Hwami makes a Christie’s ‘eight artists to collect’ list

London-based Zimbabwean visual artist Kudzanai-Violet Hwami has made a prestigious list of artists to collect, selected by the prestigious Christie’s post-war and contemporary art specialists.

Christie’s is a British auction house founded in 1766 by James Christie.
Hwami focuses her art on complexities of diasporic identities and the subject of the black body, as well as gender and sexuality.

And Christie’ s gives the reasons why you should add her to your collection.

In 2016, the year Hwami graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Wimbledon College of Arts in London, she won the Clyde & Co Art Award and Young Achiever of the Year at the Zimbabwean International Women’s Awards. She also made the shortlist for Bloomberg New Contemporaries.

A year later she won rave reviews for her first solo show at Tyburn Gallery in London. In 2019, at just 26 years old, she had her first institutional exhibition at Gasworks in London, and was selected to represent Zimbabwe at that year’s Venice Biennale, placing her at the forefront of a new generation of African figurative artists.

The key year for Hwami’s career thus far is probably 2019 when she had her first institutional solo exhibition at the London non-profit Gasworks and showed in Zimbabwe’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale in Italy. From there it took about a year for the secondary market to take notice, and in October 2020, her work made its auction debut when the work on paper Sango neMuchero (2014) was offered in an online sale at Christie’s and fetched £37 500 (about US$48 800), or more than seven times its high estimate.

Then on December 8 last year, her bold painting of a reclining nude, Eve on Psilocybin (2018), was offered at a Phillips day sale with a high estimate of US$40 000, which it surpassed six-fold, to eventually sell for US$252 000. Two days later, it was announced she had signed with influential London dealer Victoria Miro.

Eve on Psilocybin’s record price still stands, though Bonhams, Christie’s, and Sotheby’s all took cracks at besting it last month. Eve on Psilocybin was painted just one year before two milestones in the artist’s career — her first institutional solo show held at Gasworks in London and being chosen as one of the artists to represent Zimbabwe at the 58th Venice Biennale Sotheby’s came closest in its London sale of modern and contemporary African art on March 31, when it offered another layered, pastel-accented reclining nude painting by Hwami, Tampon Incision Study 3 (SJW), with a high estimate of £50 000 (US$68 700). The work nearly tripled that sum, selling for £138 600 (US$190 500), good for her second-highest price at auction, for now.

Her solo debut at Victoria Miro is yet to be announced.

Kudzanai-Violet Hwami was born in Gutu in 1993 and lived in South Africa from the ages of nine to 17 before moving to the UK.

She said: “With the collapsing of geography and time and space, no longer am I confined in a singular society but simultaneously I am experiencing Zimbabwe and South Africa and the UK, in my mind. I’m in the UK, but I carry those places with me everywhere I go.”

Tyburn Gallery says of Hwami: “Hwami’s courageous and tender oil paintings reveal a deeply personal vision of Southern African life. Many of her paintings feature self-portraits and images of her immediate and extended family. Powerful nudes are another point of departure, boldly raising questions about the black body and its representation, as well as sexuality, gender and spirituality. Her influences include music, such as ZimHeavy & Afrobeats; literature, including the works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Carl Jung; and her own ongoing voyage of self-discovery.

“The artist’s vivid work raises issues surrounding diaspora, displacement and identity. Her process involves experimenting with photography and digitally collaged images, using these to create large works on paper or canvas with intensely pigmented oil paint, and often incorporating other media and techniques, such as silkscreen, pastel or charcoal.”

Another British auctioneer, Phillips, also says about her: “Pulling from her personal experiences with displacement and a sense of belonging, Hwami’s work draws from archival imagery found on social media and in family photo albums.”

During an interview with Kenyan-born and London-based artist Michael Armitage, Hwami said about her work: “I paint because of the pleasure of painting and having a direct connection between the mind and the hand; the idea of being a master in painting or being skilful and proving to myself that I’m worth something—that I’m good at something. That’s why I paint.”

  • Hwami is completing a Master of Fine Arts with the Ruskin School of Art at Oxford University. — 3-mob/Online.