“Ben Enwonwu was important to this discourse of modern art in Africa for several reasons. He was at one time, the most famous modern African artist alive and he enjoyed immense critical acclaim in Africa, Europe and the United States of America. His art and career encompassed the major aesthetic traditions of modern Nigerian art. These included the indigenous aesthetic traditions of Nigeria (his father was an Igbo sculptor) and the European conventions of representations appropriated by Nigerian artists during the colonial period….At the height of his fame, Enwonwu was considered a master sculptor and his artworks were exhibited alongside those of prominent European modernists in the Musee d’Art Moderne in 1946…The Nigerian art historical narrative defined him as an artist of the colonial period, obviously viewing the fact that he was alive and active until 1994 as an accident of history. Despite an acclaimed international practice that exalted him as “Africa’s Greatest Artist”, Enwonwu’s name was until recently also absent from international accounts of modern art…At the height of his fame in 1956, he was commissioned to sculpt a bronze portrait of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, making him the first African to be so honoured. The sittings began at the Buckingham Palace and the resulting full-length bronze statue was shown at the Tate Gallery…In 1966, he led the Nigerian contingent to the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal…”
-The Ben Enwonwu Foundation
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