Interest in contemporary art continues to grow on a global level

In the past few years interest in contemporary African art and art by Black artists reached a fever pitch, with ground-breaking exhibitions and growing interest from influential art collectors.

Famous buyers have included hedge fund managers, major museums, and celebrities such as Beyonce Knowles, Oprah Winfrey and CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Bloomberg reports.

“The international collecting world is consistently looking to new markets; it craves the novel. Last year the focus at the Venice Biennale was very much around this interest with the American and the French pavilions at the Biennale featuring Black artists or artists from the African diaspora. That said, I believe the interest in African contemporary art, be it from South Africa or across the diaspora, is not a fleeting trend. It’s a phenomenon that has been present now for a few years and we will see it remain as a constant in the marketplace,“ says Business Development Specialist Kate Fellens at Strauss & Co.

Locally, the current exhibition at the Zeitz MOCAA, When We See Us: A Century of Black Figuration in Painting, looks back on a broad spectrum of global cultural movements toward Black liberation in the 20th century.

Last year, the exhibition In the Black Fantastic at the Hayward Gallery in London received rave reviews – publications such as Vogue and The Guardian called it the “must-see exhibition of the summer” and the latter awarded it five stars.

The exhibition featured artists from the African diaspora, who use elements such as fantasy, myth and fiction to explore what it means to be Black and African.

Africa’s leading art auction house, Strauss and Co, continues to embrace and promote Black artists from the African continent and diaspora. Last year the auction house was the chief sponsor of the African Art in Venice Forum (AAVF).

The AAVF is a free discursive event presented every other year in Venice at the same time as the Venice Biennale providing opportunities for exchange, cross-collaboration, and visibility for contemporary art from Africa and its diasporas.

In February, Strauss & Co’s upcoming pan-African auction titled Curatorial Voices: Modern and Contemporary Art from Africa will highlight some of Africa’s most promising contemporary  artists, hand-picked by five leading curators from esteemed art centres on the continent.

Curatorial Voices: Curatorial Voices: Modern and Contemporary Art from Africa is a celebration of African achievement,” says Bina Genovese, Managing Executive of Strauss & Co.

“The auction will present works by renowned African artists which will be exhibited during Cape Town art week  – a time when Cape Town, a global art capital, is the centre of attention.  With our proven competencies handling art from southern Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, I do not doubt that this new sale will broaden dialogue among artists and collectors from across the African continent and beyond. It’s also a great opportunity for art professionals to network,” she emphasises.

“Strauss & Co is proud to play a role in this important art ecosystem where auction houses, galleries, art fairs, arts educators and residencies all form a crucial part. Collaboration across these areas will be important for a sustainable long-term future.” Fellens concludes.

Early highlights of the sale include works by contemporary artists Zanele Muholi, Simphiwe Ndzube, Athi-Patra Ruga, Cinga Samson and Tafadzwa Tega.

Cinga Samson

‘Before the day has a meaning’ (R1 200 000 – 1 600 000) will be among the amazing pieces up for grabs.

Self-taught South African artist Cinga Samson’s Before the day has a meaning (R 1 200 000 – 1 600 000) is one of the noteworthy pieces coming under the hammer in February.

“I want to create works that aren’t begging you to look at them,” he told the New York Times in an interview. The painting, done in a subtle, moody style with chiaroscuro-like accents and Samson’s characteristic white-eyed subjects, hints at something more unfathomable and enigmatic beneath moody colours and botanical motifs.

Cinga’s art looks to the future, rather than dwelling on the trauma of the past. He imagines a new visual identity for young creative Africans in the 21st century.

“I want to push into the future, not be marginalised under the politics of this moment,” he says. “I don’t want to be an artist that feeds Western fantasies about what Africa is.”

Zanele Muholi

Isililo XX (R 50 000 – 70 000) is one of Muholi’s artworks that is up for sale in the auction.

The British newspaper, The Observer, called Muholi’s 2020 Tate Modern exhibition “epochal, monumental and full of grace,” in a review and praised them as “one of the most acclaimed photographers working today”.

In the past decade, they have distinguished themselves as one of South Africa’s most prodigious visual artists and photographers, with solo exhibitions in renowned international museums and galleries.

One of the most recent is the inclusion of their series Miss (Black) Lesbian (2009) at the BLACK VENUS 2022 exhibition at Fotografiska, New York.  The artist speaks to social issues such as racism, homophobia and gender violence and challenges the parochial prejudices their communities still face.

Isililo XX (R 50 000 – 70 000) a black and white photo is one of Muholi’s artworks that is up for sale in the auction. The image shows them staring defiantly at the camera, with umchokozo-like face paint punctuating their features.

An edition of this artwork also forms part of the Zeitz MOCAA Permanent Collection and was donated by the artist themselves.

Mongezi Ncaphayi

Ncaphayi’s artwork, ‘Obsession’ (R100 000 – 150 000) is expected to impress at the auction.

Mongezi Ncaphayi’s work reminds the viewer of the post-war abstract expressionism style of artists such as Helen Frankenthaler and Clifford Still, with a nod to modern masters such as Joan Miro and Wassily Kadinsky.

Like Kandinsky, he is influenced by music. In an interview with Art South Africa, he compared his abstract works to musical compositions in a visual form. When creating, he also follows a similar method to a jazz improvisation musician.

“I don’t plan my compositions. I rely on my intuition and spontaneity. They evolve as I make them. I let the artwork guide me through its various directions.”

Ncaphayi received the prestigious Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto Award in 2013 and his works features in several important collections, notably the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington DC, The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, The Ampersand Foundation (TAF) in London, and the Fondazione Benetton.

His artwork Obsession (R100 000 – 150 000) features retro-like geometric shapes that evoke the playfulness of the Italian Memphis Milano design group, set against a moody, smoky background.

Athi-Patra Ruga

‘Night of the Long Knives 4’ (R300 000 – 500 000) is another artwork expected to go under the hammer in February.

Ruga’s artworks flit between the fringes between fashion, performance, and contemporary art – their queer-positive art pulses with colour, sensuality and a rococo opulence reminiscent of photographers David La Chapelle and Miles Aldridge, but is still defined by a definitive African aesthetic.

“At Strauss, we greatly love and admire Athi’s artwork, which also performs exceptionally well at our auctions. They are a sterling example of a South African artist that managed to expand their brand into other spheres, in Athi’s case the international luxury fashion industry. Their collaboration with the French fashion house Dior, on the iconic Lady Dior bag, is a wonderful example of local artists that continue to push boundaries and make waves internationally,” Fellens says.

One of Ruga’s best-known artworks is his Knight of the Long Knives series, a neon fantasy featuring a balloon-covered figure straddling a zebra, surrounded by a phantasmagorical jungle landscape.

“The title is a tongue-in-cheek play on that unfounded settler panic,” the artist told The Guardian in a 2018 interview. “We’re not killing each other. We are steamrolling ahead towards progress.”

Night of the Long Knives 4 (R300 000 – 500 000) is another seminal contemporary African artwork going under the hammer in February. In the early 2010s, Ruga’s hand-made tapestries demonstrated their strong investment value at Strauss & Co’s auctions, selling for six-figure sums.

Tega Tafadzwa

Tega Tafadzwa’s artwork pays tribute to his fellow countrymen.

His artworks are known for their bright colours and subjects’ somewhat theatrical poses. He places them in front of decorative backgrounds, usually featuring William Morris-inspired motives or prints reminiscent of African wax cloth.

The political turmoil in Zimbabwe has driven millions of Tafadzwa’s countrymen into exile or forced them to emigrate, in search of a better life – his artwork takes substantial inspiration from his own experiences as an immigrant.

“There are people I know from back home who moved to South Africa. I know their qualifications. They’re doctors, teachers, professors, and even business people. So, when I see them here, looking for jobs, or a doctor working in a restaurant because they’re looking to make ends meet, I’m so touched. So, that’s what I put in my paintings. They are the people I portray in my paintings,” he told the online publication Kingship and Craft.

His artworks are a homage to his countrymen – Zimbabweans’ quiet dignity and resilience in adapting to a new country and forging ahead with style and grace in a country where they are often met with hostility.

Curatorial Voices exhibition will open in Cape Town on the 15th February ahead of the auction on 28th February at Brickfield Canvas, the creative hub and technology campus located at 35 Brickfield Road, Woodstock, Cape Town.

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