Africa’s art market takes off!
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Ben Enwonwu and The Golden Touch in Africa’s Art Market

The Intricate World of Nigerian Artist Ben Enwonwu

Who was Ben Enwonwu and why is he significant in African art?

Ben Enwonwu, born in 1917 in Nigeria, was a pioneer of African modernism, whose impact reshaped not only Nigerian but the entire African art scene. His unique blend of Western techniques with traditional African themes and aesthetics brought about a novel artistic expression that was revolutionary for its time.

In the mid-20th century, Enwonwu gained global recognition, marking a significant turning point for African artists who had previously been largely overlooked on the international stage. He became the first African artist to have his work exhibited in the Venice Biennale in 1950, an event that introduced African modernism to a broader audience.

Enwonwu’s art was not only aesthetically compelling, but also had a deep socio-political dimension. He used his work as a means to express and challenge the political and social issues that Nigeria faced.

He was a strong advocate for the artistic expression of African identity and self-worth, especially during a period marked by the struggle against colonialism. This advocacy positioned him as a significant figure in post-colonial African art.

Enwonwu’s talent was recognized early on, leading him to receive a government scholarship to study at Goldsmiths College in London, and later at the Ruskin School, Oxford. His international education, however, did not cause him to abandon his roots. Instead, he leveraged his broad exposure to create art that spoke of a complex, modern African identity.

Despite his passing in 1994, Enwonwu’s impact persists, his work continuing to be a subject of immense study and fascination in the art world. His contribution to African art and the dialogue on post-colonial identity is immeasurable, making him a pillar in the history of African art.Ben Enwonwu and The Golden Touch in Africa’s Art Market.

How did Ben Enwonwu contribute to the Pan-African Art movement?

Ben Enwonwu’s contribution to the Pan-African Art movement cannot be overstated. Throughout his career, he fervently advocated for the recognition and appreciation of African art and identity on a global stage. His work became synonymous with African modernism, marking a paradigm shift in how African art was perceived and understood worldwide.

The Pan-African Art movement sought to unite cultures and creativity across Africa and the African diaspora. It aimed to combat the negative stereotypes and misconceptions about Africa by highlighting its rich cultural diversity and creativity. Enwonwu was a leading figure in this movement, using his art as a platform to convey the sophistication and complexity of African societies.

Enwonwu’s style, often termed ‘Natural Synthesis’, embodies the spirit of the Pan-African movement. He harmoniously blended Western techniques with traditional African aesthetics, challenging the Eurocentric standards of beauty and art.

In many ways, Enwonwu’s work served as a cultural bridge, enabling a dialogue between different cultures and fostering mutual understanding. His international exhibitions introduced audiences worldwide to the richness of African art, breaking down the barriers of perception and opening new vistas for African creativity.

Enwonwu’s unwavering commitment to portraying a nuanced African identity in his work and his efforts to establish international recognition for African art were key contributions to the Pan-African Art movement. His life and work remain a beacon of inspiration for many African artists today.

Africa’s art market takes off! - Tutu by Ben
Ben Enwonwu - Tutu. Copyright @Sotheby's

What are some of the most notable works of Ben Enwonwu?

Ben Enwonwu’s oeuvre is vast and varied, encompassing different mediums from painting to sculpture. His artistic journey was marked by distinct phases and styles, each producing iconic works that have come to define his legacy.

Enwonwu is perhaps best known for his series of paintings and sculptures titled “Anyanwu”. The name “Anyanwu” translates to ‘eye of the sun’ in Igbo, a nod to his cultural roots. This series is characterized by figures that embody physical strength and spiritual enlightenment, reflecting Enwonwu’s vision of African resilience and aspiration.

His most famous painting, “Tutu”, is a captivating portrait of a Yoruba princess which mysteriously disappeared for several decades before resurfacing in 2017. “Tutu” has been hailed as the ‘African Mona Lisa’, underlining its significance and influence. It symbolizes a moment of national reconciliation for Nigeria following the Biafra War.

His bronze sculptures, such as “The Drummer” and “The Risen Christ”, showcase his ability to merge traditional African themes with a modernist aesthetic. “The Drummer”, in particular, is an ode to the integral role of music in African societies.

In the realm of public art, Enwonwu’s monumental “Sango” sculpture stands out. Sango, the Yoruba god of thunder, is represented in a dynamic and powerful pose, a testament to Enwonwu’s mastery of the medium.

Through these works, and many more, Enwonwu cemented his position as a leading figure in modern African art, forever leaving his mark on the cultural landscape.

How is Ben Enwonwu’s art preserved for future generations?

Preserving art for future generations is a complex task that requires meticulous care and dedicated efforts. In the case of Ben Enwonwu, a key figure in African art, preserving his works is not only important for art history but also for the cultural heritage of Africa.

One method of preserving Enwonwu’s art is through physical conservation. Museums, galleries, and private collectors who own his works have a responsibility to ensure they are properly stored and cared for to prevent deterioration. They also need to regularly restore and clean these pieces under the guidance of professional conservators.

Digital archives are another significant tool for preservation. By digitizing his works, they can be safeguarded against physical damage or loss. Digital archives also increase accessibility, allowing a global audience to engage with Enwonwu’s art. They offer high-resolution images and detailed descriptions of each work, giving valuable context and interpretation.

Furthermore, educational initiatives play a crucial role in preservation. By incorporating Enwonwu’s life and works into art education curricula, future generations can learn about his impact on African art and continue his legacy.

Institutions such as the Ben Enwonwu Foundation work diligently to preserve and promote his art. The foundation conducts research, organizes exhibitions, and publishes literature on Enwonwu, ensuring his contributions to African art continue to be recognized and appreciated.

How has the Nigerian contemporary art scene been influenced by Ben Enwonwu?

Ben Enwonwu’s influence on the Nigerian contemporary art scene is expansive. His pioneering work in merging traditional African aesthetics with Western art principles has paved the way for many contemporary Nigerian artists.

Enwonwu’s belief in ‘Natural Synthesis’ – the fusion of African artistic traditions with Western techniques – set a precedent for later generations. His insistence on portraying a nuanced, complex African identity in his art also remains a central tenet in much of contemporary Nigerian art.

The Nigerian art scene has seen a boom in recent years, with increasing global recognition and soaring prices. This boom can be traced back to pioneers like Enwonwu, who helped establish a place for Nigerian art on the international stage. His successful career has served as a roadmap for many Nigerian artists navigating the global art world.

Enwonwu’s commitment to social commentary through his art has also significantly influenced contemporary Nigerian artists. Many continue his legacy by using their art as a tool for addressing societal issues and promoting dialogue.

Furthermore, Enwonwu’s exploration of different mediums – painting, sculpture, and drawing – has broadened the horizons for contemporary artists. His versatility has inspired artists to push the boundaries of their artistic expression and experiment with various forms.

What were the themes and styles that defined Ben Enwonwu’s art?

Ben Enwonwu’s art is characterized by its fusion of traditional African themes and Western techniques. His work often displayed a deep sense of African identity, coupled with a nuanced understanding of modern aesthetics.

One of the primary themes in Enwonwu’s art was the celebration of African culture and heritage. His works often featured traditional African figures, motifs, and icons, reflecting his connection with his Nigerian roots. However, these traditional elements were usually expressed through a modernist lens, creating a dynamic blend of the old and the new.

Enwonwu’s works also frequently addressed socio-political issues. He used his art as a medium for social commentary, critiquing colonialism, challenging stereotypes, and advocating for equality and justice. This thematic focus on societal issues made his work deeply relevant and impactful.

Enwonwu’s style, known as ‘Natural Synthesis’, sought to create a harmonious balance between African artistic traditions and Western techniques. His use of bold, vibrant colors, intricate textures, and dynamic forms showcased this synthesis.

His sculptures, often in bronze, demonstrated a strong sense of motion and emotion. They showcased the depth of his talent and the breadth of his creativity, often capturing the essence of his subjects in a unique and compelling manner.

In both theme and style, Enwonwu’s art was a powerful expression of his vision and his context. His works not only embodied his personal artistic journey but also reflected the broader socio-cultural changes happening around him.

Ben Enwonwu African contemporary artist MoMAA
Ben Enwonwu and The Golden Touch in Africa's Art Market

How did Ben Enwonwu’s art reflect his perspective on labour and the working class?

Ben Enwonwu had a deep sense of empathy for the working class, which was reflected in his art. He believed that art could serve as a platform for social dialogue, and his depiction of the working class was not an exception.

One of Enwonwu’s recurring themes was the representation of labour, with numerous works showcasing individuals engaged in various forms of work. This portrayal was far from mundane; instead, he gave dignity and honour to these figures, acknowledging their contributions to society.

In his work, labourers are often depicted as robust and resilient, reflecting the physical demands of their work but also their indomitable spirit. This portrayal can be seen as Enwonwu’s tribute to the resilience and endurance of the working class, as well as a critique of the socio-economic conditions they endured.

Enwonwu’s focus on the working class was not merely observational. His art often carried a social critique, subtly questioning the disparity between different social classes. His depictions of labourers served as a commentary on the socio-economic realities of post-colonial Nigeria, addressing issues of poverty, inequality, and social justice.

How have Ben Enwonwu’s works performed in art auctions such as Sotheby’s?

Ben Enwonwu’s works have consistently performed well in major art auctions, underscoring his international reputation and the enduring appeal of his art.

Perhaps the most notable instance is the sale of Enwonwu’s “Tutu” at a Sotheby’s auction in 2018. The painting, which had been lost for several decades, was discovered in a London flat and subsequently offered for sale. It fetched a staggering £1.2 million ($1.67 million), more than four times its estimated price, setting a new record for Enwonwu’s work.

Enwonwu’s other works have also attracted significant interest at auctions. His bronze sculptures, in particular, have garnered high prices, reflective of the increasing global appreciation for African sculptures.

The strong performance of Enwonwu’s works in auctions is indicative of the growing recognition of African modern art in the global art market. It also reflects the quality and significance of Enwonwu’s art, and its resonance with both collectors and general audiences.

Ben Enwonwu with Queen Elizabeth II and his bronze statue of her.CreditCreditThe Ben Enwownu Foundation
Exploring Contemporary African Sculpture | Ben Enwonwu with Queen Elizabeth II and his bronze statue of her. © The Ben Enwownu Foundation

What makes Ben Enwonwu’s art a good investment?

The investment potential of Ben Enwonwu’s art lies in its historical significance, cultural value, and increasing global recognition. As a pioneer of African modernism, Enwonwu’s works have a unique place in art history, which adds to their value.

Several factors make Enwonwu’s art a compelling investment. Firstly, his works are scarce and unique, especially his earlier pieces. This scarcity increases their value over time as demand outstrips supply.

Secondly, Enwonwu’s art has consistently performed well at auctions, often exceeding pre-sale estimates. This trend indicates a strong and growing market for his work. His painting “Tutu”, for instance, fetched a record price at a Sotheby’s auction, underlining the substantial returns his art can yield.

Finally, the increasing global interest in African modern art has raised the profile of artists like Enwonwu. This interest, coupled with the growing number of African art exhibitions and dedicated auctions, suggests a positive outlook for the value of Enwonwu’s art.

What are some common symbols and icons in Ben Enwonwu’s art?

Ben Enwonwu’s art often incorporated symbols and icons that hold cultural significance in African societies. These symbols added depth to his work, allowing him to communicate complex ideas and themes.

One of the most recurring symbols in his work is the figure of “Anyanwu”, an Igbo term meaning ‘eye of the sun’. Enwonwu created multiple versions of “Anyanwu”, presenting it as a figure of spiritual enlightenment and resilience. It has become one of the most recognized symbols in his oeuvre.

Enwonwu also frequently depicted traditional African masks and motifs in his work. These symbols served as a connection to his cultural roots, highlighting the importance of heritage and tradition.

His representations of labourers and workers also served as symbolic icons, reflecting the strength and resilience of the African people.

In Enwonwu’s work, these symbols and icons were more than aesthetic elements. They served as tools for storytelling, allowing him to express his vision and commentary on society and culture.

Labour Day: Honouring Workers through African Art | Ben Enwonwu Princes of Mali 1976
Ben Enwonwu and The Golden Touch in Africa's Art Market
Ben Enwonwu and The Golden Touch in Africa's Art Market
Ben Enwonwu and The Golden Touch in Africa's Art Market
Topic Summary - Ben Enwonwu and The Golden Touch in Africa's Art Market
Who was Ben Enwonwu and why is he significant in African art? Ben Enwonwu was a pioneer of African modernism, known for blending Western techniques with traditional African aesthetics. His work introduced African modernism to a broader audience and played a significant role in shaping post-colonial African art.
How did Ben Enwonwu contribute to the Pan-African Art movement? Enwonwu was a leading figure in the Pan-African Art movement, using his art as a platform to convey the complexity of African societies and challenge Eurocentric standards of beauty and art.
What are some of the most notable works of Ben Enwonwu? Enwonwu's most notable works include the "Anyanwu" series, the "Tutu" painting, and his bronze sculptures such as "The Drummer" and "The Risen Christ".
How is Ben Enwonwu's art preserved for future generations? Enwonwu's art is preserved through physical conservation, digital archiving, and educational initiatives. The Ben Enwonwu Foundation plays a key role in these preservation efforts.
How has the Nigerian contemporary art scene been influenced by Ben Enwonwu? Enwonwu's fusion of traditional African aesthetics with Western art principles has had a significant influence on contemporary Nigerian art. His focus on portraying a complex African identity and his social commentary through art continue to inspire Nigerian artists.
What were the themes and styles that defined Ben Enwonwu's art? Enwonwu's art was characterized by themes of African culture and heritage, socio-political issues, and a fusion of African traditions and Western techniques. His style, known as 'Natural Synthesis', achieved a harmonious balance between these elements.
How did Ben Enwonwu's art reflect his perspective on labour and the working class? Enwonwu portrayed labourers in a way that gave dignity and honour to their work, reflecting his empathy for the working class and critiquing the socio-economic conditions they endured.
How have Ben Enwonwu's works performed in art auctions such as Sotheby's? Enwonwu's works have consistently performed well in major art auctions, with pieces like "Tutu" fetching record prices. This strong performance indicates the growing recognition of his art in the global art market.
What makes Ben Enwonwu's art a good investment? Enwonwu's art is a good investment due to its historical significance, cultural value, scarcity, strong auction performance, and the increasing global interest in African modern art.
What are some common symbols and icons in Ben Enwonwu's art? Enwonwu's art incorporated symbols like "Anyanwu" and traditional African masks, motifs, and depictions of labourers. These symbols added depth to his work, allowing him to express complex ideas and themes.
Ben Enwonwu’s Sefi
Ben Enwonwu and The Golden Touch in Africa's Art Market

Ben Enwonwu and The Golden Touch in Africa’s Art Market

Dr. Abigail Adeyemi, art historian, curator, and writer with over two decades of experience in the field of African and diasporic art. She holds a Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Oxford, where her research focused on contemporary African artists and their impact on the global art scene. Dr. Adeyemi has worked with various prestigious art institutions, including the Tate Modern and the National Museum of African Art, curating numerous exhibitions that showcase the diverse talents of African and diasporic artists. She has authored several books and articles on African art, shedding light on the rich artistic heritage of the continent and the challenges faced by contemporary African artists. Dr. Adeyemi's expertise and passion for African art make her an authoritative voice on the subject, and her work continues to inspire and inform both scholars and art enthusiasts alike.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

4 × two =

Close
Sign in
Close
Cart (0)

No products in the basket. No products in the basket.



Currency


Change Pricing Plan

We recommend you check the details of Pricing Plans before changing. Click Here



EUR12365 daysPackage2 regular & 0 featured listings



EUR99365 daysPackage12 regular & 12 featured listings



EUR207365 daysPackage60 regular & 60 featured listings