Birth of Modern Nigerian Art: The Aina Onabolu Story

African modernism started with Aina Onabolu (1882-1963), painter, foremost art educator and father of modern Nigerian art. At that time, FH Howard, a Deputy Director of Education in colonial Nigeria, in his writings captured the colonial administrators’ views on the subject of Africans’ artistic ability,

There is one barrier he [an African] cannot surmount, one door he is unable to open; that in the sphere of [Western] art he is not capable of reaching even a moderate degree of proficiency.

But Aina Onabolu proved this wrong. Onabolu became a self-taught artist with skills that rivaled those of Europeans with formal art training. And he single-handedly introduced Western art to Africa. He laid the foundation for modern Nigerian art and provided a springboard for a younger generation of artists including Ben Enwonwu and Akinola Lasekan.

Here’s a look at the fascinating life of this genius.


Adekemi is a lawyer and writer with a passion for the arts, particularly African art history. She is dedicated to discovering and documenting the most excellent artworks of our time. Follow her on Twitter at adekemitweets.


  1. Artstrings
    3rd December 2018

    Thank you.

    29th November 2018

    nice one mam

  3. Artstrings
    26th November 2018

    Thank you. I totally agree.

  4. Ogunbona
    16th November 2018

    Nice article, well-done!
    We need to put more effort in documenting Nigerian creatives.

  5. Artstrings
    21st March 2018

    Your feedback means a lot to me. Thank you.

  6. Babatunde Edun
    21st March 2018

    Thank you so very much for this. Extremely informative.

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