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Enwonwu’s Anyanwu to fetch $200,000 at Bonhams London auction

On Wednesday, March 20, 2019, Bonhams will be holding its Africa Now auction in London. The auction is happening nine days before Investing In Women’s Awards ceremony ball (March 29, 2019) in Lagos.

On Wednesday, March 20, 2019, Bonhams will be holding its Africa Now auction in London. The auction is happening nine days before Investing In Women’s Awards ceremony ball (March 29, 2019) in Lagos.

Investing In Women brand was created by Anita Kouassigan as a collaborative measure and designed to work with, as well as add value to the projects and initiatives, and in some cases, products of the companies and organisations dedicated to investing in women. By providing greater visibility into the achievements of women, it hopes to inspire others to join the cause.

Anita is happy with the support that the auction house is providing for the event, as it will present the Women In Art & Design award to its winner. For Anita, the contemporary African art sector, though dominated by many male artists, curators, brokers, gallery owners and dealers, is a very exciting sector for women in Africa.

She said more women are becoming movers and shakers in the Art & Design field and they have a real passion for leveraging the creative arts to promote Nigeria and her cultural identity abroad.

According to her, “women are playing a key role in pushing the existing boundaries, and therefore, this sector was chosen as one of the seven Wonder Women Awards.” Giles Peppiatt, Director African Modern & Contemporary Art, certainly deals with women everyday in his profession, and during a recent meeting at Bonhams where he and Anita were firming up their partnership, Anita asked what the most exciting auction piece was, and the answer was interestingly – Anyanwu.

Anyanwu is one of the artist’s most accomplished and recognisable works. The word Anyanwu (eye of the sun) refers to the Igbo practice of saluting the rising sun in honour of Chukwu, the Great Spirit. The female figure is the powerful Igbo earth goddess Ani.
For Enwonwu, the sculpture was a way of expressing his hopes for a nation on its way towards independence: “My aim was to symbolise our rising nation. I have tried to combine material, crafts, and traditions, to express a conception that is based on womanhood – woman, the mother and nourisher of man. In our rising nation, I see the forces embodied in womanhood; the beginning, and then, the development and flowering into the fullest stature of a nation – a people! This sculpture is spiritual in conception, rhythmical in movement, and three dimensional in its architectural setting – these qualities are characteristic of the sculpture of my ancestors.”

Enwonwu’s depiction of the goddess, with her elongated body and stylised head, demonstrates his appreciation for Igbo artistic traditions, drawing on ancient woodcarvings and Edo Queen Mother portraits.

Enwonwu’s father was a spiritual man, and had frequently carved images for the shrines at Onitsha. Memories of these shrines left an indelible mark on the young Benedict, and shaped his view that art and religion were inextricably linked. In Igbo tradition, sculptors were viewed as intermediaries between the human and spirit world. They worked in a trance-like state, inspired by intense surges of mental energy.

Enwonwu later claimed that he had entered such a state when he created Anyanwu. The sculpture’s form came to him in a vision early one morning as he hovered between dreaming and wakefulness:
“A supple graceful female form arising out of the sun in a brilliant shower of light…she loomed towards him in a wide curvilinear arch…the classic Ethiopianized features of the face and the decorative horizontal slats of the lower torso that receded into the horizon, tapering off to a point…”

The circumstances surrounding Anyanwu’s creation – Enwonwu’s spiritual inspiration – connects him with the Igbo tradition of the artist as spirit medium. Often referred to as the ‘father of African modernism’, Enwonwu was greatly concerned with form and stylistic experimentation. However, unlike his European contemporaries, he was not motivated by the principle of ‘art for art’s sake’. By engaging with the traditions of his ancestors, Enwonwu invests Anywanwu with a more complex social meaning.

The first Anyanwu sculpture (1954-5), made for the National Museum, Lagos, received such acclaim that another was commissioned for the United Nations headquarters in New York (1966). The current lot is a smaller version, and likely dates to 1975. This version appears in several major public and private collections, often demonstrating a variety of patina, and small differences in the arms and length of the “chicken beak” coiffure.

The Africa Now auctions, which first began in April 2009, established Bonhams as the market leader in Contemporary African Art and also confirmed Bonhams’ credentials as the world leader in all matters relating to the art of Africa.

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