Nigerian Art is currently one of the hottest properties in the art world. The desire for collectors to acquire these works grows every year, as does the interest from museums and opinion formers in the art world.
On 20 May, the ‘Africa Now – Modern Africa’ auction at Bonhams in London will showcase works by artists whose lives bridged the gap between Africa and Europe.
For centuries, African and European art had largely followed independent trajectories. However, in the 1950s a handful of Nigerian artists emerged who took their mainly Western art training and applied it in distinctly Nigerian context.
These were led by Ben Enwonwu (1917-1994) whose elegant bronze figure Anyanwu Simplified estimated at £60,000-90,000 is among the most highly valued items in this year’s ‘Africa Now’ sale. His painting Africa Dances 1973 also estimated at £60,000-90,000 depicts an energetic dance that could serve as a metaphor for Africa itself.
Nigerian (though UK-based) artist, Uzo Egonu (1931-1996), painted Second Poetess (£10,000-15,000) in 1981 as part of his Stateless People series that was exhibited in London at the Royal Festival Hall in 1986. A member of the 'Commonwealth generation', Egonu spent the majority of his career in exile in Britain, rising to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s.
The work of these two pioneering modernists and their compatriot Yusuf Grillo (born 1934) paved the way for contemporary artists such as the Nigerian resident artist El Anatsui (born 1934) whose use of colour and the textural qualities in his works, call to mind the brightly-coloured and textured Ghanaian fabrics and textiles.