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  • "In all my art books, African artists are in the last chapter, if at all…I want you to look at my work and think, ‘That’s exquisite, that’s incredible, I am blown away — and I know it is completely African,’ without feeling that it is lacking." 
    — Cinga Samson


    Cinga Samson, 2020

    Photo Stephanie Veldman. © Cinga Samson 


    There is a haunting beauty in Cinga Samson's Ivory V, evoked not only by the ethereal figure at the forefront of the composition whose radiant, pupil-less eyes appear rolled back in reverie, but also in the Samson’s ability to confront the viewer's gaze whilst giving very little away of the emotions underpinning his subject's confident, stylised stance. Mysterious but beckoning, and silent yet vibrant, this aesthetic tension is at the core of the South African artist's oeuvre, rooted in his grounding philosophy of: 'The painting is not for you. The painting is for itself.' i 


    As the final canvas of his five-part Ivory series and the first work by the artist to be offered at auction in Asia, Ivory V exquisitely encapsulates the potency of Samson’s unique painterly approach, described by The New York Times as a ‘commitment to excellence’ that ‘prove[s] [Samson] to be a vital emerging figure in contemporary painting.’ ii Emblematic of the artist’s up-and-coming presence in the art world, White Cube announced its global representation of the artist in May 2021, with his first solo exhibition with the gallery scheduled to open in London in 2022. 


     The 5 Ivory Canvases

  • Real and Fantasy, Classical and Contemporary


    Samson was born in Cape Town in 1986, and grew up between the city and the rural region of Transkei. Originally a photography student, Samson’s transition to painting was instigated in 2006 when he stumbled into Isibane Creative Arts, a shared studio on the outskirts of Cape Town home to artists whose work explored Black life in the townships. Under the group’s guidance, Samson began experimenting with oil paint, eventually forming his own distinct visual language addressing themes relating to aspiration, youth, spirituality, and masculinity, and the representation of identity in South Africa and beyond. 


    Despite this shift in medium, photography continues to play an important role in his practice as, much like the work of his peer Kehinde Wiley, Samson first develops concepts in photoshoots before later using the images as reference points for his paintings. Blending reality with imagined details, such as the curving foliage that nods to moments in his youth spent with his mother watching her garden, this technique adds a surreal quality to Samson’s portraits as each stylised figure appears almost superimposed onto an artificial backdrop reminiscent of Cape Town and the rural Eastern coast. 


    Contrasting the still photographs he uses as source material, however, the characters take on a life of their own, as exemplified by the Ivory V self-portrait who projects a strong presence and is seemingly unconcerned with the viewer, aware of the fact that ‘this is a world that belongs, unequivocally, to him’. ii



    Salomon Mesdach, Portrait of a Man, 1620, Collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam


    The formal composition of the work draws similarities to the heroically posed figures in Renaissance portraiture, heightened by the delicate lace fan Samson’s subject daintily holds. At the same time, the image also recalls the old photo portraits men sent home from mining towns when the Cape Colony imposed the hut tax on Black Africans. Frequently positioned next to a tree or fern, men would pose in new clothes or shoes to reassure their loved ones of their prosperity. This anachronistic aesthetic is interrupted in Ivory V, however, by the protagonist's contemporary clothes, a pair of fashionable blue jeans and an open gold and ecru silk jacket adorned with cosmological motifs. 



    Amedeo Modigliani, The Boy, 1919
    Collection of Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields


    Referencing the fashion and popular culture trends he sees around him, Samson honours the youth of African men ‘by showing ambitions, perhaps in simple ways, in a brand of clothing’. But as Gabriel Ritter, head of contemporary art at Minneapolis Institute of Art points out, the figures' 'brooding, introspective gaze' iii rejects any superficiality, with the marble white eyes instead channelling a somewhat trance-like stare that only Amedeo Modigliani has previously managed to successfully master. Stemming from a childhood memory of Samson and his cousin wandering alongside a riverside when their eyes were met by subliminal moonlight, these uncanny gazes have since become the artist’s most iconic motif, working to both generate a mystical aura and suggest larger ideas about clarity and blindness.


    “What I love about the eyes and absence of pupils is that they convey a dreamlike awareness, as opposed to a gaze that connects them beyond the canvas' frame. Is the figure looking outside of the canvas? These eyes emphasise that the figure is aware, rather than just looking passively.” 
    — Cinga Samson

    A Celebration of Youth and Heritage



    Whilst Samson has cited the significant influence of Western artists on his work, including Andrew Wyeth, Louise Bourgeois, Paul Gaugin, and Francis Bacon, what ultimately drives his creativity is celebrating his heritage and presenting a powerful depiction of his generation in Africa that defies Western expectations. With this in mind, although the title of the present work and wider series provides an obvious link to the subject’s luminous, ivory casted eyes, perhaps there is an ironic undertone to this that can be considered as well.


    But in the artist’s own words, ‘I make art for the love of doing it. I am not an activist, I am not involved in any political movement: I am just an African man. I don’t want to bring the stigmas of Africa into my work…As soon as we engage those topics, people think it’s our identity, and it becomes our identity. Our goal as the young generation is to get ourselves out of the Black stereotype such as sickness or racism. We are part of the new identity of the African continent.’ iv





    Cinga Samson in his studio, 2020

    Video Courtesy of Galerie Perrotin


    Collector’s Digest


    Proving himself a force to be reckoned with in the art world for his distinctive aesthetic, Samson’s auction record was recently achieved by Phillips New York in June 2021, when his painting Two piece 1 far surpassed its pre-sale estimates of US$25,000 - 35,000, selling for an impressive US$378,000.  




    Cinga Samson, Two piece 1, 2018
    Sold by Phillips New York in June 2021 for US$378,000 against pre-auction estimates of US$25,000 - 35,000



    Samson has been honoured with numerous solo exhibitions in key international venues, including blank projects in Cape Town in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019; and Perrotin Gallery in New York in 2020. Additionally, Samson has an upcoming solo show scheduled in New York at the FLAG Art Foundation, running from 16 October 2021 - 15 January 2022, as well as in 2022 at White Cube in London.


    Work by Samson can be found in the public collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Pérez Art Museum Miami; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Center for Curatorial Studies, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York; South African National Gallery, Cape Town; and the A4 Arts Foundation, Cape Town.




    i Cinga Samson, quoted in Emma Grayson, ‘Cinga Samson Questions Certain Aesthetics at Perrotin’, Art of Choice, 26 February 2020, online

    ii Meara Sharma, ‘An Artist Who Doesn’t Want to Feed Western Fantasies About Africa’, The New York Times, 21 February 2020, online

    iii Gabriel Ritter, quote in Jareh Das, ‘Cinga Samson: a different conversation on representation’, Ocula, 21 February 2020

    iv Cinga Samson, quoted in ‘Discussion with Cinga Samson’, Perrotin, December 2018 

    • Provenance

      blank projects, Cape Town
      Private Collection, USA
      Acquired from the above by the present owner


Ivory V

signed, inscribed and dated 'CINgA SamSON 2018 A.K.A Rhokho/MTHINK' on the reverse
oil on canvas
115 x 90 cm. (45 1/4 x 35 3/8 in.)
Painted in 2018.

Full Cataloguing

HK$250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for HK$2,520,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021