Auction House Foregrounds Important Black South African Art

Auction House Foregrounds Important Black South African Art

The upcoming Winter 2017 auction at Aspire in Johannesburg will on July 17, 2017 foreground work by important black South African artists. Aspire is committed to exposing the work of artists in the local secondary market, and the upcoming auction features many fine examples of work in the modern and contemporary idioms.

A major highlight is Bicycle Rider (1968) by influential figure Ephraim Ngatane.  According to Aspire Senior Art Specialist Emma Bedford, “it’s astonishing to think that Ngatane produced much of his best work in his twenties – a testament to a prodigious talent.“ Ngatane is credited with influencing and developing several major talents – notably those of Dumile Feni and Louis Maqhubela – however his concern was for an often politically charged, though equally often celebratory, documentary realism. Ngatane died in 1971 at the young age of 33.

Louis Maqhubela, Flight, 1967, charcoal, pastel, conté and collage on paper 98×70.5cm

Louis Maqhubela, one of the artists influenced by Ngatane returns to auction this time, following the huge success of the politically motivated work, Exiled King. This sold for R341,040 at the Aspire Autumn auction earlier this year, more than three times his previous record, from an estimate of R60 000 – R80 000.

As an expatriate artist who moved to the United Kingdom in the 1970s for primarily political reasons, the themes of exile and flight were never far from his thoughts. The work on the forthcoming auction, Flight (1967), is a conté, pastel, charcoal and collage work which is stylistically and technically comparable to Exiled King, and dates from the period of the artist’s success at home before he was forced into emigration by the repressive constraints of the apartheid regime. Maqhubela is also one of the artists who has previously benefited from Aspire Artist’s Resale Rights initiative, which sees a percentage of proceeds from sales in the secondary market passed on to living artists – uniquely in the local auction market.

But perhaps the jewel in the crown of these under-represented works by black South African artists on auction in July is Dumile Feni’s charcoal drawing Children under Apartheid (1987). This significant work was commissioned for a campaign against child abuse in the United States, and was subsequently exhibited for some years in the United Nations buildings in New York City. In the 1980s, New York City was Feni’s home, after being forced into exile by the apartheid government for his commitment to the depiction of degradation and enslavement under that regime. After being exhibited elsewhere in the United States for some years, the work has now, appropriately, been returned to South Africa and entrusted to Aspire to go to auction.

Dumile Feni, Children under Apartheid, 1987, charcoal 247.5x133cm

Art critic Athi Joja explains this delicate and tragic piece, “the drawing depicts figures peering from behind jail bars. Suppose these are the young victims of state brutality and subjugation, caged inside apartheid’s prisons – their fate murky and unpredictable, their cardinal sin being the unflinching petitioning for self-determination… Until his death in 1991, Feni’s work grappled with deep existential questions and the dynamics of human vulnerability that have made his oeuvre as rigorous as it is aesthetically inviting.”

Aspire’s explicit agenda is to bring such important but under-represented works by black South African and other African artists to the secondary market, and to nurture and develop the reputation and value of these works.

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