By Tajudeen Sowole
As the art collecting passion of late African-American poet, Dr. Maya Angelou, gets public attention with her collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures going under the hammer in the next one and half few week, African origin of the activist must have inspired parts of the collection. Largely of works by American artists, some of the collection, which are over 50 years old in provenance, include themes that reflect native African homeland and the Diaspora challenges.
‘Kumasi Market’ (1962, Oil and acrylic on masonite board, 1962. 863x1524 mm; 34x60 inches) by John Biggers (1924 - 2001)
Whatever noble reasons motivated the auctioning of Angelou’s collection is best known to the managers of her estate. However, the characters and shades of the buyers when the auction The Art Collection of Maya Angelou, organised by Swann Galleries' African-American Fine Art Department holds on September 15, 2015 would determine the preservation value of the pieces.
"Much of the works has never been publicly exhibited," says a press statement issued on behalf of the gallery. Angelou is mostly remembered for her award-winning work, a memoir titled I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She received several honours throughout her career, including two NAACP Image Awards in the outstanding literary work (nonfiction) category in 2005 and 2009. She died on May 28, 2014. The auction will be available to bid on the Live Auction platform on eBay: http://www.ebay.com/clt/collectibles-live-events/the-art-collection-of-maya-angelou-569963.
Among the lots for the auction are a painting in quilt titled Maya's Quilt of Life by Faith Ringgold, a work said to have been commissioned by Oprah Winfrey for Angelou's birthday in 1989, and a "monumental" painting, ‘Kumasi Market,’ oil and acrylic on masonite board (1962), by John Biggers, which reflects "both the artist and Angelou's interest in African culture."
A source discloses that many of the works in the collection were inspired by and gifted to Dr. Angelou, particularly the vivid story quilt by Ringgold. "Just as Dr. Angelou continues to serve as a source of inspiration for countless artists, writers and performers, she also found inspiration in the works of others."
Though an auction, the event provides an opportunity to see how Angelou shared something in common with the artists. The late poet's son, Guy Johnson has been quoted as writing about his mother's collection, "She surrounded herself with books and objects d'art because she liked to be inspired by the creativity and genius of others." Johnson adds that Angelou believed in a common "ideas and concepts expressed in well-written books as well as the emotions and feelings evoked by intriguing and beautiful pieces of art," which stress "the deep, interior recesses of the soul".
And as much of the collections are being shown publicly for the first time, the promoters note that the event brings "a unique opportunity to see a more private side of such an influential cultural force." Also, the collection, it has been argued, "provides insight into how Dr. Angelou's interests aligned with the art and artists in her collection, from her interest in African culture, highlighted in John Bigger's ‘Kumasi Market,’ to her tireless support of female artists like Elizabeth Catlett and Phoebe Beasley."
Angelou was a poet of quite dramatic, sometimes tragic parts. For example, her close friend, African-American activist, Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated on her birthday, April 4, in 1968. Sources say Angelou stopped celebrating her birthday for years after the tragic year. She however kept sending flowers to King's widow, Coretta Scott King, for more than 30 years until Coretta's death in 2006.
According to a source, the poet spent her life fully immersed in artistic ventures of all varieties. From her early time as a dancer, to appearances on Broadway and collaborations with artists of multitude genres, Angelou's passion for creativity in others resonates in her appreciation of art.