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One hundred years of Nigerian art, literature and design was celebrated in London last month when Bonhams, British Council and the UK culture community hosted Nigeria’s Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke, and the Chairman of the Heritage Council and Endowment for the Arts of Nigeria, Igho Sanomi, and others.
The celebration featured a series of high profile events at which the Nigerian and British community came together to explore the past and consider the future of Nigerian culture.
Representatives of the UK government and the Nigerian High Commissioner to the UK, His Excellency, Dr Dalhatu Sarki Tafida, attended the events, along with many other government officials, cultural and business personalities.
At the event which held between May 20 and 22, Duke spoke on the power and impact of a nation’s culture on its place in the world: “Nigerian art and culture has proven to be our commonwealth. It defines the endurance of our harmony as a people. It strengthens the resilience of our creativity and provides the bedrock of the definition of who and what we are. It is the greatest collateral upon which we must build the future of our great nation and rekindle the faith of our people”
The three day programme began with a tour of the Tate Modern gallery on London’s South Bank, with particular focus on the Meschac Gaba Museum of Contemporary African Art exhibition.
London auction house Bonhams, in association with Afren, hosted a dinner in anticipation of the following day’s Africa Now auction. The auction was a celebration of art from across the African continent and dinner guests were treated to private viewings of works including Ben Enwonwu’s 1976 masterpiece Princes of Mali and Yusuf Adebayo Cameron Grillo’s 1972 painting, The Flight. The painting was inspired by the artist witnessing a family escaping Nigeria’s Civil War, and observing the similarities with the account of the flight of Jesus’ family into Egypt.
The Africa Now auction resulted in sales of the work of Nigerian and Ghanaian artists totalling in excess of £1million and saw new world record prices for ten different African artists.
Amongst the record breakers were Grillo’s The Flight, fetching £62,500, and the iconic Woman with Gele which immediately broke The Flight’s record, fetching £80,500 against a pre-sale estimate of £30,000 to £50,000. Both were described by Giles Pepiatt, director of contemporary African Art at Bonhams, as “undoubtedly the finest examples of the artist’s work to appear in the open market in the past decade.”
Ben Enwonwu’s Princes of Mali achieved the day’s highest price at £92,500. Other artist auction records included a graceful sculpture by Bunmi Babatunde (£31,250), a 3D triptych by Peju Alatise (£17,500), a market scene by Ablade Glover (£15,000), a chair made of decommissioned weapons by Goncalo Mabunda (£10,000), a coffin in the form of a Porsche by Paa Joe (£6,500) and paintings by Amon Kotei (£9,375), Aboudia (£9,375) and Uzo Egonu (£9,375).
Of the event, Hannah O’Leary, Bonhams head of contemporary African Art commented “Since our inaugural Africa Now auction just five years ago, this market has gone from strength to strength. While artists from at least fifteen African countries were represented, the top prices were reserved for the best pieces by the Nigerian Masters, which seems appropriate for a country celebrating their centenary and that recently became Africa’s largest economy.”