Uzo Egonu (Nigerian, 1931-1996) Stateless People: an artist with beret
Lot 86
Uzo Egonu
(Nigerian, 1931-1996)
Stateless People: an artist with beret
Sold for £ 18,750 (US$ 24,761) inc. premium

Africa Now

28 Feb 2018, 17:00 GMT

London, New Bond Street

Lot Details
Uzo Egonu (Nigerian, 1931-1996)
Stateless People: an artist with beret
signed and dated 'Egonu/81' (lower right); bears label inscribed 'Stateless People (an artist with beret)'/ oil on canvas/ 1981' (verso)
oil on canvas
153 x 124cm (60 1/4 x 48 13/16in).

Footnotes

  • Literature
    O. Oguibe, Uzo Egonu: An African Artist in the West, (London, 1995), illustrated p.129.


    The above lot belongs to the artist's Stateless People series, begun in 1980. This was a time of great anxiety and frustration for Egonu. Now partially blind, he was finding it increasingly difficult to paint. His hopes and expectations for Nigeria following the end of the civil war had also come to nothing. The wealth generated by the oil boom in the 1970s was channeled into hyper-consumption rather than developing the infrastructure. By 1983, socioeconomic conditions were so dismal that Chinua Achebe complained the country was in a state of crisis:

    "Corruption in Nigeria has passed the alarming and entered the fatal stage; and Nigeria will die if we keep pretending that she is only slightly indisposed." (Achebe, The Trouble with Nigeria, Enugu, 1983. p.38)

    His country and body in a state of decline, Egonu began to question his identity and the concept of nationhood. His reflections gave birth to Stateless People (1980-82). The series' unifying motif is the human figure bent over, consumed by shame, sorrow and regret. Each painting depicts a figure engaged in an activity close to Egonu's heart: a musician, an artist, a writer. The final work in the series, Stateless People: An Assembly, brings the characters together in a single composition.

    When the works were first exhibited at the Royal Festival Hall in London in 1986, Egonu made the following statement:

    "It is always assumed that 'Stateless People' are people who, through the consequence of their political activities (in opposition to the establishment) or who suffer victimisation due to their religious conviction in their original countries, either escaped or were forced out by their authoritarian regime. In this case, people who belong to this category cannot go back to their countries, and consequently end up without nationality.

    My stateless people are far from being political or religious refugees. They are people who are symbolically stateless. How can a person who has a country and lives there...be regarded as a stateless person? If a country exists just in name without a permanent foundation, foresight, commonsense and ambition for the good of the country, in other words dwells in chaos and stagnation, it is non-existent...

    In this modern age, it is not good enough for a country to feel that because it is not a colony of another power this fact in itself is commendable. What is commendable is what a country is trying to achieve and what it has accomplished. If symbolically a country does not exist, and if logic of existence is applied, anyone who inhabits such a country is stateless."

    Egonu viewed the endemic corruption in Nigeria as a breach of the state's social contract with its citizens. Symbolically, the state had collapsed. The artist at the centre of this painting represents a generation of frustrated visionaries, alienated by the abuse of political power, but it is also a poignant self-portrait.

    A preparatory gouache of this composition, executed a year before this oil painting, is illustrated in Oguibe, Uzo Egonu: An African Artist in the West, p.118.

    Bibliography
    O. Oguibe, Uzo Egonu: An African Artist in the West, pp.118-127.
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  1. Eliza Sawyer
    Auction administration - African, Modern and Contemporary Art
    Bonhams
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