Ben Enwonwu

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Benedict Chuka Enwonwu
Born 14 July 1917
Onitsha, Nigeria
Died 5 February 1994
Nationality Nigerian
Known for painter and sculptor
Movement Modern African Art

Benedict Chuka Enwonwu (14 July 1917[1] – 5 February 1994), better known as Ben Enwonwu, was an Igbo Nigerian painter and sculptor. The Enwonwu crater on the planet Mercury is named in his honour.[2]


Early life and studies[edit]

Ben Enwonwu was born a twin on 14 July 1917 into the noble family of Umueze-Aroli in Onitsha, Nigeria. His father, Omenka Odigwe Emeka Enwonwu, was a technician who worked with the Royal Niger Company; he was also a member of the Onitsha Council of Chiefs and a traditional sculptor of repute. His mother, Ilom was a successful cloth merchant.

Enwonwu studied under Kenneth C. Murray at government colleges, Ibadan and Umuahia, 1934–37. Enwonwu attended Goldsmith College, London, in 1944, then continued his studies at Ruskin College, Oxford, England, from 1944 to 1946,[3] at Ashmolean College and Slade School of Fine Arts, Oxford, 1946–48, graduating with first-class honours. He took postgraduate courses in anthropology and ethnography in the USA at the University of California and Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.


From 1939, he was an art teacher in various schools, including Government College, Umuahia, mission school in Calabar Province (1940–41), and Edo College, Benin City (1941–43). He was art adviser to the Nigerian government from 1948. During the years following 1950, he toured and lectured in the United States, and executed many commissions as a freelance artist. He was a fellow of Lagos University, Lagos (1966–68), cultural advisor to the Nigeria government (1968–71), and visiting artist at the Institute of African Studies at Howard University, Washington, DC. He was appointed the first professor of Fine Arts at the University of Ife, Ile-Ife, from 1971 to 1975. He was also art consultant to the International Secretariat, Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC), Lagos, 1977.

He executed portraits of Nigerians as private commissions, and illustrated Amos Tutuola’s The Brave African Huntress. He maintained a studio in London and was a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute, London, and a member of Royal Academy of Arts, London.

Enwonwu's work is displayed in the National Gallery of Modern Art, Lagos.[4] His works can also be viewed at the Virtual Museum of Modern Nigerian Art.


"I will not accept an inferior position in the art world. Nor have my art called African because I have not correctly and properly given expression to my reality. I have consistently fought against that kind of philosophy because it is bogus. European artists like Picasso, Braque and Vlaminck were influenced by African art. Everybody sees that and is not opposed to it. But when they see African artists who are influenced by their European training and technique, they expect that African to stick to their traditional forms even if he bends down to copying them. I do not copy traditional art. I like what I see in the works of people like Giacometti but I do not copy them. I knew Giacometti personally in England, you know. I knew he was influenced by African sculptures. But I would not be influenced by Giacometti, because he was influenced by my ancestors”.[5]

“Art is not static, like culture. Art changes its form with the times. It is setting the clock back to expect that the art form of Africa today must resemble that of yesterday otherwise the former will not reflect the African image. African art has always, even long before western influence, continued to evolve through change and adaptation to new circumstances. And in like manner, the African view of art has followed the trend of cultural change up to the modern times.” 1950, Ben Enwonwu.[6]


  1. ^ Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie, Ben Enwonwu: The Making of an African Modernist (Rochester University Press, 2008), p. 24
  2. ^ "Enwonwu: A Young Crater on Mercury Named for an African Modernist Artist". NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington. 3 February 2009. Retrieved 30 December 2011. 
  3. ^ Chuks Iloegbunam, "Obituary: Ben Enwonwu", The Independent, 16 February 1994.
  4. ^ "NATIONAL GALLERY OF MODERN ART (NGMA), LAGOS:". National Gallery of Art. Retrieved 2011-05-22. 
  5. ^ "Ben Enwonwu". University of Chichester. Retrieved 19 February 2012. 
  6. ^ "Ben Enwonwu Foundation". Retrieved 19 February 2012. 

External links[edit]