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Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E (Nigerian, 1917-1994)
initialed and dated 'BE 1985' (lower left); titled 'NEGRITUDE' (lower right)
watercolour and gouache
74.5 x 54cm (29 5/16 x 21 1/4in).
A private collection, London.
From 1975 to 1977, Enwonwu helped to organise the Second World Festival of Black Arts and Culture (FESTAC). The festival aspired to an exhaustive representation of black culture. One of the major topics of debate was how African artists could formulate a response to the European conventions of representation. Enwonwu's participation in FESTAC reaffirmed his belief that post-colonial African art must reflect the aspirations and unique identity of independent African people.
This gouache explore the ideology of 'Negritude'; a movement that sought to foster black pride and throw off the cultural influences of European colonization. Enwonwu had spent many years studying and working in London and Paris early in his career, and had absorbed the principles of European modernism. However, he recognised the importance of establishing an aesthetic that communicated the identity of the newly independent Nigerian people.
For Enwonwu, the answer lay in the form of the black African woman. The sinuous silhouette of a female dancer represented his ideal of African culture; beautiful, powerful and full of creative potential. The composition of this Negritude, executed in 1985, is strikingly similar to a gouache he painted the following year entitled 'Black Culture' (illustrated in S. Ogbechie, Ben Enwonwu: the Making of an African Modernist, p.197). The work is characteristic of Enwonwu's late style, and demonstrates his move towards abstraction. The black silhouette cuts a sharp contrast against the canary-yellow background, reminiscent of Matisse's late, great cut-outs.
S. Ogbechie, Ben Enwonwu: the Making of an African Modernist, p.197.