Art as a business in most African countries is not considered a viable career option. Apart from South Africa and Egypt, art pieces from other African countries do not fetch a lot of money at international auctions.
But in recent years contemporary African art carvings and paintings have started catching the eyes of big spenders, with some pieces fetching up to $14 million. Although the continent’s art is not as expensive compared to other regions, 2014 saw a record number of African art pieces sold at auctions around the world, with an estimated value of $31 million.
Here are some of the most expensive African art pieces and painting ever sold.
‘Arab Priest’ The ‘Arab Priest’ by the South African artist Irma Stern is most expensive African art painting ever sold at an auction to date. It was purchased by a museum in the Middle East for £3.1 million ($4.8 million) in March 2011.
‘Bahora Girl’ The ‘Bahora Girl’, also by Irma Stern, is second most expensive African art ever sold. It was bought by a private South African art collector for £2.4 million ($3.6 million) in October 2010 at Bonhams auction house in London.
‘Two Arabs’ and ‘Arab’ In 2011, Stern’s sold another painting titled Two Arabs for about $1.8 million in South Africa. The next year she sold yet another painting of a distinguished Arab man titled Arab for nearly $1.5 million.
‘Daily Mirror’ Sculptures Excluding South Africa, the highest price paid at auction for an African artwork by an African collector is £361,250, for the set of ‘Daily Mirror’ sculptures by Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu in May 2013.
‘Senufo Female’ Statue In November 2014 an extremely rare ‘Senufo Female’ Statue curved by Ivory Coast-based artist, Master of Sinasso, sold for a record $12 million. It was part of a $41.6 million worth of collection sold by an ambitious African art collector, Myron Kunin, at the Sotheby’s in New York. Guess he woke up on the right side of the bed that day.
‘The Teacher’ ‘The Teacher’ is a provocative piece of paining that was taken from a class picture from Marlene Dumas’ childhood in South Africa. It depict the politics of the apartheid era when Duma was growing up. The painting sold for $3.3 million in 2005.
‘Muminia Lega’ The Muninia mask, a previously unseen masterpiece, was auctioned off at Sotheby’s France for about $4.4 million, the second highest price in history for an African mask.
‘Construction of the Suez Canal’ The ‘Construction of the Suez Canal’, a watercolor and gouache masterpiece created by one of the most celebrated figure of the Egyptian Modern Art movement, Abdul Hadi El-Gazzar, sold for $1 million at the Christie’s auction in Dubai in 2014.
‘Fang Ngil Mask’ In 2006, a 19th century mask by Gabonese Fang people, ‘Fang Ngil’ (also known as the gorilla mask), brought down the hammer at more than $7.5 million at an auction in Paris. The mask was usually worn by men of the same name during the initiation of member and the persecution of wrong-doers.
‘Fang Mabea’ Statue The ‘Fang Mabea’ statue, owned by two art collectors, Felix Feneon and Jacques Kerchache, who were fighting for better recognition of African art in Europe, was sold for $5.17 million in 2014. The statue that produced in Cameroon in the early 19th century.
Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation (2001) The Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation (2001), an art painting by Ethiopian-born artist Julie Mehretu who was best known for her densely layered abstract paintings, sold for $4.6 million at Christie’s New York in 2013.
‘Les Chadoufs’ ‘Les Chadoufs’, a painting by Mahmoud Said, which acts as a powerful metaphor for an Egyptian Renaissance, sold for $2 million in 2010. It became the most expensive piece of art made by an Arab artist ever to be auctioned by Christie’s Dubai.
by Lillian Mutiso