Top 10 African & Oceanic Art Sold in the Last Decade

African art encompasses the works by native Africans while Oceanic art covers the work by natives of the Pacific islands. The latter also include areas like Guam, Fiji, Hawaii, and Australia.

The African & Oceanic art market, also known jointly as Tribal art, represented about 0.68% of total art trade in 2014. Yet, we are seeing an overall growth in the market, according to Artkhade, the tribal art market made €13.7 million in 2001. In 2014, it turned over almost seven times more, raking in €92.1 million. By 2020, it will exceed €126 million.

These artifacts are as financially valuable as they are culturally important. Below, we look at some of the most desired objects.

Biwat Male Ancestor Spirit Figure from a Sacred Flute, Wusear, Papua New Guinea

Biwat (Mundugumor) Male Ancestor Spirit Figure from a Sacred Flute, wusear, Papua New Guinea.

Sale Date: 14 May 2010
Venue: Sotheby’s, New York
Estimate: $ 1,000,000 – 1,500,000
Realized Price: $ 2,098,500

This mask may have been discovered in the Freiherrvon von Schleinitz Expedition of 1886, when Germans found the mouth of the Ramu river in Papa New Guinea. T

The Biwat people, used these masks called wusear to represent male spirit figures. Notice that the wusear above contains real human teeth hanging from its nose piece, Scholars speculate that this could directly connect it as both a symbolic and physical part of one’s ancestry. The Biwat used these masks for initiation rituals; by attaching the mask atop a flute, they would play the “voices” of spirits.

Lega Four-Headed Figure, sakimatwematwe, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Lega Four-Headed Figure, sakimatwematwe, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Sale Date: 14 May 2010
Venue: Sotheby’s, New York
Estimate: $ 30,000 – — 50,000
Realized Price: $ 2,210,500

Known as a sakimatwematwe, a famous iconography to the ethnic Lega people of Congo. Like the wusear, it was a powerful part of initiation ceremonies. This excellent example remained with the previous owner since 1963.

A Fang Mask, Gabon

A Fang Mask, Gabon

Sale Date: 30 October 2018
Venue: Christie’s, Paris
Estimate: Available on Request
Realized Price: $ 2,407,500

The Fang people, an ethnic group native to parts of Gabon, Cameroon, and Guinea, wore these masks as a part of social order. This one stands tall at 60cm, and its grandiose appearance and symbolism was meant to frighten people with evil intentions. The ngil, a covert brotherhood within the Fang community, put on these masks to enact acts of justice at night. These are incredibly rare, with only about a dozen known masks left. So rare that in 2006, one ngil mask sold for €5.5 million- the most expensive African piece ever sold at auction at the time.

Muminia mask, Lega, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Masque muminia, Lega, République Démocratique du Congo.

Sale Date: 10 December 2014
Venue: Sotheby’s, Paris.
Estimate: EUR 200,000 – 300,000
Realized Price: EUR 3,569,500

The Bwami society, the same brotherhood that made the Lega Four-Headed Figure, made these masks before colonial authorities illegalized their activities. There are only three traditional known copies of it in existence. Raymond Hombert, a territorial administer, acquired this particular mask in 1927. Then, it went to Congolese art collector Alexis Bonew in 1970, before eventually going to auction.

Fang reliquary figure, Gabon

Fang reliquary figure, Gabon

Sale Date: 3 December 2015
Venue: Christie’s, Paris
Estimate: EUR 2,000,000 – 3,000,000
Realized Price: EUR 3,793,500

This figure was originally owned by Paul Guillaume, a French art dealer known for popularizing tribal art with some of the first African art exhibitions in Paris. Fang figures inspired some of the most famous avant-garde artists’ aesthetics, such as Picasso’s.

Originally, the Fang people made these to look like their ancestors, allowing them to call on them in times of need. Although this one shows unique features such as braids wrapped around its head, no one can identify who it was for. Still, many consider this the piece made African art represent more than ethnography on the market.

Ngbaka Statue of the Mythical Ancestor Seto, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Ngbaka Statue of the Mythical Ancestor Seto, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Sale Date: 11 November 2014
Venue: Sotheby’s, New York
Estimate: $ 1,200,000 – 1,800,000
Realized Price: $ 4,085,000

The first person to acquire this piece was Georges de Miré, a man revered for his extensive cultural collection. Then in 1931, auctioneers sold it to Charles Ratton, who helped popularize African art in the West.

The statue itself was made by the Ngbaka people from the Ubangi region of Africa. It represents Sètò, a mythical ancestor who is said to have helped create the universe. It was last sold by the late Myron Kunin, founder of the Regis Corporation, to an unknown bidder at auction.

The Walschot-Schoffel Kifwebe Mask,

The Walschot-Schoffel Kifwebe Mask

Sale Date: 14 May 2019
Venue: Christie’s, New York
Estimate: Available on Request
Realized Price: $4,215,000

Kifwebe masks inspired many modern artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, and this one’s provenance traces back to famed collectors Jeanne Walschot and Alain Schoffel. Walschot was a crucial promoter of African art in Belgium, while Schoffel’s collection has been exhibited at the Louvre.

A community called the bwadi bwa kifwebe created these masks for various rituals. Since white symbolized fertility and wisdom, this indicates that this mask was for a woman. It’s considered one of the most beautiful kifwebe masks known to collectors.

Fang Mabea Statue, Early 19th Century, Cameroon

Statue, Fang Mabea, début XIXe siècle, Cameroun, Fang Mabea Statue, Early 19th Century, Cameroon.

Sale Date: 18 June 2014
Venue: Sotheby’s, Paris
Estimate: EUR 2,500,000 – 3,500,000
Realized Price: EUR 4,353,50

Felix Fénéon and Jacques Kerchache, two spearheads of the African art market, previously owned this sculpture. Only about a dozen ancestral figures by the Fang Mabea culture are in existence. A closer look at it reveals its crisp details and smooth carving, making it an iconic masterpiece of African art.

Hawaiian figure, Kona style, representing the god of war, ku ka ’ili moku, circa 1780-1820

Hawaiian figure, Kona style, representing the god of war, ku ka ’ili moku, circa 1780-1820

Sale Date: 21 November 2018
Venue: Christie’s, Paris
Estimate: Available on Request
Realized Price: $ 6,345,000

This carving was made when the King Kamehameha I was uniting the Hawaiian Islands. He associated himself with Ku Ka ’ili Moku, so priests across the islands created figures in his image.

This impeccable piece was first owned by renown art dealer Pierre Vérité in the 1940s. He kept his most prized possessions, like this one private. Today, most of these figures can be seen in museums. No one knows exactly how many are in private collections.

Senufo Female Statue, deble, Ivory Coast or Burkina Faso

Senufo Female Statue, deble, Ivory Coast or Burkina Faso

Sale Date: 11 November 2014
Venue: Sotheby’s, New York
Estimate: Available upon Request
Realized Price: $ 12,037,000

The Senufo female statue has passed through the hands of major African art collectors like William Rubin, Armand Arman, and Myron Kunin. Scholars consider it not only a fantastic example of African sculpture, but also an icon of all abstract art.

Senufo expert Burkhard Gottschalk identifies this as the work of the Master of Sikasso, a pseudonym for an unknown artist who worked in Burkina Faso from the 19th-20th century. There are only two other statues identified by the same creator. Viewers revere it as one of the most dynamic yet minimalist sculptures known; simply put, a masterpiece.

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