PROVENANCE: A private collection, acquired directly from the artist
EXHIBITED: New York, American Museum of Natural History, Spirits in Steel The Art of the Kalabari Masquerade, 1998-1999
Born in Buguma, Nigeria, but based in London, Sokari Douglas Camp is renowned for the innovative way in which she translates indigenous Kalabari masquerades and festivals into works of sculptured steel. Harnessing industrial materials and bending them to figurative purposes, she challenges the often inert, disembodied display of traditional African masks in western museums, reanimating these rituals through the creation of full masquerading figures (many of them kinetic).
Naked Fish was informed by the head-piece of a masquerade from the Niger Delta area, which the artist encountered at the British Museum. The object was made from a woven cone-shaped wicker basket (used to store or trap fish) with a small carved fish tied to its upturned apex, reflecting the history of the Kalabari as fishermen and traders of salt, fish and palm oil. While steel connotes a sense of solidity, the figure's flapping, sinuous fingers suggest a fluidity of form and the invocation of powerful water spirits: a transformation in process.
As Onyema Offoedu-Okeke has observed, in her sculptures the artist retains "unique features of specific masquerades, thus preserving lineage, identity and characteristics". For example, in the current lot, the white leggings "replicate rings of bandages used in actual masquerade performances".
Naked Fish plays with notions of dressing and undressing, presence and absence, as some sections suggest the embodied costume, while others such as the torso area (complete with steel string vest) reveal the sculpture's hollow core. The artist has referred to her interest in the performative process of dressing for masquerade; the in-between moments in which individuals are being transmuted into gods but yet are still revealed to be men (as explored in the related film Dressing).
The sculptures of Sokari Douglas Camp have been exhibited around the world, and are included in the collections of the British Museum in London, the Museum of African Art in Washington, and the Setagaya Art Museum in Tokyo. The artist was awarded a CBE in 2005.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: O. Offoedu-Okeke, Artists of Nigeria, (Milan, 2012), p.466