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The Arab community of Zanzibar was a powerful inspiration for the South African painter Irma Stern during her two extended stays on the island in 1939 and 1945. She was particularly fascinated by the older men in whose faces she saw, in her own words, “depths of suffering, profound wisdom and full understanding of all the pleasures of life – faces alive with life's experiences.” One of the fruits of her second Zanzibar trip, Arab with Dagger leads Bonhams’ Modern and Contemporary African Art sale in London on Wednesday 17 March. It has an estimate of £700,000-1,000,000.
As with many works from Stern’s Zanzibar trips, the painting is perfectly framed in wood cut from Zanzibar doors. In their complete state, the highly distinctive doors were subject to an export ban, but there was nothing to prevent Stern’s Arab carpenter from converting them into picture frames.
Bonhams Director of African Art, Giles Peppiatt said: “Arab with Dagger is a remarkable work and shows Irma Stern at her best. Like many of her portraits from this period, it conveys not only an individual likeness, but also the fatalism and the deep spiritually that the artist found among the Arab people, and which she so much admired.”
Writing in the spring edition of Bonhams Magazine, Claire Wrathall shows how Stern’s Zanzibar works represent a perfect blend of the inspiration she took from her new environment with the influence of her artistic training in Germany after the First World War, and especially that of her mentor, the great German Expressionist painter and sculptor, Max Pechstein. Of Arab with Dagger, Wrathall writes: “It’s an uneasy portrait, a suspicious rather than a sympathetic one, but that air of unease gives it the emotional truth that defines Stern as South Africa’s first true Expressionist.”
Bonhams has sold many works from Irma Stern’s Zanzibar period including Arab Priest (1945), which achieved £3 million in 2011, making this the world auction record for a painting by Stern and the most valuable South African painting ever sold at auction. It was bought by the Qatar Museums Authority and is part of the collection of the Orientalist Museum in Doha, Qatar.
EMERGING YOUNG ARTISTS SHOWCASED AT BONHAMS MODERN & CONTEMPORARY AFRICAN ART SALE
Kudzanai-Violet Hwami (Zimbabwean, born 1993), Adam and Steve joined by the knee, a study.
Estimate: £30,000 - 50,000.
Proving that Africa is still the hot continent, Bonhams next Modern and Contemporary African Art sale in London on 17 March will showcase a host of exciting young talent, alongside established big names. One of the highlights is Adam and Steve joined by the knee, a study, produced by the 27-year-old Zimbabwean artist, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami. The work has an estimate of £30,000 - £50,000.
Born in 1993, Hwami has already received more acclaim in her short career than many artists achieve in a lifetime – and her star is still on the rise. Selected to represent Zimbabwe at the Venice Biennale in 2019, aged only 26, Hwami has already enjoyed successful solo exhibitions at the Tyburn Gallery and Gasworks in London and is represented up by Victoria Miro. Later this year, she will showcase her works at a group exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris.
Helene Love-Allotey, specialist in Modern and Contemporary African Art at Bonhams, commented: “Hwami is one of the most exciting young artists around right now. Her work asks the viewer to consider weighty topics – such as identity, sexuality, and desire – but her handling is witty and fresh, as is evidenced by the title of the work, Adam and Steve joined by the knee, a study. When asked what precipitated her interest in art, Hwami has often credited her love of cartoons, and in paricular, Manga. As a child, she would sketch her favourite characters, and the influence of these animations is evident in the dynamism of her compositions. Although monumental in size, the work retains a delicate intimacy.”
Hwami’s work starts with a collage of images and photographs, around which she constructs a painted narrative. She says that this approach was partly influenced by the creative sharing of images on social media sites such as Tumblr: “I spent a lot of time on the internet as a pre-teen and, in that socially awkward stage of my life, I found it more comfortable to escape and exist in cyberspace. I started exploring sexuality and gender identity. I was obsessed with the idea of physically living in a different body. All my frustration and confusion was expressed through studying the queer body.”
Other highlights of the sale include:
Estimate: £60,000 - 90,000Portia Zvavahera (Zimbabwean, born 1985) Complete, 2014. Estimate: £60,000 - 90,000. Zvavahera has noted the fluidity and flatness afforded by using oil-based inks, allowing her to build richly layered surfaces. She draws upon her deeply held sense of spirituality and accompanying rituals of belief to embody the predominantly female figures. Moving beyond literal autobiography and self-portraiture, the figures depicted become archetypal expressions of feminine experiences of faith and motherhood.Zanele Muholi (South African, born 1972), Isililo XX unframed. Estimate: £4,000 - 6,000. Zanele Muholi is a non-binary artist whose work challenges ideas of both race and sexuality. In 2020 a major exhibition of Muholi’s work opened at the Tate Modern in London. A print by Zanele Muholi “Sasa, Bleecker” sold for £6,800 at Bonhams in March 2020, an unheard-of price for a photograph by a contemporary South African artist.William Joseph Kentridge (South African, born 1955), Orange head. Estimate: £25,000-35,000. Beginning in 1992, Kentridge produced a series of monumental drypoint prints of a head, with hand-painting and torn shards created from varying templates, allowing for incarnations in orange (editioned 1993), blue (editioned 1993-8) and green (1992), though the latter were never editioned. Insight, or the lack thereof, is a central theme in Kentridge's work. The subject's upwardly tilting chin exposes the carotid artery in his extended neck in what can be read as a gesture of either submission or strength: it is unclear whether his eyes are closed in defiance, dreaming, or death.Ndary Lo (Senegalese, born 1961), Taaru à talons, 2013. Estimate: £7,000 - 10,000. The image of a striding figure is a recurring theme of Ndary Lo’s work. The artist created a series of these "hommes qui marche", figures he referred to affectionately as "nit", a Wolof word meaning "person" or "character". The title of this work translates as 'Beauty in heels'. Lo's characteristic slender and elongated figures have often provoked comparisons to Alberto Giacometti – who was himself influenced by African sculptural traditions. Lo's aesthetic has been considered to be a conscious cultural re-appropriation. Zanele Muholi (South African, born 1972),
Isililo XX unframed. Estimate: £4,000 - 6,000.
Leading the sale will be Irma Stern’s Arab with Dagger (within original Zanzibar frame), which has an estimate of £700,000-1,000,000. More information can be found here
More from Under The Hammer:
Yusuf Adebayo Cameron Grillo
Ayi and Tayi £ 100,000 - 150,000 € 120,000 - 170,000
Gerard Sekoto (South African, 1913-1993)
Township scene (unframed). £ 7,000 - 10,000 € 8,100 - 12,000
Abiodun Olaku (Nigerian, born 1958)
Kano Horsemen£ 6,000 - 9,000 € 6,900 - 10,000
Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E (Nigerian, 1917-1994)
Anyanwu £ 120,000 - 180,000 € 140,000 - 210,000
Aime Mpane (Democratic Republic of Congo, born 1968)
A portrait of Marie-Pierre Ntiba Kawa £ 7,000 - 10,000 € 8,100 - 12,000
Joseph Ntensibe (Ugandan, born 1953)
Under African Skies £ 10,000 - 15,000 € 12,000 - 17,000
Robert Griffiths Hodgins (South African, 1920-2010)
Robert Griffiths Hodgins (South African, 1920-2010)
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