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The Remarkable Resurgence of Ben Enwonwu Who Was Already Africa’s Greatest Contemporary Artist

Heralded in the 1940s as Africa’s greatest contemporary artist, Nigeria’s Ben Enwonwu, essentially founded the genre through a fusion of European and African traditions.  Although politics and narrow mindsets caused him to descend into obscurity, recent discoveries of his lost works and a booming market for African contemporary art are restoring him to his rightful stature. At the height of his career in the 1940s to 1960s, he was a household name not only in Nigeria, but globally. For more than six decades, one of his bronze sculptures, Anyanwu/Awakening, has occupied a place of prominence in the lobby of the UN headquarters in New York. The bronze sculpture, inspired by the Igbo earth-goddess Ani, was a gift from the newly independent Nigeria in support of world peace and liberation of colonies. Widely acclaimed as Africa’s pioneer modernist artist and one of the greatest in the world, he is credited with laying the philosophical foundations of contemporary African art by fusing Western techniques and conventions with indigenous traditions and aesthetics.