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Art World Spotlight Is On Africa
Things are suddenly moving fast in Africa’s art market. After a decade in which Bonhams had Africa to itself – the only international fine art auction house holding sales of African Art in London and New York – there are now suddenly three other international auction houses in the field besides Bonhams.
Pontus Silfverstolpe, co-founder of Barnebys, the world’s leading art and auction search engine, says: “Now the world’s leading auction houses have taken notice of all this new interest in African art and have taken the plunge. Suddenly we have a new scramble for Africa, and this time it’s about art.”
Barneby’s echoes CNN’s findings on this market. CNN recently reported that values in African Art had grown between fivefold and tenfold in the last decade. CNN says: “You'd be hard pressed to find a man who has witnessed the rise in recognition and value of African art better than Prince Yemisi Shyllon, who is reported to be Nigeria's largest private art collector. Then Prince says: "When I started collecting art as an undergraduate at University in the mid 1970s, it had virtually no value," he told CNN. "You could buy a piece of good art for 20,000 Naira [about $100 at current conversion rates]. Today it would sell for millions."
Not surprisingly Sotheby’s has now set up a Contemporary African Art Department and is set to hold a first sale next year.
And in January this year Phillips sent Arnold Lehman, former director of the Brooklyn Museum, to do a recce in South Africa for them. His visit generated a great deal of media attention.
South Africa’s strongest home based auction house, Strauss & Co, was headed by the legendary Stefan Welz, who died this year. So the home team is having to scramble to meet the new threat from abroad: four hungry international auction houses.
All of this new interest and energy is creating huge excitement in the two countries, South Africa and Nigeria, whose art dominates auction sales abroad featuring the work of African artists. But the ripple effect is being felt in all of Africa’s 54 sovereign states, says Silfverstolpe.
El Anatsui – Diaspora 2012 - Bottletop Tapestry
How and why this sudden attention on Africa? The answer is in part that Bonhams who have led the way and established an international market for contemporary African art, have been breaking world records for a decade. The work of the late Irma Stern – South Africa’s leading artist – would have commanded prices in the hundreds of thousands of pounds ten years ago; now her work is making millions. Her painting Arab Priest made £3.1m at a Bonhams sale a few years ago, bought by the Government of Qatar. And this dramatic rise in prices has been seen too with work from Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef, Gerard Sekoto and William Kentridge. The Ghanaian-born, Nigeria based Professor El Anatsui dominates prices in north Africa. His bottletop tapestries command £1m-plus figures in London and New York
Giles Peppiatt of Bonhams holds eight of the ten world records for South African art. He says of the African phenomenon: “The fact is that modern and contemporary African art is today one of the hottest properties on the art block. Africa is the new China when it comes to art. When the Tate, the Smithsonian and other similar institutions start putting on exhibitions of Contemporary African Art, then one knows that something strange and wonderful has occurred and that real change is in the air.”
Picasso and many of his contemporary artists saw in Africa the wellsprings of their own creative drive. They acknowledged Africa’s creative genius and their work pays homage and tribute to it. Now the African artists are claiming for themselves some of that acclaim and some of the kinds of sums earned by those master artists whose names are household words.
Pontus Silfverstolpe concludes: “A new day is dawning in Africa which will secure for its artists the kind of recognition, respect and prices which their fellow artist elsewhere can command.”
New Film's Attempt To Change The Somali Stereotype In America
In the largest Somali-American community in the US, residents say they are only portrayed on film as terrorists, pirates and soldiers. A new film tries to challenge those stereotypes.
When independent film director Musa Syeed began travelling from his home in New York City to the heart of the Somali community in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he started to hear a recurring complaint.
"You'll see news cameras come in and set up on the soccer field and shoot something without permission," Syeed says local teenagers told him. The shots would wind up in a piece about terrorism.
"There was a lot of distrust in media and the way their images have been used."
As a Muslim of Kashmiri descent who grew up in a small town in Indiana, Syeed was used to being a "hyper-visible" minority in a majority Caucasian place.
He first got interested in Somali culture when a few families moved to his community.
And Syeed noticed how they were treated differently not only for being Muslim, but for being black.
As an adult, he saw those same struggles playing out in Minnesota, which is overwhelmingly white but also home to the largest Somali population in North America.
Not only do Minnesotan Somalis deal with the fact that they are in the religious and racial minority, they are also the focus of the federal government's war on terror.
The FBI says that of the 30,000 Somalis living in the region, at least 20 Somali men and women have successfully travelled abroad from Minnesota to join IS since 2014.
Another nine have been charged for attempting to join IS, and the ensuing trial for three of the men created a frenzy of national media attention.
As a result, the rest of the community feels increasingly maligned and marginalized.
"When I was growing up, people were saying ignorant things every once in a while, small-time bullying," says Syeed. "But for [Somali-Americans] it's a different sort of structural, systemic discrimination."
Somalis in Minnesota have already faced backlash, from an attack on a woman in a restaurant for speaking Swahili, to the circuit of anti-Islamic speakers who travel the state warning that refugees like Somalis or Syrians will someday attack a local city.
In another Midwestern state, Kansas, three men were recently arrested for plotting to bomb an apartment complex with a high Somali population in Garden City.
Beginning in January 2015, Syeed started visiting the heavily Somali-populated neighborhood of Cedar-Riverside in Minneapolis, hoping to make a coming-of-age film about growing up Muslim in the American Midwest.
He went to prayers at the local mosque, to community dinners, to art shows.
He gave a filmmaking workshop for local teenagers.
Ifrah Mansour, an actress, playwright and artist, is used to turning down requests from writers or journalists who want to use her as a gateway into the community.
"They're not interested in sort of developing the work with sort of the cultural knowledge, the know-how that an individual from the community has," she says.
Syeed was different.
"Musa was interested in telling the Somali narrative with Somalis," she says.
Syeed's film, A Stray, tells the story of a Somali teenager named Adan - played by Barkhad Abdirahman - growing up in Minneapolis.
Adan lost his father in the war in Somalia, and his mother has kicked him out of their apartment for stealing her jewelry. "You're a Somali and a Muslim, no one's gonna hire you," one of Adan friend’s muses at one point in the film.
Unemployment in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood is estimated at 17.5%, compared with 4% citywide. The teenager inadvertently becomes the caretaker for a stray dog named Layla.
Many Muslims believe keeping a dog is forbidden - in the film, taking in Layla costs Adan a job as well as his temporary home sleeping in the basement of his mosque.
The film debuted at South by Southwest, then Syeed returned to Cedar-Riverside and screened the finished product at a local community center.
The majority of the dialogue is in Somali, with English subtitles.
Syeed wrote the script in English and allowed his actors to translate their lines into Somali, which led to some improvising as well as jokes and cultural references that only a person from the Somali culture would understand.
"To watch it with Somali people and finally laugh at these jokes in Somali... it felt like the film was for us," says Mansour, who also had a small role.
Compare that reaction with the one a new HBO series got when it came to shoot its pilot episode this fall.
According to Abdi Mohamed, a community activist and aspiring filmmaker, rumors that the project was called The Recruiters fueled concern that the community would only be portrayed as extremists.
The real name of the series is Mogadishu, Minnesota, the brainchild of Somali-Canadian rapper K'naan.
While K'naan says his goal is to portray the lives of immigrant families, he was essentially driven off-stage at a block party in Minneapolis by protesters holding signs that read, "Stop Exploiting the Somali Community".
Residents of a housing complex with a high proportion of Somali residents unanimously voted to reject HBO's application to film parts of the series there.
Mohamed says the growing youth movement in the Somali community draws a direct connection between the portrayal of Minnesota's Somalis and discrimination.
They don't want to see their culture's representation on the big screen limited to terrorists and pirates - the Tom Hanks film Captain Phillips cast many of its pirates in Minneapolis.
"All these reports in the news, people think to themselves, 'The Somali community is very isolated, they're not adapting,' which is far from the truth," he says.
"What Musa Syeed did, he went into the community. He talked to people here.
"He made it a story about a young Somali man with very relatable issues, very relatable things he was going through."
Syeed's film does not completely ignore the issue of terrorism - an FBI agent seems to be lurking at every turn, hoping to turn Adan into an informant.
But by showing life for refugees in Minnesota as nuanced, troubled but also beautiful, Syeed hopes it will encourage more people to interact with the community.
"Some people in Minnesota have this idea that [Somali] communities are no-go zones or you're not welcome there," says Syeed.
"People in the Twin Cities should explore and go have dinner at Somali restaurant or go visit a mosque... if people want to make that sincere connection, there's ways to do that."
From where we stood, earth was a magical gem and most wondrously primitive. And that was until…like every good story told must have a perfect antagonist…man. I chose my cloak, and it informed where I would be planted. The most exotic cloak yes! Black, woman and Yoruba. It led me to an understanding that all cloaks are exotic, mine just suits my personality.
Peju Alatise is a current Museum Fellow of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington DC
Sunken Egyptian City Reveals 1,200-Year-Old Secrets
With all the political events taking place in Egypt, its history and grandure still comes to life, making it a grand art and tourist destination.
Until a decade ago, no one knew if Heracleion, believed to be an ancient harbor city, was fiction or real. Now the researchers who found it—150 feet beneath the surface of Egypt's Bay of Aboukir—are sharing some of the amazing historical artifacts preserved there.
The finds include 64 ships, 16-foot-tall statues, 700 anchors and countless gold coins and smaller artifacts.
According to underwater archeologist Franck Goddio, credited with having discovered the site, the city was probably built sometime around the 8th century B.C., which makes it older than the famed city of Alexandria. Over the years, it fell victim to a number of natural disasters before being swallowed by the sea, probably around A.D. 700.
“We are just at the beginning of our research,” said Goddio. “We will probably have to continue working for the next 200 years for [it] to be fully revealed and understood.”
It's believed that gradual soil erosion eventually caused Heracleion to fall into the Mediterranean. “It is now clear that a slow movement of subsidence of the soil affected this part of the south-eastern basin of the Mediterranean,” Goddio writes on his site. “The rise in sea level—already observed in antiquity—also contributed significantly to the submergence of the land.”
The Telegraph reports that researchers are beginning to more fully understand what daily life was like in the city, also called “Thonis.” Mainly, they describe it as having served as the main hub for sea traffic entering the region, including all trade from Greece.
“We are getting a rich picture of things like the trade that was going on there and the nature of the maritime economy in the Egyptian late period,” Damian Robinson, director of the Oxford Centre for Maritime Archaeology at the University of Oxford, told the Telegraph. Robinson is part of the team that has been busy uncovering artifacts from Heracleion's sunken remains.
“It was the major international trading port for Egypt at this time,” Robinson added. “It is where taxation was taken on import and export duties. All of this was run by the main temple.”
The city is also believed to have had a rich cultural history. Helen was said to have visited it with her lover Paris shortly before the onset of the Trojan War.
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