We use cookies to remember choices you make on functionality and personal features to enhance your experience to our site. By continuing to use our site you consent to the use of cookies. Please refer to our privacy and cookie policies for more information

Skip to main content

Modern and Contemporary Art and Photography from Africa and the Diaspora / Alexander Skunder Boghossian (Ethiopian, 1937-2003) Untitled 21 1/2 x 18in (54.6 x 45.7cm).

Lot 15
Alexander "Skunder" Boghossian
(Ethiopian, 1937-2003)
Untitled 21 1/2 x 18in (54.6 x 45.7cm).
27 July 2022, 14:00 EDT
New York

US$40,000 - US$60,000

Own a similar item?

Submit your item online for a free auction estimate.

How to sell

Looking for a similar item?

Our African Modern & Contemporary Art specialists can help you find a similar item at an auction or via a private sale.

Find your local specialist

Ask about this lot

Alexander "Skunder" Boghossian (Ethiopian, 1937-2003)

signed and dated 'SKUNDER 62' (lower left)
oil on board
21 1/2 x 18in (54.6 x 45.7cm).


Painted in 1962, the present work was created during a significant decade in Alexander 'Skunder' Boghossian's artistic development. The painting was created the year before Skunder embarked upon his most celebrated body of work: the Nourishers series (1963-1964). Comprised of twelve large-scale paintings, the series is widely understood to be the apex of Skunder's synthesization of African and European iconography in his development of an Ethiopian modernism.

Through swirling cosmic imagery and amorphous primordial forms, Skunder established a visual language which he described as an 'Afro-Metaphysics'. As Chika Okeke-Agulu suggests, the artist's intention in these works 'was to draw on the power of religion and myth to invoke and signify a new beginning for independent Africa' (Okeke-Agulu, 2013: p. 12). The present work stands as a formative example of these themes in the artist's painterly practice which he continued to explore in the Nourishers series.

Skunder was born in Addis Ababa in 1937. He remained in Ethiopia until the age of seventeen when he won second prize in the Abstract Art category at the National Art Exhibition. Held to mark the Jubilee Anniversary Celebration of Emperor Haile Selassie, the exhibition resulted in Skunder being awarded a scholarship to study abroad. He embraced the opportunity and undertook training at Saint Martin's School of Art, the Central School of Art and Design, and the Slade School of Fine Art in London, before traveling to Paris. Here, he attended the École Supérieure des Beaux Arts (1955-56) and the Académie de la Grande Chaumière (1957-63).

The move to Paris placed the young artist at the heart of a dynamic community of artists, philosophers, and activists from across the African diaspora. Together, these individuals interrogated the nature of an empowered Black identity in light of contemporary postcolonial politics. Skunder was particularly inspired by the pioneering activists he encountered during this period including Aimé Césaire, one of the key founders of the Négritude movement. Négritude offered the Ethiopian artist a conceptual framework within which to formulate a new avant-garde aesthetic - one that deconstructed the boundaries of Western modernism to champion a Pan-African visual iconography.

Created while Skunder was a student at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, the present work exemplifies the artist's impetus towards experimentation as it fuses African iconography with techniques and materials drawn from European modernism. Biomorphic forms and mask-like heads populate the canvas. Thick black lines crisscross the surfaces of these earth-tone forms. The resultant patterns evoke the lines incised into the Konso funerary sculpture of southwestern Ethiopia or woven into Bobo hemp and wooden masks from West Africa. These elements are juxtaposed with a green geometric background which recalls the formal Cubist experimentation of Paul Klee (1879-1940) - an acknowledged influence on Skunder's practice.

While the present work references both African and European modernist tropes, it also reveals the key influence of diasporac artists operating in Paris in the 1960s on Skunder's practice. He recalls that, in this period, '[w]e were all coming together to listen to our stories and to find a commonality in ourselves and in our struggles' (quoted in Cassel, 1993: p. 66). He took particular inspiration from the unique sculptural forms crafted by the Ivorian sculptor Christian Lattier (1925-1978).

Emigrating to France in 1935, Lattier reimagined traditional West African weaving techniques within his own practice. He interlaced strong hemp fibres around a central wire frame to create expressive masks, animals, and abstracted biomorphic forms. The elegant curvature of the masks, with their rounded eyes and open mouths, is echoed by the two heads illustrated by Skunder towards the upper left corner of the present work, illuminating the diverse influences that inform the artist's painterly practice.

The body of work created by Skunder in the early 1960s asserted his position at the forefront of the international art world. The significance of his oeuvre was swiftly recognized by high-profile art institutions. The Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, both acquired early works by the artist in 1963 and 1965 respectively.

Skunder's work continues to be widely celebrated today. His paintings are held in prominent collections worldwide and have been included in major international exhibitions including, most recently, the ground-breaking show, Surrealism Beyond Borders, when it was staged at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (October 11, 2021–January 20, 2022).

Chika Okeke-Agulu, 'Contemporary African Artists and the Pan-African Imaginary', in Diaspora Dialogue: Art of Kwabena Ampofo-Anti, Alexander 'Skunder' Boghossian, and Victor Ekpuk, exh. cat., University of Maryland University College, USA, February 12–May 12, 2013.

Additional information