Kudzanai-Violet Hwami - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, June 8, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Introduction


    At the age of 28, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami is an art world juggernaut, selected last year by the international art magazine, Apollo, in their ‘40 Under 40 Africa’ list, the first Africa-focused lineup of its kind.i  In 2019 the artist was chosen to participate in the 58th Venice Biennale - she was one of four artists representing Zimbabwe, and at the age of 26, the youngest person to have ever shown at the Biennale. Now represented by Victoria Miro in London, Hwami’s career continues to flourish at an unprecedented rate, attracting a legion of fans for her sensitive exploration of identity, displacement and the representation of the Black body.


    Using a rich variety of source material, including images found on the Internet on sites such as Tumblr and family photographs, the artist reformulates the genre of portraiture around the Black body, which she often represents in the nude. The Egg  is an enthralling example from the artist’s oeuvre, depicting the naked form of a man, comfortably seated on what appears to be his bed, against a bright blue background that is typical of Hwami’s early work. Created the same year as her graduation from Wimbledon College of Arts, London, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting, her works from 2016, including The Egg, feature a bold use of colour and a distinctly Pop essence, imbuing her portraits with both a powerful energy and a certain wit that Hwami associates with Zimbabwean culture. 

    ‘Banana Horns’


    “I want to create paintings that speak of how we are influenced by the people we grew up with, and how so many things are passed down to us from the past. I think you always carry your entire life with you. I am always drawn to painting Zimbabwe and South Africa, and my work doesn’t really reflect where I am now, in South End.”
    — Kudzanai-Violet Hwami



    The Egg is fantastically enigmatic and brimming with colour and imagery that exemplifies the complexity of an individual’s identity. Many of her paintings such as The Egg feature images of her extended family in her exploration of the Black body, sexuality, gender and spirituality. Her use of family photographs undeniably fosters a ‘sense of intimate proximity’ in her paintings such as this,i  and there is a marked air of comfort in the body language of the seated central figure.


    With a bent leg, scratching his beard with one hand and holding up a mirror with the other, the protagonist of The Egg appears fully at ease, in no way self-conscious as he sits perched atop his bed, crisp white bed sheets crumpled beneath him. Hwami depicts her character with ‘banana horns’, an interesting intervention by the artist who has discussed these horns as the result of her quest for a repeated motif in her early work, ‘after looking at artists such as KAWS, Yue Minjun and Takashi Murakami’.ii  Indeed, the double ‘X’ motif of KAWS’s oeuvre, the signature laughing pink faces of Yue Minjun, and the beaming flowers symbolic of Takashi Murakami’s practice are all playful precedents for Hwami’s early paintings, imbued with a similar sense of wit, or perhaps, satire. 


  • Significantly, Hwami aims to emphasise the importance of depicting a complex identity that is not just viewed through the lens of race or sexuality—a Black lesbian artist, her work is formed by various narratives and ideas, from music and podcasts to television programmes, not boxed in one definitive meaning or notions of identity politics. Born in Gutu, Zimbabwe before moving to South Africa, and now based in the United Kingdom, Hwami has also discussed how movement and geographical dislocation shape her identity, and how the ‘collapsing of geography and time and space’ in the context of a globalised, technologically advanced world, informs her work.


    Further, additional influences such as manga and animation, having grown up watching Cartoon Network, can be seen in the sketch-like appearance of her lines. There is a graphic, rudimentary quality of her brushwork as seen in the depiction of the potted plant and the cartoon-like lines that surround the figure’s head, distilling the painting with dynamism and a distinct movement despite his seated posture. Further, the impact of Pop art and Afro-punk is apparent in her vivid use of colours, the banana yellows beautifully contrasting with the baby blue of the background and making the egg-shaped form in the foreground “pop”, perhaps the illustration of what is colloquially known as an “egg fruit” in many parts of the world.iii  Overall, works such as The Egg are a rich tapestry of what makes up Hwami’s identity, a synthesis of her past experiences, passions and interests. 


    Digital Collages 


    “There’s a freedom and playfulness that collage allows. I can distil different ideas and thoughts in one still image. But it’s a phenomenon that is taking place on the internet through social media platforms - layering one’s interests and events in an organised collage format in order to create an identity.”
    — Kudzanai-Violet Hwami


    Robert Rauschenberg, Retroactive II, 1964
    Collection of Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago



    The Egg is the product of Hwami’s precise, meticulously planned artistic process through which the artist archives, arranges and creates her images online as digital collages before translating them onto canvas. This process started with her early engagement with the Internet site, Tumblr, through which the building up of images on the platform was a way of visualising one’s identity. Further, the impact of the collages of Robert Rauschenberg and Jean-Michel Basquiat are clear in Hwami’s work. Specifically, Hwami’s technique and use of colour recall the collages of Rauschenberg, whose layered compositions and use of found imagery can be seen in works such as Retroactive II (1964), which Hwami would have seen at the Rauschenberg exhibition at the Tate Modern, London in 2016. Additionally, the delineated forms of Basquiat’s work are apparent in The Egg, scribbled black lines evoking the technique and scrawling movement of drawing using oil paint.



    “They [Robert Rauchenberg and Jean-Michel Basquiat] both seem to think in collage. I don’t think in a linear way - I often have images and random words running through my mind, which makes it difficult to connect each thought into a coherent paragraph when writing, but in painting’s it’s possible.”
    — Kudzanai-Violet Hwami


    Jean-Michel Basquiat, Self Portrait, 1984
    Courtesy the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris, ARS New York 2013


    Collector’s Digest 


    Attracting an extraordinary amount of success and critical acclaim in a short amount of time, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami is an artist to watch. As well as participating in the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019,  the artist was awarded with the Young Achiever of the Year Award at the Zimbabwean International Women’s Awards in 2016, and had her first solo show at Mareybone’s Tyburn Gallery in 2017, If You Keep Going South You’ll Meet Yourself, a great feat for the artist who had only obtained her Bachelor degree the year before. In 2019, Hwami was honoured with her first solo institutional exhibition, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami: (15,952km) via Trans-Sahara Hwy N1 at Gasworks, London in 2019, and has been featured in the group shows, I See You and the online group exhibition, Lotus, both at Victoria Miro last year. 




    iJillian Caddell, ‘The Apollo 40 under 40 Africa in focus: Kudzanai-Violet Hwami’, Apollo The International Art Magazine, 28 September 2020, online

    iiJessica Draper, ‘Kudzanai-Violet Hwami- interview: ‘How I identify isn’t what pushes me to create. I create because I cannot do anything else’, studio international, 9 November 2019, online 

    iiiSarah Roberts, ‘Afro-Futurism; Kudzanai-Violet Hwami’s paintings are a celebration of Afro-punk and the LGBTQ+ community’, HERO, 6 October 2017, online 


    • Provenance

      Tyburn Gallery, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Les Ateliers de Rennes, Biennale d’art contemporain, 29 September – 2 December 2018


The Egg

signed, titled and dated 'HWAMI '16 "The Egg"' on the reverse
oil and acrylic on canvas
150 x 200 cm. (59 x 78 3/4 in.)
Executed in 2016.

Full Cataloguing

HK$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for HK$1,764,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

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

Hong Kong Auction 8 June 2021