Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E (Nigerian, 1917-1994) Anyanwu simplified 137 x 22 x 18cm (53 15/16 x  8 11/16 x 7 1/16in) excluding base

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Lot 19* W
Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E
(Nigerian, 1917-1994)
Anyanwu simplified 137 x 22 x 18cm (53 15/16 x 8 11/16 x 7 1/16in) excluding base

Sold for £ 74,500 (US$ 96,537) inc. premium
Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E (Nigerian, 1917-1994)
Anyanwu simplified
gilt bronze
137 x 22 x 18cm (53 15/16 x 8 11/16 x 7 1/16in) excluding base


  • Provenance
    Gifted from the artist to the late High Commissioner of Nigeria, Mr. Alhaji Sule Kolo.
    Thence by descent to the present owner.

    The Nigerian artist Ben Enwonwu is recognised as one of the greatest modern artists of the twentieth century. A major figure in Modern African art, Enwonwu is praised for his pioneering efforts in successfully placing the emerging African aesthetic in the global art discourse. With exhibitions unfolding in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas, Enwonwu was globally recognised for his divergent styles of art which were products of his elaborate integration of the modern African aesthetic with the European narrative of modern art.

    Described as a scholar, sculptor and artist, Enwonwu received his formal education at the Slade School of Fine Art at the University of London with a diploma in sculpture. His earliest engagements with the sculpture medium, particularly Igbo sculpture, were initiated by his father, Odigwe Enwonwu, a renowned Igbo sculptor. His father's dynamic influence prompted Enwonwu to explore the distinct Igbo aesthetic and cultural paradigms throughout his career. His fascination and inquiry into his (Igbo) heritage was intimately connected to his work and would serve as the principal aspect of his developments as an artist. The combination of Igbo sculptural technique, and meticulous anthropological exploration of African culture both fused with a modern sensibility, culminated in forming Enwonwu's unique visual language. This language constantly engaged the notion of a global African modernity and encouraged viewers to re-examine post-colonial African modern art. Describing himself as a sculptor who articulated a synthesis between his contemporary practice and the chronicled tradition of Igbo art, Enwonwu was praised for his mastery of modern art and his versatile skills as a sculptor.

    The present lot is a variation of the bronze sculpture that the artist was commissioned to produce for the National Museum of Lagos in 1958. Anyanwu was the resulting bronze sculpture and is regarded as one of Enwonwu's most accomplished works. It has been suggested that Anyanwu brought together the different strategies of representation in his work. In a similar vein to the original commissioned sculpture; this present work adopts a mimetic depiction of a female figure with a naturalistic head and upper body, yet it is profoundly fused with abstract forms and symbols. The head of the figure is derived from the Edo Royal portrait of the queen mother, whose idealised face and distinctive chicken beak coiffure provides an antithesis to her lower body which dramatically curves to her feet. (This differs slightly from the commissioned sculpture, where the figure's upper-body tapers into an abstract pointed base).

    The pronounced curvature of her lower body accords the figure with a sense of distilled movement, her elongated form and distinct lines emphasise her measured poise and deliberate elegance. Exuding sensuous and organic qualities, the panache of this female figure references the characteristic aura and rapturous energy of the indigenous figure that narrates intrigue, love, feminism, power and presence.

    It is suggested that this work is the artist's interpretation of Igbo feminine power which depicts the indigenous ideal of the supreme feminine force: She embodies the aspirations of the rising Nigerian nation, a representation of survival, nurture and growth. According to Igbo tradition, Ani was the earth goddess and the guardian of culture and morality, in effect, Enwonwu consigned the Nigerian nation's heritage to the protection of this Igbo earth goddess. The original commissioned sculpture, Anyanwu is also a representation of the earth goddess, yet the artist's use of the word "anyanwu" which means sun, references the Igbo practice of the venerating Great Spirit. Additionally, Anyanwu (the sun) was symbolic of the omnipresent eye of God. According to Igbo tradition, the earth goddess was considered the supreme maternal figure in Igbo cosmology and defined the elemental features of womanhood: a supreme and sublime force and beauty combined with lethality. This variation is a development based on similar principles and ideologies of feminine power and black mother symbolism represented in the original sculpture.

    This work was part of the collection of the late Alhaji Sule Kolo, a prominent official in the Nigerian Civil service. Shortly after his appointment as Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Defence, Kolo was made the Nigerian Representative to the United Nations in Geneva in 1966. In 1969, he moved to London having accepted the position of Nigerian High Commissioner to the UK and Ambassador to Ireland. It was during this time that Mr. Kolo's old and dear friend, Ben Enwonwu gifted the sculpture to him. Mr. Kolo was an active member in the Royal Society of Arts and participated in the development of African aesthetic in the global discourse.

    O. Offoedu-Okeke, Artists of Nigeria, (Milan, 2012), pp.48-49.
    S. Okwunodu Ogbechie, Ben Enwonwu: The Making of an African Modernist, (Rochester, 2008), pp.125-130.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note Provenance should read: Gifted from the artist to the late High Commissioner of Nigeria, Alhaji Sule Kolo. Thence by descent to present owner. The medium is polished bronze and not gilt bronze as stated in the catalogue.
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