Sotheby's Joins Contemporary African Art Bandwagon

LONDON, United Kingdom - In a few weeks, Sotheby's Auction House will host its inaugural sale of modern and contemporary African art. Head of the department Hannah O'Leary told artnet News, "The marketplace for modern and contemporary art from Africa has transformed dramatically over the past decade, but despite this long-overdue correction, there’s still a considerable way to go towards addressing the under-representation of African artists.”

 El Anatsui,  Earth Developing More Roots  (2011). Courtesy Sotheby’s.

El Anatsui, Earth Developing More Roots (2011). Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Key phrase: long-overdue correction. Current observation in widespread media is filled with loaded language describing African contemporary art as on the rise or on trend. However, the institutions lauded as the elite beacons of art are often remiss in fully representing talents from every geography, talents that have been thriving for decades. In spite of Western acknowledgment, domestic spaces have developed such as Harere's National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Douala's Doual’art and Lagos' Rele Gallery. Now, Sotheby's has changed its tune.

The sale on May 16 in London will showcase 100 works by 60 artists from 14 countries, including Algeria, Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Ethiopia, Uganda, Cameroon, and Democratic Republic of Congo. Featured artists include internationally renowned Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui and Nigerian painter Ben Enwonwu among others.

Do not misunderstand Sotheby's joining the party as recognition of the industry's importance. In fact, see their entry as a long-overdue correction as O'Leary rightly concedes.