Works by Onitsha-born Nigerian sculptor and painter Ben Enwonwu, whose body of work showcases an incredibly diverse range of art works, spanning over various mediums. Enwonwu also has a crater on the planet Mercury named after him.
Enwonwu - his father a sculptor, his mother a cloth merchant and his son, Oliver Enwonwu also an artist in his own right - was surrounded by art in various forms growing up and all through his life. Throughout his art career, he dedicated himself to redefining the meanings and conversation surrounding ‘African art’ in the global art world and was once quoted as saying:
“Art is not static…Art changes its form with the times…African art has always, even long before western influence, continued to evolve through change and adapt to new circumstances.”
After first studying art at government colleges in Nigeria, and temporary relocating to England to further his studies at Goldsmiths University and Oxford University, Enwonwu returned to Nigeria in 1939 were he began to teach art at schools in Umuahia and Benin City. In 1948, he became an art adviser to the Nigerian government but left the country again in 1950 to tour and lecture in the United States where carried on working as a freelance artist.
In 1966, Enwonwu became editor of Nigeria Magazine and was also a fellow of Lagos University between 1966–68. He once again worked for the Nigerian government, this time post-independence, as a cultural advisor between 1968–71. He was appointed the first professor of Fine Arts at the University of Ife, Ile-Ife, from 1971 to 1975, and was also an art consultant to the International Secretariat, Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC), Lagos, 1977.
Enwonwu is also well-known for his illustration of the cover of noted Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola’s novel The Brave African Huntress.
A pioneering force in the rhetoric surrounding the early Modern African Art movement of the 20th century, Enwonwu passed away in 1994. His work is displayed in the National Gallery of Modern Art, Lagos and can also be viewed at the Virtual Museum of Modern Nigerian Art.
October: Highlighting African Art & African Artists