Ben Enwonwu: The Nigerian painter behind ‘Africa’s Mona Lisa’


A painting by the late Nigerian master painter and sculptor mount Enwonwu in the week oversubscribed for £1.1m ($1.4m) at associate auction within the national capital, London.

The painting, merely titled “Christine”, is of Christine Davis, associate yankee styler United Nations agency enraptured to urban center together with her British husband and stricken up a friendly relationship with the painter. “Christine” was completed in 1971.

Another work by Enwonwu, of associate Ife aristocrat Tutu, dearly dubbed “Africa’s Anglesey Island Lisa”, was oversubscribed in 2018 for £1.2m. it’s thought of a national masterpiece.

Celebrated Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie told the BBC in 2013: “This specific painting “Tutu,” the print, remained each wall, of each lower-middle-class family in jap African country after I was growing up.”

So United Nations agency was mount Enwonwu?

Born in 1917 in Onitsha in African country to a sculptor father and a self-made businessperson mother, Enwonwu had a present for the humanities from a young age.

At the age of seventeen, he registered at Government faculty, Ibadan, wherever he studied art underneath the oversight of art tutor Kenneth C Murray. 2 years later, he received a scholarship to check at the Slade faculty of art at the University of London, UK.

Enwonwu conjointly studied at Goldsmiths and Oxford and later completed postgraduate add anthropology at the London faculty of social science.

His call to check social science was partially fuelled by his encounters with racism in London.

‘Africanising’ the Queen

The mount Enwonwu Foundation, based by Enwonwu’s son jazz musician, says this concerning the late master: “He is attributable with inventing a Nigerian national aesthetic by fusing autochthonal traditions with Western techniques and modes of illustration.”

In 1956, the young creative person was commissioned to try to to a politician portrait of Queen Elizabeth, turning into the primary African creative person ever to provide a politician portrait of any European monarch.

Enwonwu took inventive liberty with the Queen’s lips and created them fuller, making contention within the British art world.

Although the Queen publically supported the sculpture, Enwonwu was criticised in some quarters for “Africanising” the Queen.

Creating a sculpture of the Queen was an excellent chance and Enwonwu naturally stood to achieve professionally, however there have been many that viewed him as “seeking validation from colonial masters” at a time once African country was on the brink of independence, in keeping with faculty member Nkiru Nzegwu.

Race and exploitation

Enwonwu’s relationship with the Western world was difficult. As arguably the foremost adorned African creative person within the Nineteen Fifties and Sixties, he benefitted directly from his shut ties to the Western art world.

But as associate African, he felt undervalued.

“I won’t settle for inferior position within the art world. Nor have my art referred to as ‘African’ as a result of I even have not properly and properly given expression to my reality,” he same in associate interview with the BBC in 1958.

Two years earlier, he gave an obsessive speech to the primary International Conference of Negro Writers and Artists in Paris, during which he talked concerning race, pan-Africanism and exploitation.

“I grasp that once a rustic is suppressed by another politically, the native traditions of the art of the suppressed begin to die out. Then the artists conjointly begin to lose their individual and also the values of their own creative idiom. Art, underneath this example, is doomed,” he same within the speech.

London-based steward Bea Gassmann Diamond State bandmaster writes that Enwonwu saw exploitation as a force that “limits or impedes creative creativity”.

Enwonwu supported the ideology movement – associate anti-colonial cultural and movement based by a bunch of African and Caribbean students in Paris within the Thirties – and created a series of paintings and sculptures of identical name, celebrating Africa and blackness.

“While Europe may be proud to possess a number of the best sculptures from Africa among museums and personal collectors, Africa will solely tend the poorest samples of English Art notably, and also the inferior of alternative works of art from Europe,” he same in his speech in 1956. His speech was later revealed in Présence Africaine, a Paris-based pan-African quarterly magazine.

Enwonwu died in urban center, African country in 1994, aged 77. not like several nice artists, he managed to amass success and fame in his life.

His work has doubtless influenced several modern African artists. Enwonwu’s dream of a world wherever African art was celebrated still lives on, and with the recent surge of international interest in modern African art, it’s nearer than ever.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here