Danger often lurks in the paintings of Pilipili Mulongoy: a snake about to strike, a leopard primed to pounce. Meanwhile, the creatures’ prey—perhaps some busy butterfly or docile gazelle—are blissfully unaware of what fate holds for them. It is chastening to look at these tableaux, knowing that the 20th-century artist lived through an age of atrocities in Belgian-occupied Congo. The question of whether Pilipili’s works are allegorical cannot be answered by an auction. Nonetheless, Artcurial’s upcoming Paris sale—“The Artists of Le Hangar: The Origins of Contemporary African Art”—is an important one.

Christophe Person, Artcurial’s director of contemporary African art, says the event provides “the missing link between tribal art and contemporary African art.”