Serge Attukwei Clottey - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Wednesday, June 22, 2022 | Phillips

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  • Introduction


    Set against a hypnotic patterned backdrop, a lone woman is dressed in an alluring shade of crimson in Serge Attukwei Clottey’s Valentine’s Day, echoing the romantic atmosphere set by the works title. Thick impasto and duct tape are layered onto a corkboard support, creating rich, visceral textures that shift and shimmer with the changing light. Seating gracefully on a minimalist wooden chair, the protagonist’s relaxed limbs and averted eyes captures the sentiment of a first date; her skin glows from within with a sweep of blush pink illuminating her cheeks, exquisitely rendered through light and shadow; her lips partially parted, as if about to speak.


    Empowered and confident, Clottey’s protagonists stand tall and proud. The artist’s distinctively flamboyant portraits redefine racial identity within the genre via a diverse implementation of found materials. Utilising flattened Kuffuor gallon, jute sacks, discarded car tires and wood pieces, Clottey elevates these materials into a powerful symbol of Ghana’s informal economic system of trade and re-use. Patterns and clothing found on his protagonists resemble Kente – Ghanian handmade textiles, along with references to new economic power rising in the region by incorporating barcodes or Chinese characters.



    Detail of the present lot


    Material History


    “I’m always looking at how materials can significantly influence a work, and how it fits in the ideas I explore […] instead of using paint to design the dresses of the characters, I use a material, [like duct tape] that will let me cut and join materials like the designers, tailors and seamstresses do in their shops and fashion houses.”
    — Serge Attukwei Clottey


    In Valentine’s Day, Clottey juxtaposes a material that is traditionally seen as a tool of violence – duct tape – with a romantic subject matter and a blushing date. The material is transformed into a symbol of pride that celebrates the black body, overriding the original dark connotations of oppression. Similarly, the corkboard used in the artist’s works are rooted in trade politics of the Accra region, and a highly emotionally resonant material for Clottey himself. The warm, soft tones of the material ‘can change with exposure to the sun, mimick[ing] the look of black skin’.



    The artist in his mother’s clothes
     Photographed by Dennis Akuoku-Frimpong, Image Courtesy Vogue Magazine


    Clottey’s most notable performance work, My Mother’s Wardrobe, also focused on textiles, elevating clothing into a literal form of material history. Inspired by the aftermath of the death of his mother, My Mother’s Wardrobe is a poignant and personal work. Traditionally, a mother’s wardrobe is distributed to her daughters after her passing; yet as an only son, Clottey cannot inherit a single piece of his mother’s legacy. As a protest, the artist marched along the streets of Accra in 2016, dressed in the clothing he was denied custody of. Using performance, the artist addressed gendered traditions existing around death and inheritance in Ghana, as well as exploring the construction of one’s identity through fashion and highlighting entrenched ideas about gender and sexuality within society.



    The Lady in Red


    As a symbol of mystery and seduction, the ‘woman in a red dress’ is a ubiquitous motif in the art historical cannon, with examples by master painters such as Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, and Frida Kahlo.

  • Traditionally, the female subjects portrayed in the genre reflected a larger, Caucasian dominated canon of art history that has been gradually reclaimed by painters of colour in recent decades. Charles Henry Alston’s Girl in a Red Dress, for example, depicts a young African woman that is emblematic of the artist’s own interpretation of the Harlem Renaissance aesthetic, recalling African beauty ideals that incorporate elements of expressionism with the stylisation of African sculpture, representative of the artist’s signature style. The sitter’s elongated neckline lends the subject an enigmatic aura of grace and beauty, as she glances to the side in contemplation.


    Alston’s work was described by art historian Richard Powell to be ‘defiantly black, beautiful, and feminine, yet also unsettled, mysterious, and utterly modern’ ii, reclaiming the ‘woman in red’ image in a modern context. Similarly to Alston, the composition of Clottey’s Valentine’s Day also accentuates the protagonists’ neck and decolletage visually, emphasising her sensuality. Clottey’s choice of utilising duct tape in the background – a material that is traditionally associated with violence – subverts antiquated associations that come with the medium.


    With the rise of African portraiture in recent years, Clottey’s Valentine’s Day demonstrates a shift in art historical discourse, as an increasing number of artists such as Amoako Boafo, Emmanuel Taku and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye places the black body in the forefront of the genre. Propelling this paradigm into change, Clottey’s works reclaims the black body in portraiture by placing a Black woman in an assertive position of desire, empowering the subject with a sense of control as he reconsiders the classic archetype of the ‘woman in red’ that began with his predecessors.


    “The conversation starts with our histories and how we [Africans] have evolved in terms of how we present ourselves. I won’t say I’m juxtaposing the classical with the unexpected, but I’m throwing light on the evolution of image-making; who makes the image, and where are these images shown.”
    — Serge Attukwei Clottey


    Rethinking the Past through the Lens of the Present


    Compositionally inspired by mid-century African photographers such as Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keïta, Clottey’s striking portraits employ non-traditional found materials that explore the relationship between national identity and material culture. Clottey curt, drills, stitches and adheres his mediums with the canvas, creating almost sculptural works that are bold in their execution and imbued with vibrancy.


     Left: Detail of the present lot

    Right: Malick Sidibé, Woman in a Checkered Dress, 1971
    © Malick Sidibé Estate


    Often incorporating similar ornate patterns and costumes in his work, Malick Sidibé’s photographs of contemporary Mali are infused with bursts of excitement and liveliness, changing the idea of black beauty in fashion and inspiring a whole generation of African artists, including Clottey himself. Witnessing the transition of his country from French colonial rule to independence in the 1960s, Sidibé’s practice played a role in shaping and expanding local youth culture. Robert Storr had praised Sidibé saying that ‘no African artist has done more to […] increase our awareness of the textures and transformations of African culture in the second half of the 20th century.’ iii



    Left: Seydou Keïta, ​​Untitled [Seated Woman with Chevron Print Dress], 1956, printed 1997
    Collection of the Metropolitan Museum, New York
    © Seydou Keïta/SKPEAC -  Courtesy The Jean Pigozzi African Art Collection

      Right: Mickalene Thomas, Looking Up, from the She Works Hard For the Money Pin-Up series, 2004
     Sold with Phillips Hong Kong on 30 November 2021, for HK$3,780,000 (Premium)


    In parallel, a clear symmetry can be found between the works of Seydou Keïta and Clottey in terms compositional arrangement and a juxtaposition of pattern which blurs the spatial relationships between figure and background, exemplified by works such as the present lot, or Fashion icons (2020-2021), currently the artist’s top auction record. Seydou Keïta’s photographs were a great source of inspiration for a whole generation of African artists, including Mickalene Thomas, Amoako Boafo, and Serge Attukwei Clottey, as seen through the prevalent use of patterns and textiles in their oeuvres. With an emphasis on pattern and contrast, Clottey’s portraits draw key cues from West African visual and material culture, embodying the same sense of freedom and vibrancy as seen in Keïta’s work. Yet instead of commenting on the legacy of colonialism, Clottey is re-evaluating the notions of gender and sexuality in contemporary society, adapting images of the past in order to rethink the present.



    Artist’s Top Auction Record
    Serge Attukwei Clottey, Fashion icons, 2020-2021
    Sold with Phillips London on 15 October 2021, for 340,200 GBP (Premium) (468,014 USD)


    Collector’s Digest


    Born in 1985, Ghanian artist Serge Attukwei Clottey’s vibrant portraits are characterised by rich colour, bold patterns and a variety of found materials. Based in Accra, Ghana, Clottey is one of the region’s most significant contemporary artists who works across various mediums in his exploration of ideas around migration, identity, materiality, and the environment.


    First beginning with the 2020 exhibition Beyond Skin hosted by Simchowitz Gallery in Los Angeles, Clottey has since presented an ongoing series of duct tape paintings, including Valentine’s Day. The first of Clottey’s duct tape paintings that came to auction was Fashion icons (2020-2021), sold by Phillips London and currently the artist’s top auction record. The artist’s 3rd top auction record, Glow girl (2020-2021), was also sold by Phillips London this year in 2022.


    Artist’s 3rd Top Auction Record
    Serge Attukwei Clottey, Glow girl, 2020-2021
    Sold with Phillips London on 3 March 2022, for 151,200 GBP (Premium) (201,412 USD)


    Receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Brighton in 2019, Clottey has exhibited widely internationally. Recent exhibitions include solo presentations with Gallery 1957 in both London and Accra, Simchowitz Gallery in Los Angeles, Feuer/Mesler in New York and Vestfossen Kunstlaboratorium Foundation, Oslo. 



    Beyond Skin exhibition press release, Simchowitz Gallery, online

    ii Richard J. Powell, quoted in ‘RE/BIRCH OF A NATION’, Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance, London, 1997, p.19

    iii Robert Stoor, quoted in Pryia Elan, ‘Malik Sibibé: The Photographer Who Changed the Idea of Black Beauty’, The Guardian, 15 April 2016, online

    • Provenance

      Gallery 1957, Accra
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

Property from a Distinguished Private Collection


Valentine's Day

signed and dated 'AttukweiClo 2020' on the reverse
duct tape, acrylic and charcoal on cork board
148.4 x 120.4 cm. (58 3/8 x 47 3/8 in.)
Executed in 2020.

Full Cataloguing

HK$250,000 - 450,000 

Sold for HK$693,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 22 June 2022