Colours in Sunlight: 7 Paintings from Enwonwu’s Negritude Series


“In the fierce sunlight of Nigeria, only the primary colours survive.”

(Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E (1921-1994), quoted by Sylvester Ogbechie in Ben Enwonwu: The Making of an African Modernist, 2008)

I was destined to pore over Enwonwu’s Negritude series for the umpteenth time as I came across his above quote a few hours after discovering the work Negritude (1985) will feature at the Bonhams’ Africa Now Sale on the 28th of February. Once again, I am amazed at the intensity of the pieces in this series.

Ben Enwonwu’s Negritude period, characterized by paintings with the black silhouette of a graceful female form in a bright background, began around 1970. Enwonwu identified with the Negritude movement, an anti-colonial cultural and political movement that sought to foster black pride. Of importance to him was the movement’s philosophy of black consciousness, and celebration of African history and traditions. In the paintings illustrating his Negritude theme, Enwonwu translates the black woman into a visual metaphor for the Negritude cause.

For me, Enwonwu’s Negritude series contains some of his best paintings. It was quite difficult to choose, but, I think, these are my favorite Negritude pieces.

Negritude, 1986/85, Ben Enwonwu (credit: Artsy)


Negritude, 1979, Ben Enwonwu (credit: Ben Enwonwu Foundation)


Negritude, 1984, Ben Enwonwu (credit: Ben Enwonwu Foundation)


Negritude, 1977, Ben Enwonwu (credit: Artnet)


Negritude, Ben Enwonwu (credit: Ben Enwonwu Foundation)


This last two works, though not titled Negritude, are in the same style. Untitled (1991) also has an interesting story relating to a print. Read Here

Untitled, 1991, Ben Enwonwu (credit: African Art with Taj)


Black Culture, 1986, Ben Enwonwu (credit: Ben Enwonwu Foundation)


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.
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