Johannesburg – Pieces by the late South African artist Irma Stern and Zimbabwe’s Kudzanai-Violet Hwami made impressive sales on the African Heritage space and the New Young artist space respectively at this year’s Bonhams’ Modern and Contemporary African Art Sale.
Though she passed on in 1966, Stern’s peace entitled Arab with Dagger which she did many decades ago was invigorated and became the highest selling lot, trading for an astonishing £922,750 (about US$1.28 million) in London; while Hwami got £81,500 (about US$113,000) for her “Adam and Steve”.
Stern’s “Arab with Dagger” was painted during her two visits to Zanzibar in 1939 and 1945.
“I was conquering new ground for my work and my development,” Stern said some time ago regarding the piece.
She said she was particularly fascinated by the older men, members of Zanzibar’s Arab community.
“Depths of suffering, profound wisdom and full understanding of all the pleasures of life – faces alive with life’s experiences. I knew what I had to express, the suffering and agony that war means to all life,” she explained.
The picture’s frame was repurposed from one of the many distinctively decorated door frames found throughout Zanzibar.
Bonhams Director of African Art, Giles Peppiatt, said Arab with Dagger is a remarkable work and shows Irma Stern at her best.
“Like many of her portraits from this period, it conveys not only an individual likeness, but also the fatalism and the deep spirituality that the artist found among the Arab people, and which she so much admired,” said Peppiatt.
Stern achieved national and international recognition in her lifetime, and her frequent travels across Africa and Europe provided the inspiration for her paintings.
The interest in Hwami’s works shows collectors are getting warm to modern African art.
Born in Zimbabwe in 1993, Hwami tackles the complexities of diasporic identities and the subject of the black body, as well as gender and sexuality.
Her bright, energetic canvases start life as digital collages and are later worked up using mixed media on paper and canvas.
She says her own family histories and personal narratives are at the heart of everything she creates.
“I’m still trying to discover it all and it’s a journey; I want to see it as such. I don’t want to pin my work down,” she said recently.
Selected to represent Zimbabwe at the Venice Biennale in 2019, aged only 26, Hwami has enjoyed successful solo exhibitions at the Tyburn Gallery and Gasworks in London and is represented by Victoria Miro.