Often considered ‘Africa’s greatest artist’, Ben Enwonwu born on July 14, 1917 is arguably one of the most influential artist of the 20th century. His pioneering career opened the way for the postcolonial proliferation and increased visibility of modern African art to the so-called western world.
He was one of the first African artists to win critical acclaim, having exhibited in exhibition spaces in Europe and the United States and listed in international directories of contemporary art. Since 1950, Enwonwu is celebrated as “Africa’s Greatest Artist” by the international media and his fame was used to enlist support for Black Nationalists movement all over the world. The Enwonwu crater on the planet Mercury is named in his honor.
Born in Nigeria, he studied in England before returning to his home country. Working in a Modernist style, Enwonwu was the first African artist to be commissioned for a portrait of a British monarch in 1956. His bronze sculpture of Queen Elizabeth II was unveiled in 1957. In 2017 one of his major works, a portrait of Tutu was rediscovered in London and when sold achieved a record price for an African artist at over a million dollars. #BenEnwonwu died on February 5, 1994.