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OM234 set to open 'Oliver Enwonwu: A Continued Legacy' at Mall Galleries

21 May to 1 June 2024 | Mall Galleries, London

Private view: 23 May, 6.30pm – 8.30pm


This May, OM234 is set to present 'Oliver Enwonwu: A Continued Legacy', a joint exhibition of paintings, drawings, and sculpture by Oliver Enwonwu and his father, Prof. Ben Enwonwu, MBE, NNOM (1917 – 1994) at Mall Galleries.


To coincide with 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. The exhibition venue pays homage to Ben Enwonwu’s 1985 exhibition ‘Dance Theme’ also staged at Mall Galleries.


Courtesy Oliver Enwonwu/The Ben Enwonwu Foundation
Courtesy Oliver Enwonwu/The Ben Enwonwu Foundation

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. Enwonwu also engages with the works of other modern masters who failed to fully acknowledge their sources of inspiration in the geometric shapes of African masks and sculpture. Significantly, he has reinterpreted Picasso’s “Les Desmoiselles d’ Avignon” in a new work titled “Were God to be a Woman”. This painting asks us to reimagine the role of the women depicted by artists such as Picasso and celebrate indigenous African power over objectivity and colonialism.


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.



Ben Enwonwu working on the bronze sculpture of the queen Courtesy Oliver Enwonwu/The Ben Enwonwu Foundation
Ben Enwonwu working on the bronze sculpture of the queen Courtesy Oliver Enwonwu/The Ben Enwonwu Foundation

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.


Together the work of Ben and Oliver Enwonwu 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.


Opening Times:

Exhibition dates: 21 May to 1 June 2024

For more information visit: Mall Galleries

 

ABOUT OLIVER ENWONWU


Oliver Enwonwu is a third-generation artist; his grandfather was a reputable traditional sculptor, while his father, Professor Ben Enwonwu, MBE, is celebrated as Africa’s pioneer modernist artist.

Enwonwu is a well-recognised leader in the Nigerian arts and culture sector with about 20 years of experience in art advisory, programme management, as well as strategy and development. In this period, he has also empowered creatives through skills enhancement and optimised business opportunities while managing consultants and working with stakeholders, from diverse cultural teams to the federal government.


A curator, art administrator, author, publisher, and brand strategist, Enwonwu earned a first degree in biochemistry, an advanced diploma in exploration geophysics (distinction), and a postgraduate diploma in applied geophysics from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. From the same institution, he holds another postgraduate diploma in visual arts (distinction) and graduated as with a master’s in art history. Presently, Enwonwu is pursuing a PhD in African art history at the University of Benin.


Oliver Enwonwu is the founder, executive director, and trustee of The Ben Enwonwu Foundation. He is also the CEO of Revilo Company Ltd., publishers of Omenka, Africa’s first arts, business, and luxury lifestyle magazine. From 2009 to July 2021, Enwonwu served as the President of the Society of Nigerian Artists, established in 1963 as the umbrella professional body for all artists in Nigeria, which exists to engender the highest standards of practice and teaching of the visual arts in Nigeria. As president, he appointed His Excellency, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, the then Vice President of Nigeria, as Grand Patron of the Society, and led a delegation of stakeholders to public hearings at the Federal House of Representatives and the Senate on bills to Repeal and Re-Enact the National Gallery of Art Act and the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation Act, respectively. In addition, he established the Society’s College of Fellows and Hall of Fame. He is currently a Fellow of the Society.


 

ABOUT BEN ENWONWU


Ben Enwonwu MBE, NNOM is widely celebrated as Africa’s greatest artist of the 20th Century. Born in 1917 at Onitsha, he attended Goldsmiths College, London and the Slade School of Art, University College, London graduating with first-class honours in sculpture. Enwonwu’s legacy rests on his forging a philosophical basis for contemporary Nigerian art by fusing Western techniques and indigenous traditions.


Enwonwu 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. His fame was enlisted in support of Black Nationalist struggles. 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 1954, Enwonwu became a Member of the distinguished Order of the British Empire (MBE). In 1956, Ben 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.


Enwonwu was appointed Art Advisor to the Nigerian federal government in 1959. In 1966, he led the Nigerian contingent to the first World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal. In 1968, he retired as Art Adviser to the Federal Government and was reappointed on a contract that same year as Cultural Adviser. The University of Lagos also elected him the first university fellow in African Studies. In 1969, Ahmadu Bello University awarded him an honorary doctorate (D.Litt). In 1971, he became a visiting artist at the Institute of African Studies at Howard University, Washington D.C. That year, the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) appointed him Nigeria’s first professor of fine art. In 1980, Enwonwu was awarded the Nigerian National Merit Award (NNMA) for his contributions to art.


Ben Enwonwu died on February 5, 1994.



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OM234 set to open 'Oliver Enwonwu: A Continued Legacy' at Mall Galleries

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