Erhabor Emokpae (Nigerian, 1934-1984) Struggle between Life and Death

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Lot 16*
Erhabor Emokpae
(Nigerian, 1934-1984)
Struggle between Life and Death

Sold for £ 31,250 (US$ 39,341) inc. premium
Erhabor Emokpae (Nigerian, 1934-1984)
Struggle between Life and Death
inscribed 'E.Emokpae / Struggle between life and death' (to stretcher verso)
oil on canvasboard
61 x 121cm (24 x 47 5/8in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    A private collection, Nigeria.

    Exhibited
    London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, Seven Stories about modern art in Africa, September 1995.
    Malmo, Malmo Konsthall, Seven Stories about modern art in Africa, January 1996.
    New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Seven Stories about modern art in Africa, June 1996.

    Literature
    C. Deliss, Seven Stories about modern art in Africa, (Paris/New York, 1995), illustrated p. 54.
    C. Okeke-Agulu, Post-colonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria, (Durham, 2015), illustrated p.247.


    Erhabor Emokpae received no formal artistic training. He apprenticed with a graphic designer at Kingsway Stores in Lagos in 1953, before taking up a position as a graphic artist in the Ministry of Information. He began to devote more time to his own artistic pursuits from 1954, after he was introduced to Afi Ekong and Prince Abdul Aziz Atta. The couple encouraged Emokpae and provided him with materials. The artist's controversial works quickly attracted attention, and by 1960 he was one of the most prominent figures in Lagos.

    Struggle between Life and Death (1962) is one of Emokpae's best-known works. It demonstrates his interest in formal experimentation, referencing the geometric abstractions of the Russian suprematist, Kazimir Malevich. However, it is far more than a technical exercise. For Emokpae, shapes and colours held symbolic meaning. As Professor Chika Okeke-Agulu has observed:

    "The juxtaposition of reversed black and white squares and semicircles, with the addition of his palm prints, serves as a visual code for the dialectical relationship between life and death, being and nothingness."

    The monochromatic palette and formal sparseness lend the painting harmony and balance. The viewer is left with a feeling of tranquility. The spiritual quality is very deliberate. In this work, Emokpae tackles the most fundamental of existential questions: what does it mean to be alive? The artist described his vision for Struggle in an interview with Odia Eromosele Oniha in 1973:

    "I see in life and death a dialogue between the womb and the tomb. They are the parentheses within which we love and hate, laugh and cry, grow and decay. This duality appears in varying dimensions throughout the complex pattern of creation and has been very largely the determining factor in the visual interpretation of my experiences. I speak of good and evil as contained in the motions of our thought and actions. I speak of the physical and metaphysical as expressed in human experience. I speak of man and woman, their agonies and their ecstasies. I speak above all of life and death as whole."

    Bibliography
    C. Okeke-Agulu, Post-colonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria, (Durham, 2015), pp.244-247.
    C. Deliss, Seven Stories about modern art in Africa, (Paris/New York, 1995), illustrated p. 54.
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