Sunday, August 31, 2008

On the Ben Enwonwu Foundation magazine

A couple of days ago, I received an e-copy of the maiden edition of The Awakening, a cultural and lifestyle magazine published by The Enwonwu Foundation and edited by Oliver Enwonwu the founder and Board Member of the Foundation.

Without doubt, Mr. Enwonwu has done a tremendous amount of work in consolidating, through the Foundation, the legacy of Ben Enwonwu--a foremost modern Nigerian artist whose work as Federal Art Adviser and flamboyant spokesman of modern Nigerian and African art during the colonial period is legendary (one cannot forget his essay, "Problems of the African Artist" from the 1950s and "Into the Abstract Jungle" from the early 60s). Unlike any other foundation in Nigeria named for or established by our important artists, the BEF seems properly constituted and, yes, active in the pursuit of its mandate. I understand that the Foundation was at the Johannesburg Art Fair this past February and bought all available Enwonwu works. Now this might seem normal, which it is, but it is unprecedented in the annals of Nigerian art, and I wish the Foundation the very best of luck in its programs, which includes a high profile annual lecture series. My hope is that with time, it would embark on a proper cataloging of Enwonwu’s oeuvre scattered on the face of the planet. Although the artist’s work was often unremarkable, he did produce several ambitious, really inspired paintings in the later part of his career, and some occasional powerful sculptures earlier. But in combination with the significant place he occupies in the history of Nigerian art, a well curated retrospective with a matching respectable catalogue remains elusive and terribly overdue, as is a scholarly monograph. This must be the BEF's biggest challenge.

Back to the maiden edition of The Awakening. I wished it had a bit more meat in it. Apart from the biography of Enwonwu, which goes through already covered terrain, the magazine is short on substance. You expect the inaugural edition of a magazine to come with a punch, to make you want to cc the edition to everyone you know, everyone yearning for new material on the artist or on contemporary art and culture. But I am willing to give the editor and the Foundation the benefit of doubt. I await subsequent editions, with qualitative writing and images. These are hard to come by in publications from the homeland.

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