Ben (Benedict Chukwukadibia) Enwonwu, M.B.E (Nigerian, 1917-1994)
'Anyanwu' bronze 91cm (35 13/16in) high (excluding base)
PROVENANCE: A private collection
LITERATURE: S. Ogbechie, Ben Enwonwu: The Making of an African Modernist, (Rochester, 2008), another version illustrated fig.4.3 and fig.4.4 B. Lawal, 'After an imaginary slumber: visual and verbal imagery of "awakening" in Africa', Word & Image: A Journal of Verbal/Visual Enquiry, (Volume 26 number 4, 2010), another version illustrated p.423 O. Offoedu-Okeke, Artists of Nigeria, (Milan, 2012), another version illustrated p.57
A small-scale version of the famous work mounted on the façade of the National Museum in Onikan, Lagos, the current lot is one of Enwonwu's most significant sculptures. The title Anyanwu (eye of the sun) invokes the Igbo practice of saluting the rising sun as a way to honour ChiUkwu, the Great Spirit: in some instances (for example in the small Anyanwu bronze in the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace), the work is titled Rising Sun.
Enwonwu's Anyanwu is commonly cited as among the artist's most accomplished works, not only formally but also in terms of its positioning in Nigerian cultural history. The noble figure, with its lithe bronze torso arising as if from the earth, is considered the pre-eminent expression of what Sylvester Ogbechie describes as "the aspirations of the Nigerian nation and Enwonwu's personal intercession for its survival and growth".
The sinuous bronze form is a masterwork of sculpture. The figure represented in Anyanwu is the powerful Igbo earth goddess Ani. In his depiction of the goddess, Enwonwu extends his exploration of the spiritual and elemental facets of womanhood a theme prominent throughout his career. Here, he is informed by idealised Edo Queen Mother portraits for the head, while for the elongated body, which narrows from torso to pointed base, he draws on the stylisation of ancient Igbo wood carving. For Enwonwu, these precedents were integral to the creation of an indigenous modernism. Babatunde Lawal, who has written extensively on art reflecting an African "awakening" (in contrast to dominant western representations of the "slumbering" continent), suggests that in Anyanwu the artist's adherence to ancient traditions, allied to both a personal vision and a modern national spirit, produces an artwork which is truly iconic.
Enwonwu has said the following of the sculpture: "My aim was to symbolise our rising nation. I have tried to combine material, crafts, and traditions, to express a conception that is based on womanhood woman, the mother and nourisher of man. In our rising nation, I see the forces embodied in womanhood; the beginning, and then, the development and flowering into the fullest stature of a nation a people! This sculpture is spiritual in conception, rhythmical in movement, and three dimensional in its architectural setting these qualities are characteristic of the sculpture of my ancestors."
The first Anyanwu sculpture (1954-5), made for the National Museum, Lagos, was so popular that another was commissioned for the United Nations headquarters in New York (1961). Moreover, a smaller version, including the current lot, was cast in a small number from two different molds. The present version, likely dated to 1975, appears in several major public and private collections, often demonstrating variations in the patina of the bronze, or slightly different finishing details in the arms and length of the well-known "chicken beak" coiffure.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: S. Ogbechie, Ben Enwonwu: The Making of an African Modernist, (Rochester, 2008), p.130-1; p.128-30 B. Lawal, 'After an imaginary slumber: visual and verbal imagery of 'awakening' in Africa', Word & Image: A Journal of Verbal/Visual Enquiry, (Volume 26 number 4, 2010), p.422