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Catalog Data

Ben Enwonwu, 1917-1994, Nigeria  Search this
Oil on canvas
Framed: 78.6 × 154.3 × 5.2 cm (30 15/16 × 60 3/4 × 2 1/16 in.)
Label Text:
The first half of the twentieth century gave rise to widespread experimentation with new media by Africa’s artists. Many of Nigeria’s artists, for example, explored new techniques, including oil painting and printmaking. As elsewhere on the continent, some of these artists received training at local and international art schools, while others were taught in community workshops offered by expatriate artists.
Modern African artwork addressed a range of subject matter, from political concerns of the day to depictions of a rapidly transforming landscape due to social and environmental changes. In his epic oil painting, Ben Enwonwu, considered a pioneer of modernism in Nigeria, tackled the challenging topic of civil war and its devastating consequences.
Ben Enwonwu is a legendary Nigerian painter and sculptor known for fusing African traditions with his formal training in Western art. This landscape is a departure for him, both in its subject matter and dark mood. The stormy skies and scattered cattle bones refer to the widespread death and destruction that occurred during Biafra's war of secession from Nigeria in the late 1960s. Originally from the Biafra region, Enwonwu here expressed his personal sense of loss over his ravaged homeland.
A large horizontal canvas primarily in blue and green oils, with touches of orange and pink. Cattle bones, tall grasses and birds populate the foreground of the seeringly realistic scene.
Kenneth Wood, London, ca. 1972 to 2000
Exhibition History:
Microhistories of an Ex-Centric Modernism, Kunstsammlung Nordrherin-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, Germany, November 10-March 10, 2019
Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., April 22, 2013-February 23, 2014; Fowler Museum at UCLA, University of California, Los Angeles, April 19-September 14, 2014; Bowdoin College Museum of Art, October 15, 2015-March 9, 2016
African Mosaic: Celebrating a Decade of Collecting, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 19, 2010-November 13, 2013 (deinstalled February 13, 2013)
Published References:
Gaensheimer, Susanne. 2018. Museum Global: Microhistories of an Ex-Centric Modernism. Düsseldorf: Kunstsammlung Nordrherin-Westfalen.
Lecznar, Matthew. 2018. "Weathering the Storm: Ben Enwonwu's Biafrascapes and the Crisis in the Nigerian Postcolony." Tate Papers, no. 30, illustrated
Milbourne, Karen E. 2013. Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa. New York: The Monacelli Press; Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 157, no. 128.
Ogbechie, Sylvester Okwunodu. 2008. Ben Enwonwu: The Making of an African Modernist. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, pp. 175-176, no. 5.10.
Credit Line:
Museum purchase
Object number:
Restrictions & Rights:
Courtesy of the Ben Enwonwu Foundation (c)
See more items in:
National Museum of African Art Collection
Data Source:
National Museum of African Art