African arts reaching new horizons with record auction sales

Ben Enwonwu with his famous ‘African Mona Lisa’, the ‘African Princess’. Courtesy: AFP

Lately, African fine art is reaching new heights in the industry. Galleries dedicated to this specific genre pops up in every top art exhibition as well as auction houses. Its relevance among art connoisseurs can be comprehended from the fact that African art works are fetching high prices in auctions. This trend is gradually rising since a decade, when several young artists breaking into the podium back in latter 2000s. Africa is not only the origin of artists, but it has also grown as a strong market for fine arts. Wealthy South Africans has been the regular visitors as well as buyers in auction houses like Bonhams in London.

Some notable early sales of African art were back in 2010, setting off the trend. The 1945 painting, “Doe-eyed India Girl from island of Zanzibar” by Irma Stern was bought at a whopping USD 3.3 million by a collector. It was twice the estimated price of the painting. Even painters like Pablo Picasso created arts with themes related to African backdrop. The newly mushrooming art galleries are offering a favorable ecosystem to native African artists. Apart from these, the regional events are growing as primary platforms. Festivals like Lagos Photo Festival and Dak’Art Biennale have grown into major prominence.

A number of Africa origin artists are making strong impression. Among them, Julie Mehretu from Ethiopia, Kenya born Wangechi Mutu and El Anantsui from Ghana are the prominent ones. Lately, in a March auction at London’s Bonhams a painting by Ben Enwonwu, the Nigerian artist, was sold for USD 1.2 million. The portrait of the African princes was completed in 1947, and it is considered as the Mona Lisa of Africa.

Enwonwu lived from 1921 to 1994 and was reputed as the most renowned African Impressionist. In the recent auction, his artworks comprised of Bonham’s 82 percent of total inventories. 21 works by the artist were sold for USD 1.6 million. The price and demand of his paintings are rising gradually. However, every African artist are not getting similar attention.

Africa is emerging gradually as a hub of fine arts and paintings. Although, it has a long way to go even to reach the newly created heights by China, number of millionaires increasing in Africa, is making the art market reach new horizons.