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.