Oliver Enwonwu, President of the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) has called for critical discourse over the recognition and value of modern African art.
The celebrated artist, who is the son of renowned sculptor and painter Ben Enwonwu, made this call on an episode of the podcast ‘Crucial Conversations’ hosted by Aziza Atta of Ozoza Lifestyle.
Ben Enwonwu was arguably the most influential African artist of the 20th century, his pioneering career opened the way for the postcolonial proliferation and increased visibility of modern African art.
He was one of the first African artists to win critical acclaim, having exhibited in august exhibition spaces in Europe and the United States and listed in international directories of contemporary art.
In 2019, his work was sold in London for 1.4 million dollars. In 2018, his best known portrait, Tutu, was sold at 1.6 million dollars.
Speaking on the value of African art, Oliver Enwonwu noted that despite the indelible imprints of artists like his father, modern African art has been erroneously seen as African artists copying Europeans.
“You see that prices for modern African art are not where they should be. That is a far cry when you compare the money paid for the work of a much younger artist who is probably not up to 45.
“This shows that the contemporary artists are now given due recognition than the modern artists who actually birthed them.
“This is because of the efforts of the modern masters who were dismissed as copying the western artists.
“Critical discourse can be used to address these issues. Some Africans are in prestigious institutions where they can make a case for African modern art but they are all making the same mistakes.
“It looks like African modern art exists in a vacuum. For a profession where age is a critical factor to the value, how can you play credence?” Enwonwu asked.
Speaking further on the uniqueness of African art, he explained that the art goes beyond aesthetics and hold spiritual purposes.
Crucial Conversations – features a well-curated guest list that include experts across various fields, from entertainment to anthropology, who share their expertise in light-hearted researched conversations.
The conversations are wonderfully hosted by Aziza Atta whose years of experience and passion about African heritage, come handy in pushing the learning experiences.
You can listen to the podcast here.