Nigerian artists lead African art sale

Works by Nigerian artists Ben Enwonwu (1917-1994), and Bruce Onobrakpeya (born 1932) celebrating Nigerian independence are amongst the highlights of Bonhams’ upcoming Modern & Contemporary African Art sale.

Godwin Oluwole Omofemi (Nigerian, born 1988) Portrait of a Lady
Godwin Oluwole Omofemi (Nigerian, born 1988) Portrait of a Lady. Estimate £25,000-£35,000

Ben Enwonwu’s Africa Dances, painted in 1970, conveys the vibrance and freedom of African dance. The Africa Dances series began as a result of Geoffrey Gorer’s 1935 book of the same name. A critique of colonial rule, the publication documented both Dance and Masquerade throughout West Africa. It was whilst studying in England that Enwonwu was inspired by the work, feeling compelled to illustrate his opinion about his culture in Nigeria and the subsequent impact of colonialism. Africa Dances, which has an estimate of £120,000-180,00, can be seen as a celebration of Nigerian Independence – which Nigeria had gained from the British a decade earlier in 1960.

Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E (Nigerian, 1917-1994) Africa Dances
Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E (Nigerian, 1917-1994) Africa Dances

Painted in oil in 1960, Negritude is an important early work by Bruce Onobrakpeya. Created while the artist was a student at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology in Zaria, the painting was a key work in the Nigerian Council for the Advancement of Art and Culture’s Nigerian Art Exhibition in 1960. The exhibition brought together work from diverse artists which was presented alongside examples of the cultural and craft traditions practiced across Nigeria to celebrate the country’s newly asserted independence from colonial rule. The work has an estimate of £30,000-50,000.

Bruce Onobrakpeya (Nigerian, born 1932) Negritude

Depicting a semi-abstracted image of a bird throwing its head back to welcome the rising sun, Negritude can be seen as a metaphor for the new dawn ushered in by Nigerian Independence. The title also situates the work within wider discourses relating to Negritude – a Pan-African movement which rejected European colonial domination and turned to indigenous African practices to assert a new, empowered notion of Black identity.

Gilles Peppiatt, Bonhams Group Head, Fine Art, U.K, commented: “Both Enwonwu and Onobrakpeya’s works aim to celebrate African culture and in particular the spirit of their birthplace, Nigeria. Africa Dances by Enwonwu and Negritude by Onobrakpeya are both key works by both artists. Celebrating Nigerian Independence, and created 10 years apart, both capture an appreciation of tradition and the past, and optimism for the future.”

Other Nigerian highlights in the sale include:

Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E, Ututu. Estimate £100,000-150,000
Demas Nwoko (Nigerian, born 1935), Baba Kokoro. Estimate: £80,000-120,000
Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E, Female Form. Estimate: £80,000-120,000
Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E, Figure with raised arm. Estimate: £60,000-90,000
Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E, Portrait of Stephen Awokoya. Estimate: £40,000-80,000
Oluwole Omofemi, (Nigerian, b. 1988), Love. Estimate: £25,000-35,000.

The sale takes place on October 19.