to be able to explore themes of race, gender and sexuality in this auction,” Love-Allotey said about the lineup.

Find works by Zanele Muholi, Alexander “Skunder” Boghossian, Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu, and others by viewing the full catalog. This live auction will begin at 2:00 PM EDT on September 2nd, 2020.