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Nigeria’s ‘Oliver Enwonwu: A Continued Legacy’ slated for Exhibition in the UK

A joint exhibition of paintings, drawings, and sculpture, titled, ‘Oliver Enwonwu: A Continued Legacy’, by Oliver Enwonwu and his father, pioneer African modernist artist, late Prof. Ben Enwonwu, MBE, will be on exhibition at the Mall Galleries, UK.

The exhibition, presented by OM234, will run from May 21 to June 1, and is supported by Geregu Power Plc and CSL Capital UK.

“To mark the 30th anniversary of Ben Enwonwu’s passing, the exhibition is conceived as a conversation between both artists exploring their shared depiction of femininity as a symbol of indigenous aesthetic and primordial feminine power.

“For ‘A Continued Legacy’, Oliver Enwonwu has created new paintings that deviate from his father’s aesthetic to unpack ideas of nationhood, the female body, gesture, and symbolism. With a focus on the movement, hair, and clothing of his sitter’s Enwonwu depicts “strategy of resistance” emphasizing the self-assertiveness of his subjects,” organisers OM234 said in a statement.

Similarly, the Mall Galleries stated that, “Exploring the intersection between tradition and modernity, the exhibition’s overarching purpose is to shed light on the enduring significance of African indigenous values, identities and beliefs in today’s globalised world, having evolved through such major events as colonisation.

“Also instructive to the concept of a continuing legacy, is the choice of the exhibition venue. In 1985, Mall Galleries was the stage for Ben Enwonwu’s last major international show, ‘Dance Theme.’ Additionally, 2024 marks the 30th anniversary of Ben’s death. As a respected member of The Royal Society of British Artists, this timely exhibition is a testament to his legacy.”

OM234 further noted that, “The use of archival material will underscore the exhibition and the relationship between the older and younger Enwonwu artists. Photographs of Ben Enwonwu with his iconic bronze ‘Anyanwu’ at the National Museum in Lagos will be juxtaposed with images of his son standing next to the same work decades later. They also serve to highlight the beginning of the latter’s exploration of sculpture as a medium. Completed works in limestone and paintings appropriating “Anyanwu” that express ideas of the woman and nationhood will also be presented.”

Oliver Enwonwu, in this new series of paintings, re-enacts an artistic process of his father and continues his legacy, while printed editions of Ben Enwonwu’s ‘Adetutu Ademiluyi’ works will also be available, it stated.

“Ben Enwonwu’s sculpture of HM Queen Elizabeth II is also amongst his most celebrated works and will be remembered through a series of archival images depicting the late artist working on the sculpture and his meeting with HM to explain his artistic process in 1957. There will also be a small of photographs of Oliver Enwonwu presenting the work to the then HRH Prince Charles on an official visit to Nigeria.”

It added that the work of Oliver Enwonwu and his late father, in ‘A Continued Legacy’ “will examine the meeting point of tradition and modernity while highlighting the continued relevance of indigenous African identities, values, and beliefs in the contemporary globalised world.”

The late Prof Enwonwu ((1917 – 1994) was the first Nigerian artist to gain international recognition and the first African to break racial barriers by exhibiting in August Spaces in Europe and the United States. In 1948, he was elected fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. He was also a member of the Royal Society of British Artists (RBA).

In 1956, Enwonwu was the first African commissioned to sculpt a bronze portrait of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. His other major works include Anyanwu at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York and Sango at the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, Lagos. His works can also be found at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. and in the collection of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

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