in other words

Everything you ever wanted to know about the art market but didn't know who to ask

#16 Contemporary African Art


Guest Zoe Whitley and host Charlotte Burns. Photo Credit: Jamie Govier

Art Agency, Partners
#16 Contemporary African Art

BY Charlotte Burns
executive editor of In Other Words

“Romare Bearden was asked in a 1972 interview with Camille Billops how he would define black art, and he said that black art is the art that black artists do,” says Zoe Whitley, curator of international art at Tate and co-curator of “Soul of a Nation”. “If someone were to say: ‘What is white art?’ you might say the Italian Renaissance, but you could equally say the German Renaissance, Rembrandt or English painting. Black art is as varied as that.”

Joining us in London to discuss contemporary African art are Zoe Whitley, Osei Bonsu (the curator and writer) and Hannah O’Leary (head of Modern and Contemporary African art at Sotheby’s).

In a broad-ranging conversation covering the diversity of contemporary African art as well as the growth in its market, we also discuss the challenges of bringing more recognition to artists who have lived or worked on the Continent or been part of its diaspora.

“In Other Words” is a presentation of AAP and Sotheby’s, produced by

Click here for full transcript

Charlotte Burns: Hello and welcome to In Other Words. I'm your host, Charlotte Burns, and joining me today for a special podcast from London, we have Zoe Whitley, a curator of international art at Tate Modern. Zoe Whitney: Hi. Charlotte Burns: We have Osei Bonsu, the British-Ghanaian curator and writer.…


Osei Bonsu

curator of Modern and contemporary art of Africa at Tate Modern

Osei Bonsu is a British-Ghanaian curator and writer based in London. His activities encompass exhibition programing, publishing and cultural strategy in the field of visual arts. He has developed projects focused on transnational histories of art, collaborating with museums, galleries and private collections in Europe, Asia and Africa. Through his research, Bonsu focuses on questions of progress and the conception of modernity against the backdrop of social, cultural, and economical transformation in the 20th and 21st centuries. His writing has been included in a number of exhibition catalogues and been featured in publications such as ArtReview, NKA Journal and New African Magazine.

As a lecturer in modern and contemporary art, Bonsu has undertaken research residencies at various institutions including Para Site in Hong Kong, Hospitalfield in Edinburgh and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. In 2017, he will curate the 10th edition of “Satellites“, a multi-site exhibition at Jeu de Paume in Paris and CAPC: Centre for Contemporary Art in Bordeaux.

Hannah O'Leary

head of Modern and contemporary African art at Sotheby's

Hannah O’Leary is the head of Modern and contemporary African art at Sotheby’s. Having started her career at Sotheby’s in Ireland and Australia, she joined Bonhams in 2006 where she helped pioneer the first international auctions of South African art and Modern and cntemporary African art, becoming Head of Department in 2010. With over 10 years’ experience in this field, she returned to Sotheby’s in early 2016, whose first auction in this category took place in London on 16 May 2017.

O’Leary has acted as an international consultant to the South African National Gallery and was a contributing author to the Irma Stern retrospective catalogue “Brushing Up on Stern” (Cape Town, 2015). She recently lectured on the market for contemporary African art at JP Morgan’s European headquarters, the Sotheby’s Institute, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, FM Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Milan, and the Venice Biennale.

She holds an M.A. in History of Art with Cultural Anthropology from Glasgow University.

Zoe Whitley

senior curator, Hayward Gallery

Zoe Whitley is a senior curator at London’s Hayward Gallery. Formerly, she worked as part of the team of curators and assistant curators responsible for the development of and research into Tate’s collection of artworks post-1980. She oversaw the development of the artists’ film program at Tate Britain and her work at the Tate Modern included co-writing a revised Africa acquisitions strategy as well as completing research on contemporary artists and art practices from the African continent and the African diaspora.

Whitley received a B.A. in Art History from Swarthmore College and earned an M.A. in the History of Design at the Royal College of Art in London.

Charlotte Burns

executive editor of In Other Words

Charlotte Burns is the editor of In Other Words, our weekly newsletters and podcasts. She was previously the US news and market editor for The Art Newspaper, as well as a regular correspondent for publications such as the Guardian and Monocle. Previously, she worked with the London dealer Anthony d’Offay on special projects. For several years, she was a consultant at the cultural communications agency, Bolton & Quinn. She also worked at Hauser & Wirth in London.

Burns received a Masters degree (with Merit) from the Courtauld Institute in Art and Cultural Politics in Germany, 1890-1945, as well as a first-class B.A. honors degree in English and History of Art from Birmingham University. She moved to New York in 2010.

The live record

Behind the Scenes: Contemporary African Art

7 Images

Exhibitions Organized by Zoe Whitley:

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power“, Tate Britain (until 22 October)

Artist Film and Video at Tate Britain, Tate Britain (2015)

Transform: Artists’ Film, Artists Beyond Film, Tate Britain (2014)

The Shadows Took Shape, Studio Museum in Harlem (2013–14)

V&A Africa: Exploring Hidden Histories“, Victoria and Albert Museum (2012–13)


More on Osei Bonsu:







Press on Hannah O’Leary:

“Meet Hannah O’Leary—Champion of Contemporary African Art” by Sotheby’s Blog (February 2017)

“Discovery Contemporary African Art, With a Curator as a Guide” in The New York Times (October 2016)

“Yinka Shonibare MBE in Conversation with Hannah O’Leary” by Sotheby’s Blog (July 2016)

“Sotheby’s Launch Specialist Auctions in London of Modern and Contemporary African Art” in the Antiques Trade Gazette (June 2016)

Where to look

Selection of Works in Tate's "Soul of a Nation"

17 Images