The Art of Ben Enwonwu

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Ben Enwonwu stands to date as ranking among Africa's finest painters and sculptors, especially in the 20th century.

His exquisite work in the arts lends a separate lineage to the world's artistic history, rich in African influence.

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"I will not accept an inferior position in the art world. Nor have my art called African because I have not correctly and properly given expression to my reality. I have consistently fought against that kind of philosophy because it is bogus...." ‐ Ben Enwonwu


Ben's father was a notable traditional sculptor and his mother a successful cloth merchant. He would later inherit his father's tools and improve upon the traditional skills he'd been taught in sculpting.

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In 1944, Ben was awarded a major scholarship to attend the Slade School of Fine Art in London where he went on to receive a first-class diploma in fine art. He continued his studies - focusing in on anthropology as a postgraduate.

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"The spiritual realm of African art, the hierarchy of the gods, the psychic significance and the veneration...the spiritual world of the trees and animals, and the belief in the existence of a soul in inanimate objects-I have experienced it all" Ben Enwonwu


Enwonwu's art has been described as African Modernism - a colorful take on modern painting with beautiful African features and subject matter.

At once appreciable in his paintings is a free-flowing grace of form. Figures slip in and out of discernible space in dance and reverie - often as silhouettes and stark against others in a scene.

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Queen Elizabeth II appreciated his artwork. She commissioned and sat for a bronze portrait sculpture by Enwonwu during her 1956 visit to Nigeria, which he later unveiled at the Royal Society of British Artists exhibition in London of 1957.

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Curiously, Enwonwu has been honored by astronomers with a crater named after him on Mercury. Forever in hearts and stars...

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Read our article on the art of Chantal Joffe...

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