PROVENANCE: Acquired directly from the artist Thence by direct descent to the current owner
EXHIBITED: London, solo exhibition, Berkeley Galleries, 1955
The present lot was purchased directly from Enwonwu in the late 1940s, when the already-established artist was undergoing formal training at The Slade in London:
"His teachers and students at the Slade searched his art for evidence of his African identity, and the artist sometimes indulged their expectations by producing images that depicted cultural activities in indigenous Nigerian societies. In fact, Enwonwu experimented with different techniques and styles that satisfied a demand for African themes in his art."
"Enwonwu's work during this period used positive images of his cultural traditions to revise cultural stereotypes of African cultures. He forestalled a perception of these images as romantic invocations of exotic rural life by locking them into a personal aesthetic framework derived from his earlier studies of Igbo and Edo visual culture."
"Artworks produced between 1945 and 1948 showed his unfolding interpretation of Africa as a cultural and idealogical framework for his practice as a modern artist. These initial efforts were not free of exoticism."
Enwonwu requested to borrow The Circumcision for his final solo exhibition at the Berkeley Gallery in 1955, which had represented him since 1948. 1955 was also the year in which he was awarded a Medal of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).
BIBLIOGRAPHY: S.O. Ogbechie, Ben Enwonwu: The Making of an African Modernist (Rochester, 2008), pp.72-3