Nigeria's Own Mona Lisa Captures Art World’s Eye

  • Ben Enwonwu’s “Tutu” sold for a record $1.68M
  • The price for Njedika Akunyili Crosby’s art has increased 1,580% in one year

Nigeria’s modern and contemporary artists are getting the attention they deserve abroad and at home. Works by artists such as Ben Enwonwu and Njideka Akunyili Crosby have set records at multiple auction houses this year. Where’s the next level for Nigerian artist in their quest for recognizance in the art world?

Why This Matters: Nigerian artists haven’t been top of mind in the conversation around modern and contemporary art until recently. Artists like Matisse and Damien Hirst dominate those conversations, but now it looks like Nigerians are taking their turn.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby has seen a meteoric rise in the value of her work. In the span of about a year, her record sale price has risen from $100,000 to $3.38 million. This has kicked off a competition between Sotheby’s (BID +0.79% and Christie’s. An Akunyili Crosby piece sold at a Christie’s auction in 2017 for $3.1 million, which was a record for the artist at the time. Earlier this year, Sotheby’s improved on that record by selling her piece “Bush Babies” for $3.38 million.

Ben Enwonwu is etched in history as Nigeria’s most popular artist, but his work has not drawn the auction prices to match his stature. Part of the reason for this mismatch in pricing and stature could be Nigeria’s art market still finding its footing on the global stage. Enwonwu’s low prices may change after the recent sale of his most famous work “Tutu,” which is often compared to the Mona Lisa, for a record $1.68 million.

Nigeria’s art market will need a range of stakeholders investing in the space to reach the next level in prominence. Auction houses like Sotheby’s are conducting art valuations in the country. This increased attention international and local support could lead to us hearing more Nigerian artists names in the future.

What’s Next: Christie’s is holding an auction on June 28 featuring works by Ben Enwonwu alongside Njideka Akunyili Crosby. Keep an eye out for whether the artists set new records for their works.    

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