The Masters Of Nigerian Art

By Joburg Post

A short exhibit about the leading figures who contributed to the development of art in Nigeria during the last century.

Ben Enwonwu

Ben Enwonwu (MBE, NNOM) is a first generation Nigerian painter and sculptor who, being the first Nigerian artist to gain international recognition is arguably Africa's most influential artist of the 20th century. Ben Enwonwu broke race barriers and was the first African to be admitted into August exhibition spaces in Europe and the United States. He was also the first African to be listed in international directories of contemporary art. He was born on the 14th July 1917 and died in his sleep at his Lagos residence on the 5th of February, 1994.

With his Western training in art, he subsequently taught art in many post Independence schools in Nigeria and abroad. Generally held to be an Impressionist in style, his works are characteristically indigenous. He discouraged the labeling of African Art and worked towards its international acceptance.

Ben Ewonwu by Unknown The Centenary Project

Bruce Onobrakpeya

Bruce Onobrakpeya, born in 1932, is one of the Nigerian artists best known internationally. He has been described by some as a ‘living legend’ who was contributed significantly to the renaissance in contemporary art in Nigeria. His career as an artist spans several decades with notable exhibitions at the Tate Modern Gallery, London, National Museum of African Arts, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and Malmö Konsthall, Sweden. Bruce is a well renowned and established name in art circles around the world.

Onobrakpeya's themes cover a wide variety of subjects. Deeply celebrating Nigerian culture is a common trend. His Christian faith also beckons as he executes works both in his normal working and commissioned ones. Environmental issues and the rainbow unity Nigeria's diversity could produce is one of his themes.

Bruce Onobrakpeya The Centenary Project

Susanne Wenger

Susanne Wenger (1915-2009), also known as Adunni Olurisa, was an Austrian artist who resided in Nigeria. Her main focus was the Yoruba culture and she was successful in building an artist cooperative in Osogbo and left a legacy as the first foreign traditional goddess priestess in Nigeria. In accordance with Susanne’s instruction, she was buried immediately following her death, at a private burial in a discreet, unmarked grave inside the Osun River grove; without any fanfare or ceremony.

The following year after Wenger arrived to Nigeria, she moved from Ibadan to the village of Ede near Oshogo, where she quickly assimilated the local culture.

It was at Ede that she met Ajagemo, a powerful Obatala (native) priest and her guru, who initiated her into the world of the Orisha - the traditional Yoruba religion. She immersed herself into the traditional Yoruba religion and later founded the New Sacred Art, an expression of her works of art. The art houses her huge cement sculptures, her architectural rules, her cult shrines, houses and caves of initiation and endless walls.

Susanne Wenger The Centenary Project

Abayomi Barber

Born in 1928 in Ile Ife, Osun State Nigeria, Abayomi Barber is one of Nigeria’s renowned artists. He is a painter, sculptor, graphic designer and teacher. Barber has created some of the most captivating landscapes in Nigerian art.

Abayomi is known mainly for his surrealist landscapes, as well as impressive oeuvre of sculptural pieces. Barber became the guiding light and mentor for an informal afro-surrealist school of art known as the Barber School, which aims at resolving the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality through visual artworks and paintings.

Water front by Abayomi Barber The Centenary Project

Uche Okeke

Uche Okeke was born in 1933. He is credited for the revolution which started in the Visual Arts in Nigeria around the 1960s. Uche Okeke is synonymous with the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology where he studied (1957 -1961) and the Zaria Art Society of which he was a founding member.

Self portrait (1959) by Uche Okeke The Centenary Project

Uche Okeke was the leading theoretician among the Zaria Rebels. The Zaria Rebels were determined to seek out alternatives artforms informed by their indigenous art traditions and questioned the European-oriented artistic and cultural educational practices.

Following Nigeria's independence in 1960, Okeke went onto propose the concept of 'Natural Synthesis'. He suggested that there could be a fusion of European modernism with localised, African aesthetic influences.

Okeke developed his own unique synthesised mode of expression, combining Western technique with Igbo cultural traditions. He also studied the basic language, patterns and symbols of Uli, the traditional designs by Igbo people. Often highly linear and without perspective, they have a spontaneous quality with can been seen in Okeke's imaginative and fluid work.

Okeke is arguably the most acknowledged proponent of "Uliism". His works also depict Christian and Igbo folklore themes, these probably come from his religious upbringing and cultural background.

Curator: Patrick Enaholo

Virtual Museum of Modern Nigerian Art, Pan-Atlantic University
Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation
Susanne Wenger Foundation

Art & Culture


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Nigerian Art




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