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POSTCOLONIAL MODERNISM


Decolonization in Twentieth-�Century Nigeria

P O S TCO LO N I A L MODERNISM

Art and

CH I K A OKE KE-�A G U LU

Duke University Press Durham and Londonâ•… 2015


© 2015 Duke University Press All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America on acid-Â�free paper ♾ Designed by Heather Hensley Typeset in Scala and Meta by Tseng Information Systems, Inc. Library of Congress Cataloging-Â�in-Â�Publication Data Okeke-Â�Agulu, Chika. Postcolonial modernism : art and decolonization in twentieth-Â�century Nigeria / Chika Okeke-Â�Agulu. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. isbn 978-Â�0-Â�8223-Â�5732-Â�2 (cloth : alk. paper) isbn 978-Â�0-Â�8223-Â�5746-Â�9 (pbk : alk. paper) 1. Art, Nigerian—20th century. 2. Postcolonialism—Nigeria. 3. Decolonization—Nigeria. I. Title. n7399. n 5O394 2014 709.669′09041—dc23 2014006962 isbn 978-Â�0-Â�8223-Â�7630-Â�9 (e-book) Cover: Demas Nwoko, Nigeria in 1959, oil on board, 1960. Artist’s collection. Photo, the author. © Demas Nwoko. Frontispiece: Erhabor Emokpae, The Last Supper, oil on board, 1963. Photo, Clementine Deliss. © Estate of Erhabor Emokpae. This publication is made possible in part from the Barr Ferree Foundation Fund for Publications, Princeton University.


In memory of my father

vincent chike okeke-Â�agulu (“Nwokafor Ayaghiliya”; 1929–1993)


CONTENTS

ix

List of Illustrations

xiii Acknowledgments

1 INTRODUCTION ╇ Postcolonial Modernism 21 CHAPTER 1 ╇ Colonialism and the Educated Africans 39 CHAPTER 2 ╇ Indirect Rule and Colonial Modernism 71 CHAPTER 3 ╇ The Academy and the Avant-Â�Garde 131 CHAPTER 4 ╇ Transacting the Modern: Ulli Beier, Black Orpheus, and the Mbari International 183 CHAPTER 5 ╇ After Zaria 227 CHAPTER 6 ╇ Contesting the Modern: Artists’ Societies and Debates on Art 259 CHAPTER 7 ╇ Crisis in the Postcolony

291 Notes

313 Bibliography

327 Index


LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

FIGURE 2.1╇

Aina Onabolu, Sisi Nurse, 1922, 46

FIGURE 2.2╇

Akinola Lasekan, Ajaka of Owo, 1944, 48

FIGURE 2.3╇

Raja Ravi Varma, Young Woman with a Veena, 1901, 49

FIGURE 2. 4╇

Kenneth Murray, Kwami, 1936, 53

FIGURE 2.5╇

Kenneth Murray, Keta Girl, 1942, 53

FIGURE 2. 6╇

Ben Enwonwu, Coconut Palms, 1935, 58

FIGURE 2.7╇

C. C. (Christopher Chukwunenye) Ibeto, Ibo Dancers at Awka, 1937, 58

FIGURE 2.8╇

Uthman Ibrahim, Bamboos, ca. 1935, 67

FIGURE 3.1╇

Sculpture studio with students’ work, ca. 1958–1950, 74

FIGURE 3.2╇

Paul de Monchaux, Head, 1958, 74

Group photograph showing Paul de Monchaux (center) and art students of the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology (NCAST), ca. 1960, 79

FIGURE 3.3╇

Photograph of “Tsoede bronzes,” including the well-Â�known seated figure (right) from Tada, 1959, 80

FIGURE 3. 4╇

John Danford with plaster figure of Emotan, in his Chelsea studio, London, 1953, 81

FIGURE 3.5╇

FIGURE 3. 6╇

Papa Ibra Tall, Royal Couple, 1965, 97

FIGURE 3.7╇

Uche Okeke, Egbenuoba, 1961, 100

FIGURE 3.8╇

Uche Okeke, Monster, 1961, 100

FIGURE 3.9╇

Uche Okeke, Christ, 1961, 102

FIGURE 3.10╇

Uche Okeke, Jumaa, 1961, 103

FIGURE 3.11╇

Uche Okeke, Ana Mmuo (Land of the Dead), 1961, 104

FIGURE 3.12╇

Uche Okeke, Nza the Smart, 1958, 105

FIGURE 3.13╇

Demas Nwoko, Beggars in the Train, 1959, 107


List of Illustrations — x

FIGURE 3.14╇

Demas Nwoko, Ogboni Chief, 1961, 108

FIGURE 3.15╇

Demas Nwoko, Nigeria in 1959, 1960, 109

FIGURE 3.16╇

Demas Nwoko, White Fraternity, ca. 1960, 110

FIGURE 3.17╇

Demas Nwoko, Bathing Women, 1961, 111

FIGURE 3.18╇

Bruce Onobrakpeya, Eketeke vbe Erevbuye (Two Laziest People), 1961, 113

FIGURE 3.19╇

Bruce Onobrakpeya, Landscape with Skull and Anthill, 1961, 114

FIGURE 3.20╇

Yusuf Grillo, Oloogun, 1960, 115

FIGURE 3.21╇

Yusuf Grillo, Sabada (Dance), 1964, 117

FIGURE 3.22╇

Yusuf Grillo, Harvest, early 1960s, 118

FIGURE 3.23╇

Akinola Lasekan, Portrait of J. D. Akeredolu, 1957, 119

FIGURE 3.24╇

Oseloka Osadebe, Lunch at the Park, 1961, 120

FIGURE 3.25╇

Okechukwu Odita, Sheep Grazing, 1961, 120

FIGURE 3.26╇

Clifford Frith, Fulani Portrait, ca. 1960, 121

FIGURE 3.27╇

Clifford Frith, Harmattan Landscape with Figures, 1960–1961, 122

FIGURE 3.28╇

Patrick George, Hausa Standing, 1959, 123

FIGURE 3.29╇

Okechukwu Odita, Female Model, 1962, 123

FIGURE 3.30╇

Oseloka Osadebe, Husband and Wife, 1964, 124

FIGURE 3.31╇

Jimo Akolo, Hausa Drummer, 1961, 125

FIGURE 4.1╇

Susanne Wenger, Iwin, ca. 1958, 135

FIGURE 4.2╇

Francis Newton Souza, Two Saints in a Landscape, 1961, 139

FIGURE 4.3╇

Francis Newton Souza, Crucifixion, 1959, 139

Okeke and Onobrakpeya working in Michael Crowder’s residence, Lagos, summer 1960, 142

FIGURE 4. 4╇

Bruce Onobrakpeya, sketch for a panel of his Covered Way mural (detail), 1960, 144

FIGURE 4.5╇

Demas Nwoko, mural, Arts and Crafts pavilion, Nigeria Exhibition, Lagos, 1960, 144

FIGURE 4. 6╇ FIGURE 4.7╇

Ben Enwonwu, Head of Afi, 1959, 146

FIGURE 4.8╇

Yusuf Grillo, Two Yoruba Women, 1960, 148

Demas Nwoko and Uche Okeke at the opening of the Mbari Ibadan inaugural art exhibition, 1961, 152

FIGURE 4.9╇

FIGURE 4.10╇

Ibrahim El Salahi, Untitled, 1954–1957, 155

FIGURE 4.11╇

Ibrahim El Salahi, Prayer, 1960, 155

FIGURE 4.12╇

Ibrahim El Salahi, Untitled, 1961, 157

FIGURE 4.13╇

Vincent Kofi at Mbari-�Mbayo, Osogbo, 1962, 159

FIGURE 4.14╇

Jacob Lawrence with Vincent Kofi’s Drummer, 1962, 159

FIGURE 4.15╇

Malangatana Ngwenya, Untitled, 1961, 163

FIGURE 4.16╇

Malangatana Ngwenya, To the Clandestine Maternity Home, 1961, 164

FIGURE 4.17╇

Karl Schmidt-�Rottluff, Kneeling Woman, 1914, 167


List of Illustrations — FIGURE 4.18╇

Karl Schmidt-Â�Rottluff, Girl before a Mirror (Mädchen vor dem Spiegel),

1914, 167 FIGURE 4.19╇

Jacob Lawrence, The Migration of the Negro, No. 22, 1940–1941, 170

FIGURE 4.20╇

Jacob Lawrence, War Series: The Letter, 1946, 170

FIGURE 4.21╇

Jacob Lawrence, Street to Mbari, 1964, 173

FIGURE 4.22╇

Jacob Lawrence, Four Sheep, 1964, 173

FIGURE 4.23╇

Ahmed Shibrain, Calligraphy, 1962, 174

FIGURE 4.24╇

Skunder Boghossian, Juju’s Wedding, 1964, 176

FIGURE 4.25╇

Skunder Boghossian, Night Flight of Dread and Delight, 1964, 178

FIGURE 4.26╇

Agnaldo dos Santos, Nun, ca. late 1950s, 179

FIGURE 4.27╇

Agnaldo dos Santos, Untitled, ca. late 1950s, 179

FIGURE 4.28╇

Naoko Matsubara, Ravi Shankar, 1961, 180

FIGURE 4.29╇

Naoko Matsubara, A Giant Tree, 1962, 180

FIGURE 5.1╇

Uche Okeke, mural in the courtyard, Mbari Ibadan, 1961, 185

FIGURE 5.2╇

Some Uli motifs, 187

FIGURE 5.3╇

Uli mural, 1994, 187

FIGURE 5. 4╇

Uli mural, Eke shrine, 1987, 188

FIGURE 5.5╇

Woman decorated with Uli, 1994, 188

FIGURE 5. 6╇

Uche Okeke, From the Forest, 1962, 190

FIGURE 5.7╇

Uche Okeke, Head of a Girl, 1962, 190

FIGURE 5.8╇

Uche Okeke, Owls, 1962, 191

FIGURE 5.9╇

Uche Okeke, Munich Girl, 1962, 193

FIGURE 5.10╇

Uche Okeke, Birds in Flight, 1963, 195

FIGURE 5.11╇

Demas Nwoko, The Gift of Talents, mural, 1962, 197

FIGURE 5.12╇

Igbo artist, male and female figures, 198

FIGURE 5.13╇

Demas Nwoko, Adam and Eve, 1963, 199

FIGURE 5.14╇

Demas Nwoko, Adam and Eve, 1962, 200

FIGURE 5.15╇

Demas Nwoko, Adam and Eve, 1962–1963, 202

FIGURE 5.16╇

Head, classical style, Nok culture, ca. 400 bce–200 ce, 203

FIGURE 5.17╇

Demas Nwoko, Titled Woman, 1965, 205

FIGURE 5.18╇

Demas Nwoko, Philosopher, 1965, 206

Bruce Onobrakpeya and Ru van Rossem at summer workshop, Mbari-�Mbayo, Osogbo, 1964, 209

FIGURE 5.19╇

FIGURE 5.20╇

Bruce Onobrakpeya, Man with Two Wives, 1965, 211

FIGURE 5.21╇

Bruce Onobrakpeya, Dancing Masquerader, 1965, 212

FIGURE 5.22╇

Bruce Onobrakpeya, Untitled, ca. 1966, 213

FIGURE 5.23╇

Bruce Onobrakpeya, Untitled, ca. 1966, 213

FIGURE 5.24╇

Bruce Onobrakpeya, Travellers, 1967, 214

FIGURE 5.25╇

Bruce Onobrakpeya, Bathers I, 1967, 215

xi


List of Illustrations — xii

FIGURE 5.26╇

Simon Okeke, Lady, 1965, 218

FIGURE 5.27╇

Simon Okeke, Off to Battle, 1963, 219

FIGURE 5.28╇

Jimo Akolo, Fulani Horsemen, 1962, 222

FIGURE 5.29╇

Jimo Akolo, Untitled, 1963, 223

FIGURE 5.30╇

Jimo Akolo, Man Hanging from a Tree, 1963, 224

FIGURE 5.31╇

Jimo Akolo, Northern Horsemen, 1965, 225

FIGURE 6.1╇

Ben Enwonwu, Sango, 1964, 230

FIGURE 6.2╇

Afi Ekong, Meeting, 1960, 232

FIGURE 6.3╇

Afi Ekong, Cowherd, early 1960s, 232

FIGURE 6. 4╇

Ben Enwonwu, Beauty and the Beast, 1961, 244

FIGURE 6.5╇

Erhabor Emokpae, My American Friend, ca. 1957, 246

FIGURE 6. 6╇

Erhabor Emokpae, Struggle between Life and Death, 1962, 247

FIGURE 6.7╇

Erhabor Emokpae, Dialogue, 1966, 249

FIGURE 6.8╇

Erhabor Emokpae, The Last Supper, 1963, 250

FIGURE 6.9╇

Colette Omogbai, Accident, ca. 1963, 254

FIGURE 6.10╇ FIGURE 7.1╇

Colette Omogbai, Anguish, ca. 1963, 255

Uche Okeke (seated right) and Lawrence Emeka (center), 262

Scene from the Eastern Nigeria Theatre Group production of Andre Obe’s Noah, showing set and costumes designed by Uche Okeke, 262

FIGURE 7.2╇

Visitors at the opening of exhibition of work by Oseloka Osadebe (second from right) at Mbari Enugu, ca. 1964, 262

FIGURE 7.3╇ FIGURE 7. 4╇

Uche Okeke, Crucifixion, 1962, 266

FIGURE 7.5╇

Uche Okeke, Primeval Forest, 1965, 267

FIGURE 7. 6╇

Uche Okeke, Nativity, 1965, 268

FIGURE 7.7╇

Uche Okeke, Adam and Eve, 1965, 269

FIGURE 7.8╇

Uche Okeke, Oyoyo, 1965, 270

FIGURE 7.9╇

Uche Okeke, Conflict (After Achebe), 1965, 273

FIGURE 7.10╇

Uche Okeke, Aba Revolt (Women’s War), 1965, 275

FIGURE 7.11╇

Demas Nwoko, Crisis, 1967, 279

FIGURE 7.12╇

Demas Nwoko, Hunter in a War Scene, 1967, 280

FIGURE 7.13╇

Demas Nwoko, Combatant I, 1967, 281

FIGURE 7.14╇

Demas Nwoko, Combatant II, 1967, 282

FIGURE 7.15╇

Demas Nwoko, Soldier (Soja), 1968, 284

FIGURE 7.16╇

Demas Nwoko, Soldier (Soja), 1968, 285

FIGURE 7.17╇

Demas Nwoko, Enuani Dancers, 1968, 286

FIGURE 7.18╇

Demas Nwoko, Dancing Couple (Owambe), 1968, 287


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

THE MATERIAL AND IDEAS gathered in this book came to life two decades

ago, when in 1993 I organized a major retrospective of Uche Okeke in Lagos. Since then I have benefited immensely from many individuals and institutions, but I can mention only a few here. First, I thank Obiora Udechukwu, my teacher and friend, who, by convincing me to organize the Okeke retrospective, set me on a path that eventually took me from studio practice to art history and, ultimately, to this book. I cannot overstate the role he and El Anatsui played in shaping my intellectual life in Nsukka. I thank Uche Okeke for granting me several interviews over the years, especially for giving me unhindered access to his meticulous Zaria-�period diaries and to the Asele Institute library and art collection. I thank also Bruce Onobrakpeya, Demas Nwoko, Jimo Akolo, Yusuf Grillo, Okechukwu Odita, Felix Ekeada, Paul de Monchaux, J. P. Clark, and Clifford Frith for sharing with me their archival materials, memories of Zaria, and information about their work. Yusuf Grillo was particularly helpful in facilitating my access to the FSAH Collection at the University of Lagos library. I am grateful to the late Segun Olusola and to Frank Aig-�Imoukhuede, who gave me invaluable information on art and culture in Nigeria during the early sixties; and to Nduka Otiono for connecting me with J. P. Clark. I thank Jerry Buhari, who made it possible for me to consult the NCAST files in the Ahmadu Bello University art department storeroom; Dapo Adeniyi, for making my access to the Daily Times photo archives less of an ordeal; Mayo Adediran, for facilitating my access to the Kenneth Murray Archives at the National Museum, Lagos. I also thank Kavita Chellarams and Nana


Acknowledgments — xiv

Sonoiki, of Art House Contemporary Ltd, Lagos; Vilma Eid, of Galeria Estação, São Paulo; and Ulf Vierke and Sigrid Horsch-Â�Albert, of Iwalewa-Â�Haus, University of Bayreuth; they all helped me find many of the rare images published in this book. Many thanks to Chike Dike and the late Emmanuel Arinze for giving me access to the collections of the National Gallery of Art and the National Council for Arts and Culture, respectively. My appreciation also goes to Afolabi Kofo-Â�Abayomi for giving me access to his private art collection, and to Chinwe Uwatse, Ndidi Dike, Ego Uche-Â�Okeke, Peju Layiwola, John Ogene, Ngozi Akande, Teena Akan, Chuma Okadigwe, Kolade Oshinowo, Hilary Ogbechie, Oliver Enwonwu, Olasehinde Odimayo, and Chike Nwagbogu; and to my dear friends Uche Nwosu and Tony Nsofor, who assisted me in my research in Nigeria. In EngÂ�land, I benefited from the valued advice and assistance of John Picton, Doig Simmonds, John Murray, Christopher Atkinson, and Grant Waters. I thank Ibrahim El Salahi for granting me a three-Â�day interview at his residence in Oxford. My gratitude goes to Nnorom Azuonye and Eddie Chambers, who accommodated me and helped me find my way around London and Bristol while on research in the summer of 2003. I appreciate the assistance given to me by the following: Helen Masters, of the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, Bristol; Malcolm Staig, the archivist at Goldsmiths’ college library, London; Lucy Dean, Simon Lane, and Dorothy Sheridan, at the University of Sussex; Catherine Russell, at the Otter Gallery of Art, University of Chichester; Lucie Marchelot, of Bonhams, London; Jessica Iles, of Browse & Darby, London; and Martine Rouleau, of the University College London Art Museum, London. Thanks, too, to Akin Adesokan, Koyo Kouoh, Alioune Badiane, Hamady Bocoum, and Joanna Grabski for their assistance with research on images.

I MUST MENTION THE most rewarding time I spent with the late Ulli Beier

and with Georgina Beier in Sydney, Australia, in the summers of 2000, 2005, and 2009. The interviews and conversations that often continued until early in the morning remain most memorable. I thank them also for giving me access to the vast Ulli and Georgina Beier Archive and for the frequent discussions and exchange of mails on their incomparable experience of African art and culture. In a way, this book is in part a testament to Ulli’s unparalleled work in modern Nigerian art and literature. In the United States, several people have been of tremendous help in the course of my research for this book. These include Janet Stanley, of the Na-


Acknowledgments —

tional Museum of African Art Library, and Simon Ottenberg, Rebecca Dimling Cochran, Peri Klemm, and Dianne Stewart. I thank Okwui Enwezor and Salah M. Hassan, my colleagues and coeditors at Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, with whom I have shared and debated issues relating to African artistic modernism and specific aspects of this work over the years. I have benefited also from working with Enwezor on several art exhibitions that have helped me think through some of the important arguments presented in this study. I thank James Meyer, Clark Poling, and Bruce Knauft, whose intellectual generosity shaped my scholarly life at Emory University and beyond. I remain ever grateful to Sidney Kasfir as my mentor and friend; she kept insisting that I finish work on this book before life happened to it. I must mention Kobena Mercer, Esther Da Costa-Â�Meyer, Simon Gikandi, Steven Nelson, Peter Erickson, Valerie Smith, Okwui Enwezor, Salah M. Hassan, Sidney Kasfir, Obiora Udechukwu, and Ada Udechukwu, all of whom read earlier versions of this book’s manuscript and provided invaluable comments on it. Through the process of writing this book, since its earliest iterations, I received invaluable research funding and fellowships from Emory University, the Pennsylvania State University, Williams College, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation, and most importantly, Princeton University. Thanks to Hal Foster and Thomas Leisten, at the Department of Art and Archaeology, and to Valerie Smith and Eddie Glaude, at the Center for African American Studies, Princeton University, for allowing me generous research time and the resources I needed to complete this book and bring it to its present form. I am especially thankful to the Barr Ferree Fund, whose generous funding made the many color reproductions in this book possible. I also wish to thank Monica Rumsey, my copyeditor; Ken Wissoker, the editorial director at Duke University Press, for believing in this work long before it became a publishable manuscript; and Elizabeth Ault and Jessica Ryan for guiding me through the rigors of manuscript preparation. I will never forget Enee Abelman, Sarah, Sharon and Larry Adams, Olu Oguibe, Simon Ottenberg, Toyin Akinosho, Jahman Anikulapo, Chinwe Uwatse, Ndidi Dike, Janet Stanley, and Alhaji Abdulaziz Ude—friends I met along the way and who supported me and my work. My deepest gratitude goes to Obiora and Ada Udechukwu, with whom I shared so many experiences before and after the dark days at Nsukka; and to Okwui Enwezor and Salah M. Hassan, two most enduring friends. Finally, I must mention here my deep gratitude to my mother, Joy Egoyibo

xv


Acknowledgments — xvi

Okeke-Â�Agulu (“Aruagbala”), my brothers, Okwudili, Ikechukwu, and Ejikeme, and my sisters, Ogoegbunam and Onyinyechukwu, for supporting me during all these years. My late sister, Uzoamaka, and brother, Uchechukwu, saw the beginning of this work but not its completion in the form of this book. I offer it to their memory. To Marcia, my dearest friend and wife: no words can express enough my debt to you for sticking with me through the rough yet exhilarating years that began at the House of Hunger and the art studios in Nsukka and for being the mother of our most precious children, Arinzechukwu and Ngozichukwu, who have made my life complete.


Introduction

POSTCOLONIAL MODERNISM

THIS BOOK EXAMINES the emergence of postcolonial modernism in Nigeria

during the first half of the twentieth century and its elaboration in the decade of political independence, roughly between 1957 and 1967. It covers the decades of colonization yet focuses on the Art Society—a group of young artists whose careers began while students at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria, and in whose work we find the first concerted articulation of artistic modernism in postindependence Nigeria. In revisiting the debates within the contemporary art world that emerged in Nigeria during this decade, this book argues that by proposing the idea of natural synthesis, which basically meant the selective use of artistic resources and forms from Nigerian/African and European traditions, these artists inaugurated postcolonial modernism in Nigeria. Consistent with the idea of natural synthesis is the acknowledgment and appropriation of technical procedures and sensibilities inherent in modernism, particularly the deployment of experimental rigor and zeal to develop


Introduction — 2

radically new formal modes. The results are works of art that show both a deep connection with local artistic traditions and the stylistic sophistication we have come to associate with twentieth-Â�century modernist practices. In embarking on this crucial work, these artists were inspired by the rhetoric and ideologies of decolonization and nationalism initiated by early black nationalists Edward Blyden (1832–1912) and Herbert Macaulay (1864–1946) and later by advocates of negritude and pan-Â�Africanism, thus reminding us that it is impossible to imagine modernism in Nigeria (and Africa) outside a wider context of cultural nationalism. Notwithstanding that what I call the independence generation of artists built on the achievements of their modern predecessors in Nigeria, their work—as this book amply shows—was radically different in terms of both its formal ambition and the vigorous critical discourse it fostered. In mapping the emergence of this new work during the period of national independence, this book demonstrates the specific ways that aspiration to and experience of political sovereignty, in the hands of young Nigerian artists, was translated into an artistic modernism closely aligned to the experience and realities of Nigeria’s postcolonial modernity. What is more, in the way it follows the antagonistic relationship between the colonial regime and Lagos-Â�based intellectual elite, the debates among colonial art educators, curricular strategies within the art department at Nigeria’s first art school at Zaria, where the Art Society was formed, and the art criticism and national cultural programs in the early 1960s, the book argues that modernism and political ideology, in the context of decolonizing nations, were not mutually exclusive discourses. In fact, the book’s point, mooted already by Elizabeth Harney and Geeta Kapur but without the directness attempted here, is that the conjunction of art and nationalist ideology is an important characteristic of postcolonial modernism as an international mid-Â�twentieth-Â�century phenomenon.1 This book thus crucially maps the unprecedented, largely ill understood, yet fundamental artistic, intellectual, and critical networks in four Nigerian cities—Zaria, Ibadan, Lagos, and Enugu—connecting Nigerian, African, African diaspora, and European artists, critics, and the cultural elite during the continent’s decade of independence. The reader will also notice that this book goes beyond art as such, occasionally bringing into view my own reading of literature produced by Nigerian writers during this period. This approach is prescribed by the deep entanglements of modern art, literature, and drama as indexed in the journal Black Orpheus and the Mbari Artists and Writers Club, Ibadan—two signal forums of mid-Â�twentieth century African and black artistic and literary mod-


Introduction —

ernism. Still, the book’s underlying premise is that it is impossible to develop a historical perspective on modern and contemporary African art of the twentieth century and beyond without the sort of close examination of the political, discursive, and artistic transactions and translations that brought modern art from the margins of cultural practice during the colonial period to the very center of debates about African artistic subjectivity and cultural identity in the years after the attainment of political sovereignty. My hope, therefore, is that this book might serve as a model of the kind of much needed expansive history of modern African art. It lays bare the often ignored yet critical connections between political developments and transactions in the cultural-Â�artistic landscape, and it places the work of individual artists or their intellectual motivations and ideas within a larger context of similar or antagonistic positions advanced by other artists and stakeholders of an evolving art world. In fact, it is this kind of study—which maps the primary political and cultural scene of modern art but also engages in a focused reading of the work of exemplary and leading artists involved in the making of these histories—that African art history scholarship urgently needs. To be sure, dual attention to the big picture and close analysis in one book can have its shortcomings, but I would argue that the gains of such an approach are inestimable for two reasons. First is that to date our understanding of the development of modernism in Nigeria and Africa remains at the very best fragmentary; a most pressing task of art history is reconstructing that history not so much to understand the art of yesterday as to appreciate how it shapes the more familiar landscape of contemporary art. Second, in order to show the very processes and contexts from which modernism emerged, as well as its ambitions, arguments, and visual rhetoric, we must perforce embark on a meticulous reading of particular artists and their works and ideas, which are central to this history. These two considerations inform the architecture of this book in the sense that in it I begin with the making of anticolonial subjectivity and with colonial modernism as a way to situate intellectual and ideological origins of the work associated with the Art Society during the independence period. In so doing, I strike a balance between narrating through a selective compression of a sociopolitical history of Nigeria and a critical examination of contemporary writings, as well as a formalist analysis of specific artworks and technical protocols deployed by key artists. In the process, I sidestep deep engagements with biographies of the individuals, except in the rare instance where such information is relevant to the ideas associated with such persons. From the vantage point of researching and writing this book, I can already

3


Introduction — 4

see the salience of its key arguments in the modern art of various African countries, where groups of artists during the mid-Â�twentieth century confronted similar colonial conditions and subsequently developed versions of what this book calls postcolonial modernism. One need look only at the Old Khartoum school in the Sudan—where together with his colleagues, Ibrahim El Salahi (born 1930), who figures in this study courtesy of the presentation of his work at Mbari, Ibadan, and in Black Orpheus, articulated a modernism built upon artistic resources from Islamic calligraphy, indigenous Sudanese craftwork, and modernist pictorial techniques—or at the work of the school’s contemporaries, who formed the school of Casablanca and for whom, in addition to everything else, Berber visual arts and ritual signs became primary sources for reimagining their work as modern artists. There are other, similar manifestations in Egypt, Ghana, Algeria, Ethiopia, and so on; what they have in common is that the impulse to rethink their work was often catalyzed by their identification with the rhetoric of decolonization and the attainment of national political independence. But these topics have yet to be subjected to the kind of rigorous examination this book attempts on Nigeria. What we have, instead, are isolated views of these important moments, studies of individual artists or groups, and writings that have inserted these artists and their work into disconnected, ahistoric thematic rubrics.2 It is important to stress two other crucial points of this book, besides illuminating what until now has been a mythic, modernist era in Nigeria. First, it is an attempt to plug a gaping hole in the art history of twentieth-Â�century Nigeria and, by extension, Africa. With the significant entry of contemporary African artists into the international arena in the 1990s, and especially during the first decade of the twenty-Â�first century—a phenomenon announced by the 2004 ArtNews magazine cover “Contemporary African art: The newest avant-Â�garde?”—understanding the genealogy of this “new” art has become pressing. Is it really possible to fully understand, say, the magnificent metal and wood sculptures of El Anatsui, the world-Â�renowned Ghanaian-Â�Nigerian artist (born 1944), without any knowledge of his intellectual connections to two Mbari artists, Uche Okeke and Vincent Kofi, and to Kwame Nkrumah’s politics and the rhetoric of African personality? The answer to this question will depend on how much we know about the influences that the artists presented in this book exerted on later artists, such as Anatsui in Nigeria and elsewhere, and about the ideas that informed their work during the independence decade. Consider, for instance, that at the end of the Biafran War (1967–1970), Uche Okeke (born 1933) became head of the art school at Nsukka. He soon reorganized the art program and more or less institutional-


Introduction —

ized natural synthesis, thus becoming the leader of the Nsukka school, which was famous for its exploration of Igbo Uli and other West African traditional graphic forms. It was this “new” school of artists, with its growing international reputation, that Anatsui joined in 1975, convinced of the relevance of its curricular ideology to his own artistic sensibilities, which were already primed by his attraction to Nkrumah’s cultural politics.3 Knowledge of this connection between Anatsui and Okeke and, by extension, between Anatsui and postcolonial modernism facilitates a longer historical perspective of contemporary African art and troubles the trope of surprising newness that has tended to follow, like a wondrous shadow, the work of even the most accomplished African artists today. The second reason the history narrated in this book is important has already been insinuated in the preceding paragraph: the profound impact that the work of the Art Society artists and similar groups in other countries had on late twentieth-Â�century Nigerian and African art. Apart from the fact that by the late 1960s, which marks one chronological bookend of this study, these artists (and their colleagues in Lagos) had become the acknowledged leading figures in modern Nigerian art, their influence grew exponentially in the subsequent decades. Take, for instance, three key artists presented. Along with Okeke and his work at the Nsukka school, Demas Nwoko (born 1935) established himself as a major architect who, perhaps more than any other modern Nigerian architect, articulated through his designs the successful synthesis of traditional Igbo, Japanese, and Western architectural design and principles.4 Bruce Onobrakpeya (born 1932), building on the printmaking techniques he discovered in the mid-Â�1960s (see chapter 5) but also on the massive network of artists associated with his studio in Lagos, became one of Nigeria’s and Africa’s most influential artists. The stature and influence of their other colleagues—among them Yusuf Grillo, Erhabor Emokpae, and Jimo Akolo—is no less illustrious. In short, even within the irrefutably complex, multiple trajectories that constitute contemporary Nigerian art in the late twentieth and early twenty-Â�first centuries, the idea of natural synthesis articulated by Okeke and the Art Society remains strong. This book thus helps contextualize and historicize contemporary Nigerian and African artists’ relationship with the postcolony and to make sense of the expanded landscape of art since the last two decades of the twentieth century.5 The material presented here is the result of twenty years of sustained research, beginning with my very first major effort at organizing an art exhibition in the early 1990s. Sometime in 1992, Obiora Udechukwu, my former teacher and colleague at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, suggested that I

5


Introduction — 6

organize a retrospective exhibition of Uche Okeke to mark his sixtieth birthday in April 1993. I had not met Okeke, but I was fascinated by the opportunity to get to really know him and his work, given his reputation as the doyen of the Nsukka school and a mysterious national figure who at the time had retired in near seclusion to his historic cultural research center, the Asele Institute, Nimo. In the course of planning that exhibition I was led to an era, in many ways a distant one, a meaningful appreciation of whose scope and core motivations, politics and legacies, a reading of the major texts— Ulli Beier’s Contemporary Art in Africa (1968), Marshall Ward Mount’s African Art: The Years since 1920 (1973), Jean Kennedy’s New Currents, Ancient Rivers (1992)—had not prepared me. Nor did those texts help me understand the relationship between the formal, discursive, and ideological dimensions of the work of Okeke or other leading figures.6 Access to Okeke’s personal archives, including his stunningly meticulous diary entries from the mid-Â� 1950s through the 1960s, spurred my two-Â�decade-Â�long study, not just of his work, but also of his surviving former Zaria colleagues and their contemporaries. In fact, it was this interest in the work of the Art Society artists and their contemporaries that set me to writing this book; it also helped me conceptualize the curatorial collaboration—with my friend and colleague Okwui Enwezor—that became the complex, traveling exhibition The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994, organized by the Museum Villa Stuck, Munich, in 2001.7 Needless to say, The Short Century, because of its continental scope, made me particularly aware of the similarities between modern art and the politics of decolonization in Nigeria and Africa. It made me consider the broader, more challenging questions that have dogged the perception of modern African art, all of which are connected to its relationship with colonialism and Western art traditions, its apparent inauthenticity and derivativeness, its supposed lack of comparative sophistication, its troubling intimacy with cultural nationalism, and its dubious connection with African modernity. Let me address some of these matters to better frame the critical challenges this book confronts.

Europe and Modern African Art

It is impossible to fully appreciate the stakes of artistic modernism in twentieth-Â�century Nigeria without close attention to the political and cultural implications of Africa’s encounter with Europe during the imperial age. As this book argues, this modernism is a consequence of complex factors arising on the one hand from the political and discursive confrontation


Introduction —

between British indirect rule ideology and its attendant cultural practices and on the other from theories and ideas associated with African decolonization in the first half of the twentieth century. In tracing the genealogy and the political-Â�discursive conditions that catalyzed this new work, as I do in the first two chapters, my task is to question routine assumptions about the origins of modern art in Nigeria (and Africa) by resituating and reframing its ideological relationship with colonialist thought. This is an important art-Â�historical problem, no less because it had been normal for historians of modern African art to see a seamless, unproblematic link between the establishment of art teaching in colonial schools or in workshops established by European artist-Â�teachers and the rise of modern art in Africa. The usual argument is that since formal art teaching began under the watch of colonial regimes and since easel painting and academic art was imported into colonial Africa through these encounters, it follows that the art made by Africans after this European type of art education is a product of colonialism and colonialist visions. Against these notions, this book sets out to disentangle artistic modernism from this supposed colonial imagination, returning it to the long history of anticolonial, self-Â�affirmative theories, practices, and visions that began at the turn of the twentieth century. For it is all too clear, as I detail in the first chapter, that with the entrenchment of formal colonialism on the continent, African and black intellectuals in fields as diverse as religion, sociology, literature, art, and politics set for themselves the task of imagining an African modern subjectivity defined primarily by their own need for self-Â� assertion and their visions of political and cultural autonomy. Even when this task was not vociferously anticolonial, it often staked a claim to an alternative position at odds with the schemes and propositions of colonial regimes and their apologists. This will to self-Â�definition—which characterized the African anticolonial and decolonization movements—laid the grounds for the work of that generation of artists in Nigeria and elsewhere who participated, midcentury, in the making of what this book calls postcolonial modernism. The assumption of a causal link between colonialist thought and modern African art has resulted in the long-Â�standing underestimation of or outright disregard for the artistic accomplishments represented by this work, as well as doubts about the significance of its contribution to the expansion of the horizons of modernisms of the twentieth century. It is in fact necessary to return to this rather old problem, precisely because its damning effect on the reception of African modernist work remains with us today. Let me cite three examples of how a particular perspective on the colonial history of Africa has undermined the reception and appreciation of modern African art

7


Introduction — 8

of the type covered in this study. In their classic 1964 book on African sculpture, two eminent ethnologists, the Briton William Fagg and the American Margaret Plass, summarily dismissed the work of African modernists thus: “we are not concerned here with ‘contemporary’ African art, which for all its merits is an extension of European art by a kind of involuntary cultural colonialism.”8 More than three decades later, a European museum curator confidently justified the marginalization of contemporary African art in international art exhibitions by noting that “it seems like third-Â�rate artwork to us because the art presented here emulates the Western tradition—this is a criterion for selection—and because it is always lagging behind, regardless of how commendable the effort might be basically.”9 And finally, only a few years ago the British scholar Rasheed Araeen declared the naturalistic, colonial-Â�era portrait paintings of Aina Onabolu to be a form of “mimicry under the tutelage of colonial paternalism.”10 Central to these three assessments of modern African art are two important, unflattering assumptions about this work: first, the idea that it is a weak copy, a product of involuntary mimicry of European art; and second, its apparent belatedness, that is to say, its perpetual condition of being out of time, quintessentially anachronistic, and completely evacuated of any radical potential.11 But these arguments about mimesis and modern African art miss a crucial aspect of mimicry, which, as Homi Bhabha has suggested, produces “the representation of difference that is itself a process of disavowal.”12 In other words, they ignore the radical potential of self-Â�consciously deployed mimesis. Moreover, they sidestep the rather complex strategies adopted by colonial subjects committed to asserting, even within the limited political-Â� discursive space available to them, their right to determine and articulate their own visions of modernity. Indeed, early-Â�twentieth-Â�century radical nationalists saw native beliefs and cultural practices as important elements of a modern subjectivity that was quite comfortable with negotiating, against all odds, its relationship with Europe. Thus my argument in this book is that this model of colonial-Â�nationalist subjectivity informed the work of the independence generation of Nigerian artists who invented a modernist artistic identity from a rigorous and confident synthesis of Western and indigenous techniques, design elements, and styles. In doing so, they asserted that modernist and progressive artists must be willing to acknowledge in their work the diverse contradictory local and foreign elements that constituted Nigerian and African modernity.


Introduction — 9

Nationalism, Modernity, and Compound Consciousness

In his influential study on nationalism, Benedict Anderson introduced a useful concept, what he calls “colonial pilgrimage,” which refers to the movement of colonial subjects, initially to European metropolises and later to regional bureaucratic centers, to attend school. Often, he writes, they met fellow bilingual sojourners from other colonies, with whom they shared notions of nationalism drawn largely from Western models.13 Anderson’s point here is to draw a direct, uncomplicated line between Western education during the colonial period and the colonial subject’s mental conversion to everything European. Yet it is clear that, although many of the African intelligentsia, with no viable options for higher education at home, embarked on the colonial pilgrimage to Europe (and later to the United States), their responses to the experience varied. For instance, in his autobiography Kwame Nkrumah describes his meetings in Europe with other African students and nationalists, including Jomo Kenyatta (1894–1978), Félix Houphouët-Â�Boigny (1905–1993), and Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906–2001)—who, respectively, became the first presidents and prime ministers of Kenya, Ivory Coast, and Senegal—before and after the Fifth Pan-Â�African Congress in Manchester (1945).14 However, while Senghor and Houphouët-Â� Boigny demonstrated their infatuation with la civilisation française and political commitment to “Françafrique,” Kenyatta and Nkrumah’s view of and relationship with Western culture were very different. Senghor ruled Senegal with the support of French advisers, maintained strong ties with France, and after two decades as president, stunningly retired to a French village, where he died in 2001. In contrast, upon Nkrumah’s return from EngÂ�land, he revived the idea of African personality and his own concept of decolonization through consciencism as guiding principles for political pan-Â�Africanism.15 He also colorfully placed Ghana’s cultural traditions at the fore of national politics, taking the honorific “Osagyefo,” in addition to adopting the kente cloth as an assertion of his new, independent personhood. Even so, Nkrumah also wore Mao suits to establish his socialist credentials, while his friend and colleague, the Kenyan nationalist Jomo Kenyatta, took the honorific “Mzee” and combined Savile Row suits with a leopard-Â�skin hat, fly whisk, and Muslim sandals. In both instances, there is an unquestionably deft sartorial hybridization and manipulation of populist imagery for political capital. Yet it was in Nkrumah’s and Kenyatta’s recognition rather than rejection of the symbolic and tactical values of these unstable multicultural fusions that their sartorial sense parallels their nationalist political ideologies and their identity politics.


Introduction — 10

This tendency to embrace native cultures and to publicly express one’s attachment to them after a pilgrimage to the West—all this while appropriating usable ciphers of Western economic and political modernity—suggests a more complex, even paradoxical, response to the metropolitan encounter. Put differently, the pilgrimage might have produced what Anderson calls Anglicized colonial subjects, but the pilgrim cultural nationalists returned home with the confidence to regard Western and African cultures and resources as permutable and fungible elements for the construction of a new, hybrid postcolonial subjectivity. These West Africans thus remind us of Chatterjee’s Indian nationalists, for whom the road to modernity had to begin with an assertion of cultural difference without which any claim to independence from Europe might not be completely justifiable or meaningful.16 But how to make sense of this will to synthesis, this idea of modernity in which combinatory nativisms and Westernisms yielded what could easily be mistaken for a crisis-Â�prone, unstable, and inauthentic postcolonial subjectivity? One thing is certain: theories of mimicry, W. E. B. Du Bois’s notion of “double consciousness,” or Ali Mazrui’s idea of triple heritage do not sufficiently explain how self-Â�aware Africans synthesized autonomous and competing pressures of ethnic, religious, national, and racial identities as part of what I want to call strategies of becoming. I suggest that this attitude to modernity is especially unproblematic among African peoples, given that their cosmologies tend to run counter to the very metaphysical and ontological absolutes at the basis of Western worldviews. This kind of subjectivity is refashioned through and constituted by constant negotiation with others— humans, deities, spirits. Also, it is the essence of “Ife kwulu ife akwuso ya,” a common Igbo adage, which affirms the belief that the self and the other are not necessarily opposed but instead are signposts in a cyclical network of social, ritual, and cosmic relations.17 The ideas encapsulated in this Igbo proverb also occur in a Xhosa proverb, “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” (a person is a person through persons), which, according to the South African philosopher Augustine Shutte, means that the “self and world are united and intermingle in a web of reciprocal relations.”18 One might call this the principle of complementarity at the basis of Igbo and African philosophies of being. This, it seems to me, helps explain the disposition on the part of African peoples to open up to and incorporate new religions, cultures, and ideas, whether before, during, or after the colonial encounter. This sensibility is further instantiated in an episode in Chinua Achebe’s novel Arrow of God, in which the priest Ezeulu, an appointed protector of his community’s traditions against the onslaught of alien Christian-Â�colonial culture, admonished


Introduction —

his school-Â�bound son to thoroughly master the white man’s system of writing upon which colonial governance is based, such that he could write with his left hand—in other words, so he could do what he wished with this acquired knowledge.19 Despite his antagonism for the colonial regime, Ezeulu saw in the written word not just a gateway to the new world order but also a tool for self-Â�enunciation and navigation through the maze of confounding modernity. He was, like many an African cultural nationalist, fiercely protective of his ancestral heritage and cognizant of the inexorable value of aspects of Western modernity to the constitution of his son’s subjectivity in the new, colonial world. This same incorporative, compound consciousness of African subjectivity was what the proponents of negritude, African personality, and similar anticolonial ideologies sought to recoup when they argued for the inclusion of Africa and African traditions in the making of postcolonial modernity. In proposing this idea of compound consciousness, my intention is to place emphasis on the agency or choice-Â�making facility of the individuals involved; in other words, they are simultaneously products and agents of history. In this sense I agree with the art historian Henry J. Drewal, who has argued that what he calls “multiple consciousness” of Afro-Â�Brazilians is not to be mistaken for “syncretism,” which implies a “blending and homogenizing process.” As he notes: “I would suggest we recognize the distinctiveness of each faith, the simultaneous interplay and juxtaposition of multiple beliefs and practices for persons whose histories demanded a refined, subtle, and effective facility for multiple consciousness.”20 The work of artists presented in this book, I reiterate, was motivated by the need to imagine the postcolonial self as a compound consciousness that constantly reconstituted itself by selective incorporation of diverse, oppositional, or complementary elements. This might help us come to terms, for instance, with what can seem an intriguing incidence of Christian themes in the work of many of these artists. The Christians among them—say, Uche Okeke and Bruce Onobrakpeya, who are practicing Catholics—depicted themes from the Old and New Testaments as well as from Igbo and Urhobo religions and folklore, as if to assert their equal sympathies for the doctrine and legacies of both religions traditions. Similarly Yusuf Grillo, a devout Muslim, executed many major commissions for Lagos churches, to the extent that we must imagine his having a considerable understanding of and familiarity with Christian iconography and ritual aesthetics. What we take from this is that the modernism of these artists—to cite Biodun Jeyifo’s argument about parallel developments in modern African literature—is a product of “a replete African world which derives its deepest truths and resources

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Introduction — 12

endogenously, not in exclusivist, racial-Â�chauvinist terms but all the same as a distinctive presence in the world on its own terms.”21

Postcolonial Modernism

Why do I insist on calling the work of these Nigerian and African artists “postcolonial modernism”? This question is especially pertinent since, for nearly two decades now, art history and visual culture scholarship has seriously engaged the question of how this work by African (and Third World) artists fits into the narrative template of modernism, which is traditionally understood to be the aesthetic manifestation of Western modernity. What we can see clearly is that, years after the final waves of decolonization blew over the world in the mid-Â�twentieth century, the scholarship began, slowly at first, to consider the cultural implications of the sovereignties won by what would be known as Third World countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and elsewhere. Important work on the African diaspora and Latin America—Â� exemplified by that of Paul Gilroy, Nestor Garcia Canclini, and David Craven—sought to name, describe, and analyze the art, literature, and other forms of expression produced within a context of colonial and postcolonial modernity. Quite pertinently, there is a general consensus that in these parts of the world, the tapestry of modernity and modernism was not just woven from diverse multicultural threads but was forged during the colonial encounter, as well as from the intermixture of histories, cultures, and subjectivities before and after colonialism. The question that confronts us, then, is how to describe the foundational concerns of artists whose work was catalyzed by ideas of cultural and social modernity and informed by visions of progress within the context of a sovereign nation. I am convinced of the appropriateness of calling this work “postcolonial modernism” for two reasons. For one, it reflects my belief that, given what we know today about the specific political, cultural, intellectual, and discursive contexts of the work of twentieth-Â�century avant-Â�gardes everywhere, all manifestations of artistic modernism ought to be qualified in some way to reflect their origins, particularities, and horizons. Moreover, it makes sense to name all modernisms, so long as—this is important—such acts do not tempt us to view them in hierarchical order. This is so simply because nothing I have seen in the histories of modernisms around the world makes any particular one, whether it manifested earlier or later in the century, any more or less profound. In proposing postcolonial modernism as an analytical concept for this


Introduction —

study of the conjunction of art and the politics of decolonization in twentieth-Â� century Nigeria, I am inspired by Kobena Mercer’s idea of “cosmopolitan modernisms.” For him, this term describes two related experiences: first, the two-Â�way traffic of bodies and ideas between colonial peripheries and Western metropolises and the relocation of modernism from European cities to New York; second, the threefold interaction among non-Â�Western artists, minority artists in the West, and Western art movements that have engaged different cultures. However, if Mercer’s cosmopolitan modernisms—drawing on postcolonial theory’s onslaught against the hegemonic and universal ambitions of what now looks like an insular strain of Western modernism—serves as a conceptual tool for articulating a broad-Â�based, global theory of modernism, then postcolonial modernism as used in this book describes an aspect of “the cosmopolitan” specific to Nigeria and other (African) locales with similar cultural histories and modernist work that is deeply inflected by the experience and rhetoric of decolonization. But what is the status of the “postcolonial”? What do I mean by this term? In thinking about the postcolonial, I recall Kwame Anthony Appiah’s description of postcoloniality as the condition of the elite, college-Â�trained writers and intellectuals who, because of their dual access to Western and African knowledge systems, act as mediators between the two supposedly distinct worlds.22 Unlike their less-Â�educated compatriots, who in fact constitute the majority and who are more or less unconcerned with transcending the colonial condition, Appiah argues, the elites embrace postcoloniality as a means of clearing the space previously occupied by colonial, cultural modernity. While I agree with Appiah’s association of postcoloniality with the African intellectual elite, I also see the postcolonial as describing sets of critical practices— by elite writers, artists, political theorists, philosophers—simultaneously directed at dismantling the ideological foundations of colonialism and anticipating the consequences of its end. In this sense, the postcolonial does not necessarily depend on the hard temporal markers of colonialism’s end; in other words, it is not restricted, in Nigeria for instance, to literary and artistic discourses and practices that came after 1960. Rather, I use it as Robert J. C. Young has described it: “a dialectical concept that marks the broad historical facts of decolonization and the determined achievement of sovereignty—but also the realities of nations and peoples emerging into a new imperialistic context of economic and sometimes political domination.”23 To be sure, the concept of postcolonial modernism made its first appearance in literary criticism, specifically to address, as Bart Moore-Â�Gilbert has put it, both the critical conjunction of postcolonialism and modernism and

13


Introduction — 14

the “wide-Â�ranging reassessment of the cultural politics of [modernism] inaugurated in the late 1980s.”24 In this book, I recuperate and reanimate the critical ambitions of literary postcolonial modernism as a way to give analytical rigor to the work of artistic modernisms in Nigeria and the African continent. As I detail in this book, the literatures that have been subjected to analyses as exemplary of postcolonial modernism were produced in the same discursive spaces and contexts as the works of art with which I am concerned here. Whether in the pages of the literary journal Black Orpheus, founded at Ibadan, Nigeria, in 1957, or within the Mbari Club in the 1960s, African writers (Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Es’kia Mphahlele, Christopher Okigbo, for instance) shared the same concerns with their artist-Â�colleagues (Uche Okeke, Demas Nwoko, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Ibrahim El Salahi, among others) about the implications and impact of political decolonization on the thematic and stylistic directions of their work. Despite the fact that debates on these questions were undoubtedly more developed and vociferous in the field of literature, closer examination of contemporary art criticism, which I offer in this book, convinces us that conversations of similar motivation and substance occurred on the subject of art during the same period. Given the above considerations, it is clear as day that the work of the Art Society and their colleagues elsewhere on the continent in the independence decade was decidedly postcolonial, in the sense that they initially imagined their art as constituting a critical space in which the exhilarating drama of cultural decolonization was enacted, and subsequently thought of it as a platform for articulating the contradictions of political sovereignty and crises of postindependence nationalism and subjectivity. These two sequences of the postcolonial, as I describe them in chapters 5 and 7, respectively, are evident first in Uche Okeke’s Oja Series, a suite of drawings inspired by Igbo Uli traditional drawing (and in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart);25 and second, in Okeke and Demas Nwoko’s “crisis” paintings (as well as in Christopher Okigbo’s poems Path of Thunder), from the late 1960s. In conjunction with its postcolonial status, the work of these artists manifests the formal and discursive sensibilities that have come to define artistic modernisms. First among these is their belief in the significance of the artist’s role in fashioning a new art and culture for the new nation and society, as a harbinger of the new. It is in this sense that I describe Okeke, Nwoko, and their cohorts as constituting an avant-Â�garde. Second is their attempt to articulate and reframe their relationship with “tradition” and the past. Third is their focus on the invention of formal styles unlike any developed before them. Fourth is the artists’ turn to critical analyses and commentary on the postcolonial state as it was eclipsed by political crises from the late 1960s onward.


Introduction —

Let me return to Appiah’s description of the postcolonial as a space-Â� clearing gesture simply to retrieve an earlier point about my view of the relationship of the Nigerian modernists of the independence decade and coloniality. It is quite evident that once inspired by the thrilling, powerful wave of decolonization that set off at full speed soon after the end of the World War II, young, progressive artists and writers set about reimagining and recalibrating their relations with imperial Europe, its ideologies, cultures, and knowledge bases. It is not so much that they rejected Europe or replaced it with “native” cultures; rather, in marking both the locus and the horizons of their artistic imagination, they outlined a new, multidimensional space in which the complex drama of their postcolonial subjectivities played out. It was no longer about whether they spoke the artistic language of Europe or that of their ancestors or whether they aligned themselves with the monovalent pulls of blackness, Africa, the nation, or the ethnos. What the artists presented in this book demonstrate through their work is the constitution, during the years around political independence in Nigeria, of compound—messy, fraught, and inevitably distinctive—postcolonial modern Â�subjectivities.

BEFORE I SUMMARIZE this book’s chapters, let me explain the logic of its architecture. From the onset I had to confront the option of compressing the scope by zooming closely into the independence decade, paying only passing attention to the context of modern art of the previous decades. There is no doubt some sense in this approach. But the alternative route, taken here, allows me to examine the longer historical, ideological, and intellectual context of the work that emerged in the late 1950s; otherwise we might miss or fail to fully appreciate, as has been the case in the literature, the stakes of the latter. Besides keeping the modern art of the independence decade in dynamic alignment with the preceding six decades of Nigerian art and political history, the narrative arc of this book frequently swings between sweeping intellectual and social-Â�historical accounts to meticulous formalist and critical readings of particular artworks and texts. This is my way of insisting on an approach to writing modern and contemporary African art history that depends on the scholarly virtues of research-Â�based critical storytelling and close reading of works of art in order to reveal not just their visual intelligence but also how they relate to the world of the artist and his society. This study is divided into seven chapters, the first of which sets the colonial context from which the postcolonial modernism of the midcentury emerged. It argues, following the work of the historian Taiwo Olufemi, that

15


Introduction — 16

even in colonialism’s most altruistic guise, the oppressive infrastructure of British imperial enterprise forced upon the political and cultural guardians of empire a denial and suppression of an emergent sovereign African modernity. This book also sketches the ideological antagonisms between colonial apologists and anticolonial nationalists, noting how early notions of African personality contributed to the cultural nationalism and pan-Â�Africanism of W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, and Nnamdi Azikiwe. These same ideas ultimately set the philosophical and ideological grounds for the emergence of the postcolonial modernism of the Art Society and its Nigerian and African contemporaries during the independence decade. This chapter is thus both an attempt to outline the intellectual origins of the art that defined modernism in Nigeria in the 1950s and 1960s and a gesture toward the production of a more meaningful account of modern art of twentieth-Â�century Nigeria. Building on the first chapter, the second situates the work of pioneer Nigerian modernist painter Aina Onabolu (1882–1963) and the British art teacher Kenneth Murray (1903–1972) within the oppositional imperialist and anticolonialist views not just of modernity and subjectivity but also of the role of art in their articulation. Where Onabolu called for a complete break with the traditional arts of Nigeria and the production of a modern subject through the new medium of academic easel painting, Murray argued for a return to the glories of traditional art against the onslaught of modernity and artistic modernism. My task in this chapter is to show precisely that what constitutes the political in modern Nigerian art is not so much the depiction of political themes as the engagement by artists with the question of subjectivity, of who has the right to articulate it and in what language. Although this matter becomes much magnified in the art and politics of the independence decade, chapter 2 shows that it was already there at the very onset of modern art, as the competing ideas and pedagogies of Onabolu and Murray reveal. Moreover, the chapter maps the earliest attempts to articulate the meaning, scope, and directions of modern art in Nigeria during the 1940s and early 1950s, as the students of Onabolu on the one hand and the British teachers sympathetic to Murray’s visions on the other jostled for visibility and leadership in an emerging art world that was soon ruptured by the art and theory of the Art Society and the criticism of Ulli Beier. Chapter 3 reconstructs the history of the country’s first tertiary-Â�level art program at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology (1954– 1961) to highlight its participation in a national conversation about the role of fine art in a decolonizing society and the tensions and anxieties within the school about institutional credibility at a time when London’s control of colo-


Introduction —

nial education was confronted by growing discontent in the colony about the reaches of imperial power. I also examine how questions about relevance of local content in the design of the art school’s curriculum provided the critical context for the radical work of the Art Society. It is impossible to overstate the historiographic significance of engaging this history of Zaria, much of which has been occluded from art history’s view of a period that I insist is most fundamental to our understanding of the stakes of twentieth-Â�century Nigerian art. The second part of this chapter dwells on the Art Society and the sources of its ideas, particularly the theory of “natural synthesis” proposed by its leader, Uche Okeke, as the organizing principle of the group’s future work. The chapter concludes by resituating the work of the Art Society within the history of Nigerian art, arguing that it represents an advancement of Onabolu’s brand of colonial modernism (and a critique of Kenneth Murray’s). This context is important, for it goes against what the scholarship tells us, which is that Murray, not Onabolu, must be credited with initiating the sets of ideas championed by the Art Society artists. The fourth chapter examines the emergence of Nigerian/African modernist and postcolonial art practice and discourse through detailed analysis of the art criticism, reviews, and portfolios published in Black Orpheus, the magazine that gave voice to a new generation of Anglophone African and black diaspora writers and artists in the 1950s and 1960s—as well as of the exhibitions and workshops at the Mbari Artists and Writers Club, Ibadan. This chapter affords us a view into the process of internationalizing an incipient postcolonial modernism through the work of Ulli Beier and his network of international writers, critics, and artists. Chapter 4 specifically shows how the journal, the club, and Beier’s work fostered a community of emerging contemporary artists and writers, now more aware of their collective cultural and artistic experiences and objectives. It also discusses how this loose network to which the Art Society artists belonged fit into and participated in the politics of modern Nigerian art and culture around 1960. It is inevitable that Beier, a controversial, incomparably important art and literary critic and impresario, looms large in this chapter. But the narrative is less about him than about his participation in the making of an increasingly complex, sophisticated art world that in just a few years saw a new generation of Nigerian artists and writers at its helm. A key premise of chapter 4 is that the cultural and literary arguments of negritude and pan-Â�Africanism, disseminated through Beier, Black Orpheus, and the Mbari Club, became major influences on postcolonial artistic (and literary) modernism. This is important because it returns us to the claim,

17


Introduction — 18

made in chapters 2 and 3, that the work of Art Society artists and many of their Nigerian and African contemporaries followed the political and cultural ideologies associated with pan-Â�Africanism and negritude rather than the adaptationist ideas of British indirect rule educational policies. In chapter 5 I engage in some detail the key individual work of some of the Art Society members in the years following their graduation from Zaria. In 1962, during his short stay in Lagos and throughout his one-Â�year residency in Munich, Uche Okeke began a series of experimental drawings inspired by traditional Igbo Uli art, thus realizing the full formal and conceptual implications of natural synthesis. Similarly, Bruce Onobrakpeya developed a formal style that depended on the manipulation of designs and motifs of his native Urhobo arts (Yoruba arts, too) even as he was experimenting with printmaking techniques following his participation in summer art workshops organized by Beier at the Mbari Clubs in Ibadan and Osogbo. For his part, Demas Nwoko developed a figural style—manifest in his wood sculptures and in a suite of paintings on the theme of Adam and Eve while on a one-Â�year visit to Paris in 1962/63—influenced by traditional Igbo figural sculpture. On the other hand, their Art Society colleague Simon Okeke relied on techniques and styles borrowed from early modern Western art to create enigmatic, monochromatic watercolors, while in his canvases Yusuf Grillo explored postcubist figuration and palette. Finally, Jimo Akolo, who was all but an official member of the Art Society, continued to experiment with diverse Western modernist painting styles, particularly in the suite of paintings he produced in London in 1963. Chapter 5 reveals the society members’ different attitudes toward the theory of natural synthesis and the role of indigenous art forms in their own evolving styles and suggests that the value of the theory is not so much in its potential to authorize a unified “nationalist” art as in its enabling an unprecedented, diverse, and ambitious art that defined the landscape of Nigeria’s postcolonial modernism. Chapter 6 shifts the focus from the specificity of the Art Society artists and their work to the intellectual and cultural firmament and art world of Lagos, especially after 1963, when that city effectively replaced Ibadan as the center of postcolonial artistic production and debate. Four important factors guaranteed Lagos’s new significance as the hub of modern art and culture during this period. First was the radical transformation in 1962 of Nigeria, a general-Â�interest journal during the colonial period, into a powerful cultural magazine with ample coverage of contemporary art and literature. This shift took place under its first Nigerian editor, the novelist and amateur anthropologist Onuora Nzekwu. Second was the establishment of the Lagos


Introduction —

center of the American Society of African Culture, which hosted African American artists and writers in the city and facilitated their participation in Mbari Club events and exhibitions. Third was the work of the Lagos branches of the revamped Nigerian Art Council and the Federal Society of Arts and Humanities. And finally, the establishment in 1964 of the Society of Nigerian Artists, in fulfillment of the Art Society’s dream of translating the modest college-Â�era group into a national organization. Chapter 6 also examines the debates, in Nigeria and elsewhere, around the work of young artists from Zaria and their contemporaries in Lagos, particularly the irreverent painters Erhabor Emokpae, Okpu Eze, and Colette Omogbai. This excursion reveals crucial fissures between the so-Â�called young Turks and the older generation of artists—Â�represented by Ben Enwonwu, Akinola Lasekan, and the novelist/critic Cyprian Ekwensi—about what constituted ambitious art and, more crucially, about the direction of postindependence Nigerian art. Chapter 7, concluding this book, argues that postindependence political crises, the military intervention in 1966, and the civil war the following year all adversely affected the sense of cultural nationalism that earlier inspired the Art Society and other artists in Lagos. In other words, the resurgence of regionalism in the postindependence era, which reached a climax by the middle of the decade, left its mark on the art and culture sector, the most obvious instance being the formation of Mbari Enugu by artists and writers from the eastern region, many of whom had previously associated with Ibadan and Lagos. I argue in this chapter that the crisis in the postcolony underwrote the dramatic shift in the style and themes of politically conscious artists (and writers) who themselves had become increasingly disillusioned about the prospects of the new nation. The works of Uche Okeke and Demas Nwoko from 1965 exemplify this change. Into my reading of their “crisis” paintings and sculptures of this period, I interpolate analysis of the prophetic, contemporary poetry of their Mbari Club colleagues Christopher Okigbo and Wole Soyinka, the point being to demonstrate that the most compelling late-Â�1960s postcolonial Nigerian art and poetry, which had their roots in the Mbari and Black Orpheus world, index the unraveling of the euphoria of political independence and anticipate the postcolonial crisis that led to civil war (1967–1970). Apart from the fact that these works, in terms of their formal ambition and conceptual complexity, marked a watershed in Okeke and Nwoko’s oeuvre as artists, they moreover exemplify the fundamental changes in the stylistic and thematic preoccupations of postcolonial modernism in the course of that thrilling, heady, phenomenal decade.

19


Chapter 1

COLONIALISM ↜ A ND ↜ T HE EDUCATED ↜ A FRICANS

THERE IS A DIRECT, IF COMPLEX, relationship between colonial politics and

culture and African modernity and between colonial education and the foundation of modern African art. Thus my intention in this opening chapter of a book on the history of art is not to attempt a comprehensive history of education in colonial Nigeria and Anglophone Africa; rather, I want to sketch out salient ideas about and episodes in British colonialism, particularly how the encounter between the ideology and practice of indirect rule, on the one hand, and African nationalist visions of modernity, on the other, produced mutually antagonistic models for modern art in Nigeria in the first half of the twentieth century. This sets the ground for chapter 2, where I examine the specific theoretical and conceptual processes that catalyzed the emergence of modern Nigerian art from the ideological conflict between the colonizer and the colonized, as manifested in the work of Aina Onabolu (1882–1963) and Kenneth C. Murray (1903–1972). But this chapter also does something else. It sets the ground, sustained throughout the book, for keeping the evo-


Chapter 1 — 22

lution of modern Nigerian art on a parallel track with developments in the national political sphere. The objective is to make the reader constantly aware of the ineluctable if fraught and asymmetric relationship of politics, culture, and art. It is eminently clear from contemporary texts that early twentieth-Â�century British colonial administration was particularly suspicious of what was then called literary education—social science and humanities courses (including fine art)—because such education was believed to breed, in the colonized subjects, critical thinkers and “troublemakers” who constituted a formidable, even mortal threat to the entire colonial system. One cannot help noting the striking similarity between this view of the educated native in the context of colonial Nigeria and in post-Â�Reconstruction United States (the period of the 1895 Atlanta Compromise). Consider, for instance, that moment in W. E. B. Du Bois’s short story “The Coming of John” when the white southern judge confronts John, the black son of former slaves: In their place, your people can be honest and respectful; and God knows, I’ll do what I can to help them. But when they want to reverse nature, and rule white men, and marry white women, and sit in my parlor, then by God! we’ll hold them under if we have to lynch every nigger in the land. Now, John, the question is, are you, with your education and Northern notions, going to accept the situation and teach the darkies to be faithful servants and laborers as your fathers were—I knew your father, John, he belonged to my brother, and he was a good Nigger. Well—well, are you going to be like him, or are you going to try to put fool ideas of rising and equality into these folks’ heads, and make them discontented and Â�unhappy?1 What is certain is that the fear of the revolutionary potential of the educated native in post-Â�Reconstruction America, as in colonial Nigeria, was at the basis of the official antagonism toward him. With hindsight, the apologists of indirect rule were, in fact, right on the mark in their distrust of literary education. This is so because, to the early nationalists, education not only provided the intellectual weapons with which to confront the colonial system and its political institutions; it was in itself a battleground for the long-Â�term struggle to define the terms of modern African subjectivity. The focus in this chapter on the politics of colonial education helps us appreciate the fundamental argument of this book: that the development of independence movements and ideologies of decolonization premised on the invention of a modern African cultural identity provided the basis for


C olonialism and the Educ ated Afric ans —

the crucial emergence of postcolonial modernism in Nigeria in the 1950s and 1960s. This chapter prepares us to better appreciate my claim that colonialism resisted rather than chaperoned the emergence of modern art in Nigeria. I concede that this must surely sound heretical to many; after all, we know that Western-Â�style art schools were established during the colonial period in many parts of Africa. I am heartened by recent compelling studies, especially the groundbreaking work by Olufemi Taiwo, who argues that colonialism resisted and ultimately derailed the emergence of modernity and its institutions—in fact, the very idea of modern subjectivity in Africa.2 His proposition is that if modernity is marked by the triumph of an industrial economy, the rule of law, and a democratic system, then indirect rule colonialism, given its economic and political priorities, was antithetical to these benchmarks and did not demonstrate the will to midwife African modernity. When he proposes that British colonialism used what he has called sociocryonics—which he defines as “the ignoble science of cryopreserving social forms, arresting them and denying them and those whose social forms they are the opportunity of deciding what, how, and when to keep any of their social forms”3— to stanch the already substantial march toward modernity initiated by African and black missionaries in the late nineteenth century, I could not agree more with him. In fact, my task in this chapter complements this new way of thinking about the battle for African modernist subjectivity between the apologists and forces of indirect rule and their native antagonists, for whom the question of their autonomous agency was an inalienable right.

Indirect Rule and Colonial Education

In 1908, the maverick governor of the Southern Nigeria Protectorate, Sir Walter Egerton, listed his government’s six administrative priorities, all of which were political (“to pacify the country” and “to establish settled government in the newly won districts”) or economic (to expand land, water, and railroad networks).4 The goal of the colonial government, he asserted, was developing the colonies for profit; it did not matter that apologists of colonialism claimed, ad nauseam, that its object was to open up “primitive” and “pagan” peoples to European Christian civilization and progress.5 African colonization, as a popular refrain had it, was the “white man’s burden.” In any case, the government’s economic motive and the moral imperatives of the Christian missionaries (already operating in the West African coastal regions before the onset of formal colonization of the continent in the years

23


Chapter 1 — 24

after the Berlin-Â�Congo Conference of 1884/85) more or less meshed. However, this alliance was often riddled with conflict arising from misaligned visions, attitudes, and convictions of the apostles of imperialism and Christian missionaries. The colonial government’s primary goal, as outlined by Egerton, was political conquest, euphemistically called “pacification,” and exploitation of the economic and natural resources of the colonies. The Christian missions, by contrast, convinced of their duty to bring the Gospel and salvation to pagan peoples, combined evangelization through the church with Western-Â�style education through mission schools. By the turn of the twentieth century, with colonialism firmly established, the stage was set in the colonies for a clash, ultimately for resolution of the rift, between the gospel and government, between the Bible and the gun. The trouble, as Martin Kisch, a colonial government official in northern Nigeria put it, was that mission education turned the African from the admired, lovable “native” to the despised, disreputable “nigger.”6 The end of this crisis, however, raised the stakes of mutual antagonism between the educated elites from the colonies and the colonial regime—a high-Â�intensity drama that, in turn, laid the grounds for the independence and decolonization movements of the post–World War II era. A century earlier, it was already clear, given the prevalent imperial assumptions in Europe, that the protocolonial administration favored education but only insofar as it was aimed at giving Africans basic technical training. The 1846/47 report of the commission set up by Earl Grey, Secretary for the Colonies, recommended that colonial education should give the Africans enough training to liberate themselves from “habits of listless contentment” resulting from their inhabiting a bounteous tropical climate.7 It also envisaged that such education should prepare them for serving in “the humbler machinery of local affairs.”8 Although the report was specifically in response to the question of native education in the West Indies, it was also circulated among governors in the British West African colonies. Little surprise then that, a few years later, B. C. C. Pine, the acting governor of Sierra Leone, possibly influenced by this report, attacked the mission schools for providing the natives literary education, given their lack of a culture suitable for intellectual pursuits.9 The Christian missionaries, for their part, saw literary education as a crucial tool of evangelization, for it speeded up the spread of the Gospel and European cultural enlightenment among the natives. Yet by 1865, at the very beginning of British imperialism in Africa, missionary education was already under enormous pressure. Answering questions from the Select Committee


C olonialism and the Educ ated Afric ans —

on West Africa, Reverend Elias Shrenk of the Basel Mission argued that the natives needed to learn Latin and Greek to enable them to read newspapers; the gift of such education, he suggested, ought to be seen as a reparatory gesture on the part of Britain in atonement of its sordid slavery past. The colonial government, unconvinced of the merits of Shrenk’s apologia for missionary education, set its eyes on a different model of education for colonized Africans. Helped in large measure by the work of American missionaries influenced by the work of the African American educator Booker T. Washington, West African mission schools increasingly opted for industrial education, which resulted in the simultaneous retrenchment from literary and humanistic studies and instead supported, willy-Â�nilly, the colonial governments’ emphasis on technical and low-Â�grade education in the era of indirect rule. Indirect rule has a complex history. The best-Â�known and the most influential model of British colonial governance in Africa, it is usually associated with Lord Frederick Lugard—under whose regime Nigeria was formed in 191410—and derived in part from the earlier ideas of the French ethnologist Gustav d’Eichthal, who advised the precolonial British Niger Mission against disrupting the Islamic society of the Fulani Empire in today’s northern Nigeria. The mission, he reasoned, would do better to leave the Muslim Africans to develop in their own way, separate from the Europeans. D’Eichthal’s ideas, well received in Britain, helped the colonial administration formulate the terms of its later political engagement with Islamic societies in the region. Apart from d’Eichthal, other important voices, such as the anthropologist and self-Â�proclaimed imperialist Mary Kingsley, argued that African colonization must be based on the recognition of the role of African cultural institutions as well as the difference of the African.11 In fact Kingsley’s sympathetic racism, built as it was on her brand of social anthropology, exerted tremendous influence on the development of the theory of indirect rule operationalized in Nigeria by Lord Lugard.12 The problem with indirect rule’s claim to preserving Islamic/African cultures and political structures lies in the colonialists’ underestimation of the impact of their presence as political agents with ultimate coercive and judicial powers in the colonies. Moreover, Lugard’s rule in northern Nigeria, legendary for its authoritarian excesses, did not reflect his supposed respect for Islamic culture. In its editorial in response to a famous 1920 speech by Lord Montagu, secretary of state for India at the British House of Parliament, in which he condemned the massacre of Indians at Amritsar, the Lagos Weekly Record drew parallels between official terrorism in India and in Lugard’s Nigeria.13 The journal noted that Montagu’s statement

25


Chapter 1 — 26

could be made to apply to Nigeria particularly during the terrible administration of Sir Frederick Lugard, to wit: “when you pass an order that in the Northern Provinces all Nigerians must Zaki before any white man, when you pass an order to say that all Nigerians must compulsorily salute any officer of His Majesty the King, you are indulging in frightfulness and there is no adequate word to describe it.”14 Evidently, the argument for the preservation of Islamic cultures by indirect rule’s apologists conveniently justified the systematic alienation of all but a few northern princes from Western education, thereby limiting the scale of popular access to political power within the context of the modern state. From their experience in Lagos and southern Nigeria, the British knew that uncontrolled Western education for the colonized, especially at the secondary and tertiary level, inexorably led to disenchantment with the colonial status quo and to the struggle for independence.15 Given its success in stanching direct access to institutions of modernity by northern Nigerians, indirect rule seemed the most attractive bulwark against the upsurge of anticolonialism, as articulated by the southern educated elite clustered around Lagos in the interwar period. In the hands of Lugard, this system of government avoided meaningful education of the natives, and his critics in the Lagos press—his eternal enemies—never forgave him for that. To his critics, indirect rule colonialism, as Achille Mbembe has persuasively argued, was not just about control of the bodies of the colonized through spectacular violence; its less obvious yet more pernicious objective was disciplining the intellect of the colonized.16 If colonialism depended on systematically stage-Â�managing the colonized people’s access to the liberatory potential of education, the only effective bulwark against it would be sustained counteroffensive and contestation of the assumptions of colonial education policies.

The Educated African as Troublemaker

From the onset of British imperialism, the colonial government distrusted the educated native in unmistakable terms and was patently equivocal in its disposition toward the business of colonial education. More precisely, it preferred industrial education, which, apart from providing low-�level manpower required to support the colonial bureaucracy, was less risky than literary education, which eventually led to the emergence of troublesome lawyers, historians, and social scientists who, soon enough, announced their disdain for the colonial system. While some outspoken members of the African elite in colonial Lagos condemned literary education because of its supposed ir-


C olonialism and the Educ ated Afric ans —

relevance—because job prospects for those so trained were slim—others realized its importance in the establishment of a viable literate, progressive, modern society competent enough to assume political power from the colonialists. Lord Lugard, for instance, seemed to have confirmed his preference for agricultural and technical education over “book learning” in response to gratuitous anti–native education statements by two prominent beneficiaries of literary education: Lagosian lawyers Henry Carr and Sapara Williams.17 Moreover, as Benedict Anderson has shown regarding the connection between the rise of print capitalism and national consciousness, it is far from surprising that the emergence of a vibrant press in Lagos, signifying a considerable literate population, marked the beginnings of political and cultural nationalism in the colony by the late nineteenth century.18 It was an open secret, shared by colonizer and colonized, that support for and encouragement of literary and higher education invariably implanted the seeds of political opposition amongst the African population and was therefore inimical to the survival of the colonial system. Remarkably, this question of literary versus technical education and their relationship to the rise of the critical politics of the colonial subjects in Lagos was simultaneously played out in the United States in the legendary conflict between Booker T. Washington, who advocated technical education, and W. E. B. Du Bois, who famously called for the literary education of the black “Talented Tenth,” on whom depended any possibility of racial uplift during the post-Â�Reconstruction era. My parallel point—detailed in the following chapter—is precisely that modern Nigerian art developed from within an ideological context marked on the one hand by the work of African artists seeking a literary education equivalent of art training emblematized by Aina Onabolu’s career and on the other by Kenneth Murray’s insistence on technical art education for production of craft. Despite that the early Lagos elite, consisting of repatriated blacks from the New World, and a few native Yoruba tried to forge a common national community, their cultural identity, rather than fixed, was fluid and contested, especially measured in relation to European colonial culture. Indeed, we could reliably identify two distinct attitudes. One, that of the assimilationists, conceded the inexorable march of the dominant, all-Â�powerful culture of Europe and advocated acceptance of and submission to it. The other, that of the protonationalists, argued for a relativistic view of culture and recognition of the value of the local, indigenous cultures upon which African political and cultural progress must depend. These debates were featured in two important contemporary newspapers, the Lagos Observer, which was sympathetic to assimilationist arguments, and the Lagos Weekly Record, the bastion of the emergent radical nationalists.

27


Chapter 1 — 28

The assimilationists and radical nationalists, though thoroughly immersed in the pervading Victorian Lagos culture, were acutely conscious of and committed to the articulation and performance of their social and political identities within the stratified structure of the colonial society. This, it bears emphasizing, is crucial to an understanding and appreciation of responses to colonial culture by colonized peoples. In standard colonial culture texts, such as those of Margery Perham, it is usual to read that the local response to empire was unified and predictable, with little attention paid to the dramatic rejections and concessions, the conflicted and contentious attitudes and reactions to European culture within one class and across the general population. Take the matter of names. Several luminaries of Lagos’s educated elite changed their original Western names to Yoruba ones. David Brown Vincent, for example, became Mojola Agbebi to reflect his identity politics; Otun Oba Adepeyin became John Augustus Otonba Payne, anglicizing his Yoruba names. Yet some, like Herbert Macaulay, arguably the most influential nationalist in the age of Lugard, retained Western names quite proudly. Herbert Macaulay, an engineer and activist but also a scion of a distinguished Yoruba family—his maternal grandfather was the Reverend Samuel Ajayi Crowther, himself a repatriated son of a Yoruba slave and the first African bishop of the Church Missionary Society—was an African with a compound consciousness, one who laid claim to and defended the African’s right to Yoruba, African, Arab, and Western cultural heritages. Indeed, G. O. Olusanya’s interpretation of the appellation “black EngÂ�lishman” given to MaÂ� caulay by Lagos market women is quite apt, in the sense that it described “a man who had mastered European education, techniques and culture so that he was capable of meeting the colonial masters and beating them at their own games.”19 Macaulay defended traditional practices against which the Christians fulminated unceasingly, particularly polygamy and native religions.20 Though a Christian himself, he often consulted Yoruba ritual experts and subscribed to the efficacy of native medicines. Like many elite Lagosians, Macaulay, in the true spirit of a compound consciousness, saw Western and African knowledge systems and cultural traditions in relative terms, as both contributing to the making of the complex life-Â�world of the modern African. Macaulay indeed belonged to a section of Lagos’s educated elite that formed an alliance with what one might call progressive traditional rulers against the colonial government; being part of the alliance often involved laying claim to and expressing sympathy for traditional practices deemed retrogressive and paganistic by the black or white Christian missionaries. Macaulay thus represents the kind of colonial subject who, refusing to ac-


C olonialism and the Educ ated Afric ans —

cept the bad news from racial theorists, scientists, and Christian missionaries, believed in cultural relativity and in the possibility of mining the best of three worlds. While conceding to Europe its ownership of the machinery of progress, he was equally convinced of his own abilities and indeed his right to self-Â�determination, which necessarily included the application of the knowledge of Western culture to define the parameters of progress without European direction. Macaulay and other members of the educated elite, regarded as disgruntled agitators by the colonial government—A. W. L. Flemming, a British official in the Gold Coast, once described them as West Africa’s curse—posed the toughest challenge to indirect rule and British imperialism and, in fulfillment of the very fears of colonialism’s apologists and apostles, inevitably became the fountainheads of African political nationalism. The major factor responsible for the making of the radicalized educated elite as represented by Macaulay was its marginalization and disempowerment by the colonial government at the turn of the century. This retrenchment of Africans from the colonial secular and clerical hierarchy, which had much to do with British anxieties about securing direct trade access due to increasing competition from other European colonial powers, led to what J. B. Webster described as a “new regime of white prestige politics.”21 Frederick Lugard consolidated this trend by the time he became the governor general; predictably, he soon became the target of anticolonial attacks in the print media and through petitions to the Colonial Office and even to Whitehall.22 More than any contemporary colonial officer, Lugard distrusted and held in contempt the educated Africans, often seen as culturally inauthentic, denationalized caricatures of the European rather than as serious individuals to be entrusted with official responsibility. Claiming that the members of the educated elite were estranged from native cultures and, in the case of the repatriated Africans, were not even part of them, Lugard argued that they could not be given political power because they did not represent or speak for the population at large.23 This argument is persuasive, paradoxical, and downright disingenuous. It is persuasive because working for popular representation in the territories makes sense ideally; it is paradoxical and disingenuous because colonialism is a form of imposed dictatorship. The subject peoples have no say in the form of government under which they live, nor can its functionaries claim, by however great a stretch of the imagination, any popular mandate within the colonies. There is a second reason for the radicalization of the educated elite. Because Lugard and the administration wanted to preserve indigenous political systems, it was expedient to support the so-Â�called native authorities where

29


Chapter 1 — 30

they existed, as in northern Nigeria and parts of western Nigeria, or to invent them where none existed, as in eastern Nigeria.24 Predictably, colonial officials often contrasted the putative popular mandates of native rulers, their junior partners in the native administration system, with the unjustifiable power hunger of the supposedly alienated educated elite. It was even suggested by apologists of empire that, in providing the opportunity (as if they needed an external catalyst) to synthesize old and new cultures, indirect rule could help alienated Africans recover their cultural identity.25 Yet for the educated elite themselves, the attempt to assert their irrelevance while propping traditional rulers, most of them not schooled in modern governance and politics, confirmed their claims about the racist ideology and antimodern framework upon which indirect rule was founded. For his part, Lugard insisted that self-Â�government for the “Oriental and African races” must come through the education and gradual extension of the powers of native rulers, rather than “by the introduction of an alien system of rule by British-Â�educated and politically-Â�minded progressives.”26 This statement reveals Lugard’s theoretical and political dilemma, for it implies that the products of British-Â�established and -Â�controlled boarding schools (although he may have had in mind only those trained in EngÂ�land) were not expected to aspire to political leadership and that British-Â�style education, if successfully managed, ought to alienate them from political activism. Thus, when Lugard proposed the extension of indirect rule to southern Nigeria (it was already established in the north), the “progressives” feared that it amounted to a repealing of its hard-Â�won modernization effort and was a veiled attempt to abort the political progress already attained, especially in Lagos. The result was a concerted attack against the colonial regime and its complicit native rulers. The press attacks did not leave Lugard’s administration unruffled, particularly during World War I, when Lugard requested powers from the Colonial Office in London to suppress the press before it poisoned or “inflame[d] native minds.”27 Thus several Lagos editorialists, particularly at the Lagos Weekly Record, argued that the end of the war that also marked the end of Lugard’s rule must bring with it freedom from colonial oppression and terrorism and the beginning of self-Â�government supported by major constitutional changes. Take, for instance, the editorial of February 1–22, 1919, in which the Lagos Weekly Record celebrated the end of the damnable Lugard rule, while anticipating—in vain as it turned out—the abrogation of his atavistic native administration government by his successor Sir Hugh Clifford. It was therefore evident to the administration that with the activities of these educated Africans, the period of what Margery Perham called “Colonial honeymoon” was practically over.28


C olonialism and the Educ ated Afric ans —

The radical nationalists’ argument for self-Â�determination in the print media usually foregrounded the idea that indirect rule, by its very nature, was designed to suppress anything beyond bare-Â�bones literacy and keep Africans from attaining modernity on their own terms. As early as 1873, Edward Wilmot Blyden had written to the colonial secretary, John Woodhouse, proposing a West African University to provide the natives “superior education,” as a solution to the scarcity of qualified natives in the colonial government. However, higher education was not so much a priority project as a luxury item in colonialism’s to-Â�do list. To appreciate the grounds of this conflict on the question of education, let us look at what is arguably the greatest conundrum of indirect rule: the idea of allowing the natives to develop along their own lines, the same notion that—to keep attention on the reason for this excursion to this particular history—provided Kenneth Murray the ideological template for his own vision of modern Nigerian art. Lugard articulated the objectives of colonial education in his magnum opus Dual Mandate (published in 1922). It is worth close attention if only because his ideas became the anchor of subsequent colonial-Â�era education programs in Nigeria, including especially Kenneth Murray’s art education. While condemning the overwhelming influence of mission schools concerned only with evangelization rather than training natives to do the work of the empire, he called for greater involvement of the government in colonial education. Good education for him must turn the ignorant masses into a race of self-Â�respecting gentlemen able to fit into clerical and artisanal positions but under the supervision of British superiors. For this reason the teaching of moral rectitude, respect for authority, and the industrial arts should precede the training of the intellect, the latter being unnecessary for the career opportunities open to the natives.29 Critics of Lugard’s indirect rule often point to a suggestion such as this, in its antipathy to the educational and intellectual development of Africans, as a sign of the influence of racist social Darwinism on Lugard’s political thought.30 Even when he allowed for the possibility of postprimary education, his prescription was that it be carried out in a sanitized environment. The brightest students, he believed, must be trained in secondary boarding schools located several miles from native towns to keep them away “from the subversive influences of [their] normal environment.”31 Here, they would be subjected to a tough disciplinary regime intended to inculcate the virtues of loyalty, respect for authority, and good citizenship, with the aid of stories from “school readers” and textbooks. Success in these instructions must be judged from the dress and demeanor of the students.32 Lugard was also particularly concerned about the teaching of

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Chapter 1 — 32

history in schools; above all, British history. It would be harmful to teach the evolution of democracy under Cromwell, as it could induce “the boy patriot to deplore the woes, and discuss the regeneration of his country, instead of attending to his lesson.”33 Revolutionaries, he seemed utterly aware, begin their work with the mastery of particular histories, and colonial education ran the risk of razing the structure of empire by the simple gesture of offering history courses to African youths. Even a most cursory analysis of Lugard’s education program under indirect rule reveals that his vaunted desire to allow the natives to develop along their own lines because of the natural difference between them and the Europeans is a merely rhetorical posturing, totally discordant with the realities of government-Â�sponsored schools. His preference for boarding schools located far from native towns, for instance, had the objective of sequestering the students from the “harmful” influences of their normal environment, which no doubt included the evils of paganism and all the supposedly untoward primitive lifestyles to which natives were naturally disposed. Second, the virtues inculcated in the students at school aimed to create new, loyal subjects released from the stranglehold of their “tribal” cultures and primed for the work of the empire. Perhaps only Lugard and other apologists of indirect rule failed to appreciate to the fullest the implication of his educational program: that it was a machine for creating the very alienated natives that he detested. For in sequestering the young students in boarding schools where British masters indoctrinated them on the virtues of the empire and even cleansed them of lifestyles and moral codes associated with their native cultures, they could not remain a part of the admired majority, content with the supposedly simple primitive life in the villages. Lugard’s boarding school was therefore a laboratory for training a generation of Africans psychologically engineered to think, act, and reason differently from the unschooled pagans in their “normal environment” but also to be different from the “badly behaved” products of the mission and private schools. Yet Lugard did not seem to understand why the Lagos press accused him of “moral slavery.”34 One thing is certain in all of this: Lugard’s indirect rule and educational program, rather than allow the natives to develop along their own path as he envisioned or claimed, achieved quite the opposite. For whereas indirect rule compelled the educated Africans to push against the empire and colonial system, the schools inevitably helped spread zeal among the youth for an African modernity premised on the people’s right to political and cultural self-Â�determination.


C olonialism and the Educ ated Afric ans — 33

New Models and Threats from America

The role played by ideas, individuals, and institutions from the United States of America in African colonial education and politics is nothing short of remarkable, given the intensity of national rivalries and conflict of interests among Western imperial powers. Even before the ascendance of the United States in world affairs, particularly after the two world wars, and the simultaneous decline of Britain’s global political and cultural hegemony, Negro Americans provided crucial models of colonial subjectivity to both the British colonial administration and African radical nationalists. To the British, the United States was both a source for useful models in the pursuit of the ideals of indirect rule and a breeding ground for dangerous political pathogens capable of compromising the integrity and viability of the colonial system. The response to the two kinds of black American imports by colonial administrations, Whitehall officials, and the Africans themselves, predictable as it was, reflected established ideological fault lines transecting colonized Africa. Moreover, the three most significant Negro advocates of new black subjectivity within the context of racialized sociopolitics of post-Â�Reconstruction America, the men whose ideas exerted tremendous influence on twentieth-Â� century African nationalists, were unquestionably Booker T. Washington (1856–1915), W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963), and Marcus Garvey (1887–1940). In terms of the translation of their work in colonial Africa, it is not out of line to suggest that, respectively, they represented acceptance of the status quo, racial equality, and radical black ascendancy. While this might seem rather reductive, let us note that colonial response to the work of these three men clearly shows that while Washington became the darling of colonial regimes in Africa (as he was with whites in the US South), Du Bois was regarded with deep suspicion, and Garvey was all but considered a bona fide pan-Â�African terrorist in colonial government quarters. But what were the stakes? The colonizer’s distrust of literary education found a powerful ally in Booker T. Washington, whose industrial/agricultural education program at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama was based on his staunch belief that the advancement of black Americans lay in their acquisition of manual or low-Â�level industrial skills rather than the classical and literary education offered in standard universities. Seen as less threatening to the racial status quo, Washington’s program was popular with white southerners and liberal northerners in the United States, conservative educated Africans, and Negro American missionaries in Africa committed to gradualist racial self-Â�uplift. On the other hand, W. E. B. Du Bois—one of the forces behind the estab-


Chapter 1 — 34

lishment of the pan-Â�Africanist movement—waged intellectual war against Washington’s apparent acceptance of the Negro’s status as hewer of wood and drawer of water.35 Du Bois argued that Washington’s push for the Negro to give up his quest for political power, civil rights, and higher education inadvertently encouraged his political disenfranchisement and deferred government support of black universities. As if he shared notes with African nationalists who were already demanding a West African university by the end of the nineteenth century, Du Bois argued that black advancement depended on the education of the Talented Tenth in colleges and universities that furnished black men and women with “adequate standards of human culture and lofty ideals of life.”36 While I am more interested in the tension between Du Bois and Washington, because it helps us grasp more firmly the intellectual fault line between acceptance and rejection of the colonial status quo as it played out in the turn-Â�of-Â�the-Â�century United States, I must for the moment mention in passing the importance of Marcus Garvey, particularly in catalyzing the political—as opposed to the intellectual—imagination of African nationalists toward the fight for self-Â�government. Despite Du Bois’s criticism, the influential Phelps-Â�Stokes Fund Commission—which had just one black African, Dr. J. E. K Aggrey of Ghana, a Washington sympathizer and archcritic of Garvey, and the white South African C. T. Loram, who supported industrial education for black South Africans—in its reports of 1922 and 1924 endorsed Washington’s industrial education program, more or less proposing it to mission and government schools in the British colonies.37 To be sure, Jesse Jones, educational director of the Phelps-Â�Stokes Fund and head of the commission, also played an active role in the government-Â�mandated Advisory Committee on Native Education. In 1925 the committee published Education Policy in British Tropical Africa, the historic white paper that streamlined colonial education in accordance with the theory of indirect rule.38 It bears emphasizing that the entrance of Phelps-Â�Stokes in the politics of African colonial education inevitably catalyzed the mainstreaming of Washington’s pedagogical system no less because Jones, an ardent advocate of Washingtonian industrial education, became the shadow architect of the fund’s vision of education in Africa. The Phelps-Â�Stokes Fund’s alliance with indirect rule’s visions of colonial education, their joint support for Washington’s industrial education, and the disinterest in Du Bois’s call for standard Negro universities found concrete expression in the Jeanes School, at Kabete, Kenya, which in the romantic atavism of its program went far beyond anything Washington had imagined for Negro education at Tuskegee.


C olonialism and the Educ ated Afric ans —

In spite of these efforts to control the work of education in Africa by the imposition of low-�skill schools, the colonial governments still had no effective antidote to the rise of the educated class influenced by Du Bois and Garvey and following in the intellectual tradition of Blyden. The systematic official antagonism against this type of African educated elite, which often meant denying a man a government position because of a supposed lack of moral character or proper qualification, clearly resulted from fear of being upstaged in the political power game by the native elite. As James Robertson, former governor of the Sudan and later of Nigeria, admitted in later years, this was a grave error on the part of the colonial administration.39 Given that as late as the mid-�twentieth century, British officials still imagined African independence but a faraway possibility achievable only through a very slow process of character modification and indoctrination of the African in specific forms of educational training, it was perhaps right in its war against the politically conscious educated African who demanded a much quicker self-� determined path to political and cultural independence. Intoxicated by the ideological power and assumptions of indirect rule, British colonialism in Africa had naturally identified with the anodyne, acquiescent Washington rather than the troublesome Du Bois. It pitched its tent on the wrong side of history.

Renascent Africa

Nnamdi Azikiwe (1904–1996), a foremost Nigerian nationalist, was the interwar period–educated African par excellence, the type of native whose emergence Lugard and the colonial administration feared. At twenty-Â�one he had traveled to the United States, where he studied under Alain Locke at Lincoln University and came under the influence of Ethiopianism, the late nineteenth-Â�century affirmation of black heritage and civilization symbolized by the independent kingdom of Ethiopia.40 Azikiwe, a follower of Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. Du Bois, and the pan-Â�Africanist movement, earned degrees in journalism, political science, and anthropology and taught briefly at Lincoln before returning, in 1934, to the Gold Coast (Ghana). Failing to secure a job with the British West African colonial government, he became the founding editor of the African Morning Post newspaper, the precursor of his widely influential anticolonial, Lagos-Â�based paper, West African Pilot.41 Azikiwe’s rise in continental politics in a way exacerbated the colonizer’s long-Â�standing anxieties about the educated African, especially the type corrupted by the seditious politics of Garvey and the irritating racial equality

35


Chapter 1 — 36

ideas of Du Bois. Azikiwe and others like him embodied the colonizer’s worst nightmare. Whereas the colonial administration could arrogantly declare repatriated Africans, seen as outsiders to native cultural experiences, inauthentic representatives of colonized peoples, it was reduced to a stutter when confronted by a generation of educated Nigerians who, to signal their mastery of the game, claimed leadership of emergent cultural and township unions.42 Thus immunized against the colonizer’s mantra of the culturally “alienated native” and schooled in the discourse of anti-Â�imperialism and modern politics, these new Africans became more powerful adversaries of indirect rule. Azikiwe first laid down his political ideas in Renascent Africa (1937), a text that, with youthful zest and flamboyant language, asserted its pan-Â�Africanist heritage, waged an all-Â�out war against indirect rule colonialism, and declared the emergence of a new Africa from the debris of the old.43 He tactically played up tropes of renascence and reawakening already established in the Gold Coast nationalist J. E. Casely-Â�Hayford’s biofictional book Ethiopia Unbound (1911), unquestionably the most influential contemporary literary argument for African nationalism. For Azikiwe (as for Casely-Â�Hayford) Africa under colonialism was Ethiopia chained, and it was time she broke her fetters, reclaiming her freedom and retaking her rightful place on the world stage. But for this task she needed the politically conscious educated class, schooled in modern political discourse and practice, not the old African political cultures and the colonial regime. In shifting attention from the new African’s relationship to the continent’s traditional cultures and religions to the contemporary relevance or otherwise of old and new African political systems, Azikiwe announced in unmistakable terms the political stakes of pan-Â�Africanism for modern Africa. Rather than remain obsessed with the question of the modern African’s cultural authenticity measured against the extent of his connection to an imaginary root culture, Azikiwe focused on using the ideological rhetoric of pan-Â�Africanism to attain not just racial accommodation but outright self-Â�rule. It is here that he seems to have drawn most from the Africa-Â�for-Â�Africans movement exemplified by Garvey. African mental emancipation, Azikiwe argued, recalling Blyden, depended on the realization of the West African university, but the attainment of political independence could not succeed without a concerted effort on the part of the educated elite to unify and “crystallize a sense of oneness for the ultimate destiny of the country.”44 His brand of pan-Â�Africanism, as announced in Renascent Africa, must break the shackles of colonialism and restore Africa’s battered image and lost glories not so much by invoking the vitality of the continent’s imagined cultural heritage as by mastering the cul-


C olonialism and the Educ ated Afric ans —

ture of modern politics. Here, I am convinced, is the critical point, the conjunction of the anticolonial politics of the turn-Â�of-Â�the-Â�century Lagosian and West African educated elite, the black emancipation pan-Â�Africanisms of Du Bois and Garvey, and the continental nationalism of the mid-Â�century West African political elite—a radical fusion that produced a self-Â�defined vision of African modernity completely at odds with colonialism’s own version of modern Africa. These two clearly defined positions in the colonial chess game, as I argue in chapter 2, equally played out in the field of colonial-Â�era art and art education.

37


Chapter 2

INDIRECT ↜ R ULE ↜ A ND COLONIAL ↜ M ODERNISM

MODERN NIGERIAN ART WAS a product of the desire to be modern. But it

also developed from the work of the pioneer painter Aina Onabolu (1882– 1963), who, in an attempt to demonstrate the African’s comparative artistic ability and in the face of colonialist and racist snobbery, broke with the artistic traditions of his ancestors. In the process, he developed a visual language that was new, ideologically progressive, and, to use an even more appropriate term, avant-Â�garde. Onabolu’s career as a painter began around 1900; he soon built a considerable reputation among the Lagos black (and part of the white) cultural and political elite. Moreover, he vigorously campaigned, initially without much success, for art teaching in Lagos schools. By 1920, he had raised enough money to travel to EngÂ�land, where he studied art. Upon his return in 1922, he continued to press for the inclusion of art in the curricula of Lagos secondary schools. Perhaps in response to his many memoranda on the need for an additional art teacher, the Department of Education hired the young British artist Kenneth C. Murray (1903–1972) as an educa-


Chapter 2 — 40

tion officer with the mandate to teach art in Lagos and southern Nigerian schools. However, and this is crucial, Murray’s ideas about modern art for colonial Nigeria directly opposed those of Onabolu. If Onabolu saw in art the vehicle and tool for asserting the African’s modernity and as a means for pictorial performance of his modern subjectivity following similar arguments made by many among Lagos’s black educated elite, Murray saw things differently. Indeed, Murray’s vision of African art mirrored the antimodernist ideological basis of Britain’s colonial policy in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. Where Onabolu saw his work as a part of the radical work of emergent anticolonialism, Murray firmly put his teaching and research at the service of what one might call colonial nativism, convinced as he was, as were many ideologues of colonialism, of the African’s cultural (if not racial) inferiority and inability to meaningfully appreciate or master the uniquely sophisticated European fine art traditions and practices. Thus while Onabolu broke with the past by adopting new pictorial modes of representing the self as he imagined a future different from that of his ancestors, Murray resolutely resisted the new because it alienated the old and, more troublingly, had the potential to level the imaginary boundaries between the irrevocably yet differentially modernizing Africa and Europe. In other words, Onabolu and Murray, I contend, represented two oppositional visions of modern Nigerian art during the colonial period. While Onabolu preempted the postcolonial modernism of the midcentury, Murray’s art teaching unsuccessfully worked against the artistic and ideological tradition laid down by Onabolu. This argument is significant to the task of this book for two reasons. First, it serves as a corrective art history, by which I mean a fundamental reinsertion of modern Nigerian art to the site of its ideological origins, a site defined, as I argue in chapter 1, by the struggle between the forces of the colonial status quo on the one hand and the voices of the anticolonialists and nationalists on the other. Previous analyses of this early period often have not disentangled or differentiated the work of these two pioneers, and in missing the crucial fissures and tensions in their visions of the colonial modern, such analyses fail to properly map the critical contours of early modern Nigerian art. While there is consensus on the radical nature of Onabolu’s painting, given that he set out to disprove colonial and racist assumptions about the African’s artistic ability, how this constitutes an art-Â�historical problem—one framed by the reimagining of the relationship between the modern artist and the art of the past but also by the ways in which this problem is either exacerbated or ameliorated by the colonial experience and by the colonial art education developed by Murray—has not received due attention.


Indirect Rule and Colonial Modernism —

Let me paint the problem of this chapter, ultimately of this book, in brasher and hopefully clearer strokes: Postcolonial modernism in mid-Â� twentieth-Â�century Nigeria was born of the struggle between imperial and colonial nativist ideologies and the stridently modernist worldview of early nationalists and the educated elite. I contend that this modernism followed the anticolonial path established by Onabolu rather than, as some historians have it, the colonial nativism of Murray. For it is within the ranks of the nationalists—missionaries, educationists, lawyers, journalists—that we find committed believers in the African’s ability and readiness to master the tools of modernity on their own terms. This chapter thus outlines the historical and ideological grounds of colonial modernism in Nigeria, first by situating the work of Onabolu and Murray within the contestatory power lines of early twentieth-Â�century African anti-Â�imperialism and British colonialism. What becomes clear is that even in colonialism’s most altruistic guise, even in the hands of progressive colonial officials with the best of intentions toward the colonized peoples, the racist infrastructure of British imperial enterprise forced upon the political and cultural guardians of empire a denial and suppression of an emergent sovereign Africa and modernist art, the conditions of which were defined not by Britain/Europe but by the Africans themselves. The crucial link between Onabolu’s colonial modernism, in its insistence on mastery of (Western) techniques of figural realism and illusionistic landscape painting, and the vastly different stylistic attitude of the postcolonial modernists of the mid-Â�twentieth century is the belief in the African’s right to determine his relationship with the art of his imagined past and in the assertion of his freedom to establish and negotiate the terms of his engagement with Western art. The second reason this chapter foregrounds the opposing ideas of Onabolu and Murray before mapping the territory of postcolonial modernism in mid-Â�twentieth-Â�century Nigeria is as urgent as the first, precisely because the place of the work of British colonial art education, exemplified by the pedagogy of Kenneth Murray, in the history of modern Nigerian (and African) art has been a matter of debate among art historians. This problem is thrown in high relief in a book by Sylvester Ogbechie, who argues that the art and theory of natural synthesis proposed by Uche Okeke and the Art Society is a codification of Murray’s aesthetic philosophy and pedagogy.1 Similarly, another study argued, with remarkable directness, that the concept of natural synthesis is Murray’s baby.2 In other words, Murray’s insistence on reviving so-Â�called traditional arts and crafts as a basis for a new Nigerian art provided Okeke and his colleagues the fundamental theoretical and intellectual frame-

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Chapter 2 — 42

work for their supposedly radical work.3 It will become obvious in due course that such arguments misrecognize the discrepant uses of traditional art and craft by Murray and Nigerian modernists of the independence decade. This chapter is also important to the claim I make in this book that it is important to examine the impassioned, often acrimonious debates between the apologists of empire (including the closeted ones among them) and advocates of cultural and political freedom, even before the birth of the Nigerian nation in 1914, and to see within this contested terrain the grounds for the oppositional visions of modern Nigerian art so utterly manifest in the work of Onabolu and the Art Society on the one hand and that of Murray and colonial art education on the other. This chapter’s second section shows how early debates about the character and direction of modern art in Nigeria reflected the fraught relationship of the increasingly dominant, even if unofficial, ideas of Onabolu and the institutionalized naive traditionalism inaugurated by Murray. The point cannot be emphasized enough that in the colonial art education designed by Murray in the 1920s and 1930s, Nigeria relied on and remarkably affirmed the antimodernist ideology and practice of indirect rule and, in so doing, nurtured a stylistic trend that, in its unvarnished, crude nativism, clearly contradicted the aspirations of the cultural nationalists and later artists who identified with the conceptual and political basis but not the formal conditions of Onabolu’s modernism. Colonialism as such naturally deferred the emergence of an effective and assertive Nigerian artistic modernism until the dawn of political independence when, as will be evident, pan-Â�African, nationalist, and anticolonial ideologies synchronized with and, in fact, gave rise to a clearly articulated artistic idea and practice associated with the Art Society at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria, and their fellow postcolonial modernists in Nigeria and elsewhere on the continent.

Kenneth C. Murray and Aina Onabolu

In a 1963 memorandum to the Nigerian Council for Art and Culture on the teaching of art schools and colleges, Aina Onabolu made a crucial statement about his relationship with Kenneth Murray. After recalling the series of interviews he had in April 1926 with the director of education, Mr. Gier, and his deputy, Mr. Swanston, during which he pleaded for the appointment of a European art teacher for Lagos schools to complement his own work, he noted that in the summer of 1927 Murray was hired to teach in southern Nigeria “with good results.” Then he added, “Though we agreed to disagree


Indirect Rule and Colonial Modernism —

as to whether African Art or Art based on the classical tradition should be taught.”4 We do not know what Onabolu might have meant by “good results,” especially if he was completely opposed to something as fundamental as Murray’s ideas about the place of indigenous African and classical European art in the making of a progressive modernism. Yet in appealing to Gier and Swanston to hire a European teacher to join him in teaching and promoting the new art for which he had earned a substantial reputation in Lagos, we must wonder the extent to which Onabolu appreciated the tense relationship between the colonial regime and educated Africans such as himself and whether he was confident that the help he was seeking was really going to complement his own work as an artist and teacher. That is to say, might Onabolu have in fact been naive about the ideological fault lines marking the colonial landscape in the era of indirect rule? Did he not realize that colonial education, as imagined by Lord Lugard, the Phelps-Â�Stokes Fund, and ultimately the Memorandum of 1925, was fundamentally antithetical to the sort of argument he articulated in A Short Discourse on Art,5 his 1920 landmark text, and that his notes to the education officials might have provided the Department of Education an opportunity to assert its own vision of Nigerian modernism? Did he realize that, as I want to suggest, Kenneth Murray must have been hired precisely to stanch the noxious effect of Onabolu’s brand of art and pedagogy on young Nigerians, more precisely to formulate an art program that was compatible with the ideology and theory of indirect rule and the prescriptions of the memorandum? A brief consideration of Onabolu’s artistic ideas and cultural politics shows why these questions are pertinent. A Short Discourse on Art is remarkable both as a foundational text of modern African artistic consciousness and because it directly confronts European prejudicial assumptions about African intellectual abilities; it is precisely the sort of critical work that earned many educated Africans before him the contempt of colonialism’s apologists. The text was published as a pamphlet accompanying the May 1920 art exhibition he organized on the eve of his departure to London, where he had gained admission to the St. John’s Wood School of Art. In it, he carefully establishes his credentials as a self-Â�taught, confident, articulate, and passionate advocate of painting as the highest form of fine art—as distinct from craft, design, and other forms of visual practice. He describes his own mastery of the genre and the role of painting in awakening national consciousness,6 but he also argues for a particular history of art that is patently Western but to which he is irrevocably connected by virtue of the colonial encounter. To him, pictorial realism—resulting from the rigorous application of one-Â�point perspective and the use of “focus” as a compositional device—had the singular and crucial value of providing visual

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Chapter 2 — 44

expression to modern and secular African subjectivity in ways that the art of his ancestors, profoundly limited in formal and narrative possibilities by ritual imperatives, could never match. He also provided a detailed history of EngÂ�lish academic painting, no doubt with the intention of establishing a particular art-Â�historical knowledge not only with which he wished his work to be associated but also from which modern Nigerian art must calibrate its own trajectory. It would be a mistake to miss the point of Onabolu’s identification with the realist tradition of Western art and his claim, toward the end of the essay, that Yoruba traditional masks, sculptures, and drawings were “still crude destitute of Art and Science.”7 Like his contemporaries in Lagos, he must have been aware that once the genie of modernity was set free by longue durée historical processes and by the sudden impact of the colonial encounter, artistic practice based on preserving what to him were irrevocably moribund traditional arts and crafts—a refusal to appreciate culture as process rather than product, as the social-Â�cultural anthropologist Arjun Appadurai has argued— could not be the basis for a modern artistic subjectivity. Onabolu was, in other words, convinced that ethnicity and the cultural practices and social systems it circumscribed could not form a viable basis for modern life and the art associated with it. As such, in anticipation of a future independent nation, he looked to new ways of seeing and representing the world and the social self—which is precisely what the “science of perspective,” associated with Western painting, and even the less artful medium of photography afforded him—rather than rely on techniques of representation linked to traditional and ancestral art. Realistic painting and photography could not only incomparably record the lives of (modern) Africans in ways the “stiff ” religious art of his ancestors could not; they also quite significantly provided a powerful visual language for articulating the autonomous subjectivity of Nigerians confronted with the challenge of building a new, modern culture and nation. This is precisely the point made by A. O. Delo Dosumu in his preface to Onabolu’s A Short Discourse on Art: There is no greater expression of national life and character than Art and no one but [an] African can fully express her joy and sorrow, her hopes and aspirations, and her changing moods and passions. In this respect a great role awaits Mr. Onabolu—the interpretation of Africa to the outside world.8 Moreover, the leading members of the West African educated elite, many of whom Onabolu painted, saw his work as part of the larger struggle for


Indirect Rule and Colonial Modernism —

African sovereignty. This much is evident from the many enthusiastic reports about his work, particularly in the radical Lagos Weekly Record but also from Herbert Macaulay’s declaration, in response to a 1920 exhibition of work by students at St. John’s Wood, that Onabolu’s art was a “clear, marvellous vindication of our struggle—a manifestation of our much repeated feelings that Africans are capable politically, intellectually and creatively.”9 His portraits of West African nationalists and sympathetic Europeans were thus seen as a continuation of the struggle against European snobbery. To be sure, in terms of technical accomplishment and formal ambition, Onabolu’s work as a portrait painter is unremarkable, especially given the particular tradition of Reynoldian Royal Academy painting with which he identified.10 His portrait of Mrs. Spencer Savage (1906), generally regarded as his earliest masterpiece, demonstrates middling competence in watercolor, and his many portrait commissions in the years before and after his training in London and in Paris (at the Académie Julian) proved, in the estimation of contemporary observers, his mastery of the much coveted realistic figuration. If measured, however, against the traditional realism of Western academic painting, Onabolu’s sometimes awkward figuration, clearly obvious in the rendering of the hands of Dr. Sapara (undated), and Adebayo Doherty (reputed to be his last painting), falls short. However, given that his oeuvre was almost entirely restricted to what must be seen as the painterly equivalent of studio photography, devoid of pictorial narrative, as his Sisi Nurse (1922) shows (figure 2.1), and given his insistence even until the early 1960s on academic art training for Nigerian schools, I am compelled to believe that Onabolu never quite saw the task of modern African artists as extending beyond representation of the modern self, as well as demonstrating to apparently unrepentant Western critics his technical and intellectual abilities. Compared to the work of the pioneer modern Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma (1848–1906), Onabolu’s work shows the extent to which the Nigerian artist strayed away from the grand courtliness and pictorial mythologizing of the past associated with the academic tradition. Whereas Varma was embraced by and thrived in the courts of Baroda, Udaipur, Travancore, and Mysore and was supported by the British ruling class, the Raj, and the emergent nationalist elite and therefore alternated between portraiture, mythologies, and grand allegorical narratives in the true spirit of Western academic painting, Onabolu appears quite handicapped, limited in his choice of subjects, and tied, as it were, to portraiture and the rare landscape painting. It is tempting, then, to think that in his determination to break with the past, Onabolu saw no pictorial grandeur in Yoruba or Nigerian history or myths—

45


Figure 2.1╇ Aina Onabolu, Sisi Nurse, oil on canvas, 1922. Photo, courtesy of Art House Ltd., Lagos. © Estate of Aina Onabolu.


Indirect Rule and Colonial Modernism —

unlike his former student Akinola Lasekan (1916–1972), who painted scenes of Yoruba legends and royal portraits (figure 2.2)—and saw in the Lagos, Ibadan, and Ife royal houses of his day no opportunities for grand courtly art. We might even further submit that the fact that Onabolu had no firsthand contact with European academic painters—as did Varma, who learned from the Dutch painter Theodore Jensen while in the Travancore royal court—his access to the full range of academic pictorial methods and imaginaries were limited during his formative years. Apart from helping us understand the extent of Onabolu’s “academism,” these considerations, we have to concede, trouble the description of Onabolu’s art as nationalist if, following Benedict Anderson, we take it that one of nationalism’s imperatives is the invention of (pictorial) myths of a deep national past. Varma certainly did so with what Geeta Kapur has described as his ambition of devising pan-Â�Indian vision by subsuming the colony’s demographic and cultural diversity in the “hegemonic interests of [Indian] national unity”11 (figure 2.3). Yet the fact that Onabolu put his portraiture in the service of the assertive sociopolitical ambition of the Lagos intellectual elite and given the foundational role of this class in the nationalist struggles of early-twentieth-Â�century Nigeria, his work suggests that colonial-Â�era Nigerian nationalism (shorn of pan-Â�Nigerian national allegories) did not follow the classic path theorized by Anderson or indexed by Varma’s paintings. Nevertheless, it bears emphasizing that Onabolu’s initial attraction to the Western academic tradition and pictorial realism at the very moment the European avant-Â�garde waged war against this tradition was the logical direction for a resolutely new, modern, progressive African art. His academicism, situated as it was within the cultural context of an incipient African modernity, holds the same radical charge—in its rejection of “traditional” art—as the modernism of his European counterparts seized by the fever of inventing alternative ways of representing/evoking the reality and the world yielded by industrial modernity. Put simply, he and his European contemporaries were simultaneously developing new modes of painting—borrowed from or instigated by the cultural and historical other—from the ashes of tradition. This antitraditionalism of the European avant-Â�garde as adopted by Onabolu must then explain the antagonism toward both by the contemporary European cultural and political establishment and the overseas colonial administration. This is the root of the pedagogical conflict, as indicated in the 1963 memorandum, between Onabolu and Murray. Apart from his attraction to the nationalistic rhetoric and practice that had put the educated elite in the bad books of the colonial regime, Onabolu’s promotion of “high art” values—the two quotations by Owen Meredith

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Figure 2.2╇ Akinola Lasekan, Ajaka of Owo, watercolor and gouache on paper, 1944. The Newark Museum, Gift of Simon Ottenberg, tr91.2012.38.8. © Estate of Akinola Lasekan.


Figure 2.3╇ Raja Ravi Varma, Young Woman with a Veena, oil on canvas, ca. 1901. Government Museum, Trivandrum, Kerala, India / Giraudon / The Bridgeman Art Library.

and William Turner in A Short Discourse reference the uniqueness of the “genius”—not only raised once more the specter of the inauthentic native degraded by an inferiority complex yet illogically locked in the mode of the racial mimic, unconscious slave, and counterfeit advocate of European culture and civilization. This is not so much about whether Onabolu, as a representative of the black race, had proven that he could master the patently Western genre of “fine art,” for his paintings—as F. H. Harward declared in his foreword to the artist’s 1920 exhibition catalog—had convincingly done that; rather, it is simply a matter of whether Onabolu ought to be pushing young Nigerians who studied under him to do the same, when all the colonial regime wanted at the time were docile natives sufficiently educated to do the clerical and manual jobs for which they were supposedly more naturally suited. To his critics and admirers, Onabolu’s art was resolutely the visual art

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equivalent of literary education; this might explain the grudging tolerance of it by the colonial administration and surely the support by some mission and private schools in Lagos, as well as the progressive print media and the nationalist political elite.12 As an art teacher, Onabolu focused mostly on drawing, his courses including Principles of Drawing and Pattern Making, Basic Design and Coloring, Still Life Drawing, Color Theory and Practice, Principles and Approach to Perspective Drawing, and Pictorial Drawing. He also taught Anatomical Studies, Color, Light and Shade, Science of Perspective, and Imaginative Composition, among other subjects. These no doubt are familiar subjects in any Western academic art program, yet in spite of his fascination with the history of Western art and British academic painting, he apparently excluded from his curriculum art history or art appreciation. This is surprising in light of his argument in A Short Discourse “that to appreciate a good picture one must learn something about art.”13 We could, I suppose, assume that the “something” in his statement has to do with the methods and principles of the drawn or painted image rather than a discourse of its history. Yet his meaning is quite obvious if one looks again at his text, because the call for learning about art leads him directly to an argument about the difference in formal integrity and expressive possibilities of painting and photography, followed by his historical account of Western art, with a long digression on British academic painting. The sense that he knew enough of Western art history, especially after his training in London and Paris, to offer even rudimentary lessons on the subject encourages some speculation as to why he did not include in his own teaching the very subjects he argued were essential to understanding art. It seems to me that by not including the study of Western and, of course, African art history, Onabolu wished to emphasize that his pedagogy was focused on methods and principles of the realistic mode of visual representation and ultimately on the mastery of the new pictorial language. I am tempted to suggest a desire on Onabolu’s part to focus on the singularity of realism’s power as a tool for narrating history, not by giving an account of events and deeds of modern Nigerian heroes and leaders—as in normative history painting—but by simply bearing witness to their embodied humanity, which was a crucial act in the process of gaining control of the native’s subjectivity. Given the prevailing tendency to associate realism with rationality, which in turn was the motivating logic of Western modernity’s institutions and knowledge systems, mastery of this visual mode more or less implied the demonstration of one’s ability to be modern, which for the African was not yet a settled question. In other words, Onabolu’s task was not


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so much to help his students find their place within the admirable tradition of Western art as assist them in acquiring the tools with which to speak a visual language that evoked the rationalism/realism of industrial modernity, the mastery of which was fundamental to the politics of the native educated elite. This is a way to understand, if one resists the temptation to think only in terms of mimicry and authenticity, why the first act of pioneer modern painters in the colonial worlds of India, Egypt, Nigeria, and elsewhere was to master the Western academic and naturalistic painting mode. Let us step back for a moment but only to reconsider the significance of Onabolu’s academicism in terms of both his relationship with history and the place of his work in the modernism of later generations of Nigerian artists. Reassessments of Onabolu’s work in recent art-Â�historical scholarship have revealed a faulty grasp by some observers of the task the artist set for himself, along with a misunderstanding of what I think are useful ways of imagining his academicism as radically modernist. Consider, for instance, the artist, writer, and curator Rasheed Araeen’s assertion that “the realism of [Onabolu’s] work is a product of colonialism, not an opposition to it as some believe.”14 Araeen sees as fundamentally flawed the work of what he calls “Africa’s own historians,” who have in different measures looked to Onabolu as the initial point of the continent’s entry into art history, when in fact his work amounted to nothing but “mimicry under the tutelage of colonial paternalism.” Araeen’s point, in essence, is that because of European colonialism’s far-Â�reaching, transformative effect on the cultures of Africa, it was impossible for Onabolu (and other African artists) to claim agency or authenticity by speaking in a European visual tongue. Moreover, Onabolu’s failure to link his academism to the distinctive naturalism of ancient Ife sculpture, which would stand for his own tradition, and the inability of African art history to argue for that ancestral connection instead of celebrating the artist’s mimicry assured Africa’s marginality in what Araeen calls the mainstream history of modernism. Of Araeen’s many troubling pronouncements on Onabolu’s modernism, the two that parallel more cogently the problem of this book and this chapter are, first, Araeen’s erroneous assumption that African modernism is one uniform, uninflected story of appropriating European artistic forms and concepts; and, second, his claim that Onabolu’s academism is nothing but mimicry and irresponsible abandonment of his African tradition. Here, Araeen’s critique, remarkably reactionary for its time, retraces the criticisms of the educated nationalist elite by apologists of indirect rule. Whatever part Aina Onabolu supposedly played in instigating the appointment of Kenneth Murray in the summer of 1927 as the first official arts

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and crafts teacher in colonial Nigeria, Murray’s arrival marked a significant shift on the part of the colonial government in its stance on art education, which until then existed, unregulated, outside the purview of the Education Department. But it became clear in no time that the two men had oppositional ideas about the direction, role, and scope of art in the colony. Soon after his arrival, Murray, a fresh graduate of the Birmingham School of Art, set about fashioning a new arts and crafts curriculum that became the model for southern Nigerian schools from the early 1930s onward (Kwami, 1936; Keta Girl, 1942; figures 2.4 and 2.5). Fundamental to Murray’s pedagogy is the belief that students should be encouraged to create art along purely African lines rather than be made to imitate European artistic styles and forms or be subjected to British examination standards. His staunch defense of art’s locational specificity hints at the much more controversial but consistent conviction expressed in his many memoranda and letters that modern European art was far too advanced for Africans, who had yet to reach “the stage of perceiving a subject like art for its own sake.”15 Although not necessarily opposed to realism, he was critical of the study of perspective and object drawing, convinced as he was that the rigorous depiction of objective reality was far less important than the excitement of artistic imagination through memory images. He discouraged such pictorial methods as much because they derive from the spiritually impoverished European tradition as for their alienness to native tradition. “In African primary schools,” he once wrote, “art and craft teaching should be based on the indigenous work without importations of design or technique from Europe. Drawing and painting could even be omitted from the curriculum of many schools in Nigeria, provided that wood carving was taught instead.”16 Nevertheless, his art teaching ran on two distinct tracks: first, the rendition of memory images created either by imagining unseen subjects or by drawing objects only after a brief observation; and second, the depiction of scenes of rural life and illustration of folk stories by means of flat rather than illusionistic pictorial forms. In a passage that might well have been directed at the work of Aina Onabolu, Murray criticizes the African artist seeking the mastery of stylistic modes and pictorial techniques of the precubist era: It must seem absurd that while European artists, supported by a philosophy of art, seek to acquire for their work the virtues of the art of Africa and of other pre-Â�literate peoples, Africans, who have not yet the experience to formulate a reasoned point of view in art, should want to learn the conventions of art that most European artists would prefer to forget.17


Figure 2.4╇ Kenneth Murray, Kwami, graphite on paper, 1936. Image courtesy of the Otter Gallery, University of Chichester, EngÂ�land. © Estate of Kenneth C. Murray.

Figure 2.5╇ Kenneth Murray, Keta Girl, graphite on paper, 1942. Image courtesy of the Otter Gallery, University of Chichester, EngÂ�land. © Estate of Kenneth C. Murray.


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Whereas Onabolu prepared students for professional work as Â�modern painters or designers, Murray, by recommending apprenticeship with master traditional carvers for those who wished to practice professionally, was more invested in recovering native art traditions and in training artists whose work would satisfy the needs of rural and city dwellers who must be protected from the decadent, modern art and industrial crafts of Europe and Asia. Yet in banishing the study of perspective, a sophisticated pictorial device, from his art class, Murray provided neither an alternative, equally rigorous approach to formal composition nor new ways of seeing pictorially. The result is the simple, narrative 1930s paintings of his special students, including Uthman Ibrahim, Benedict Enwonwu, Christopher C. Ibeto, Jerome O. Ugoji, and A. J. Umana. The naive naturalism of Murray’s school—characterized by idiosyncratic, flat pictorial space, unsophisticated palette, and rudimentary draftsmanship—was, as it turned out, not a transitory style of juvenilia. Rather, it continued into the artists’ mature years, with the singular exception of Enwonwu’s sophisticated “African style,” which emerged only after he trained in London at the Slade School of Fine Art in the late 1940s. In other words, Murray’s pedagogy, while providing his students minimal technical proficiency in representing traditional customs, festivities, and other “African” subject matter, neither catalyzed the production of the modern equivalent of the deep, formal inventiveness and symbolic power of the much admired traditional African art nor prepared them for the more challenging process of rigorous experimentation with and understanding of design principles inherent in traditional Western academic sculpture and painting. Despite his lack of teaching experience before coming to Nigeria, Murray resolutely rejected Onabolu’s pedagogy from the outset. His ideas about artistic practice and development in the colony came from a constellation of contemporary ideas about European child art education and Eastern philosophy and above all from his interpretation of Lugard’s vision of education for tropical Africa. What is most striking about Murray is the manner in which these disparate sources seamlessly melded to produce a firm and dogmatic view of modern art in colonial Nigeria, one that was more conservative than anything his contemporaries working in other parts of West Africa imagined. I want to suggest that parsing what is part of the work of the European colonial Weltanschauung and what emanates from Murray’s private convictions cannot lead to the sort of conclusions made by scholars who have argued that Murray’s art teaching was distinctly opposed to the mainstream model of colonial native education. The misunderstanding of Murray’s art education in the scholarship is


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manifest in many ways, not the least of which are moments when excursions into the archive confuse rather than clarify our view of the past. Consider, for instance, a page of text in Murray’s archive consisting of statements about taste, child art education, the relationship of fine art and craft, and the universality of art and its place in the social imaginary—ideas excerpted from the British educator Joseph E. Barton’s writing on “On Art in Education for Citizenship.”18 It has been argued that these notes represent Barton’s articulation of modernism’s “search for non-Â�materialistic, spiritual values” and thus extrapolates a correlation between this idea of European modernism and Murray’s view of African art “as a practice animated not only by religion and magic but also by its production of use/value in everyday life.”19 A cursory look at Barton, an ardent defender of “Parisian” postcubist modernism in post–World War I Britain, who in his famous six-Â�part lecture series on the bbc in 1932 pushed for popular acceptance of the formal purism of functionalist architecture and abstract art—a position so radical that Roger Fry20 had to call for the reclamation of what he called the tremulous vitality of artistic sensibility from Barton’s mechanistic and functionalist aesthetic— suggests that Murray could not have found in Barton’s ideas a positive influence. Whereas Barton argued in his book Purpose and Admiration that modernist abstraction was the most current and true manifestation of what he calls “the religion of beauty” (by which he means, echoing the more familiar theories of Clive Bell and Roger Fry, art that is not so much concerned with re-Â�presenting the visual familiars of nature and the social experience as in evoking pure aesthetic emotion through sheer manipulation of artistic forms), Murray distrusted modernism for this very reason.21 Given Murray’s disapproval of modernism’s nonspiritual basis, its expression of Western modernity’s failures, and its moral decadence, he must have seen Barton as a key purveyor of the very ideas he hoped the new curriculum for native art education would prevent from taking root in Africa. Even the influence of the Austrian art educator Franz Cižek (1865–1946) must be put in proper historical perspective to grasp the specific ways it relates to Murray’s work. Quite rightly, a pamphlet in Murray’s archive, produced by Francesca M. Wilson for the 1921 art exhibition of paintings by Cižek’s students in London, irrefutably connects Murray’s ideas about art education with those of the Austrian. However, it is much more likely that the Birmingham School of Art (at the time the top arts and crafts school in EngÂ�land), where Murray had trained, had familiarized him with pedagogical methods that were much more fundamental than those of Cižek. As it happens, Robert Catterson-Â�Smith (1853–1938), a former principal at

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Birmingham and an important voice in the British arts and crafts movement, had developed and taught a radical method of encouraging the child’s power of artistic expression through memory drawing. This entailed requiring students to draw, from memory, images of objects shown to them for a brief period of time rather than draw images by directly observing the objects. One of Catterson-Â�Smith’s best-known students at Birmingham, Marion Richardson, adopted and refined his method and, with the help of Margery Fry and her brother, the art critic Roger Fry, became an influential advocate of memory drawing; it became a core part of Kenneth Murray’s art teaching in Nigeria. Birmingham also provided the context for Murray’s encounter with Cižek’s ideas, because Francesca Wilson, author of the Cižek pamphlet in Murray’s archive, was a history teacher at the Edgbaston Church of EngÂ� land College for Girls in Birmingham, as well as a friend of the Frys. This is important, if only because it indicates that although the exhibition of work by Cižek’s students, organized by Wilson, traveled for several years (along with Wilson’s text), Murray might in fact have come across both when he was still a student at Birmingham. In any case, Catterson-Â�Smith’s and Richardson’s idea of memory drawing, together with Cižek’s belief that the work of education, which naturally destroyed creative originality, ought to be the protection of children from outside influence so as to allow them grow from their own roots, needed one more element to coalesce into Murray’s pedagogy and his vision of African art: the element of the mystical and the religious, which came readily from the Sri Lankan philosopher Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877–1947). A passage from Coomaraswamy’s 1918 book Dance of the Śiva, which was included in a typescript of quotes in Murray’s archive, describes how yoga could, through invocation of various Buddhas and bodhisattvas and by ritual purification and meditation, result in the emptying of the ego consciousness and the production of sacred images willed by the divinities with whom the artist at that moment is in perfect communion. Elsewhere in Dance of the Śiva, Coomaraswamy cites Sukracharya’s injunction, which no doubt affirms the connection between art and spirituality, while making the case for the primacy of the internally generated image, emanating as it were from the true, mystically inspired self, over the images that remain merely in the optical realm: Let the imager establish images in temples by meditation on the deities who are the objects of his devotion . . . in no other way, not even by direct or immediate vision of an actual object, is it possible to be so absorbed in contemplation, as thus in the making of images.22


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What emerges from this tracking of Murray’s development as an educator is a picture of Murray that is far more complex than previously imagined. For while there is no doubt that he was attracted to progressive models of art teaching and child education in Europe, we witness the co-Â�optation and transmogrification of these ideas about nurturing artistic originality and authenticity into arguments about African cultural exceptionalism, the European’s mandate to determine the conditions of Africa’s access to modernity, and indeed the unsettled question of European modernism itself. Art schools for Africans, as imagined by Murray, were nothing short of what Jacqueline Delange and Philip Fry have called “protective centres for native talent.”23 The now legendary 1937 exhibition of paintings and sculptures organized by Murray for his students at the Zwemmer Gallery, London, clearly illustrates this point (figures 2.6 and 2.7) The Zwemmer show was a triumph for Murray. For years, he had sought approval from the colonial administration to exhibit the work of his students in London, ostensibly to convince both Whitehall and his critics in Nigeria of the relevance of native art education. But the exhibition was also an emphatic statement about the viability of his pedagogical method and his ideas about African art.24 In every sense the exhibition proved to be immensely popular, so much so that it remained open past its originally scheduled close. Art historians naturally point to the positive reviews it garnered, especially in the conservative EngÂ�lish press, as evidence of Murray’s successful insertion of modern African art into European cultural consciousness, as well as clear proof of his foundational role in the making of modern Nigerian art. But what does the Zwemmer show reveal about the use of products of empire in the internal battle for Britain’s cultural modernity? How do the exhibition reviews confirm my reading of Murray’s teaching as a process of creating African art that was anything but modern and progressive for its time? Murray’s alliance with Sir William Rothenstein, the principal of the Royal College of Art who opened the exhibition, is revelatory and significant. Rothenstein, a vocal critic of abstraction and Parisian modernism, had argued in 1931 that narrative realism, to him EngÂ�land’s national style, was a viable bulwark against the senseless abstraction of the Continental modernists.25 The Zwemmer exhibition, which showed “Africans doing real African art, rather than Europeans doing pseudo-Â�African art,” provided him the opportunity to simultaneously argue for the retention and expression of national essences through art and to criticize EngÂ�lish/European artists whose modernism was linked to cubist formalist experimentation with African (and Oceanic) sculpture. In other words—this applies to the show’s enthu-

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Figure 2.6╇ Ben Enwonwu, Coconut Palms, watercolor, 1935. Reproduced from Nigeria 14 (1938), courtesy National Council for Arts and Culture, Abuja. © The Ben Enwonwu Foundation.

Figure 2.7╇ C. C. (Christopher Chukwunenye) Ibeto, Ibo Dancers at Awka, watercolor, 1937. Reproduced from Nigeria 14 (1938), courtesy National Council for Arts and Culture, Abuja. © Estate of C. C. Ibeto.


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siastic reception by the conservative press—the exhibition proved that Africans had their own type of art, one quite different from either the sophisticated, narrative modernism preferred by Rothenstein and the academicians or the despicably powerful abstractions of the formal modernists defended by the likes of Fry, Barton, and Paul Nash. The exhibition, moreover, showed the British art world the great lie of abstract modernism: the real African art it claimed as one of its foundational resources was, after all, an illustrative, narrative art. Furthermore, it is not insignificant that the Zwemmer show appeared in London just one month after a major survey of contemporary art from EngÂ�land’s dominions (Canada, Australia, South Africa, India, New Zealand). While the latter show revealed the dominion artists’ familiarity with nineteenth- and twentieth-Â�century European styles, the pictorial naivety of the Nigerian works readily confirmed the popular perception of the colonies, unlike the dominions, as still in dire need of British imperial tutelage. This I believe is the ideological lesson of the Zwemmer exhibition, the reason it attracted such attention in the British press. Murray’s teaching and ideas about African art in the era of colonization must be seen as indicative of his unwillingness to appreciate the ineluctable fact that even in the so-Â�called primitive non-Â�Western society, artistic development could reflect the transformations in the sociopolitical space inaugurated by the colonial encounter and internal forces of change. But whatever trouble we might have appreciating the grounds for his strong convictions about the direction of art in colonial Nigeria disappears once we accept that he was (perhaps unwillingly or unconsciously) in many ways a mainstream colonial pedagogue profoundly sympathetic to the ideology of indirect rule. Far from critical of colonial ideology, Murray’s work was a part of the mainstream British-Â�African colonial practice and discourse.26 Let me then press further the intellectual and political debts Murray owes to the ideology of indirect rule by suggesting that if he had any clear agenda as a teacher, it must have been to restore the original vision of Frederick Lugard for native schools. In 1943, citing a passage from Lugard’s Memoranda on Education (1919), Murray wrote: “The primary object of the schools was ‘the preservation of indigenous arts unspoiled by foreign designs, and the improvement of Native methods.’”27 Murray lamented this unrealized mandate, blaming the Native Administration Works Department, which tended to focus on technical instruction at the expense of art. He noted the adverse impact of such instructional procedures and the disillusionment of students, most of them from noncraftsmen families, trained in the traditional arts but unable to secure government jobs that usually went to those trained in Euro-

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pean methods and techniques. Finally, he challenged the slack government economic policy responsible for the influx of cheap European and Asian imports, which compromised the production of exquisite handmade native arts and craft.28 To remedy this situation, an advisory committee on education recommended the revision of the art syllabus—the syllabus for art teachers that he designed and the government adopted in 1933—thereby winning the support of the Colonial Office for what he described as a “new attitude of encouraging the growth of indigenous arts.”29 Murray was not the first to defend or promote Lugard’s idea—a fact he acknowledged. He hinted at the influence of the writings of Eckart von Sydow, who, he noted, was among the earliest and most influential advocates of teaching art to Africans in the African spirit without forcing European ideas on them. In the concluding part of an essay remarkably insightful for the time, von Sydow, a Berlin-Â�based expert in exotic art, wondered if there was a renaissance of African art in Africa.30 “How,” he asked, “can the ancient art of the African native tribes be preserved or revitalized?” His answers are noteworthy. First, he argued that despite the temptation to encourage Africans to draw inspiration from Christian ideas, the result was bound to be unsatisfactory, not least because Christian art production tended to be “superficial, devoid of real inner meaning . . . and of a mawkish prettiness.” The only hope, as he saw it, would be for missionaries to encourage native talent to continue on the same lines as the ancient style, which could surely be adapted to Christian subjects. Second, he states: The best opportunities for the practical furthering of art lie within the range of government art supervision. This must ever be guided by the consciousness that it has the power to preserve and renew a precious cultural possession. It should endeavour with all its might not to force on to the Negro the mask of European art, but to train him to express his own individuality, thereby protecting him from the danger of slavishly imitating Europe.31 Here then, I suggest, is a clear statement of the problem of the Education Department’s art program, one which Murray recognized, internalized, and subsequently set out to enforce once he had the opportunity to design the official art curriculum for Nigerian schools. It is worth observing, though, that neither von Sydow nor Murray came to this conclusion in isolation, for they, like Lugard, subscribed to the adaptationist model of acculturation for African societies. Adaptation as a model for African education supposes that only a system-


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atic revival of “tribal” cultures, institutions, and practices or the invention of surrogate authentic lifeways would guarantee the colonial subject access to a safe, uncorrupted modernity, a modernity circumscribed, nevertheless, by a European vision of the African tribal life. This model, however, is riddled with complications and paradoxes. In practice, it had as its object a limited appropriation and regulation of tools of Western modernity in order to reinforce or rehabilitate the African’s immanent tribality. Yet in the task of assisting the colonial subject to keep connected to a past or passing tradition strictly defined, reconstructed, and promulgated by the colonial master, the apologists of adaptation could not concede to the colonized the prerogative of deciding the terms of his engagement with modernity or with the traditional culture for that matter. It is as if they could not live with the idea that he alone could meaningfully define the boundaries of his so-Â�called African lines. Moreover, if, as most observers noted, the African’s encounter with the West had been a rapid process, did not the idea that limiting the African’s desire to acquire the tools with which to navigate the path to modernity strike the supporters of adaptation as patently absurd? Translated to art pedagogy, adaptation theory meant an emphasis on production of traditional art and craft and on the recuperation and reification of “tribal” life with the aid of simple modern art techniques and media. Kenneth Murray’s art teaching in Nigeria exemplified this, as did the art program initiated by the British artist Margaret Trowell at Makerere College, in Kampala, Uganda. Their pedagogy resulted in pictures that exploited neither the full resources of mimetic representation nor the formal implications of abstract designs in African craftwork. In other words, the work failed to aspire to the rigor of academic formalism—an approach, I suggest, that in the given historical context represented the new and the progressive—or to the formal possibilities of the different modes of Western contemporary art. In a sense, the work of Trowell’s and Murray’s students related to “native” arts and culture only to the extent that they illustrated them; it typically did not show evidence of formal experimentation with properties of specific indigenous media or with their inherent design principles and compositional structures. Moreover, this work tests our imagination whenever we attempt to relate it to the techniques of memory drawing and spontaneous expression that supposedly gave rise to them, for their mechanical rendition of rural subject matter evince a mannered tribal affect. Further, the expectation that their students paint themes taken from life around them and from folklore often resulted in idyllic representations of bush “tribal” life, which not only appealed to the teacher’s primitivist imagination but also simultaneously led to systematic

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erasure of anything associated with Europe, despite the pervasive effects of a long history of contact with Europe. While Murray and Trowell represented the dominant pedagogical trends within the framework of British colonial ideology no less because of their influence on colonial art education in Nigeria and Uganda, few dissenting voices recognized the futility of the salvage paradigm inherent in adaptationist policies, proposing instead art and craft programs that unabashedly and positively acknowledged the inevitable reality of African cultural modernization. The work of George A. Stevens at Prince of Wales College, Achimota, in the Gold Coast (Ghana)—an arts and crafts school roughly modeled after the Bauhaus design school in Weimar, Germany—exemplifies this minority position. Stevens, a graduate of the Slade School of Art, London, arrived at Achimota in 1924 and thus became the first official, dedicated art teacher in the British West African colonies. A widely read observer of the impact of colonization on indigenous cultures and a follower of Edward Tylor’s work on primitive cultures, Stevens believed in the survivability of cultural habits in societies undergoing rapid transformation. He therefore saw the tasks of the modern researcher in Africa as carrying out a systematic study of dying cultural phenomena and then keeping these archives for future generations of Africans, who would most certainly need such knowledge. In this, Stevens’s position was far from radical. This part of his work, articulated in a 1928 article in the journal Africa, attracted Kenneth Murray’s admiration and widespread support among his contemporaries in Europe.32 Nevertheless (this is my point), Stevens also recognized that not all Africans lived or desired to remain in the villages or wished to map their own lifeworld with the compass of their ancestors and that the art curriculum at Achimota and the secondary schools must be comparable to that of EngÂ�lish schools in anticipation of a future demand for postsecondary art academies. He was thus critical of the usual tendency of art educators to insist on training taste and observation while discouraging, as Murray insisted in Nigeria, the emergence of professional artists and designers in the modern sense. Stevens’s work is important, then, not so much for what he achieved during his three-Â�year tenure at Achimota as for his recognition of the value of academic art within the context of a modernizing Africa. We could thus speculate that he might have supported the adoption of Onabolu’s pedagogy by the colonial government if he, rather than Murray, had been posted to Lagos. This analysis of Murray’s work as an art teacher must inevitably confront the primitivism lurking in the shadows of his utterances and in the writ-


Indirect Rule and Colonial Modernism —

ing of men like Eckart von Sydow. This is necessary for it helps us understand his work as a product of a discourse that was coincident with global colonial encounters. To be sure, I use “primitivism” here in just two of its proliferating senses: first, as a tactic used by European artists/intellectuals to critique and disidentify with the rationalist, white, patriarchal basis of modern Europe’s bourgeois society, which is how we often think of the artistic avant-Â�garde; and second, as the outcome of European response to and participation in the invention and discourse of (but also fear and fantasies about) its racial-Â�cultural other. Despite the temptation to see the first kind of primitivism as “progressive” on account of its apparently rejectionist or critical stance against the sociopolitical status quo, I am convinced—following Chinua Achebe’s critique of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the arguments of Edward Said about European intellectuals’ participation in the production of orientalism—that the two kinds of primitivism are ineluctably conjoined in the production of the trope of the primitive, in spite of what might be their dissimilar motivating politics. I thus argue that though Murray’s writings and lifestyle suggest that he might have been genuinely convinced about the need to maintain the uniqueness of African indigenous cultures and to protect them from Western civilization’s aggressive inhumanity and decadent materialism, his insistence on “natural” rural scenes as the genuine face of colonial Africa comes close to the second type of primitivism. In other words, despite his criticism of the colonial regime—arguably driven by his realization that the government’s policies were moving away from the Lugardian adaptationist model—his ideas about contemporary African cultures and art were remarkably similar to von Sydow’s. In a way, Murray, like European avant-Â�garde artists of his day, “inherited,” as Susan Hiller has argued, “an unconscious and ambivalent involvement with the colonial transaction of defining Europe’s ‘others’ as primitives, which, reciprocally, maintains an equally mythical ‘western’ ethnic identity.”33 Still, there is a crucial difference between the work of Murray, whose primitivist imagination was, from every indication, born of a compelling empathy and yearning for an immersive experience of African cultures and lifeways, and that of such artists as Picasso and the Parisian avant-Â�garde, for whom African and Oceanic arts were just alien resources for reimagining their own ideas and experiences of Europe and the West. Similarly, despite his intellectual debts to Lugard, it is hard to imagine Murray in the same frame in which we find such an ideological primitivist as Lugard or even Mary Kingsley. The conclusion we can draw from these fast and loose intellectual connections between Murray, von Sydow, Kingsley, and Lugard is that insofar as their work produced or ex-

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tended the reaches of the adaptationist model of colonial practice, they were engaged in what I would like to call imperial primitivism.

Early Debates on Modern Art

I must emphasize that Kenneth Murray’s work as an art teacher was important but not for the reasons we find in the existing scholarship.34 If we extricate his work from contemporary intellectual debates or resist reading it against the prevailing discourse of indirect rule colonialism, his art teaching could certainly be and has routinely been misconstrued as radical, therefore even anticolonial and progressive. Isolated from interwar ideas about native education and policies, his pedagogy appears groundbreaking, more so if it is compared to its other local, historically, and geographically proximate antithesis: the supposedly atavistic academism of Onabolu. However, only when we reevaluate or reinsert Murray’s work into its intellectual and political milieu are we able to appreciate it not as a precursor of the radical work that emerged in Nigeria by the mid-Â�twentieth century but as an index of British colonial educational policies in Africa. Clearly, both Murray and Onabolu played critical roles in the development of modern art in Nigeria. The pertinent question is, what kind of modern art did their work anticipate? For Onabolu, as we have seen, the task of the modern Nigerian artist was first to dispel any racist assumption of the African’s intellectual inferiority; how better to show this than through mastery, what Olu Oguibe aptly calls “reverse appropriation,” of the creative sophistication that post-Â�Renaissance European art had claimed as its sole property. It was important for Onabolu that the modern artist be subjected to rigorous training in the principles of form, design, and image-Â�making techniques. It is unprofitable now to speculate the fate of Nigerian art had Murray’s program not displaced that of Onabolu as the official curriculum for art teaching in Nigerian schools. What is certain is that despite Onabolu’s marginalization in official art education, his art classes in private schools and in his own studio created the rudiments of an emergent art world, a thriving platform for articulating a modern artistic practice energized by his former students, many of whom organized themselves into art clubs in Lagos. One such club was the Aghama Youth Club of Fine Arts, founded in the 1940s by Onabolu’s former student A. O. Osula. As Donald MacRow suggested in 1954, the Aghama club “provided an alternative avenue for free expression among youth who, in fast changing Nigeria, had increasingly fewer opportunities to partake in native arts, customs and festivals.”35 The


Indirect Rule and Colonial Modernism —

club’s members (who in 1957 included Uche Okeke, just before he enrolled in Zaria) engaged in life drawing, landscape painting, and other exercises. They emphasized technical mastery and professionalization and, contrary to Murray’s pedagogy, had no interest in the supposedly vital native arts and crafts. Moreover, in carrying forward Onabolu’s vision of the modern through his youth club, Osula also pointed to the next logical phase of modern Nigerian art by suggesting the task facing artists after the question of native artistic competence had been laid to rest. In an important, though largely forgotten 1952 essay, Osula acknowledged the significance of what he called Nigeria’s “art of the past” even as he affirmed his concern for the future of contemporary art.36 Faced with the two distinct categories of artists he identified in colonial Nigeria—traditional craftsmen and the artists who based their styles and techniques on European examples—he clearly identified with the latter, the modern artists, to whom the future belonged. His vision of the modern, however, specifically called for modern artists to reengage with traditional art, for which many self-Â� styled modern artists felt nothing but “irritation,” so as to mine the formal, conceptual, and cultural reservoir of both new/foreign and old/native art: Those who follow European ways and are influenced by Western technique—they have to rely more on their own powers of invention and imagination to create a new style which will incorporate something of our past with that which is new and strange coming from abroad. They have as much to learn from the traditionalists of the Nigerian interior as from the artists of Europe. This synthesis, desirable though it may be, has not yet been attained.37 His conclusion, at once emphatic and prophetic, explicitly noted the futurity of the modernism he imagined in 1952: Little by little the difficulties will be overcome and young Nigerian artists, assimilating new techniques and media from Europe[,] will learn how to ally these with the best of our own Traditional Art, creating a synthesis of the old and the new, which will be the true Art of the present. Those who are working towards this end may be unknown to all but a few to-Â�day, but, when they succeed, their worth must surely be recognised by all.38 Osula’s ideas, broadly, are not without precedent. Two years before, John A. Danford, a British artist and the regional director of the British Council, published a watershed essay on Nigerian art.39 Unimpressed by the myth of a “pure” African art, he contended that the so-Â�called traditional art

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of Africa had always absorbed foreign influences that, in turn, reshaped local traditions. As such, he argued, those who “regret the introduction of new ideas and methods from Europe in the field of art”—presumably people like Kenneth Murray—clearly misunderstood the nature of traditional art and the possibilities of contemporary art. He then proposed a “gradual blending of the African and European Schools, the artist taking the best both have to offer and building out of it a new School of Nigerian art.”40 It is quite possible that Osula borrowed his ideas of blending the “African and European Schools” from Danford. Yet more than anyone before him, Osula understood and articulated the problem of the modern Nigerian artist in the colonial period: how to negotiate on his own terms the formal and conceptual possibilities offered by traditional African and Western art. The limited intellectual resources available to his contemporaries and, one might add, the burden of colonial projection of African self-Â�insufficiency seemed to have compelled Osula’s candid assessment; but he was also quite possibly convinced that the fast-Â�paced movement, from the beginning of that decade, toward political independence meant that the enabling critical conditions for the inevitable resolution of the problem of contemporary artistic subjectivity was imminent. Even so, neither he nor Danford suggested the specific nature of this blending or synthesis or what aesthetic or conceptual program they expected to spring from their prognostications. Chapter 3 takes up this matter of synthesis as part of its concern with the discursive genealogies of the theoretical framework proposed by the Art Society for its particular brand of postcolonial modernism. Notwithstanding the interventions and parallel modernist aspirations of the young Lagos artists—many of whom were taking correspondence art courses offered by Onabolu and his former student Akinola Lasekan (1916–1972), who himself took correspondence courses at the Hammersmith School of Art, London (figure 2.8)—Murray’s influence continued to hold sway, entrenched as much by art teaching in government schools as through national competitions and exhibitions organized by the British Council and the National Festival of the Arts. The first of the British Council shows, the Nigerian Art Exhibition of 1948 curated by Danford, was perhaps the most important, not least because it was the first comprehensive survey of modern Nigerian art. Not since Murray’s exhibition of his students’ work at the Zwemmer Gallery in London a decade earlier had an art exhibition attempted to set the ground for a discourse of modern Nigerian art. It included works by Murray’s former students, artists influenced by his teaching, as well as Onabolu’s former students.


Figure 2.8╇ Uthman Ibrahim, Bamboos, watercolor, ca. 1935. Reproduced from Nigeria 14 (1938), courtesy National Council for Arts and Culture, Abuja. © Estate of Uthman Ibrahim.

The 1948 exhibition reflected Danford’s view of Nigerian art as belonging to two distinct European and African styles that could be gradually blended into a truly modern art. Soon enough, in 1953, Dennis Duerden, an education officer and art teacher at Keffi Boys Secondary School, whose students were represented in the 1948 exhibition, announced the emergence of a Nigerian painting style.41 But rather than seek recourse, as we might expect, in indigenous art forms in formulating his argument, he characterized the Nigerian style of painting in terms of its unique color, shapes, gestures, and patterns. His formal analysis, to be sure, reads more like an elementary discourse on composition and design applicable to work by schoolchildren rather than a serious critical proposition on the work of Nigerian painters. His descriptions of pictures “built up by nicely calculated patches of paint” or of the artists’ interest in decoration rather than depth or the tendency to ar-


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range “the most delicate brush strokes into a sensitive pattern” could reasonably apply to many, if not all, historical and recent pictorial traditions. Moreover, to mention a glaring problem with his analysis, he does not explain how this Nigerian style differs from what he calls “the highly developed painting of Persia or India,” both of which, like modern European art, are much more concerned with pictorial pattern and decoration than illusionistic depth. Apparently aware of the precariousness of his critical enterprise and the basis of his primary assumption, he later wondered if it was not presumptuous to derive a Nigerian style from the work of students in a single little-Â�known secondary school. Yet by emphasizing the ethnic diversity of the students, which invariably meant that they constituted a valid sample of Nigerian artists, the Nigerianness of the style he had formulated—never mind that it was based on the work of teenagers—seemed to him all too evident. Concluding, he asked how this new Nigerian style could be sustained and developed and, as if to encourage recognition of his support for the Murray–indirect rule approach to colonial modern art, he rephrased the now familiar Lugardian dictum: the thing for the art teacher to do “is to discourage plagiarism of European styles based on the tradition of depth and atmosphere.”42

I CONCLUDE THIS CHAPTER with some speculation on two questions that haunt the events following the arrival of Kenneth Murray in 1927. Why did Onabolu seek the appointment of a Briton to teach in Lagos when his own difficult experience with the Department of Education ought to have made him aware that the arrival of a white teacher invariably meant his own displacement and possibly the derailment of his vision of art education and practice based on mastery of the academic tradition? Did he, to return to a question I posed earlier, misread the ideological fissures marking the landscape in the era of indirect rule? To these questions I offer three propositions. First, quite possibly Onabolu’s demand for a British art teacher was born of the need to compel respect for fine art by a colonial administration that had little regard for what it considered the profligate and potentially radical “literary” work of native troublemakers. The concern for establishing art education as an important portfolio within the Department of Education, in other words, might have trumped anxieties about his own fate as a teacher in the fraught landscape of indirect rule colonialism. Second, the adoption of the 1925 memorandum created an urgent need for the colonial government to implement its guidelines across sections of the Department of Education. It thus made the appointment of a British teacher to lead the harmonization


Indirect Rule and Colonial Modernism —

process inevitable and contingent—or to put it more starkly, Onabolu’s proposal, coming a year after the memorandum, may not have actually played a determining role in the official decision to create the position eventually occupied by Murray. Third, Onabolu, like Edward Blyden and other members of Lagos’s educated elite before him, must have felt his own fair share of the official antagonism directed toward educated natives—this was the subtext of his 1920 treatise—but may have decided that the radical potential of formal education was the requisite bulwark against the mainstream colonialists’ objurgation of native artistic ambitions and agency. Thus, he may have been undeterred by the possibility that whoever joined him in teaching art might introduce artistic ideas incompatible with his. I like to think that Onabolu had to have been very much aware of what Olufemi Taiwo aptly describes as “subjectivity’s quirks,” which dictate that a teacher cannot control what a student does with her tuition or how she decides to exert her agency.43 He might, in fact, have been certain that, even with the possibility that the Education Department would support a “tribal” model of art and African subjectivity, the introduction of Western-Â�style realism could still underwrite a viable modernist sensibility. He must have believed, in fact, that once the administration accepted any kind of formal art teaching in the schools, it would unwittingly and inevitably release the genie of native artistic agency. These speculations about Onabolu’s intention are not far-Â�fetched, for as will be seen, it is from Onabolu’s model of the speaking, self-Â�aware colonial subject convinced of his connection to world historical cultures—not just to that of his real or imagined ancestors, as indirect rule colonialism arrogantly argued—that postcolonial modernism unfolded in Zaria, Ibadan, and Lagos during the independence decade.

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Chapter 3

THE ACADEMY ↜ A ND ↜ T HE AVANT- �G ARDE

THIS CHAPTER FOCUSES ON the history of the Nigerian College of Arts, Sci-

ence and Technology (ncast) in Zaria, the first degree-Â�awarding art institution in Nigeria. In 1958 a group of ambitious ncast students founded the Art Society, which became the inaugural act of mainstreaming modernist art during the 1960s. The process of transforming the ncast art program from a training ground for secondary-Â�school art teachers and casual artists into a school for professional artists, together with the tensions between the college and its national publics, reveals how competing demands on the institution dramatized the struggle between the colonial office and Nigeria’s educated elite over the control and direction of modern art and its role in the making of modern postcolonial culture. This history reveals quite importantly how questions within the British faculty and between the school and its critics about the relevance of local content in the design of the art curriculum provided fertile ground for the radical work of the Art Society group in and after Zaria. By engaging the new cultural history of Zaria, this chap-


Chapter 3 — 72

ter reconstructs a past that, until now, has seemed very distant due to lack of access to relevant archival records of the period. My task in this chapter, therefore, is to provide an intellectual history of the ncast art department; to contextualize the motivating ideas of the Art Society; and in examining their artwork, to offer a more compelling account of what really happened at Zaria and what that has to do with the modernist movement in Nigeria in the decade of independence.

The Art Department at NCAST, Zaria

The ncast Fine Arts program began on a very modest scale in the 1953/54 academic year at the Ibadan branch of the college, with two teachers, Mr. Roy Barker and his wife, Mrs. V. M. Barker. As a subdepartment of education, the art program had eight foundation students enrolled in either the three-Â�year course Art for Teachers or the three-Â�year Commercial Art course. In its early years the program offered classes in weaving, pattern and design, imaginative composition, perspective drawing, anatomical studies, mural decoration, still life, figure drawing, wood carving, and modeling. However, the art program struggled mightily to assert its legitimacy as a relevant part of Nigeria’s emergent academic community. But if the public was dubious of the program’s place within the academic institution and beyond, it must have been in part because in its first years, the Art Section—as it was originally called—did not have a streamlined academic requirement for student admission, thus creating the impression that unlike the other programs in the college, art studies were laissez-Â�faire and demanded from its practitioners less intellectual investment. The program’s administrators, conscious of its critical public, devised ways of promoting the art program and its students and graduates, mostly through art exhibitions outside the college and by way of radio broadcasts. One such public relations event was the first gallery exhibition of students’ work, organized in April 1955 at the Exhibition Centre in Marina, Lagos. Quite likely an uninspiring show, the official opening of The Nigerian College of Technology Art Exhibition attracted important personalities, including the flamboyant federal minister of Natural Resources and Social Services, Adegoke Adelabu; the acting chief federal advisor on education, A. Hunt-Â� Cooke; and the assistant principal of ncast, Ibadan branch, K. O. Williams. This high-Â�caliber guest list left no one in doubt about the stakes of the show. The eight exhibiting students, described in the catalog as “the first students to undertake a full-Â�time training in Art in the Nigerian education scheme,”1


The Ac ademy and the Avant- Garde —

included four sophomores in the Art for Teachers course and four freshmen from the Commercial Art course. In his opening address, the assistant principal stressed the exhibition’s importance as a public relations event designed to introduce the college and its art program to a skeptical public. Emphasizing the future potential of the program and its graduates, however, he noted that the “College was proud of the exhibition, not so much [because] of the work done, as the work it is going to do, of which this was the first-Â�fruits.”2 Despite this tacit acknowledgment of the mediocrity of the exhibited work, the principal reminded his audience of the students’ artistic potential, invariably seeking a deferment of possible criticism of a program undergoing a series of structural and curricular transformations. By September 1955 not only had the art program expanded into a full Department of Art, with more faculty and students; it also relocated from Ibadan to Zaria, with sixteen students enrolled that year for the four-Â�year course leading to a diploma in fine art. This course comprised two years’ study in anatomy, perspective, objective study, outdoor study, design subjects, life drawing, pictorial composition, modeling, pottery or fabric printing, general knowledge, and EngÂ�lish. At the end of the second year, the students sat for the Intermediate Certificate in Arts and Crafts, followed by two years of specialization in painting, sculpture, or commercial design. Upon successful completion of the diploma course, a further year of study in the Department of Education was available for those graduates who intended to teach. The transformation from an art-Â�education institution (the model of art pedagogy established by Kenneth Murray a few decades earlier; see ch. 2) to an academy for professional artists and designers became complete in 1957, when the program phased out the three-Â�year Teacher’s Certificate course. This shift is crucial, for it signaled an important makeover of colonial art education, one emphasizing the training of teachers rather than professional artists. To press this concept further, it meant the final realization of Onabolu’s (no doubt inflexible) vision of a Nigerian art academy; but whereas Zaria’s orientation did not align with the strictly British Reynoldian Royal Academy model, it did serve as an advanced program for many students already introduced to rigorous art-Â�making procedures, either in the studios of Aina Onabolu or Akinola Lasekan or in the art clubs (figures 3.1 and 3.2). What is clear, though, is that the cool reception of ncast by a critical public put considerable pressure on a school in search of relevance in Nigeria and recognition in Britain. This recurring institutional anxiety, itself indexical of

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Figure 3.1╇ Sculpture Studio with students’ work, Art Department, Nigerian College of Art, Science and Technology, Zaria, ca. 1958–1960. Photo, courtesy of Paul de Monchaux. Figure 3.2╇ Paul de Monchaux, Head, cement, 1958. This sculptural portrait was created as a demonstration in the sculpture class. Photo, courtesy of Paul de Monchaux. © The artist.


The Ac ademy and the Avant- Garde —

the pervasive angst between the colonizer and the colonized in the last days of empire, played out in an intradepartmental squabble among the British faculty members on how best to raise the program’s profile. For instance, Donald Brooke, a lecturer in sculpture and an acquaintance of the famous EngÂ�lish sculptor Henry Moore, believed that bringing high-Â�profile artists like Moore to the school might be helpful, while Roy Barker, as departmental chair, was more concerned about seeking affiliation with a British art school. Thus, the first formal attempt at affiliating the Art Department with the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, in the 1957/58 session led to Slade Professor A. H. Gerrard’s appointment as Zaria’s external examiner, although negotiations between the two schools were ultimately inconclusive.3 The failure to secure London affiliation was not Zaria’s only problem. A devastating challenge came in the form of withering criticism of the art program broadcast on national radio by Nigeria’s most famous artist, Ben Enwonwu (1917–1994), sometime in the spring term of 1958.4 Although a transcript of the broadcast does not seem to have survived, Enwonwu must have criticized the overwhelmingly European faculty and the art school’s curricular focus, which by then had only one Nigerian artist, Clara Ugbodaga, on the teaching staff. At the First International Congress of Black Writers and Artists at the Sorbonne (Paris, 1956), in a contemporary reformulation of the age-Â�old charge levied against the colonial regime by the Lagos intellectual elite at the turn of the century, Enwonwu criticized the marginalization of qualified Nigerian artists in the colonial dispensation. The political problem faced by African artists, he argued, was manifest in the total control of art programs, like the Nigerian Festival of Arts, by Europeans who insisted on “fallacious standardization.”5 He may have returned to these questions in his radio address with particular focus on the Zaria program. The ncast reaction to Enwonwu’s broadcast was firm. In a letter reminiscent of the trademark indisposition of colonial administrators to criticism by native intellectual elite, the college registrar, W. A. Husband, requested that the federal government take official disciplinary action against the artist.6 The government’s lack of interest in sanctioning Enwonwu for the offensive broadcast, however, and the quick resolution of the confrontation seems to have been founded on anxieties about popular nationalist backlash against the colonial regime.7 Described by the magazine West Africa a few years earlier as “one of the world’s most unusual civil servants,”8 Enwonwu was officially the Federal Art Supervisor in the Information Office. Without a specific task attached to his portfolio, his national visibility and his flamboy-

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ant and prideful personality often collided with the strictures of colonial civil service. In any case, Zaria’s hyperbolic response to the Enwonwu broadcast reminds us of pervasive and elevated anxieties in the administration about public perception of the college and its art program. Within weeks of the Enwonwu episode, the art department sponsored a lecture, also broadcast on national radio, defending the program and its relationship with its Nigerian environment. Written and most likely presented by the art department chair, Roy Barker, in a conversational style reminiscent of the popular bbc talk series of the period, the broadcast helped the program in its struggle for national relevance. While no direct mention of Enwonwu is made in the lecture, there is no doubt that it was a response to him, using the same public medium through which he had unleashed his critical onslaught. The Barker broadcast, moreover, was meant to confront the challenge of establishing an art history of Nigeria in the light of new discoveries and old materials associated with the country’s diverse ancient cultures. It was also designed to address the corollary problem of calibrating the art school’s relationship, in terms of its curricular offerings, with these same traditions, which had assumed increasing significance in the Nigerian national imaginaries. Barker’s position, however, was quite clear. Despite the acknowledged richness of Ife, Benin, and Esie sculptural traditions, he argued that the days of the “traditional wood carver” had been eclipsed by the contemporary “in-Â�between stage”; that is to say, a transitional social milieu demanding a different kind of artist, one who “now stands free, sometimes uncomfortably free, in a bewildering, rapidly changing country.”9 The new artist, Barker argued, must confront ideas foreign to the constricted field of practice within which his ancestors “in [the] seldom-Â�changing community” worked: We may look back nostalgically to the glories of the past. We may decry this new Art. But let us understand that the change has come about. There are new things to say. There are new ways of saying them. Let us not be afraid of accepting ideas and techniques and above all do not let us, at this stage of our development, insist on a National Art or even on an African Art. Who shall say what these abstractions are? Can the European define African art? It is better to accept the new ideas from outside. To fight them is blind folly—to spite ourselves and deliberately to limit our future growth. Our National Characteristics and our African Art will not appear by force—rather will false characteristics appear. Characteristics which have become the Europeans’ accepted ideas of them. It may be argued that an acceptance of the foreign methods will re-


The Ac ademy and the Avant- Garde —

sult in a non-Â�characteristic Art. Let me agree—indeed it is likely that this will happen—yes it certainly will if Nigeria has no men with that spark which raises the painter or the carver to the level of the Artist. That something which lifts men from the ranks of mere copyists who have not the strength or the ability to express themselves.10 Barker’s reference to a “National Art” is important for two reasons. First, it steps away from the revivalist rhetoric of earlier colonial educators and ideologues. Second, it pushes against the nationalist tone of Enwonwu’s earlier criticism. In Barker’s view, nationalism, like other ideologies, because it exerts a restrictive rather than an emancipatory force on the creative imagination, could only compromise the establishment of a robust contemporary Nigerian art world. By accepting the methods of Western art, he reasoned, Nigerian artists would be in the vanguard of a new art with limitless potentialities. It is hard to fault Barker’s argument, particularly its insistence on the liberatory value of the artistic experience, the transcendental power of the artistic imagination, and the dangers of art motivated primarily by politics and ideology. Yet the implied assumption of an axiomatic relationship between studies in African art and cultural irredentism ignores the unique means by which modernism and ideology were involved in productive and important, if underacknowledged, ways. Barker also argued that a direct approach toward establishing a national art—by which he probably meant catalyzing the process with Africanist ideology or perhaps just studying African art—would inevitably lead to what he called “false characteristics.” The Zaria Art Department’s primary task was thus to help students acquire the aesthetic sensibilities and technical skills on which a vibrant Nigerian modernist art might be based. Yet Barker acknowledges the logical quandary faced by the “vocational art institute,” like Zaria, which despite its mandate to teach people to sculpt and to paint, did not train artists; for according to him, it takes much more than training in studio methods and techniques to make an artist out of a painter, designer, or sculptor. If for a moment we reinsert Barker’s concept of an artist (rather than a mere painter, craftsman, or sculptor) in his argument about the possibility that acquiring foreign methods could result in “noncharacteristic art,” the ideological basis of his meditation on the school of art in decolonizing Nigeria becomes obvious. The problem here is not so much with his claim that the art school does not make an artist—that might well be true—as with his absolutist thinking; that is, his refusal to accept that a profoundly expressive and formally sophisticated art could also be politically engaged and national-

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istic (to the extent it participates in national identity discourse). Despite the tendency in Western modernist art history and theory to dissociate modernism from nationalism and to suggest their mutual antagonism, modernism in decolonizing societies often engaged productively with the discourse of the national.11 The problem with Barker’s argument was therefore the failure to come to terms with the idea that, in the process of developing a complex, diverse, and sophisticated contemporary art in Nigeria, the study of Nigerian and African art and cultural history can go hand in hand with the acquisition of foreign methods. Although African art and Western art history, as such, were not taught as regular courses in Zaria during the ncast years, some of the teachers gave occasional lectures or seminars in world art. For instance, Diana Madgett, a British artist who came to Zaria in 1957 after teaching at the University of Hong Kong for five years, gave lectures on Japanese and modern European artists. As Barker’s radio program reveals, Zaria was particularly burdened with the question of calibrating its curriculum to justify its location within a specific national context. The inclusion of local content in the Zaria curriculum, however, began in 1958 with the arrival of Barker’s successors, the British painter Patrick George (b. 1923) and the Canadian sculptor Paul de Monchaux (b. 1934), newly graduated from the Slade (figure 3.3). In March 1959, de Monchaux, and two other teachers, G. E. Todd and Diana Madgett, along with two students, Uche Okeke and M. A. Ajayi, went on a ten-Â�day study tour of southern Nigeria. The excursion covered different aspects of Nigerian cultural and artistic heritage, including the ethnographic museums recently established by Kenneth Murray at Ife, Benin, and Lagos. The group also visited important sites and monuments, such as the iron-Â�studded monolith Opa Oranyan, said to have been installed in the ancient city of Ife during the reign of the first Yoruba king; the famous Tsoede bronzes, named after the founder of the Nupe Kingdom, at Tada (figure 3.4); the soapstone sculptures at Esie first documented by the German ethnologist Leo Frobenius in 1911; the old centers of glass-Â�bead manufacture in Bida; and indigo-Â�dyed cloth at Abeokuta. They also visited the palaces at Esie, Benin City, Akure, Ikere, and Owo to view their royal collections. Their itinerary included visits to major modern public art commissions, such as John Danford’s bronze statue Emotan (1954) at Oba’s Market in Benin City (figure 3.5); Enwonwu’s wood sculpture ensemble Risen Christ (1953/54) at the Anglican Chapel, University College, Ibadan, and his bronze statue of Queen Elizabeth II in Lagos, commissioned by the Foreign Office in 1957; as well as several sculptural projects in Lagos by Enwonwu’s great rival, Felix Idubor


Figure 3.3╇ Group photograph showing Paul de Monchaux (center) and art students of the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology (ncast), ca. 1960. Simon Okeke is seated left of de Monchaux. Photo, courtesy of Paul de Monchaux.

(1928–1991). Along the way, the group engaged in discussions on contemporary Nigerian literature, particularly the works of Cyprian Ekwensi, Chinua Achebe, and Amos Tutuola, quite likely prompted by Okeke, who was already collecting Igbo oral literatures. In addition to being a fledgling poet, he believed that contemporary art and literature faced similar challenges in decolonizing Nigeria. A month later, Patrick George and another teacher, G. E. Todd, took textile students to Zaria city to study local dyeing techniques, while another team of newly hired art teachers embarked on a similar trip in December 1959. The effect of these study tours on the department’s course offerings was immediate. Building on discussions with Okeke during their trip on the impact of Western and indigenous art on contemporary Nigerian art and on the prospects of professional art practice in Nigeria, de Monchaux gave lectures and seminars on African art, the art of Benin, and Yoruba sculpture between May and June, relying on his own photographs and trip notes but also


Figure 3.4╇ Photograph of “Tsoede bronzes,” including the well-Â�known seated figure (right) from Tada, taken in situ by Monchaux during the ncast, Art Department faculty and students tour of southern Nigeria in 1959. Photo, courtesy of Paul de Monchaux.


Figure 3.5╇ John Danford with plaster figure of Emotan, in his Chelsea studio, London, 1953. The statue, later cast in bronze, was installed at the Oba’s Market, Benin City, in 1954. © Keystone Pictures USA / zumapress .com.


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on the writings of Ulli Beier and Leon Underwood. Clara Ugbodaga invited Enwonwu to give a lecture on contemporary Nigerian art, and T. A. Fasuyi, a former student, came to speak on traditional Nigerian art. These lectures demonstrated the art department’s newfound commitment to expanding and “nationalizing” its curricular offerings.12 The other problem faced by the ncast Art Department had to do with the status of its certification. With the departure of Patrick George in the summer of 1959, Clifford Frith (b. 1924), a painter and former teacher at Camberwell School of Art and Goldsmiths’ College, became the chair. Soon after, he resuscitated the stalled affiliation process, predictably with Goldsmiths’.13 In late December 1959, Patrick Millard, the respected British landscape painter recently appointed principal of Goldsmiths’, visited Zaria. Although Goldsmiths’ declined a formal affiliation with ncast, the mere fact that it moderated Zaria’s examinations brought the recognition by the Federal Ministry of Education in Nigeria of the ncast diploma as conferring graduate status, a dramatic shift from the years of subgraduate categorization of the school’s certificate by the government. Frith further built on Patrick George’s effort to introduce some African art in the Zaria art curriculum, as he believed that the students ought to be exposed to both European art and their own cultural heritages. To this end, he installed artifacts on loan from the Jos Museum in vitrines along the corridors and invited occasional lecturers in African art. Yet despite these curricular changes in the art department and the improved status of its diploma, doubts grew about the program’s viability and its relevance within and outside the college. Compounding the situation was the fact that ncast’s art graduates—its ambassadors—looked to secure careers in secondary education, teacher-Â�training colleges, or the civil service, because independent studio practice was widely considered precarious and undignified—a mere hobby for the gainfully employed or the preoccupation of those unable to secure decent jobs elsewhere. The Carr-Â�Saunders Commission, appointed in 1962 by the northern regional government to supervise the founding of its new university, caused great clamor among Art Department staff and students when its report initially omitted the art program from the list of ncast programs to be absorbed by the new university. The report compelled Clifford Frith to solicit the support and endorsement of famous British artists and intellectuals. After failing to persuade the celebrated painter Francis Bacon to visit Zaria, in early 1961 he invited the painter Isabel Lambert (1912–1992)—an important British member of the figurative avant-Â�garde better known for her professional and personal


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relationships with Alberto Giacometti, Pablo Picasso, André Derain, Francis Bacon, Georges Bataille, Jacob Epstein, Simone de Beauvoir, and others—to spend time working in the ncast painting studio.14 Frith also solicited the intervention of the world-Â�renowned biologist and author Sir Julian Huxley (1887–1975); unlike Barker before him, Frith recognized the significance of a recommendation from one of the most famous scientists of the day. Huxley’s response was immediate, positive, and persuasive. Recalling his recent visit to Zaria, Huxley stated that he had the impression that the Department of Fine Arts had done “remarkably well, especially in painting; certainly some of the advanced students whose work we saw, as well as some of those who have started on their own careers, are really good and original artists.” Huxley also argued against transferring the department to Lagos, thus addressing head-Â�on persistent criticism of the school’s northern location by the southern Nigerian press and influential politicians: If I recollect right, the [1959] Ashby Commission recommended the transfer of the [Art] Department to Lagos, on the ground that there would be more contacts there. I gather that there have also been objections raised to the continuance of an art school in a Moslem area. However, I wonder whether the atmosphere of Lagos would really be good for an Art School aiming at a fusion of African style and European technique, and trying to do original work. Lagos is very cosmopolitan, and full of distracting influences. There is the further point that the work of the school has, in general, I understand, been welcome in the Northern Region, and that it was inducing better attitude towards the role the arts play in modern life. In view of this, it might well be desirable to continue with the present arrangement, partly on the ground that it has been successful so far, and partly as one means of ensuring better cultural communication and appreciation between the Regions.15 Sir Julian’s letter reminds us of the intensity of interregional rivalry in postindependence years and the extent to which federal decisions on the location of art schools, as well as educational and cultural institutions, were a crucial part of the national political power game. In any case, apart from Sir Julian’s solicited endorsement, the Art Department trumpeted, as proof of its program’s high standards, the professional attainments of three graduates from the 1961 class, Uche Okeke, Demas Nwoko, and Jimo Akolo, who were “already well regarded as artists in Nigeria” and had attracted international attention.16

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Once the decision was made to keep the Art Department as part of the new university, the faculty had to consider the place of art history and African art in its curriculum. In spite of the occasional seminars and lectures on African and Nigerian art since Patrick George’s tenure, the official incorporation of art history into the program became a matter of intense dispute within the department. In a sense it highlighted the fact that structural and curricular changes in the educational sector were part of a slow, contentious process, even in postindependence Nigeria. Two teachers, Donald Hope and Eric Taylor, opposed the introduction of art history to enhance the department’s academic standing.17 It was impossible, they argued, to teach the history of European art as an academic discipline, because the teachers and students at Zaria did not have direct access to works of art. And even if European art historians were invited to teach in Zaria, they would be frustrated by the absence of art museums there or anywhere in Nigeria. In their view, rather than introduce regular courses in African art, the new university could only establish limited and elementary art history classes taught with lantern slides and photographs, as was already being done in the college. This argument turns on its head Enwonwu’s famous 1956 critique of colonial art institutions to the effect that, whereas European artists had unfettered access to excellent specimens of African art in European museums, African artists at best see only reproductions and third-Â�rate examples of European art.18 The argument that Hope and Taylor presented against teaching the history of African art to Nigerian students at the new university is even more remarkable for the authors’ inability to imagine African artworks as objects of systematic art appreciation, criticism, and history, especially in a new nation in need of meaningful perspectives on the history of the arts and material cultures of its constituent peoples and societies and on its place in world history. To them, nothing in ancient, traditional, or contemporary African visual arts qualified as fine art, a fact nullifying any claims they may have had as legitimate subjects of art history. To drive home this very point, they suggested that art students take courses in the proposed departments of African History and Archaeology and African Studies and Anthropology or have teachers from those departments give occasional lectures in the Art Department. Taylor and Hope’s memorandum highlights the differences in opinion within the Art Department on the proper response to the problem of adapting its program to the needs of postindependence Nigerian students and society.


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The Art Society

Given the widespread perception of fine art’s inferiority as an academic pursuit and despite Enwonwu’s national renown, the decision by four of the eleven students admitted in September 1957 to confront the status quo was nothing short of historic. These students came to Zaria with the ambition to become professional artists after their art training. They were not prepared to cede to their counterparts in other disciplines any claim to or air of academic superiority, in part because they entered Zaria highly recommended. Of the four, Uche Okeke (b. 1933) had already had a successful one-Â�person exhibition at the Jos Museum in 1956, an achievement only a few contemporary Nigerian artists could claim; Demas Nwoko (b. 1935) won the silver cup for best all-Â�around entry in art in the Western Regional Festival of Arts; Bruce Onobrakpeya (b. 1932) completed eleven paintings commissioned by the United African Company for the main pavilion during the Ionian Sports event in Ondo in 1957; and Jimo Akolo (b. 1934) had won several first-Â�prize awards in painting at the Northern Regional Festival of Arts and was included in the 1956 exhibition of paintings and prints by Keffi Boys at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York.19 Other alliances soon followed, with Nwoko and Uche Okeke as the nucleus of a widening circle of friends in the art department. Three students from the previous class, Yusuf Grillo (b. 1934), Simon Obiekezie Okeke (1937– 1969), and William Olaosebikan (life dates unknown), joined the group of four.20 Early in the 1958/59 session, four new students—Okechukwu Odita (b. 1936) and Oseloka Osadebe (b. 1935), secondary school mates of Nwoko’s, and Ogbonnaya Nwagbara (1934–1985) and Felix Nwoko Ekeada (b. 1934)— completed the group, providing the critical mass the leaders needed to push for formal recognition of their association.21 Following initial discussions by Demas Nwoko, Uche Okeke, and Simon Obiekezie Okeke on the possibilities of forming a Nigerian art society, an inaugural meeting of an association simply called Art Society took place on October 9, 1958. A month later, Simon Okeke was elected president, Uche Okeke secretary, and Onobrakpeya treasurer, with Mrs. Hart, wife of the college principal, serving as patron of the society.22 The aim of the Art Society was to “encourage the study of Fine Arts” and hold “weekly discussions on varied aspects of West African culture with special reference to Nigerian culture.”23 On different occasions they discussed folktales, water spirits and deities, burial customs, marriage ceremonies, use of local names, indigenous mural paintings in Nigeria, and body marks, as


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well as the ancient art of Benin, Ife, and Igbo-Â�Ukwu. From the onset, the society planned to publish its own magazine, but the idea was shelved indefinitely in November 1959 due to lack of funds. However, the students’ magazine, Nigercol, offered useful space for the writings of some of the Art Society members, particularly Uche Okeke, who published articles in all four issues of the annual magazine.24 Impressively enough, Uche Okeke’s publications were based on primary research in traditional Nigerian cultures. For instance his article “Birom Burial,” an account of burial and funerary practices of the Birom people of the Middle Belt region, appeared in 1958, followed by “Ibo Folk Tales,” his first important essay on Igbo folklore and religion, illustrated with four of his own drawings. In 1960 he published the poem “Ebinti Song,” and Odita contributed the essay “Nigerian Art and Artists,” a panoptic account of professional artists in eastern Nigeria, from traditional blacksmiths in Awka to Ben Enwonwu and Uche Okeke. The magazine’s last issue included two Okeke poems: “Ewu,” an ode to a sacrificial goat, and “Moonlight,” on the theme of childhood play in the village square. The themes of these Nigercol publications by Okeke and Odita, consistent with the aims of the Art Society, are significant not least because they were among the first meaningful efforts to include Nigerian art and cultures among the resources and materials to which contemporary artists and scholars must pay attention. It was as if Okeke and Odita realized that the basis of any constructive engagement with local expressive cultures by contemporary artists and art historians was primary research focused on these cultures. In this way they preempted and indeed may have encouraged the March 1959 southern Nigeria tour by art department faculty that ultimately led to occasional lectures on Nigerian arts and cultures by resident and invited scholars. They must have realized that only through such direct engagement with the local cultural environment could contemporary artists and scholars commence the daunting yet necessary journey toward establishing a meaningful discourse on Nigerian art in the art academy. In a very significant way, the exchange of information and ideas about indigenous cultures of Nigeria within an academic environment was a subversive gesture, because it provided its members a cultural counterweight to Zaria’s Western-Â�oriented curriculum. The society members’ readiness to share information and experiences unique to their own ethnicities—or as in the case of the Birom text by Okeke, from their places of residence—testified to a nationalist impulse, an eagerness to claim the diverse ethnic cultures and traditions as part of a collective national heritage. However, notwith-


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standing the exchange of information about Nigerian / West African cultural practices and art forms and its implication of a concerted imagining of a national heritage, the Art Society members for the most part focused on their own ethnic cultures for artistic inspiration, as if to confirm the powerful role of the ethnos in the constitution of contemporary Nigerian artistic identity. One of the Art Society’s initial strategic acts, besides appointing the branch principal’s wife as patron, was writing to important nationalist politicians and the British Council, informing them of the society’s mission and activities. Encouraging responses from both quarters bolstered the group; it amplified its ultimately unrealized plan to establish a magazine and organize an exhibition of the society’s art work. To the society, recognition from the British Council, at that time the most powerful player in the Nigerian art and culture sector, would guarantee funding for its projects. On the other hand, by reaching out to key nationalists, the group aligned itself with the political elite mapping the road beyond political independence, the date of which was announced by the colonial secretary four days after the Art Society’s inauguration. Despite the group’s ideological motivation, seeking support of some school officials, nationalists, and imperial institutions testified to the society’s pragmatism and its willingness to exploit all available resources, colonial or otherwise, in order to assert the relevance of contemporary art and artists in the life of the decolonizing nation. Still, that the society took the idea of sovereignty quite seriously is manifested in its reservations about the merits of Zaria’s affiliation with London. Rather than seek approval and support from British institutions, the society preferred to establish an independent, national art school and an institute of cultural studies and research. To the Art Society the idea that validation of their diplomas by a British institution was crucial to their future practice as Nigerian artists signaled a failure on their fellow students’ part to recognize and appreciate the full implication of impending political independence. Though cognizant of Zaria’s structural and curricular deficiencies, the society preferred full autonomy from a foreign educational system that had failed pitifully to address the needs of students seeking a professional career as artists in Nigeria. Thus, the opposition to Zaria’s affiliation with Goldsmiths’ College, London, was motivated by suspicion that such a relationship would amount to an extension of colonialism by other means, and as Okeke noted somewhat hyperbolically at the time, affiliation would inexorably lead to the establishment of a “European Art Empire.”25 Although the group members, like everyone else, were concerned about the quality of their education and earning their diplomas, they did not con-

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clude that foreign affiliation was the only viable option in a decolonizing Nigeria. Rather, as with nationalist politicians who, preferring immediate independence, rejected the gradualist approach to political independence prescribed by Britain, the Art Society wanted instant and complete autonomy from British institutions and lobbied to restructure the program with more local staff and curricular content. In this sense they might have agreed with the South African writer Ezekiel Mphahlele (Es’kia Mphahlele), who argued in 1959 that gradualism, as a political tactic in the liberation of southern Africa, “paralyses the African intelligentsia as a liberatory force.”26 The Art Society disbanded in June 1961, on the eve of the graduation of Uche Okeke, Demas Nwoko, and Bruce Onobrakpeya. Concerned about the antagonistic relationship between the society and the fine art students’ association and the general distrust of the group’s activities within the Art Department, the society’s triumvirate did not wish to see their junior colleagues bear the burden of their three years of troublemaking. More to the point, the society had outlived its relevance in Zaria, then in the process of becoming a new, regional university. Looking to the future, Uche Okeke noted in his diary that “the struggle now lies outside of the Zaria College.”27

Natural Synthesis

Although the Art Society was quite firm in opposing the continued imposition of foreign artistic and educational institutions and ideals on soon-Â�to-Â�be-Â� independent Nigeria, its opposition did not amount to outright rejection of Western art or any benefits that could accrue from adapting its institutional structures to suit the Nigerian environment. Its vision of contemporary Nigerian art was qualified by the same sense of realism adopted by its Egyptian modernist counterparts, who in the 1940s and 1950s came to terms with the inevitability of “alien” European practices, without which their hope of participating in the discourse and making of modern art would have been impossible.28 It was obvious to the Art Society that the first stage in the development of modern Nigerian art depended on art instruction by Western artists and art teachers schooled in the canons of European art. But they also realized that the changing political climate called for a new relationship with Europe and its art and institutions, a new order anchored in the critical agency of the Nigerian artist and in his freedom to determine the terms of his engagement with his ancestral heritage, with Europe, and with the postcolonial world. Unabashedly accepting of Western notions of progress and moderniza-


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tion, the group nevertheless resisted an uncritical nativism and the unidirectional spread of shades of what Geeta Kapur has called “modernist universalism.”29 To the group, notions of political, economic, and cultural progress and modernization, though dependent on the encounter with the West mostly through colonization, had to acknowledge the cultural specificity of all artistic expression. In a move that must be seen as the fulfillment of A. O. Osula’s 1952 prediction of the emergence of artists whose work would result from a synthesis of Western and local art traditions and styles, the Art Society adopted “natural synthesis” as a theoretical model for its new work. In his presidential address marking the first anniversary of the Art Society at the beginning of the 1959 fall term, Uche Okeke outlined the idea he would call “natural synthesis” a year later. Exhortatory and upbeat, he criticized “the shortsighted schemers of [Nigeria’s] inadequate educational system,” which he said was responsible for the poor state of its contemporary art, and stressed the role the society had to play in championing the cause of art in independent Nigeria and Africa. In a key passage, Okeke states: In our difficult work of building a truly Modern African art to be cherished and appreciated for its own sake—not only for its functional values—we are inspired by the struggle of such modern Mexican artists as Orozsco [sic] and his compatriots. We must fight to free ourselves from mirroring foreign culture. . . . We must have our own school of art independent of European and Oriental schools, but drawing as much as possible from what we consider in our clear judgment to be the cream of these influences, and wedding them to our native art culture.30 Three aspects of Okeke’s argument are noteworthy. First is his claim for the aesthetic autonomy of modern African art; he wished to distance it from traditional African artworks, widely regarded in his time simply as functional, ritual objects. Second is his rejection of cultural colonialism, symbolically manifest in the push for the Goldsmiths’ College affiliation. The significance of the Mexican artists’ alliance with their country’s revolutionary movement was not lost on Okeke who, with his Art Society colleagues, was influenced by and identified with the work of Nigeria’s political nationalists, as well as of pan-Â�Africanists, including Nnamdi Azikiwe and W. E. B. Du Bois. Third is his argument that modern African art’s inclusion of alien forms and concepts did not necessarily compromise its autonomy or integrity. Instead, the new artist could appropriate whatever he wished on his own terms. Okeke formally proposed the idea of natural synthesis in his second an-

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nual presidential speech (October 1960). In spite of its focus on problems confronting contemporary artists, the text addressed processes and strategies of social and cultural progress in independent Nigeria and Africa and the artist’s role in them. In what he called an “age of inquiries and reassessment of our cultural values,”31 he stated that contemporary artists of the new nation, like priests in eras past, had to become handmaidens of a new humanistic social order. His verse Okolobia, included in the speech to the society, uses imagery-Â�laden poetry to elaborate his idea of natural synthesis: Okolobia’s sons shall learn to live from father’s failing; blending diverse culture types, the cream of native kind adaptable alien type; the dawn of an age— the season of salvation.32 Inscribed in this synthesis is a critical reflexivity that is, on the one hand, suspicious of and dissatisfied with formalist versions of Western modernism and the mechanistic rationalism of the space age. On the other, Okeke is equally distrustful of sheer romantic nativism or the uncritical embrace of customs of the old order. In other words, each element by itself cannot adequately address the reality of postcolonial culture, which invariably is a product of diverse indigenous and foreign, African and European, local and global cultures. There is a sense in which this scenario suggests the postcolonial subject’s ambivalence toward his past and especially Western culture; the latter is, for instance, both responsible for the evils of hegemonic colonialism and the bearer of the good things tagged with the notion of progress—such as advances in health care. But I see it as less a matter of ambivalence than a practice of subjective pragmatism toward the making and articulation of a modern cultural identity. We might think of identity in this scheme as necessarily contingent, dynamic, positively hybrid, and complexly constituted. Seen this way, natural synthesis and the work it eventually enabled offered a clearer view of the difference between the uses and the value of ancestral tradition in the work of the Art Society artists and in Kenneth Murray’s vision of modern African art. Whereas Murray assumed traditional art to be part of heritage in dire need of revival through technically modern artistic methods and practices, natural synthesis imagined it as part of a usable past that included native and foreign art and cultures brought into the mnemonic and experiential orbit of the artists by modern life and education. Put differently,


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if for Murray the recovery of traditional art and crafts is the basis of contemporary African creative authenticity, natural synthesis located that authenticity in the exercise of the will to determine what aspects of that tradition could be mobilized in fashioning a resolutely modern art that would not be beholden to the glories of traditional arts. I argue, then, that in prescribing the appropriation of the traditional art as a partial resource for a critical reformulation of a self-Â�consciously modernist art, natural synthesis authorized an instrumental approach to traditional African art completely different from Murray’s desire to revalorize it, such that it could serve as a bulwark against the supposed corrupting influence of decadent Western art and civilization. In another section of his presidential address, Okeke explained his use of “synthesis,” noting that “I am often tempted to describe it as natural synthesis, for it should be unconscious, not forced.”33 Although it is quite tempting to think of synthesis in dialectical terms or to think of “unconscious” in the light of Freudian psychoanalysis, there is no indication that Okeke and his colleagues, while at Zaria, had any interest in or familiarity with Hegel’s dialectic or that they were keen on philosophical propositions subsumed under Hegelian logic and Marxian dialectical method. He might also have been unaware of Jean-Â�Paul Sartre’s elaborate, theoretically labored attempt a decade earlier to read negritude poetry in dialectical terms but on the basis of race and class in metropolitan France. Based on conversations I have had with Okeke over the years, it is clear to me that he imagined his idea of synthesis as operative in two ways. First, as a condition, meaning recognition of the historical reality of postcolonial society as constituted by indigenous, premodern, and Western elements, each no less valid or important than the others. And second, as a practice, one that assumes the artist’s capacity to be an active mediator of culture, cultural formations, and ideas. Taken together, what is implied is the purposeful blending of distinctive, disparate, yet mutually entangled heritages in order to live meaningfully or authentically in a contemporary postcolonial and unapologetically modern society. Moreover, Okeke seems to have relied on the ideas generated at the beginning of the decade by Dennis Duerden and A. O. Osula, who in their discussion of contemporary Nigerian art used “synthesis” to describe the kind of work around which future artists must establish their theoretical framework and operative modalities. Besides the fact that Duerden and Osula had previously proposed the idea of synthesis as a critical paradigm for the new work, it was also the favored mode of articulating the work of African and black writers, philosophers, and social scientists of the period. It is fairly accurate to suggest that in the 1950s synthesis was in the air, generated as it was by the

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paradoxical mix of realism and romanticism of African, Africanist, and Afrophile intellectuals who grappled with the challenge of reconciling the imperatives of cultural identity and political destiny in a decolonizing and modernizing Africa. This much is evident from the deliberations of the First and Second International Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Paris (1956) and Rome (1959), at which convened many influential black intellectuals and politicians. The First Congress—described by conservative French media as a “Cultural Bandung,” after the 1955 Asian-Â�African Conference of newly independent and anticolonial states in Bandung, Indonesia—was held at the Sorbonne and supported by giants of the French left intelligentsia, including Sartre, Théodore Monod, Claude Lévi-Â�Strauss, and Pablo Picasso (who designed the conference poster). Organized by a network of black intellectuals situated within and around the negritude movement and the influential francophone journal Présence Africaine, the Paris congress called for the study of black cultures, with the purpose of demonstrating their contributions to global civilizations. The Rome congress, taking place months before Okeke wrote the drafts of his text, in particular urged African artists and scholars to transcend European models through experiments with traditional African expressive forms and languages.34 Moreover, the Society of African Culture, formed in the wake of the Paris congress and in collaboration with Présence Africaine, was mandated to enable the revitalization of black cultures and to participate in the creation of a modern universal culture. In other words, whether or not “synthesis” was used to describe the task of black and African artists and intellectuals of the age of decolonization, there was a widespread but by no means unchallenged understanding that this work must entail the reflexive appropriation and combination of European and African cultural, technical, and conceptual resources. This discursive environment provided the wider context for Okeke’s formulation of natural synthesis and, more generally, for the ideas and work of the Art Society in Zaria and beyond. To be sure, Okeke’s suggestion that synthesis must be unforced and his characterization of their synthesis as “natural” sidestep two major considerations. First, awareness and assertion of one’s cultural identity involves sets of complex operations that are anything but intuitive. Second, his description of their conceptual program as natural belies what one might call its implication of a tactical synthesis; that is to say, a systematic approach to image making in terms of which artistic traditions to explore and what specific elements from those traditions to subject to formal examination. Clearly, then, by describing the project as natural he aligned it with the tendency of political nationalism, as Benedict Anderson has argued, to insist on the


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naturalness or authenticity of the imagined nation and therefore rhetorically contrasted it with the supposedly artificial and alienating Western-Â�oriented Zaria pedagogy. Yet the work that Okeke and his colleagues mapped out for themselves refuses the essentialism implied by the rhetoric of the natural. In other words, his natural synthesis must be seen as a concept that on the one hand captures the paradox inherent in the modern African’s fraught relationship with both his ancestral past and colonial modernity and on the other foregrounds the artist’s claim to his agency as an actor confronting a field of diverse cultural alternatives that can, through his deliberate, creative action, become constitutive elements of his postcolonial self. Indeed, we are tempted to argue that Sartre’s thoughts on negritude poetry speak to the very essence of Okeke’s synthesis as “a systematic quest, a divestment and an asceticism which accompanies a continuous effort toward penetration.”35 Natural synthesis, as formulated by Okeke, was to be the foundation of a “virile school of art with the new philosophy of the new age—[Nigeria’s] renaissance period.”36 He also equated it with the literary goals of negritude and the political imperatives of African personality. It is thus worth digressing a bit but only to recover the essential aspects of these two crucial concepts, because they contain both the historical basis and the ideological armature for Uche Okeke’s understanding of the work he and his peers set for themselves in 1957 and after.

African Personality and Negritude

In his 1881 lecture at the Liberia College (now the University of Liberia, Monrovia) titled “The Idea of an African Personality,” the educator and writer Edward W. Blyden (1832–1912) made a strong case for Africa’s unique cultural history and experience in the face of the continent’s encounter with Western civilization. “African personality” from then on became a key concept in pan-Â�Africanist discourse and practice. Blyden’s argument is based on the recognition of a contemporary perception of black people as Europe’s other: its maligned, unredeemable antithesis. Those who have lived in civilised communities, where there are different races, know the disparaging views which are entertained of the Negroes by their neighbours, and often, alas, by themselves. The standard of all physical and intellectual excellence in the present civilisation being the white complexion, whatever deviates from that favoured colour is proportionately depreciated until the black, which is the opposite, becomes not only the most unpopular but the most unprofitable colour.37

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Arrayed against the black man, Blyden argues, are the prejudices that have become a fundamental, if not always acknowledged, part of social practice in Western society, prejudices encoded in literature read by Africans who, in turn, internalize the racism inherent in them, ultimately resulting in self-Â� doubt or blind imitation and adoption of Western values. Nevertheless, the solution is not in looking to foreigners but in learning from “our brothers in the interior who know better than we do the laws of growth for the race.”38 Even when the Negro adopts those aspects of Western culture that are beneficial to him, he must bring in his own racial consciousness; such borrowing, argues Blyden, needs to be shaped by the Negro’s “race individuality.” Blyden suggests that only through recourse to the emotions and sensibilities natural to him, not through uncritical, ultimately unsuccessful mimicry, could the Negro stand any chance of exciting white people’s real curiosity and respect.39 Though we are all human beings, ran his argument, we are not the same, and the sooner the Negro realizes that, in other words the sooner he asserts his racial and cultural difference, the better become his chances of developing a naturally and culturally conducive modern society. It has to be said, though, that in spite of his spirited criticism of racism, Blyden’s conception of race, like those of Alexander Crummell (1819–1898) and W. E. B. Du Bois, is based on nineteenth-Â�century European racialist thought. He accepts rather than questions a discourse of race—Â� bolstered by ersatz scientific and skewed moral arguments—that was responsible for the oppression of black people. In the post–World War II period, Kwame Nkrumah (1909–1972), the first president of Ghana and a leading pan-Â�Africanist, brought the idea of African personality back into mainstream decolonization discourse. Yet despite its attractiveness and symbolic power, African personality has no specific meaning; it is one of those indefinable concepts or terms that is nevertheless charged with potential meaning, depending on the particular context of use. Ahmed Sékou Touré (1922–1984) of Mali, for instance, spoke of the economy, law, and education as rediscovering or rehabilitating the African personality, while Nkrumah referred to the need for an African personality in international affairs, by which he meant asserting an African voice on the global scene. In another instance, Nkrumah argued that the revival of African personality was an important goal of pan-Â�Africanism in the postindependence era, implying that the concepts are indistinguishable. It is safe to say that African personality refers to ways of claiming or asserting the humanity of black peoples in Africa and the diaspora and is a symbolic expression of the political aspirations of African peoples. In that the term describes rhetorical


The Ac ademy and the Avant- Garde —

gestures deployed to counter the burdens placed on black peoples by the experience of racism and colonialism, it is an ideological and propaganda tool for African decolonization and independence movements. Rather than propose an atavistic return to an imagined precolonial, pristine condition, African personality implied an active process of subject formation based on appropriated elements from traditional/indigenous and modern/Western cultures, politics, and social practices. Viewed in the context of African nationalist movements, the phrase simultaneously signified the African’s projection and expression of a personality different from that of the European and his rejection of European control of his subjectivity.40 These political and ideological aspects of African personality are precisely what Uche Okeke and his colleagues wished to identify with through the theory of natural synthesis, and it is in this sense, then, that the two ideas come close to and are indeed analogous to negritude, invented in Paris during the interwar period.

DEVELOPED BY BLACK francophone writers and intellectuals in Paris in the

1930s, negritude (in French, négritude) derived from a belief in the singularity and greatness of the black race. Though largely a literary movement, it inspired an artistic movement in Senegal in the 1960s, as many African artists associated with its Afrocentric aesthetic. Rather than merely be preoccupied with literary and intellectual matters, negritude derived from the alienation felt by black émigrés in mainland France confronted, even traumatized, by the impossibility of a raceless French utopia attainable only through total immersion in French language and culture. Despite the fact that the colonial policy adopted by France, better known as assimilation, made the colonial subjects from certain parts of the empire—in reality a tiny percentage of the black elite—French citizens, it spectacularly failed to shield them from the prevalent racism they encountered in the “motherland.” Thus, their double displacement or alienation, their physical and cultural distance from African traditional culture, and their social isolation from metropolitan society inevitably led to negritude as a self-Â�affirmative movement.41 As Césaire argued, negritude is both a psychic journey toward self-Â�reclamation, a process of reconnection to a real and imaginary African past, in order to demonstrate the status of the black peoples as products and agents of history: [I]f someone asks me what my conception of Négritude is, I answer that above all it is a concrete rather than an abstract coming to consciousness. And it seemed to me that if what we want is to establish this identity, then

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we must have a concrete consciousness of what we are—that is, of the first fact of our lives: that we are black; that we were black and have a history, a history that contains certain cultural elements of great value; and the Negroes were not, as you put it, born yesterday, because there have been beautiful and important black civilizations.42 Whatever shortcomings might be imputed to the celebratory mode of negritude poetry, such as the complaint by Anglophone African critics of its sheer exhibitionism, its indulgent negrophilia, or what Sartre called its “antiracist racism,” it was indeed a powerful affirmative gesture, an important theoretical framework for black racial and cultural consciousness. Not only that, but given the historical and social context from which it emerged, negritude was a radical political act in the sense that its proponents recovered a despised term (nègre) and “[threw] it back in the teeth of a hostile world as defiance and, at the same time, as assertion of [the African’s] fundamental dignity.”43 In this sense, negritude literature was a key stage in a process that eventually (and by no means accidentally) inspired political action against colonialism and its racist infrastructure. It is in this sense that Césaire imagined the decolonization and political independence of black nations as negritude in action.44 For Uche Okeke, negritude (and African personality) stood for the consciousness and desire for freedom by black people in the colonized world. By invoking the two concepts in his articulation of natural synthesis, he no doubt imagined a place for contemporary art and artists in this process as it unfolded in Nigeria. But he made it clear that their terms of engagement did not include recouping negritude’s Afro-Â�nostalgia. Instead, for the Art Society it was more than enough to adapt the political implications of negritude to its argument about culture, national consciousness, and contemporary art in decolonizing Nigeria. Let me press further, then, what I consider crucial parallels and disjunctions between negritude and natural synthesis. They both upheld the significance and value of African/Nigerian or black cultural heritage and Western forms and ideas as vehicles or bases for modern African politics, cultures, and art. They did not disavow the imperative of the universal associated with modernity, and they claimed the African’s right to contribute to what Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906–2001) called “the civilization of the universal.” But there is a crucial difference between the artistic implications of negritude and Uche Okeke’s natural synthesis. Negritude’s concern was the revivification of the universal black soul and the black experience; as such, it attempted to define an aesthetic consistent with a putative racial consciousness. Unanchored to any specific Afri-


Figure 3.6╇ Papa Ibra Tall, Royal Couple, tapestry, 1965. Photo, Ugochukwu Smooth Nzewi. © Papa Ibra Tall.

can artistic tradition(s), the negritude visual and literary aesthetic evoked qualities that Senghor imagined as unique to black people. And since African myths and generic extrapolations from Western anthropologies of Africa played a vital role in Senghor’s enunciation of negritude philosophy, artistic expressions associated with it often avoided concrete references to art forms and design principles specific to any particular African society. Thus, the conjunction of modernist art and negritude philosophy at the École des Arts, Dakar, in the early 1960s resulted in work, such as Papa Ibra Tall’s Royal Couple (1965), characterized in large part by visual rhythm, rich patterns, figural elegance, masks, royalty, and folklore, all meant to evoke memories of real and imaginary glorious African pasts (see figure 3.6).45 This work, because it did not seek to invent a visual language based on any specific Senegalese artistic heritage, reflected the artists’ interpretations of Senghor’s for-


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mulation of black essence; for this reason it might be better understood as a racial aesthetic. This, I am suggesting, is what links the design and compositional styles—indeed, the focus on real and imagined African and black cultural, religious themes—that we find in the works of Ibra Tall and Ibou Diouf, two leading figures in the early school of Dakar; in those of the AfriCOBRA painters of the Black Arts movement in the United States; and in Ben Enwonwu’s paintings and sculptures of African dancers and black female nudes. Natural synthesis prescribed a different approach. It is as if the Art Society needed to subject negritude to conceptual filtration, to distill national art consciousness—similar to Frantz Fanon’s idea of national culture—from the gauzy mass of negritude’s racialist aesthetic. While I am not aware of any direct knowledge on the part of Okeke and the Art Society of Fanon’s work, it is remarkable that Fanon’s withering critique of negritude at the 1959 Rome congress, reformulated in his landmark essay “On National Culture,” anticipated Okeke’s initial thoughts on natural synthesis later that year. For Fanon’s memorable statement—“This historical necessity of men of African culture to racialize their claims and to speak more of African culture than a national culture will tend to lead them up a blind alley”46—or his pithier assertion that “Every culture is first and foremost national”47 strikes at the heart of the Art Society’s work. We might say that in focusing on specific arts and cultural practices of Nigeria’s diverse ethnic groups, the society went beyond Fanon by recognizing the truth of the “national” in Africa, which is that it is not just often regarded as a less authentic basis of identity politics than the ethnos; its realities are conditioned or mediated by the competing interests of its powerful constituent ethnicities. Quite remarkably, though, in spite of the surplus of visual imagery in the work of negritude’s major poets and the invocation of African sculptural and masking traditions, for instance, in Senghor’s articulation of the movement’s literary aesthetic, there were no artists in its original ranks. Art nègre was, so to speak, all over the negritude rhetoric, but there were no Negro artists producing visual equivalents or complements to the group’s literary output during the movement’s heyday. Contemporary black and African artists eventually appeared at the margins of the negritude scene, inspired by its ideas, but only late in the day. By the time contemporary art took center stage in postindependence Senegal with Senghor’s effort to create visual negritude at the École des Arts, Dakar—under the leadership of Papa Ibra Tall in the early 1960s—the international movement was all but an evening shadow. It was also at this point in the life of the movement that Uche Okeke and the


The Ac ademy and the Avant- Garde —

Art Society encountered it, mostly through the journal Black Orpheus, along with pan-�Africanism and African personality.

Art of the Art Society

Given Okeke’s emphasis, in natural synthesis, on the exploration and adaptation of indigenous Nigerian art forms as bases for the Art Society’s work— remember the lines in Okolobia, “blending diverse culture types, / the cream of native kind / adaptable alien type”—the question that must be asked is this: to what extent did the work that he and his colleagues produced while in Zaria reflect this idea? To this I argue that close analysis of this body of work reveals that the painting styles of the Art Society group did not so much reflect a thorough grounding in Nigerian artistic tradition as show these artists grappling with the formal lessons of the work of European symbolists, postimpressionists, and later modernists. This raises crucial questions about the relationship between praxis and rhetoric, between desire and reality. It calls for a reevaluation of our understanding of how the work of these artists evolved over time and of the claims made about the work from this period. But I first examine the Art Society’s exemplary Zaria-Â�period work and only later reflect on its relationship to the theory of natural synthesis and, beyond that, Nigerian art history.

UCHE OKEKE READ considerably about and was familiar with the work of Euro-

pean modern artists beginning with the symbolists and postimpressionists, while Demas Nwoko, a voracious reader, might have gone even further— as he once told me in the presence of Okeke—in what may have seemed like a competition for knowledge of modern and premodern art of Europe.48 These encounters had a profound impact on their formal repertoire, despite the fact that their subject matter tended to focus on genre, traditional African, and the occasional Christian themes. In paintings that Okeke generally called experimental works (produced during his last year in school), the palette remarkably consisted of strong, vivid, complementary colors, with cadmium red, cobalt blue, and viridian green dominating. But his overall pictorial program resulted in two distinct styles. The first, characterized by dark, vigorous, painterly compositions featuring solidly modeled figural forms, is exemplified by Egbenuoba and Monster (both 1961) (figures 3.7 and 3.8). In Monster, a howling face with geometrically structured but loosely modeled features rendered in quick brushstrokes pushes to the edges of the pic-

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Figure 3.7╇ Uche Okeke, Egbenuoba, oil on board, 1961. Collection of the National Council for Arts and Culture, Abuja. Photo, the author. © Uche Okeke.

Figure 3.8╇ Uche Okeke, Monster, oil on board, 1961. Collection of the National Council for Arts and Culture, Abuja. Photo, the author. © Uche Okeke.

ture plane. The color work is evidently fauvist, but the paint application is inconsistent, with heavy impastos in the bottom areas and livelier brushwork toward the top of the canvas. Similarly, in Egbenuoba, which refers to a masked performance of the hunters’ cult among the north-Â�central Igbo, the figure is depicted as a fierce, mustached adult male with a titled-Â�man’s red cap adorned with red, spiked branches. The dramatically rendered ocher skin and facial features—particularly the dome-Â�shaped, flaring nostrils, the burning, semicircular eyes, and the cantilevered eyelids—are set against the blue and red torso and a green-Â�blue background. In these pictures Okeke combines the structural serendipity of Igbo carved face masks with an expressive palette. In so doing, he arrives at a pictorial language redolent, though in an indeterminate way, of early twentieth-Â�century European modernist painting.


The Ac ademy and the Avant- Garde —

But if there were any doubt that these are truly the works of an artist in search of an appropriate visual expression of his engagement with modernist painting, the very different style of several other paintings—Â�including Madonna and Child (1961), Christ (1961; figure 3.9), and Jumaa (1961)—Â�confirms their experimental status. These latter paintings, stridently graphic and severe, are characterized by flat, hard-Â�edged areas of color enlivened by stocky figures with stylized facial features rendered as distinct sculptured forms. In Madonna and Child, light and delicate brushwork combine with clearly defined and boldly colored shapes. The effect, both graphic and decorative, is remarkably reminiscent of stained-Â�glass painting. Jumaa, a landscape composition with five men clad in white, flowing robes in the fore- and mid-Â�ground and a fringe of umber adobe houses in the back, is especially striking; even with few descriptive details the figures are solid, architectonic, and monumental (figure 3.10).49 Even a cursory comparison between the formal style of this work and that of, say, Egbenuoba reveals drastically different approaches to color, form, and composition, all in various ways alluding to his interest in the visual rhetoric of the early European modernist avant-Â�garde. In yet another painting, Ana Mmuo (Land of the Dead) (1961; figure 3.11), described by Okeke as a “purely experimental” work, the artist makes an unprecedented and intriguing turn to abstraction, combining elements he appears to draw from the pictorial styles of Joan Miró and Paul Klee, whose works he was reading about at the time. Against a background of large abstract and organic shapes of cadmium red, orange, and yellow are solid black lines describing amorphous forms of spirit beings implied in the work’s title. The banishment of illusionistic space and volumetric form in some of his other pictures reaches its logical conclusion here, leaving only broad shapes of color and superimposed linear forms. Ana Mmuo is important in the development of Okeke’s painting precisely because it seems to occupy a critical juncture, a point when his experimentation with various stylistic modes rooted in European modernism led to an epiphanic moment—the realization of the possibilities of Igbo traditional mural and body art as sources for his painting.50 There is another aspect of Okeke’s work from Zaria that no doubt complicates our view of his formal experiments. Back in the summer of 1958, he visited the Jos Museum’s ethnographic collection and made sketches of objects, as well as extensive, meticulous typological studies of body marks, design motifs found on artifacts, and tree bark patterns.51 Throughout the following year, he produced a large series of fantastical, crisp pen-Â�and-Â�ink drawings, exemplified by Nza the Smart (1958; figure 3.12), composed from a bewildering range of abstract motifs but depicting characters from popular

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Figure 3.10╇ Uche Okeke, Jumaa, oil on board, 1961. Artist’s collection. Photo, the author. © Uche Okeke.

Igbo folktales.52 Nza illustrates the tiny sunbird that outsmarted other animals by disguising itself as a larger, monstrous bird. In this drawing, Okeke represents the bird’s elephantine legs and torso with motifs adapted from the rough patterns of palm tree trunks, while weblike patterns define the formless outlines of its asymmetrical wings. Another drawing from the series, The Fabled Brute (1959), shows a composite animal covered by spiral forms massed together to form a dense, warty skin. As in Nza, the snarling beast in this drawing, which in some ways reminds one of the tormented horse at the center of Picasso’s Guernica (1937), is mostly two-Â�dimensional except for the thick dark lines suggesting the articulation of its legs and head and the hatched lines defining the beast’s upper palate. The legs and webbed feet, antlers, serrated teeth, and bulging eyes are flat and belie the artist’s interest in surface patterning and design rather than suggest forms in space. It is no wonder that Okeke set these drawings in the world of Igbo tales, wherein characters taken from the phenomenal world are given to paranormal feats in wondrous circumstances, often involving episodes and characters from the land of the dead, where anything is possible. The bound-

Figure 3.9╇ Uche Okeke, Christ, 1961. Collection of Iwalewa-Â�Haus, University of Bayreuth. © Uche Okeke.

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Figure 3.11╇ Uche Okeke, Ana Mmuo (Land of the Dead), oil on board, 1961. Gift of Joanne B. Eicher and Cynthia, Carolyn Ngozi, and Diana Eicher 97–3–1. Photo, Franko Khoury. National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution. © Uche Okeke.


Figure 3.12╇ Uche Okeke, Nza the Smart, pen and ink, 1958. Reproduced from Art in Development: A Nigerian Perspective (1982), p. x. © Uche Okeke.

less imagination, indeed the freedom to connect diverse, illogical, existential contexts within the narrative structure of the folktales, provided the conceptual impetus for the kind of formal inventions that Okeke makes in these drawings. Despite the fact that the cultural sensibilities underpinning the stories and drawings make them much more than merely an experiment in mind-�bending, phantasmagoric form, there is no question that these exercises provided Okeke the opportunity to explore the representational and abstract possibilities of line, texture, and pattern but also negative and positive space. In this sense, the drawings must be seen as both inventive experiments with and runaway extrapolations from elements of art and principles of design that he must have been studying in the painting and design class at Zaria. If we then return to the question of how to situate these drawings within the larger context of his Zaria work, it seems that as strong as the in-

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clination might be to separate the work’s two strands—one dependent on sheer manipulation of line, pattern, and space; the other on permutation of color, texture, and form—his focus on new methods of pictorial representation clearly owes a debt to his studies of European modernist art and artists. I am convinced, though, that Okeke’s simultaneous engagement with different representational orders, the juggling, as it were, of line- and color-Â� based work, inevitably led to a temporary pictorial crisis. Part of the problem, it seems, was his inability to find the appropriate formal language to enable him to translate the exciting, infinitely more articulate and coherent linear forms in his folktale drawings into easel painting while at Zaria. In the spring of 1961, shortly before graduation, he came to the conclusion that only a single-Â�minded focus on one as-Â�yet-Â�undetermined aspect of Igbo art would produce the kind of articulate formal style on which his future work must depend. It is within this critical context that we ought to appreciate the transformative status of the enigmatic Ana Mmuo.

DEMAS NWOKO’S WORK, like that of Okeke, traversed several stylistic modes,

demonstrating both his own personal dialogue with modern European artists and the exchanges occurring between Art Society friends. By the beginning of his junior year (1959), Nwoko had adopted a vivid expressionistic style marked by rapidly delivered brushwork, a palette of earthy colors, and clumsily drawn figures with anxious facial expressions (Earning a Living and Churchgoers, both 1959). His penchant for deadpan humor and social commentary is manifest in another of his early pictures, Beggars in the Train (1959; figure 3.13). Dealing with the same theme, almsgiving, as Okeke’s Jumaa, Nwoko here mixes pathos—suggested by the laconic disposition of the three figures, who seem to suffer from some uncertain bodily affliction— with a representation of the beggars as caricatures, as despicable monstrosities dominating the dark, claustrophobic interior of the train coach. Indeed, the deformed monstrous face, evident in Beggars, would be an important, enduring characteristic of Nwoko’s style. By 1960 Nwoko’s palette and facture had come so close to Okeke’s that some of each one’s works could be easily misattributed to the other. His previously energetic brushwork all but disappears, and his surfaces become flatter, his forms more precisely drawn or delineated. A second version of Beggars on the Train, with its clearly defined compositional elements and more confidently drawn figures, shows this dramatic change.53 Where the volumetric space of the train’s interior in the first Beggars is subtly evident, in the sec-


Figure 3.13╇ Demas Nwoko, Beggars in the Train, oil on board, 1959. Artist’s collection. Photo, the author. © Demas Nwoko.

ond the space is flattened, nonillusionistic, and subordinated to the design of the picture. These formal qualities are evident in two of his best-�known paintings, Ogboni Chief (1960; figure 3.14) and Nigeria in 1959 (1960; figure 3.15). Developed from a sketch the artist made during the Durbar, the annual royal pageant hosted by the emir of Zaria, Nigeria shows the resident, the British political officer in charge of the region, with his entourage, including his native orderlies. An obvious spoof of official colonial photography, the picture speaks to the Manichaean world of colonialism even at its moment of expiration. The white officers are all in different poses suggestive of systemic disarticulation, a loss of order and certitude, their long-�drawn faces an index of disillusionment but also fatigue. Even in their imperious seats, they seem suddenly vulnerable to unknown forces lurking behind them in the dark, saturnine space inhabited by barely visible black figures with inscru-


Figure 3.14╇ Demas Nwoko, Ogboni Chief, oil on board, 1961. Artist’s collection. Photo, the author. © Demas Nwoko.

table faces. It is as if the men recruited to protect the officers and the late colonial regime have turned into death’s messengers, executioners waiting impatiently for the final hour of liberation. This is what makes this painting perhaps the most poignant comment by any Nigerian artist on the tension, anxiety, and disquiet between colonial officers and their Nigerian subordinates on the eve of political independence. Despite the compelling conceptual density of this painting and its focus on a critical period in Nigerian political history, we must note that, stylistically, it owes much to the artist’s studies of European modernism. For al108


Figure 3.15╇ Demas Nwoko, Nigeria in 1959, oil on board, 1960. Artist’s collection. Photo, the author. © Demas Nwoko.

though the work sidesteps pictorial realism, its smooth and resolved surface texture and brushwork, along with the solidly drawn figures, recall the antiexpressionist formal clarity characteristic of Neue Sachlichkeit painting in Germany in the interwar period. But there is no clear stylistic consistency in Nwoko’s work in his senior year. For instance, in Praying Woman and Churchgoers (both also from 1960), the style is more resolutely expressionist, and there is an energetic vigor in the brushwork, an almost insouciant air that belies the rather serious atmosphere conjured by the themes. Nwoko displays in all these pictures sufficient familiarity with modes already established by 109


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Figure 3.16╇ Demas Nwoko, White Fraternity, oil on board, ca. 1960. Collection of National Council for Arts and Culture, Abuja. Photo, the author. © Demas Nwoko.

European modernist painters. In both form and composition, the 1960 pictures assert the artist’s ability to appropriate, manage, and control techniques of delivery learned from an encounter with modern European painting. Nwoko’s use of contrasting color and exaggerated, highly stylized forms for dramatic effect is most evident in White Fraternity (1960; figure 3.16), in which a dark, amorphous, supine figure tries to separate four interlocked white and yellow hands that appear to be connected by a single arterial system. The areas of flat color and the epigrammatic rendition of the hands, flowers, and thorns suggest first the conspiracy of the white race to maintain the oppressive apartheid system in South Africa and, second, the impossibility of breaking Western collective control over the destiny of independent black Africa. In this and other pictures, Nwoko pushed his use of arbitrary color and inventively stylized forms to their dramatic limits, further in fact than did Okeke in his own “flat,” pre–Ana Mmuo paintings of 1961. If White Fraternity is indicative of Nwoko’s short-Â�lived attention to the pictorial value of two-Â�dimensional forms and shapes (although he returned to this style after Zaria), he still did not completely jettison the figural style developed in, for example, Nigeria in 1959. Nevertheless, his palette remained expressionistic, as it did in Bathing Women (1961; figure 3.17), which depicts

Figure 3.17╇ Demas Nwoko, Bathing Women, oil on canvas, 1961. Artist’s collection. Photo, the author. © Demas Nwoko.


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a group of naked rotund women bathing in a forest stream; and The Leopard (1961), in which a cluster of birds and animals mock a crouching leopard from behind a curtain of forest plants. In both paintings, pictorial space is totally collapsed. The striking exuberance of tropical foliage, the insinuation of the naturalness of female sexuality (as well as the projection of male sexual fantasy in Bathing Women), and finally the attention to the decorative value of color, shapes, and patterns all recall the naive naturalism of Henri Rousseau and the modernist primitivism of Paul Gauguin, two French postimpressionists whose work Nwoko and Okeke were studying at the time.

FOREST SCENES RECUR IN Bruce Onobrakpeya’s 1961 paintings, which are

strikingly similar to Nwoko’s, particularly in the representation of nonperspectival space and a palette of intense, often complementary colors. A self-Â� confessed admirer of Gauguin’s Tahiti paintings and of the work of Vincent van Gogh, Onobrakpeya was attracted to Gauguin’s renderings of pastoral and mythological subject matter in rich, somberly symbolist color.54 Yet although he draws parallels on the one hand between the brilliant sunshine of Tahiti and the south of France (where Gauguin and van Gogh, respectively, resided and painted some of their best-Â�known work) and on the other the sun-Â�drenched southern Nigerian forests where he sets his mythological compositions, there is a remarkable difference. Onobrakpeya’s painting, against our expectations, evokes not so much the brilliance of the tropical as the shaded, saturnine atmosphere of the deep forest floor. This much is evident in Eketeke vbe Erevbuye (Two Laziest People) (1961; figure 3.18), in which two spindly figures from Urhobo folklore impossibly wrestle atop the stalks of cocoyam plants, and Hunter’s Secret (1961), where a red-Â�colored, tortoiselike form gazes at a green female centaurlike spirit. Here the artist paints in what he refers to as his mythical realist mode, conjuring pictorial equivalences of the mythological fantasies of Urhobo oral narratives. Onobrakpeya collected folktales as part of his cultural work—in the process of reimmersing himself in his native culture through its oral traditions, as well as simply recording them for posterity—but also as sources for his artistic subjects. In this, his interest in folktales compares with Uche Okeke’s work involving Igbo tales. But unlike Okeke, whose imagery often focused on characters from Igbo folktales, Onobrakpeya included in his paintings the mythological landscapes that provide visual context for the actions of the human, animal, and metaphysical subjects of the folktales. Even when Onobrakpeya takes on an unremarkable subject, as in Land-


Figure 3.18╇ Bruce Onobrakpeya, Eketeke vbe Erevbuye (Two Laziest People), oil on board, 1961. Artist’s collection. Photo, the author. © Bruce Onobrakpeya.

scape with Skull and Anthill (1961; figure 3.19), his intense symbolist color and foreshortened space yield an almost surreal landscape that seems to make sense only in the world of mythology and folklore. In other words, Onobrakpeya depends on his adaptation of European fauvist and symbolist formal styles for his visual interpretation of indigenous folkloric subject matter, the exploration of which he and his Art Society mates considered important for modern Nigerian art.


Figure 3.19╇ Bruce Onobrakpeya, Landscape with Skull and Anthill, oil on board, 1961. Artist’s collection. Photo, the author. © Bruce Onobrakpeya.


Figure 3.20╇ Yusuf Grillo, Oloogun, oil on board, 1960. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Faysal El-Â�Khalil. Image courtesy of ArtHouse Contemporary Ltd., Lagos. © Yusuf Grillo.

THE WORK OF THREE OTHER Art Society painters—Yusuf Grillo, Okechukwu

Odita, and Oseloka Osadebe—further testifies to the influence of the early European avant-Â�garde. Grillo’s work, usually generic portraits of Yoruba and Lagos subjects, is characterized by stylized figures and angular, intersecting color planes reminiscent of the compositional vectors and dynamic arcs of cubo-Â�futurist painting (figure 3.20). Grillo is arguably the most astute colorist in the group; his palette has ever consisted of a limited range of cool, muted colors, although as Sabada (Dance) (1964) shows, he occasionally

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sought to heighten dramatic effect by deft orchestration of a broader color spectrum (figure 3.21). Overall, the architectonic quality of his figures, set against backgrounds energized by dynamic color planes, might also derive from his early and abiding interest in mathematics, particularly geometry and trigonometry. Mathematics, he later explained, “makes you see things graphically.” Grillo also acknowledged his fascination while at Zaria with the work of the French impressionists and postimpressionists. Not only did they open his eyes to the idea of painting as an exercise in reimagining pictorial space rather than a means of describing reality; he was struck by their irreverent approach to color and figuration. However, the two European artists who have had enduring influence on his painting are Amedeo Modigliani and Pablo Picasso. Modigliani’s female figures—with their elongated necks, bell-Â� shaped shoulder frames, and angularly displaced faces—attracted Grillo for their formal elegance and what the art historian Robert Goldwater once described as their affective sentimentality and pathos.55 On the other hand, Grillo’s low-Â�key, blue-Â�biased palette was, in a way, his homage to and admiration for Picasso’s “Blue Period” paintings. The confluence of these two stylistic elements is in full pictorial effect in Harvest (early 1960s; figure 3.22), depicting a blue-Â�faced woman with a solidly built long neck supporting a small ovoid face turned to the side, her undulating, asymmetrical shoulders designed to balance the composition. The anatomical liberties Grillo takes in the representation of this Yoruba woman clearly differentiate his approach to painting and perception of the painter’s task from that of, say, Akinola Lasekan, who if he painted the same subject might have done so simply to illustrate or represent a Yoruba woman, complete with ethnographically verifiable sartorial and facial details (figure 3.23; see also figure 2.2). Where painting served Lasekan as a documentary medium, a means of accounting for the truth of a subject’s individual, professional and ethnic identity, for Grillo such a portrait was only an excuse for exploring and resolving painting problems. Thus, his early interest in mathematics, Modigliani, and Picasso readily explains the more important features of Grillo’s emerging style.

IN THIS ACCOUNT OF THE work of the Art Society in Zaria, we are constantly

reminded of the subtle differential emphases in the artist-Â�members’ pictorial styles, despite the pervasive influence of the European avant-Â�garde. We must note, though, that the work of the 1962 group (which includes Oseloka

Figure 3.21╇ Yusuf Grillo, Sabada (Dance), 1964. Private collection. Image courtesy of Bonhams. © Yusuf Grillo.


Figure 3.23╇ Akinola Lasekan, Portrait of J. D. Akeredolu, oil on canvas, 1957. Collection of Afolabi Kofo Abayomi. Photo, Anthony Nsofor. © Estate of Akinola Lasekan.

Osadebe and Okechukwu Odita), while still indebted to European modernist painting, reveals a more realistic representational style that can be attributed only to the influence of Clifford Frith, their painting teacher. This much is evident in Osadebe’s Lunch at the Park (1961) and Odita’s Sheep Grazing (1961) (figures 3.24 and 3.25). Indeed, the artist-Â�critic Okpu Eze described Odita’s work, presented in his 1962 exhibition, as academic and too uncomfortably close to Frith’s rigorously objective style (figure 3.26), while Ulli Beier saw the paintings as weak copies of Frith, who perhaps unknown to Beier simultaneously experimented with abstract pictorial language, as is amply evident in such Zaria-Â�period paintings as Harmattan Landscape with Figures (c. 1960/61) and other landscape compositions (figure 3.27).56 While these critical assessments of Odita’s debt to his teacher are correct in the sense that Odita’s painting is reminiscent of Frith’s brand of Euston Road School pic-

Figure 3.22╇ Yusuf Grillo, Harvest, oil on board, early 1960s. Collection of Mr. G. Hathiramani. Image courtesy of Bonhams. © Yusuf Grillo.

119


Figure 3.24╇ Oseloka Osadebe, Lunch at the Park, oil on board, 1961. Collection of Asele Institute, Nimo. Photo, the author. © Oseloka Osadebe. Figure 3.25╇ Okechukwu Odita, Sheep Grazing, oil on board, 1961. Collection of National Council for Arts and Culture, Abuja. Photo, the author. © E. Okechukwu Odita.


Figure 3.26╇ Clifford Frith, Fulani Portrait, oil on canvas, ca. 1960. Courtesy of the artist. © Clifford Frith.

torial realism, Eze’s charge of academicism in both artists, judged by their palette and figuration, is clearly overstated: The works of both Frith and his fellow faculty member Patrick George, as well as much of the work coming out of the Slade at the time, were exemplary of midcentury British figurative modernism (figure 3.28). In any case, Osadebe’s and Odita’s debt to continental European modernism was strong, particularly in the work from their senior year and just after graduation from Zaria. Recalling this is how best to make sense of the style of Odita’s Female Model (1962; figure 3.29), with its expressive color and, in some parts, loosely applied brushwork, which harks back to paintings by Henri Matisse from his fauvist period. Alternately, in Husband and Wife (1964; figure 3.30), Osadebe combines energetic brushstrokes, clashing color planes, and figural distortion to achieve a pictorial effect reminiscent of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, among the Die Brücke painters of early twentieth-Â�century Germany. 121


Figure 3.27╇ Clifford Frith, Harmattan Landscape with Figures, oil on canvas, 1960–1961. Collection of Grant Waters. © Clifford Frith.


Figure 3.28╇ Patrick George, Hausa Standing, oil on hardboard, 1959. ucl Art Museum, University College London. © Patrick George.

Figure 3.29╇ Okechukwu Odita, Female Model, oil on board, 1962. Collection of Asele Institute, Nimo. Photo, the author. © E. Okechukwu Odita.


Figure 3.30╇ Oseloka Osadebe, Husband and Wife, oil on board, 1964. Collection of Asele Institute, Nimo. Photo, the author. © Oseloka Osadebe.

Even the paintings of Jimo Akolo—though the fourth member of the 1961 painting class, he refused to join the society—testify to the importance of the European avant-Â�garde in the evolving style of a group linked as much by ideological convictions as by similar artistic interests. In Akolo’s late Zaria work, such as Hausa Drummer (1961; figure 3.31), there is the same combination of flat areas of intense color and modeled, volumetric facial features already noted in Okeke’s paintings. Moreover, the interplay between the cobalt blue / cadmium red of the drummer and his drums and the warm green of his shoe sole is reminiscent of Okeke’s use of the same colors in, say, Egbenuoba. De124


Figure 3.31╇ Jimo Akolo, Hausa Drummer, oil on canvas, 1961. Courtesy, University of Sussex. © Jimo Akolo.


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spite these similarities, however, Akolo’s paint application is heavier, more consistent, and in a very fundamental sense more painterly. Akolo’s primary reason for not joining the Art Society was his conviction that the young artist’s first priority was to learn the craft of painting; joining the group, he believed, amounted to compromising painting in the pursuit of ideology.57 In a way this position recalls Roy Barker’s 1957 talk on the Nigerian Broadcasting Service, in which he discussed the role of the art school and the negative influence of nationalist ideology on artistic creativity. Although Barker’s talk might not have directly influenced his perspectives on art and politics, Akolo quite possibly might have been convinced by the rhetoric of artistic autonomy or by the Greenbergian historicist argument about painting’s self-Â�referentiality and the idea that any art tainted by ideology amounted to nothing but kitsch. Whatever the case, Akolo’s meticulous attention to the quality and character of his paint surface reflects his approach to easel painting as, first and foremost, mark making with pigment but also—here he comes close to Grillo—as a process of designing a surface with shapes of color. These tendencies intersect in Women on a Train (1960), where the picture plane is divided into simple, dynamic sections, the two female subjects barely noticeable in the top central part, as if to emphasize the primacy of formal composition over subject matter. The brushwork, a series of short vertical strokes that optically unify an otherwise structurally fragmented picture, testifies further to Akolo’s attention to and exploration of pictorial devices, some of which he must have learned from his studies of Picasso, particularly the brush notations of the artist’s synthetic cubist period.

GIVEN THE PERVASIVE influence of European modern art on the work of

the Art Society group, how do we make sense of Okeke’s claims about natural synthesis and national consciousness, about imagining a Nigerian modernism that is no longer beholden either to Western art or to the arts of the traditional African and Nigerian societies? Where, indeed, is the rebellion that art historians and critics ascribe to the society if it is not indexed in the work that its members were making at the time? One way to untangle this paradoxical European modernist stylistic sensibility in Art Society work is to suggest that the group’s initial attraction to early European modernism was consistent with its overall program, which, as Okeke’s statement on the society’s last day of existence suggested, would continue beyond Zaria. It is thus not so much that they misrecognized the challenge posed by the theory


The Ac ademy and the Avant- Garde —

of natural synthesis as that the Zaria work was only the first step toward the realization of its full artistic implications.

Natural Synthesis, Art, and History

While the stylistic connections between the work of members of the Art Society and the European avant-Â�garde now seem quite obvious, we are less certain about the reasons for their attraction to postimpressionist and fauvist painting, as opposed to the more radical cubist style ostensibly linked with African art or even to nonobjective abstraction. Conscious appropriation of the latter or its derivatives, come to think of it, could have been a useful political gesture, one that might have played well into the politics of artistic decolonization by demonstrating the Nigerian artists’ right, as it were, to take back from Europe African sculpture’s gift to Parisian modernism. Moreover, such a focus on modernism’s debts to African sculpture could have delivered to the Art Society the opportunity to critique colonialism’s role in the making of European modern art, since African artifacts and material cultures flooded Europe under the auspices of colonial trade, science, and military campaigns. In any case, a different, more helpful way to think of the Art Society’s attraction to postimpressionism is, perhaps, that they identified with the historic and sweeping impact of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-Â�century European avant-Â�garde on the post-Â�Renaissance tradition of constructed naturalism; but they were not so keen on the radical abstraction of Picasso-Â�Braque cubism, the nonobjective aspects of surrealism and Dada, or post–World War II abstract expressionism. Compared to early modernist painting or to the work of their teachers— who also included Clara Ugbodaga, who taught drawing and whose work in the late 1950s involved what one might call a postcubist collage aesthetic— the work of the Art Society can seem quite ordinary, much as European modernist riffs of African sculpture can sometimes seem pedestrian compared to their original African models. But given that these young artists’ Euromodernist style was only the first step in a journey that they imagined from the beginning would go beyond their Zaria tutelage and because they were simultaneously building the infrastructure of that next phase through research into traditional Nigerian art forms and oral traditions, it is fair to conclude that the artistic significance of their Zaria work derives totally from its place within the modernism anticipated by the theory of natural synthesis. Moreover, given the critical influence of the European historical avant-Â� garde on Art Society (and Akolo’s) painting, does Okeke’s disagreement with

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“those who live in Africa and ape European artists” in his 1960 speech not amount to a denial of the group’s conscious appropriation of modernist international styles and aesthetics? This may well be the case; in a way it points to the dialectical tensions, the push-Â�pull, attract-Â�resist, and infinitely fraught relationship of the colonized African self and its European imperial other. Evidently, in the process of asserting cultural and artistic autonomy, it was imperative for these artists to learn and unlearn, to use and discard, the same critical tools fashioned by modern European artists in their own struggles with tradition. As this book’s introduction suggests, this tactic is amply reflected in the ideological practices of the era to which the work of the Art Society is ineluctably tied. I am thinking also of the fact that, embedded in the dialectic of African independence, in its political and cultural manifestations, was a simultaneous rejection of imperial Europe and an attraction to its knowledge base and political systems. We know that Edward Blyden initiated his idea of African personality while holding on to the tenets of Christian doctrine, that Léopold Senghor advocated African cultural independence and uniqueness among the negritude poets though he articulated his theory of negritude using ideas borrowed from French colonial ethnology, and that Kwame Nkrumah sharpened the political edge of African personality with the aid of Marxist and socialist thought. The list goes on. In all these instances, the advocates of African political and cultural identity appropriated and, in the process, reimagined what to them were progressive and useful aspects of European socioeconomic and political experience. Their politics affirmed the right of the African to assert his reauthenticated identity, which is, nevertheless, contingent rather than fixed but also effectively constituted by the multiplex encounters between inherited and appropriated cultures and knowledge systems. That African and African diaspora intellectuals of the post–World War II period saw this as the ideal model of African postcolonial modernity is evident, as noted earlier, from the deliberations and communiqués issued at the Black Writers and Artists Congresses of 1956 and 1959. To be sure, the Rome congress resolution on African literature encouraged writers to go beyond Western literary models in their search for new forms of expression, while its Commission on the Arts resolved that there was an “over-Â�riding obligation imposed on all black artists to produce within their culture a liberation of all different forms of expression.”58 These strategies are writ large in the idea of natural synthesis and in the Art Society’s turn to the European historical avant-Â�garde as an inaugural gesture in the process of articulating the postcolonial artistic self.


The Ac ademy and the Avant- Garde —

But I cannot help thinking that Uche Okeke might also have been referring to a different kind of international art, the inalienably European and international academic realism of Aina Onabolu. The difference between the Art Society’s Zaria-Â�period work and Onabolu’s, in terms of a relationship with European art, is both historical and conceptual; for whereas Onabolu looked to a premodern tradition framed by the visual theory of one-Â�point perspective, the Art Society identified with the antitraditionalist work of the European modernist avant-Â�garde. Onabolu’s inflexible faith in formal academism and his unwillingness to imagine or acknowledge, even as late as the 1960s, different ways of constructing the artistic image outside the strictures of the one-Â�point-Â�perspective system separates him from the kind of work anticipated by natural synthesis. In other words, the society replaced the academism of Onabolu (and Akinola Lasekan), radical as it was earlier in the century, with the experimental aesthetic of the historical avant-Â�garde. It is in this sense of a conscious appropriation of European artistic forms as a means of redefining the task of the modern African artist that the Art Society work is genealogically related to that of Onabolu and is also the reason its work is conceptually, not to mention ideologically, incompatible with the kind of art enabled by Kenneth Murray’s pedagogy. Despite the reasons suggested here for the Art Society’s attraction to the work of the precubist avant-Â�garde, the fact that it was to this early, somewhat dated, period of European modernism that they anchored their work deserves brief commentary, because critics of modern African art might see this as proof that these artists came late to the modernist party and thus were anything but avant-Â�garde. There are two ways to look at the issue. First, by relating the Art Society’s work to its specific cultural milieu, still dominated on the one hand by neoacademic mimetic realism and on the other by nativist, naive imagery, the extent to which it represents the inaugural manifestation of postcolonial modernism in Nigeria becomes clear. I believe that this is what Michael Crowder meant in 1962 when he declared, “it is fair to say that the young artists who are coming to the fore today in Nigeria are at the vanguard of a cultural revolution compatible with the country’s independent status.”59 It is in this sense that Onabolu’s work, given the state of art in Nigeria and the racial-Â�sociological context of colonialism at the beginning of the twentieth century, was progressive and advanced and appears (as does the Art Society modernism) quaint and belated only when viewed exclusively from the warped mirror of European art history. Second, given that the members of the Art Society had access to cubist and later abstract expressionist art, I speculate that their attraction to pre-

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vious modernist work was a conscious decision. As their later work confirms, none of the artists were drawn to the radical formal abstraction proposed by cubism and later pushed to the limits of optical flatness by the Russian constructivists and the American abstract expressionists. This might be related to the Art Society’s other project of depicting subject matter relating to their cultural experiences, as well as to the influence of Clifford Frith’s and Patrick George’s British figurative modernism. The Art Society’s connection to European modern painting, as outlined here, has important art-Â�historical implications. Due to the society’s claim to a critical mandate informed by anticolonial national consciousness, criticism of its work has tended to merge Zaria-Â�period theoretical aspirations and artistic work, as if the one completely explains the other. As this chapter makes clear, if we were to focus strictly on the group’s formal style, we would be hard pressed to reconcile it with the theory of natural synthesis. Many observers have done just this but without looking closely at the less obvious aspects of the work and its motivating theory. Part of the problem, it seems, is the failure on the part of scholars to fully appreciate the ramifications of the idea of natural synthesis but also, more crucially, the fact that ideas often have gestation periods. They take time to materialize, if they do so at all. So no matter how much we scour the Art Society’s Zaria work for the elements of the “cream of native kind” insinuated by Okeke’s poem, we are left only with themes and subjects pertaining to contemporary and traditional Nigerian cultures and peoples. While they were working within the academic context of the art school and while they schooled themselves in the methods of the European modernists, the actual synthesis of Western and African formal elements simply had to wait for another day, as chapter 5 details, after Zaria.


Chapter 4

TRANSACTING THE ↜ M ODERN Ulli Beier, Black Orpheus, and the Mbari International

IN SEPTEMBER 1956, the First International Congress of Black Writers and

Artists opened at the Sorbonne, Paris.1 Organized by Alioune Diop (1910– 1980), the Senegalese teacher and entrepreneur and the publisher of the cultural journal Présence Africaine, the congress brought together some of the best-known black writers, critics, and artists from Africa, the Caribbean, the United States, and Europe. Following on the heels of the Bandung Conference of 1955, where leaders of several colonized and newly independent African and Asian countries resolved to push for the end of colonialism and establish a network of nations unaligned to either the nato or Soviet power blocs, the Sorbonne congress set out to rethink the cultural implications of decolonization, as well as the role of artists and writers in the process. It was, as the organizers imagined it, the first major platform for spreading the artistic and political ideas championed by the founders of negritude. In his opening address, the Haitian writer Jean Price-Â�Mars (1876–1969) declared that the participants were responding to the “fervent appeal of Présence Afri-


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caine, this glowing fire of black culture,” and that the objective of the congress was the affirmation, exaltation, and glorification of the culture of the black peoples of the world.2 The Paris conference is important to the making of artistic modernism in Nigeria precisely because it catalyzed and to a large extent shaped the ideas and critical vision of Ulli Beier (1922–2011), a Jewish German instructor of EngÂ�lish in the extramural program at the University College, Ibadan, who (so this chapter contends) was the single most influential figure in articulating this modernism. Impressed by the robust debates and presentations by distinguished intellectuals convened at the congress, Beier also realized that the nascent anglophone African writing, some of which he encountered in Nigeria, could never match the vitality of its francophone counterpart without an anglophone literary forum comparable to Présence Africaine. Within one year, in collaboration with the German writer Janheinz Jahn (1918–1973), the foremost advocate of negritude literature, he cofounded Black Orpheus, a literary magazine that soon became the defining space for the work of the new generation of anglophone African and black diaspora writers and artists. Four years later, Beier also founded the Mbari Artists and Writers Club at Ibadan in partnership with several young African writers and artists, including Demas Nwoko and Uche Okeke. This chapter narrates the specific ways Black Orpheus and the Mbari Club, propelled by Beier’s art criticism, his curatorial projects, and his international network of critics and artists, produced within the space of a few years the most important theater of postcolonial modernism on the African continent during the midcentury. To be sure, the role of Black Orpheus and the Mbari group in the development and propagation of modern African literature during the 1950s and early 1960s has received some critical attention from literary scholars; still, how these two legendary institutions actively participated in and shaped the discourse of artistic modernism in Nigeria and Africa is largely unexamined.3 In this chapter I track this emergent discourse through analyses of art criticism, reviews, and portfolios published in Black Orpheus and by way of exhibitions at Mbari Ibadan. I show the specific discursive protocols through which the cultural and literary arguments of negritude impacted and shaped mid-Â�twentieth-Â�century Nigerian artistic modernism, through the critical agency of Ulli Beier in particular. This is important because it returns to the preceding chapters’ claim that the work of Art Society artists and their Nigerian contemporaries is indebted to what one might call the “tactical root finding” of pan-Â�Africanism and negritude rather than to the adaptationist ideas of Kenneth Murray. Further, an examination of the particular issues and critical networks that defined this period of great political transformation will help


Transacting the Modern —

explain the radical difference between Onabolu’s colonial modernism and the postcolonial modernism of the Art Society and its generation.

Black Orpheus and Modern Art

The first and only Black Orpheus editorial statement, printed in the journal’s inaugural issue, observed that because a “great deal of the best African writing” published in French, Portuguese, or Spanish remained inaccessible to EngÂ�lish-Â�only readers in Africa, the journal hoped to break down colonial language barriers by publishing this new literature in translation.4 The journal would also publish “Afro-Â�American” writers, “because many of these are involved in similar cultural and social situations and their writings are highly relevant to Africans.”5 Finally, reiterating the objectives of both anglophone pan-Â�Africanists and the negritude movement, the editorial proclaimed a dual program: to encourage new African writing and study the “great traditions of oral literature of African tribes. For it is on the heritage of the past, that the literature of the future must be based.”6 The editorial did not explain the meaning or origin of the journal’s name. It is significant because it came from the title of Jean-Â�Paul Sartre’s introductory essay for Senghor’s seminal anthology of negritude poetry.7 In it Sartre compared the “Orphic poetry” of the new black poets with the story of Orpheus, who in Greek mythology descended to Hades to reclaim his bride, Eurydice, from Pluto. By naming the journal after Sartre’s essay, Beier and Jahn identified it with the idea of a symbolic return to and revalidation of ancestral Africa implied in both Sartre’s articulation of negritude and Césaire’s seminal creative work Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (1939). In other words, the model of cultural reclamation proposed by negritude and powerfully articulated by Sartre was fundamental to the Black Orpheus critical project. Though the editorial made no mention of the visual arts, focusing instead on its mission as a literary journal, Beier’s desire to extend its work to African art was clear from the outset. During his tenure as coeditor (1957–1966), the journal regularly featured portfolios, vignettes, essays, and reviews on art; indeed, it was the only major, consistent voice for contemporary mid-Â� twentieth-Â�century African and African diaspora art and artists on the continent. An examination of Beier’s exemplary texts on art in Black Orpheus reveals how far his critical interventions went in determining the journal’s coverage of modern art; what is more, it provides a perspective on how his art criticism and ideas about modern art shaped and nurtured the discourse of modernism in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. Ulli Beier arrived in Nigeria in October 1950 with his artist-Â�wife, Susanne

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Wenger, a founding member of the Viennese Art Club. Her work, well received in Paris in the 1940s, was influenced by Jungian psychoanalysis. Hired as an assistant lecturer in EngÂ�lish phonetics at the University College, Ibadan, Beier later transferred to the Extra-Â�Mural Department, where he became a roving tutor for the western region government, a position requiring him to visit major towns to set up classes in African culture and literature.8 In addition, his frequent travels afforded him the opportunity to further his interest in the visual arts of the Yoruba and other southern Nigerian cultures and to conduct seminal research, which he later published in the government-Â�sponsored Nigeria magazine and elsewhere.9 While Beier published a remarkably diverse range of art and artists in Black Orpheus, two strings connect them. First, he presents to his Nigerian audience artist models who, in his estimation, have attained the right mix of modernist, antiacademic impulse and a sympathetic translation of indigenous African forms and concepts; second he supports emerging Nigerian and foreign artists who have shown a similar attitude toward modernism. Thus, Beier’s inaugural contemporary art-Â�related Black Orpheus essay focused on the work of Susanne Wenger (1915–2009), who had become a priestess of the Osun cult in Osogbo, where they lived until Beier left Nigeria in 1966. To Beier, Wenger’s work exemplified a progressive and radical interpolation of negritude ethos into the artistic sensibilities of European modernism.10 Moreover, she belonged to the ranks of Western artists and scholars who, disillusioned by the failed promise of technological progress in the aftermath of World War II, embarked on a journey to reestablish a connection with the irrational, mysterious life forces tragically lost by modern Europe. Going beyond the merely formal interests of the Parisian modernists, she and others like her—including Placide Tempels (1906–1977), Pierre Verger (1902–1996), and Maya Deren (1917–1961)—went to Africa (or Haiti in Deren’s case) to immerse themselves in African culture and its philosophy. Wenger, Beier argues, went the furthest in penetrating “more deeply into the mysteries of traditional African life.”11 In this essay, Beier offers Wenger’s work as a visual equivalent of literary negritude—in the sense of an art that synthesizes European and African cultural experience and artistic traditions. This new art, though situated within the modernist pursuit of innovative, experimental form, rejects the aestheticism of Parisian modernism to instead identify with the more mystical aspirations of German expressionism and the affirmative, universal humanism of negritude. Although—as Beier illustrated with Wenger’s Ogboinba (Ijaw Creation Myth); see also her Iwin, (ca. 1958; figure 4.1)—this type of work is


Figure 4.1╇ Susanne Wenger, Iwin, screen print, ca. 1958. Iwalewa-Â�Haus, University of Bayreuth collection. © The Susan Wenger Foundation, Zöbing am Heiligenstein.


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more pertinently the product of a deep encounter with “mysterious” African cultures and may even directly address a recognizably African subject matter, it alludes only loosely, if at all, to any specific African or, for that matter, modernist European art form or style. Yet in spite of Beier’s claim for Wenger’s visual negritude, he notes that it was all but impossible for the new generation of African artists to emulate her work simply because their art school training would have already destroyed their innate creative originality. Whereas Wenger herself was redeemed—cleansed of the dross she might have acquired during her time among the Viennese avant-Â�garde—by deep immersion in the liberatory, mysterious, precognitive world of Yoruba religion and ritual, modern African artists, unable and unwilling to return to this source and pressed by the imperative to be modern, faced a precarious path to true originality. This, in fact, is the core of Beier’s criticism of modern African art: the belief that colonial (and any) formal art education subjected African artists to a doctrinaire system that claimed their individuality and in so doing thwarted their access to progressive developments in contemporary art, specifically surrealism and expressionism. Beier’s anxiety and distrust of formal education, reminiscent of the Austrian art educator Franz Cižek’s theory of art education, was influenced by the work of the Swiss artist Jean Dubuffet, who famously proclaimed the authenticity of art brut in the 1940s.12 His antiformalist attitude also helps make sense of Beier’s simultaneous promotion of the work of two mentally ill patients, which showed enough compelling artistic talent to demonstrate a link between mental illness and artistic originality. In his second Black Orpheus essay on art, Beier remarked that the astonishing freshness of the paintings and drawings of these patients—whom he and Wenger encouraged to take up art at a local mental home—was guaranteed by their mental condition and illiteracy, which in turn liberated them from the strictures of Western education.13 That is to say, the boundless, nonlogical freedom associated with insanity allowed them greater formal expressiveness and a predisposition toward new and unpredictable approaches to pictorial composition and representation. In these two seminal Black Orpheus essays, Beier thus outlines the thrust of his future art criticism and aesthetic preference. He would promote, for the most part, only artists whose work showed a formal or conceptual synthesis of modernist avant-Â�garde techniques and the sense of enigma he identified with indigenous art and religions of Africa. Such work must at once be formally expressive and intuitive rather than deliberate or mannered but


Transacting the Modern —

also suggestive of some indeterminate spirituality and indirectly evocative of Western modernist and indigenous African artistic traditions. These characteristics—evident, so he believed, in the work of Susanne Wenger and the two mentally ill painters—determined for the most part his choice of artists to feature in Black Orpheus. These two essays provide a useful view of Beier’s critical practice and artistic preferences, hedged as they are by skepticism about academic training and faith in the power of raw artistic originality. Beier sought out artists working in other parts of the world who confronted historical and social conditions similar to those of modern Africans and who had invented ambitious, radically new work. During a trip to London in 1959, for instance, he saw an exhibition at Gallery One featuring the work of Francis Newton Souza (1924–2002), an expatriate Indian artist who was beginning to garner critical attention in the London art scene. Souza was born in Goa, a Roman Catholic enclave and former Portuguese colony annexed by India in 1961. In 1947 Souza cofounded the influential Mumbai-Â� based Progressive Artists Group (pag), recognized as India’s first modernist avant-Â�garde group. The group rejected the native revivalism of the Bengal school, initiated by the pioneer painter Ravi Varma, and scorned the academicism of colonial art schools. The basis of the group’s cohesion, despite its members’ diverse political affiliations and backgrounds, was a belief in a rigorous combination of formal styles and techniques of European modernists, particularly the impressionists and German expressionists, and those associated with traditional Indian art.14 Excited by Souza’s work, Beier, upon returning to Nigeria, published an essay and several of Souza’s drawings in Black Orpheus under another of his pseudonyms, Omidiji Aragbabalu.15 Returning to his now routine criticism of West African artists’ failure to develop an ambitious new modernism based on a radical synthesis of European and indigenous West African influences, Beier declared the successful creation of such a synthesis by modern painters in India. Souza’s work epitomized this achievement; not only did he exploit the techniques and visual language of modern painting, but his work also insinuated early Christian rather than Hindu art. This act of bridging two cultures, Beier concludes: is of great significance to us in West Africa. It goes to prove that the tide is now beginning to turn; the force of the cultural attack from Europe seems to be spent and from the ruins of our various traditions in Asia and Africa we are beginning the work of synthesis and reconstruction.16 It is worth noting, however, that while Souza’s strict Catholic background and Romanesque Spanish art had considerable influence on his work, as

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did the work of the French fauvist Georges Rouault and the cubist Pablo Picasso,17 his experiment with the formal style of the Khajuraho temple sculptures from South India, famous for their sublimely erotic imagery and ritual symbolism, escaped Beier’s analysis.18 Earlier in his career, Souza had protested the prevailing influence of second-Â�rate realism—what Beier called Victorian imagery in Nigeria—by turning to native Indian art, developing in the following years an intensely iconoclastic style that his critics often found too shocking for commentary (figures 4.2 and 4.3).19 Thus, Beier’s claim that “it is an Early Christian, rather than a Hindu atmosphere that we sense in his work”20 ignores the fact that Souza combined both with a modernist aesthetic sensibility and with what one might call postcolonial and post-Â� Christian existential ennui, graphically indexed in his oeuvre.21 Despite these observations, Beier’s overall argument is that Souza’s successful synthesis of various indigenous and Western artistic modes, his invention of a powerful and original personal style, and his rejection of staid academic realism provides a crucial model for West African artists at the cultural crossroads of late colonialism. While he does not make the connection, Beier’s suggestion of Indian modernism as a model for West Africa remarkably echoes the widespread hope on the part of the region’s nationalists that India’s political independence in 1947 would inspire immediate sovereignty for African nations. (Even before that, the early twentieth-Â�century Lagos intellectual elite had looked to Indian nationalists in their own struggle with British colonialism.)22 More broadly, he hoped that artists from the non-Â�Western colonized world or oppressed minorities such as blacks in the United States would develop a radically new art based on their political and cultural encounter with Western modernity and its associated aesthetic traditions. A few months before the publication of the Souza piece, Beier made a trip to Zaria to see the work of Jimo Akolo and some members of the Art Society. He was impressed and surprised by the quality of the work, so much so that he was convinced it signaled the emergence of a distinctly Nigerian modernism, which he had thought impossible, as he noted in the Wenger article only months before. In a short but important Black Orpheus essay on Demas Nwoko published shortly after his Zaria trip, Beier introduced Nwoko as the most compelling and innovative of the Art Society artists. Nwoko’s work, moreover, provided Beier the opportunity to restate once more the problem of modern art and colonial education in Nigeria: the failure of Onabolu’s and Murray’s followers to identify with the formal experimentation of the European avant-Â�garde, beholden as they were to the sedate anatomical correctness and “sentimental story telling” of so-Â�called Victorian art.23


Figure 4.2╇ Francis Newton Souza, Two Saints in a Landscape, oil on board, 1961. Tate Gallery, London. Photo © Tate, London 2013. © ars, NY.

Figure 4.3╇ Francis Newton Souza, Crucifixion, oil on board, 1959. Tate Gallery, London. Photo Credit: Tate, London / Art Resource, NY. © ars, NY.


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The trouble, Beier argues, is the erroneous assumption that the Nigerian artist must assert his cultural and national identity simply through the choice of local subject matter rather than by experimentation with culturally familiar form or aesthetic qualities. The preponderance of “folkloristic subjects,” village scenes, and other genre imagery, he noted, could not be the basis for determining the character of Nigerian modernism, because the means of realizing themes, rather than themes themselves, are what matters in discussions of style in art.24 Against this colonial modernist status quo, “one cannot but admire,” declares Beier, with the Zaria group in mind, “those few young artists who have not succumbed to these trends” but are poised to connect, albeit dialectically, to the aesthetic rhetoric of international modernism. The publication of Demas Nwoko’s work in Black Orpheus thus marks the crucial moment of alliance and alignment of the work of the Art Society at Zaria with Beier’s critical muscle against the bipolar anchors of colonial modernism represented by Aina Onabolu and Kenneth Murray. This text also coincided with Beier’s famous art review in Nigeria magazine, in which we see the extent of Beier’s belief in Nwoko’s work, as well as in his Art Society colleagues Uche Okeke and Bruce Onobrakpeya and their friend Jimo Akolo as exemplars of progressive and modern Nigerian art. The review and the show itself—both unprecedented in their scope and impact—mark the triumph of Beier’s art criticism and his successful insinuation of the Art Society artists into the national consciousness; but the context of the production and reception of the exhibition and review also highlights the intense struggle for the driver’s seat among power players in the expanding Lagos art world.

Nigerian Art Exhibition, 1960

The Nigeria Exhibition—a sprawling national fair on a thirty-Â�five-Â�acre space on Victoria Island in Lagos, directed by a Mr. R. H. C. Hammond—was a major part of Nigeria’s October 1960 independence celebrations.25 While the fair was dominated by immense industrial and commercial pavilions mounted by federal and regional institutions, the relatively modest arts and crafts exhibition organized by the Lagos branch of the Nigerian Council for the Advancement of Art and Culture provided an unprecedented opportunity for a survey of contemporary Nigerian art. As it turned out, the exhibition, simply called Nigerian Art, became the first major platform for Art Society members and their colleagues to present their work at the national level and to establish their reputation as major players in postindependence Nigerian art. The circumstances surrounding the involvement of Uche Okeke, Demas


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Nwoko, and to a lesser extent Bruce Onobrakpeya in organizing the art section of the exhibition are not entirely clear. But we know that by May 1960, after much deliberation, the council appointed a selection committee—Â�composed of Michael Crowder, Aina Onabolu, Nora Majekodunmi, Afi Ekong, and others—for the exhibition to be installed at the Kingsway Stores premises in Lagos.26 Within the same month, after a visit to Zaria by Mrs. Majekodunmi—chair of the Lagos branch of the arts council at the suggestion of Crowder, the editor of Nigeria magazine and staunch supporter of the Art Society—Uche Okeke, Simon Okeke, Bruce Onobrakpeya, and Jimo Akolo were invited to submit work for the Kingsway show. The plan to exhibit at an offsite location rather than at the main Victoria Island grounds appears to have been prompted by news that the powerful Federal Council of Ministers had appointed Ben Enwonwu to take over from the Lagos branch the responsibility for the official arts and crafts exhibition. But a crisis erupted when, in July, the Lagos branch received a directive from the government to take over the official art exhibition from Enwonwu, who had resigned his curatorial appointment.27 The arts council, in turn, invited Uche Okeke to cocurate the exhibition and, along with his friends, to execute murals at the arts and crafts pavilion.28 On August 25 and 26, as part of the arts council’s publicity program, Radio Nigeria broadcast an interview by Deinde George with Okeke, Nwoko, and Onobrakpeya in which their work for the Nigeria Exhibition was highlighted. Okeke used the opportunity to affirm his belief in the significance of the Art Society’s natural synthesis in Nigeria’s emergent modernism: We are faced with alien artistic medium of expression in painting and have continued to experiment with them [sic], thereby giving new expression to our art forms. Thus by way of natural synthesis of old and new we strive to evolve what may well be New Nigerian Art.29 Although Crowder managed the publicity given to the Zaria artists and arranged meetings between them and senior government officials, their friendship soon unraveled, if only for a time (figure 4.4). Okeke and Nwoko in particular seem to have drawn the ire of Michael Crowder and Nora Majekodunmi—the British wife of the Federal Minister of Health, Dr. Moses Adekoyejo Majekodunmi, arguably the most influential figure on the Lagos art scene—for more or less taking over, without oversight, the pavilion’s design and decoration.30 Even so, the higher-Â�stakes feud between Enwonwu and the expatriate members of the Lagos branch—it came to a head in July and August, when Enwonwu mass-Â�circulated a letter exhorting Nigerian artists and

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Figure 4.4╇ Okeke and Onobrakpeya working in Michael Crowder’s residence, Lagos, summer 1960. Photo, courtesy of Uche Okeke / Asele Institute, Nimo.

craftsmen to withdraw from the exhibition—forced the council to embark on a massive media blitz, coordinated by Crowder, focusing on the work of Zaria artists. The council concluded that such a media counteroffensive might restore public confidence in the exhibition in the wake of Enwonwu’s high-Â�profile onslaught. His campaign culminated in a sensational article, “African Art in Danger,” published in the Times of London on the eve of political independence. In it Enwonwu decried the threat posed to the development of art in postindependence Nigeria by a social elite that had seized “control of art with cheap commercialism” but also to the fact that “most of the young artists [art students at Zaria] . . . are being attracted away from following a [Nigerian] leadership by European keenness on ‘art collection,’ or else by patronage.”31


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The picture that emerges from these layered, multidirectional frictions is one of struggle for not just the direction and course of the independence exhibition but, more crucially, for the fate of modern Nigerian art. It was a struggle pitting three power players on the art scene: the established Enwonwu, the expatriate arts administrators and critics, and the irreverent Nwoko and Okeke, who had become the de facto leading voices of a new generation of artists.32

OKEKE’S VAST MURAL Mother Nigeria (1960), painted on straw mat support

and measuring about thirty-by-fifty feet, depicts a mother figure in a brilliant lemon yellow dress with her children gathered in her maternal embrace. Rendered in flat colors, with the figures defined by hard-Â�edge outlines, their anatomical features only barely suggested, the composition achieved a powerful monumentality, both through suppression of unnecessary details and by its sheer scale. Although there is no indication of the ethnicity of the mother figure or her children—perhaps an acknowledgment of the fraught nature of ethnic nationalism in Nigerian politics—the image of a dominant mother gathering her children together forcefully conveyed the need for the country’s fractious ethnicities to rally together under the protection of free mother Nigeria. A symbolic representation of unity in Nigeria, Mother Nigeria predictably turned out to be a major attraction for the more than five hundred thousand visitors to the fair. Bruce Onobrakpeya’s mural consisted of fourteen large panels on the covered way that connected the art pavilion to the craftsmen’s pavilion. Each panel had an autonomous image; his style ranged from the realistic rendition of a butterfly in one panel to an abstract geometric image of a figure with a long pipe in another. On the whole, the artist’s decorative program relied on generous use of hard-Â�edge geometric shapes, bold decorative patterns, and schematically rendered forms, thus announcing Onobrakpeya’s talent as a superb illustrator. The multipanel mural depicted episodes from Urhobo folktales (figure 4.5) but also included contemporary Benin and Urhobo personages and ceremonial events. For his part, Demas Nwoko, besides assisting Okeke, executed his own mural (also helped by Okeke) at the crafts section of the Arts and Crafts pavilion. Part of the composition, dealing with the theme of Nigerian crafts, depicted four figures engaged in embroidery, leatherwork, smithing, and welding.33 Like that of Okeke and Onobrakpeya, Nwoko’s work was rendered in flat colors, but his palette and pictorial program—Â�consisting of dominant brilliant reds and white, his figures and major color areas marked

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Figure 4.5╇ Bruce Onobrakpeya, sketch for panel of his Covered Way mural (detail), gouache on paper, 1960. Photo, the author. © Bruce Onobrakpeya.

Figure 4.6╇ Demas Nwoko, mural, Arts and Crafts pavilion, Nigeria Exhibition, Lagos, 1960. Reproduced from Nigeria 68 (March 1961), p. 31. Courtesy National Council for Arts and Culture, Abuja. © Demas Nwoko.


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out with heavy white or dark lines—Â�resulted in the most dramatic and accomplished work of the group (figure 4.6). The refusal by the three artists (least so with Onobrakpeya) to seek recourse to illustrating iconic, easily recognizable African/Nigerian art forms, amply evident in Enwonwu’s “authentic” African style, or to produce the kind of pictorial realism popularized by Lasekan, Onabolu, and Enwonwu left no one in doubt about their desire to inaugurate a new pictorial order, the authenticity of which depended not so much on a literalist deployment of indigenous themes and pictorial symbols as on its articulate deployment of modernist formal principles.34 Â� The art exhibition drew forty-Â�one participants, ranging from artists with formal art school training to those who, as with traditional African artists, had apprenticed with master sculptors. Of the first generation of Nigerian artists, Akinola Lasekan showed his realistic portraits of Nigerians besides his well-Â�known Market Scene (National Gallery of Art, Lagos collection); J. D. Akeredolu (1915–1984), the putative originator of thorn carving, small figures carved from thorns of the wild cotton tree (shown in the crafts section), was represented by a wood sculpture, Mallam; and Lamidi Fakeye (1928– 2009), a former student of the famed Yoruba sculptor George Bandele and possibly the best-Â�known graduate of Father Kevin Carroll’s workshop at Oye-Â� Ekiti, exhibited six sculptures. Onabolu was surprisingly absent from the exhibition. Among Kenneth Murray’s students, A. P. Umana (b. 1920), exhibited several paintings, as did Enwonwu, represented by older Murray-Â�period work, as well as more recent sculptures and paintings, including Head of Afi (ca. 1959), a bronze bust of the Lagos-Â�based artist Afi Ekong (1930–2009; figure 4.7). Enwonwu’s putative rival on the Nigerian art scene, the sculptor Felix Idubor (1928–1991), who was initially apprenticed to a Bini master carver but later taught at Yaba Technical College, exhibited his own bronze Head of a Woman, in addition to two other figures.35 Where Enwonwu’s Head of Afi displays the artist’s mastery of academic portraiture, Idubor’s, with its highly polished surface and almost impersonal features, is remarkably evocative of early Benin court style. Despite the fact that the exhibition ostensibly presented a wide-Â�ranging panorama of then modern Nigerian art, the sheer number of works by members of the Art Society group, in addition to their popular onsite murals, provided them an enviable opportunity for national visibility. They garnered considerable media attention in the form of interviews with Radio Nigeria and a full-Â�page Nigerian Daily Times feature on their murals and contributions to the exhibition, triumphantly titled “big job for young artists,”—all perhaps part of the scheme by Michael Crowder and his arts council cohort

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Figure 4.7╇ Ben Enwonwu, Head of Afi, bronze, ca. 1959. Reproduced from Nigeria 68 (March 1961), p. 39. Courtesy National Council for Arts and Culture, Abuja. © The Ben Enwonwu Foundation.

to challenge Enwonwu’s previously uncontested national influence. But in spite of this Enwonwu-Â�versus–arts council chess game, Okeke and his group, recognizing this singular opportunity, seized it in a bid to claim the front seat of modern postindependence Nigerian art. And this is where Beier’s influential Nigeria magazine review of the exhibition intervened, declaring in unmistakable terms that Nwoko and Okeke, in particular, but also Akolo and Onobrakpeya were among the stars of new order.36 Beier’s review, as he made clear from the outset, was a subjective perspec-


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tive on a show of eclectic work ranging from the impressive to the mediocre. Like John Danford a decade before, Beier clearly saw the independence show as the manifest beginning of a new phase in contemporary Nigerian art, which consisted of “artists of widely different backgrounds and ideas,” such as Lamidi Fakeye, who trained in a traditional Yoruba workshop, and the classy Slade-Â�educated Ben Enwonwu, whose work demonstrated “all the routine and all the ideas acquired by moving for years in the artistic circles of Europe.”37 In spite of his guarded enthusiasm for the work of the sculptors Fakeye, Ovie Idah, Festus Idehen, and Osagie Osifo for their “conscious and sophisticated use of traditional forms,” he concluded that the young Zaria artists were the show’s greatest revelation.38 In his usual telegraphic style, Beier framed his artists in the best possible light. Jimo Akolo, the “coolest formalist among them,” reflects in his work—here the critic seems to invoke the colonial British stereotype of Muslim emirate candor, simply because the artist comes from a northern Yoruba town—the “cool, detached dignity” of northern Nigeria; while stating that Yusuf Grillo, the most technically advanced, has an inclination toward a well-Â�constructed compositional style suited for mural painting (figure 4.8). Bruce Onobrakpeya, with his fertile pictorial imagination and “fine sense for the decorative,” came through as a talented illustrator and experimental printmaker, whereas Simon Okeke, using a “meticulous renaissance [sic] technique,” painted fascinating, weird, and mysterious figures “distorted according to some hidden law we cannot fathom.” These pictures, rather than the ones in which the artist tried to depict, as Beier says, the “pretty side of life,” have the same affective power as the artists’ apparently frequent horrific visions. Unsurprisingly, Demas Nwoko and Uche Okeke, according to Beier, produced the most important work in the show, partly because they adapted formal qualities of Igbo sculptures in their work rather than directly quote them, as did the less artistically accomplished and older Festus Idehen and Osagie Osifo.39 Moreover, their work, unlike anything before it, “is more genuinely and more authentically ‘Nigerian’ while it is at the same time far more modern in approach. It is the finest monument to Nigerian Independence we could have wished for.”40 Even if we grant Beier the privilege he claimed to subjectively assess the Nigerian Art exhibition, we cannot ignore some of his more tendentious, overdetermined declarations. Consider, for instance, his all-Â�important concluding statement on the authenticity of the Zaria work. His analysis neither explains the parameters of authenticity for Nigerian art or how Nwoko and Okeke might have met them any more than, say, Idehen or Fakeye nor con-

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Figure 4.8╇ Yusuf Grillo, Two Yoruba Women, oil on canvas, 1960. Reproduced from Nigeria 68 (March 1961), p. 44. Courtesy National Council for Arts and Culture, Abuja. © Yusuf Grillo.

vincingly makes a case for their supposedly more modern approach. Nevertheless, the Nigeria magazine review fits into Beier’s larger critical project, already begun in Black Orpheus with his Wenger, Souza, and Nwoko essays. It shows Beier at the height of his advocacy for a new approach to modern art that, until the emergence of the Zaria group, was either too nativist, as that of Murray’s students was, or, in the hands of Onabolu and his followers, too naturalistically “Victorian.”


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Mbari Artists and Writers Club, Ibadan

The months following the independence celebrations were indeed quite remarkable in the Nigerian art and cultural sector. Many of the emerging poets, novelists, and playwrights—mostly graduates of University College, Ibadan—had been published by Beier for the first time in Black Orpheus. With Uche Okeke, Demas Nwoko, and the now famous 1961 painting class soon to graduate from Zaria, it was apparent that a new transdisciplinary group of Nigerian visual and literary artists had emerged, their mass energy requiring a new platform quite different from, if complementary to, Black Orpheus. This motley group saw clearly that it needed a lively arena for debate and production of experimental and critical art, literature, and theater— in other words, a laboratory of ideas. Thus after Beier consulted with Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, and several other Nigerian and expatriate writers and dramatists in the Ibadan-Â�Lagos axis, the idea of a writers and artists club was born.41 The club, which Achebe named after Igbo mbari—the sculpture, painting, and architectural complex dedicated to Ala, the earth goddess and guardian of creativity and justice—opened in March 1961 in a space located on 48 Onireke Street in the Gbagi market area in central Ibadan. Funded primarily by grants from the regional government and the Farfield Foundation—through its subsidiary, the Paris-Â�based Congress for Cultural Freedom (ccf)—the club included a Lebanese restaurant, the West End Café (the original occupant of the premises), and a courtyard where discussions, art exhibitions, and open-Â�air theatrical performances took place.42 The main feature of the courtyard was Uche Okeke’s large mural, to which we return in chapter 5. Membership in the club was diverse and cosmopolitan; its core inaugural membership included, in addition to Beier, Soyinka, and Achebe, the poets Christopher Okigbo, John Pepper Clark, and Ezekiel Mphahlele (later known as Es’kia Mphahlele), the South African writer and exile then living in Nigeria.43 Apart from the Ghanaian sculptor Vincent Kofi (1923–1974), Nwoko and Okeke were the only visual artists among the original Mbari members. The intellectual atmosphere at the Mbari Club was intense, not so much because of the debates on art and literature as for the fierce individuality of some of its key members, particularly Nwoko, Clark, Soyinka, and Okigbo. With the bar and restaurant, the Mbari activities would suggest that if ever there was an interdisciplinary “avant-Â�garde” moment in Nigeria, it certainly was the period between 1961 and 1964, before the original members dispersed. However, sited in the center of a popular market, with its doors open


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to both the intellectual types and curious audiences and spectators from the streets, the club’s program—ranging from sophisticated intellectual debates to popular events involving neighborhood participants—not so much resembled the legendary Parisian or Viennese avant-Â�garde café milieu, as Gene Ulansky has suggested, as embodied the communalistic idea inherent in the concepts of mbari and the market square.44 For the Igbo mbari, a village would appoint professional artists and amateurs to build, in seclusion, the mbari monument in honor of Ala or some other powerful tutelary deity. During the construction phase, the artists also spent time learning dances to be performed at the public opening and dedication of the monument, an occasion of great celebration by members of the commissioning village and their guests.45 Mbari as a concept thus encompasses the material and visual qualities of Igbo architecture, sculpture, and painting, along with the kinesthesia of the dance and ritual performances enacted during construction and on the occasion of the public presentation of the project. Mbari also connotes, as Herbert Cole has argued, the very process of accomplishing these visual and theatrical forms; that is to say, mbari is the act of sculpting, building, painting, dancing, and singing in honor of the deity.46 In addition—this is quite important—mbari is a monument to collective artistic imaginaries of the Owerri Igbo, a site for the paradoxical entanglements of myths, experiences of colonial modernity, moral education, and erotic fantasies; indeed mbari is the sensate and metaphysical world invoked and enacted through word, action, image.47 Thus, in naming the club after Igbo mbari, its core members clearly wished to situate their work, even if only rhetorically and Â�philosophically, within the paradigm of communal rather than elitist art practice. But there is another aspect to the invocation of Igbo mbari in the motivating ideas of the Mbari Ibadan: the subversion of generative tension between individuality and collectivity with the context of the mbari. In the Igbo mbari, for instance, the members of the commissioning community are described as the creators of mbari, although the actual complex is designed and supervised by recognized master artists hired for their artistic reputation. It is, then, not necessarily a denial of the creative imagination of master artist and his cohort of sequestered community members selectively appointed to represent their families in the building process; rather, it is a reaffirmation of the minority role of the individual within the cosmological network of phenomenological and metaphysical forces embodied by the community. As if to announce their departure from the traditional Igbo model and to establish the modernist basis of their practice on the occasional moments


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when the club members participated in the production of theatrical work— such as Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Â�Wine Drinkard (1952) or J. P. Clark’s The Masquerade (1964)—its authorship or creative ownership belonged, unquestionably, to the individual playwright. Moreover, the location of the club in a building right inside the market—a site for exchange of merchandise but also a meeting place for the living and the dead, the sane and the insane, the rich and the poor—indicated a clear intention on the part of Ulli Beier and his collaborators to place the club in a popular site accessible to the whole community. Nevertheless, the extent to which that goal was met is a different matter, as it largely remained, until its closure sometime in 1966, a meeting place for the emerging Nigerian black international and literary and artistic elite.48

Mbari International

The Mbari gallery gave Beier an opportunity to expand his curatorial work and, with a circle of friends who served as art critics for the gallery’s exhibitions, to articulate his vision of modernism with the work of artists he saw as the new vanguard of the unfolding postcolonial order.49 With partial funding from the Congress for Cultural Freedom, he embarked on an ambitious, unprecedented exhibition program, bringing to Nigeria for the first time significant artists from the rest of the continent, Europe, Asia, and the Americas.50 Mbari, in other words helped Beier consolidate his position as the most influential figure in Nigerian art in the mid-Â�twentieth century, even as the gallery became the indisputable space where the international dimension of postcolonial modernism became manifest. The inaugural art exhibition at Mbari, a well-Â�publicized joint show by Uche Okeke and Demas Nwoko, opened on July 20, 1961, with the club’s president, Ezekiel Mphahlele, and Dr. Onabamiro, the western region’s minister of education, in attendance (figure 4.9).51 While this exhibition is important because it contributed to the rising national stature of Okeke and Nwoko soon after their triumphant performance at the Nigerian Exhibition during the independence celebrations in October 1960, my particular interest is in how it provided Beier the opportunity to lay out his artistic doctrine, which I believe is fundamental to an understanding of the aesthetics and history of postcolonial modernism. Beier’s brief introduction in the exhibition brochure reiterated the arguments he had been making for Okeke and Nwoko: their rising fame even while studying at Zaria, their campaign for modern Nigerian artists to “come

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Figure 4.9╇ Demas Nwoko and Uche Okeke at the opening of Mbari Ibadan inaugural art exhibition, 1961. In the center background, Uche Okeke’s Madonna and Child (1961). Reproduced from West African Review 32, no. 408 (December 1961): 42.

to terms with” the artistic traditions of their country, and the influence of Igbo sculpture on their work. He also remarked on the distinctness of their emerging personal styles, in spite of their very close friendship, and the “considerable maturity” they had attained since their first joint show in Ibadan a year before. What we can take from Beier’s text is this formulation of the new art as a process of coming to terms with Nigerian art traditions but with the kind of aesthetic distance that is the hallmark of the indisputably modern. To emphasize the club’s international outlook, the next three exhibitions at Mbari featured works by artists from outside Nigeria, which coincided with the art program of Black Orpheus. Both simultaneously championed the work of artists in Africa, Asia, South America, the United States, and Europe—artists at the forefront of defining modernisms inspired by the experience of colonization, racial discrimination, and the encounter between Western modernity and indigenous cultures. In the years 1961–1963, the finest time for the visual arts within Black Orpheus and the club, the gallery hosted at least seventeen mostly one-Â�person shows by Nigerian and international artists; several of them were also featured in Black Orpheus.


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Art from Makerere, the first of three shows in 1961 after Okeke and Nwoko’s inaugural exhibition, consisted of photographs of painting and sculpture rather than original works. The exhibition, which opened in August 1961, featured artists associated with the art program at Makerere University College, Uganda. A one-Â�person exhibition of work by the Dutch master printmaker Ru van Rossem, a professor of graphic arts at the art academy in Tilburg, Holland, opened in October. In November the Sudanese artist Ibrahim El Salahi became the first African artist to get a one-Â�person show at Mbari or any art gallery in Nigeria. Salahi’s exhibition proved to be the most important of the three, not least because of Beier’s belief that his work, clearly more advanced than that of any Zaria artist, was exemplary of a rigorous and progressively modern art combining a deep reflection on African art forms and a mastery of techniques of European modernists.52 Moreover, it must have confirmed for Beier his sense that the new art coming out of Zaria was part of a nascent international phenomenon, just as the literary work of the Ibadan-Â�trained writers was aligned with the postcolonial literary world constituted by writing from former colonies in Africa and the Caribbean, as well as from black America and Europe. Beier had met Salahi and his colleagues—including Ahmed Shibrain, who also showed at Mbari in 1963—quite by chance. It began when Donald Hope, an art educator at Zaria and coauthor of the memorandum criticizing the effort by other faculty to introduce art history into the Zaria program in 1962, advised Beier to visit the Guyanese artist and art historian Denis Williams (1923–1998) in Khartoum, Sudan.53 Beier thus included Khartoum in his 1961 continental tour, funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Williams, in turn, introduced him to Salahi, Shibrain, and Kamala Ibrahim (Ishag), who were to become key members of an emerging “Old Khartoum school” based at the Khartoum Technical Institute. Salahi’s Mbari exhibition, a rather modest affair, consisted solely of ink drawings on paper, yet it turned out to be of historic importance and a major influence on the work of some Nigerian artists, including Bruce Onobrakpeya and Obiora Udechukwu (b. 1946), a leading figure in the Nsukka school that coalesced around the work of Uche Okeke in 1970 and after.54 Although seen by the rather limited number visitors who attended Mbari exhibitions, Salahi’s work received wide circulation through two important reviews by Beier in Black Orpheus and West African Review (war) and through a small monograph published by the club after the first one, featuring Uche Okeke. Salahi’s exhibition was also significant in that it expanded the normative geography of modern African art, which, perhaps reflecting a colonial-Â�

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era paradigm, had separated into northern and so-Â�called sub-Â�Saharan African domains, a scenario that belied the network of political alliances forged among African nationalists from all corners of the continent, especially after the Bandung Conference in 1955. One might argue, in fact, that the international scope of Mbari and Black Orpheus depended singularly on Beier’s transnational network, which in turn devolved to the important relationships cultivated by artists and writers across national borders beyond the Mbari and Black Orpheus years. In the Black Orpheus review of Salahi’s exhibition, Beier painted a picture of an artistic genius emerging from a culturally and artistically arid area: “Great artists turn up in unexpected places. When going in search for new African artists I was certainly not expecting to find one in Khartoum.”55 The Sudan, Beier proclaimed in obvious error, “has no artistic tradition, except Arabic calligraphy”; Khartoum, with its alienated art school and without modern art exhibition venues, seemed a most unlikely place to encounter an artist who might be one of the most accomplished in Africa.56 According to Beier, the artist’s work evolved from the unexciting academic portraits and landscapes he painted while at the Slade School of Art—“foreign conventions” Salahi later found “meaningless”—to a thrilling new work based on his post-Â�London experimentation with Arabic calligraphy. Beier thus argues, as he had with the work of Okeke and Nwoko, that Salahi’s mature work began with a tactical disavowal of his formal training at the Slade, followed by research in and experimentation with indigenous Sudanese artistic forms and ideas. What Beier does not explain, however, are the factors responsible for the radical transformation of Salahi’s work, particularly what his artistic choices had to do with the reception of his work in Khartoum. Salahi’s training at the Slade—at the time still led by Sir William Coldstream—exposed him to a range of academic and modernist painting styles and resulted in work such as Untitled (1954–57; figure 4.10); but upon returning to the newly independent Sudan in the late 1950s, he quickly abandoned the Slade work, turning instead to the gestural draftsmanship of Arabic calligraphy, the graphic symbolism of Arabic texts, and African decorative design (figure 4.11). In the work Salahi exhibited at Mbari, he had just begun to explore the graphic poetry of Arabic calligraphy through an experimental process of deconstructing and reconfiguring calligraphic texts and notations and indigenous Sudanese design patterns.57 This resulted in a graphic pictorial style—ink drawings in which the artist freely combined mystical abstractions, ritual scripts, and enigmatic imagery into what one might call the graphic poetry of Arabic calligraphy.


Figure 4.10╇ Ibrahim El Salahi, Untitled, oil on canvas, 1954–1957. Collection of the Artist. Image courtesy of Salah M. Hassan. © Ibrahim El Salahi. Figure 4.11╇ Ibrahim El Salahi, Prayer, oil on Masonite, 1960. Image courtesy Iwalewa-Â�Haus, University of Bayreuth. © Ibrahim El Salahi.


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We now know that the local reception given the Slade-Â�period work in Salahi’s first exhibition in the Sudan turned out to be, for him, an unexpected, transformative moment. Apparently shunned by a public committed to the Islamic aniconic mandate, thus quietly opposed to his impertinent figural style, and rankled by his own sense of alienation, Salahi spent the next two years researching local folk art and Arabic calligraphy in order to develop a new form and style acceptable to his audience. That is, had he been concerned only with his own aesthetic preferences or the internal logic of his evolving style, he might not have rethought his work the way he did. In other words, he discovered that his Slade-Â�period work was meaningless to his audience, those with whom he earnestly needed to connect. In reading Salahi’s work, Beier argues that the long-Â�faced animal and human figures that populate his pictures share allusive “formal affinities” rather than direct stylistic similarities with West African Senufo masks; this is what accounts for their profound Africanness. The artist had to descend into his own African soul to retrieve the imagery in his pictures because he could not find it in the Sudan, which Beier had described as an arid cultural zone with few or no important artistic traditions. True, Salahi’s intensely personal figurative imagery has no formal antecedent in any Sudanese imagistic traditions, not even the ancient Nubian figurative art. Several of the abstract patterns occurring in his pictures, such as the ubiquitous checkerboard, were directly borrowed from indigenous designs on craft objects. Thus Beier’s assertion of Sudan’s poor artistic heritage discountenances ancient Nubian and Arab calligraphy as valid constitutive elements of Sudanese arts. This is not surprising, but it must be seen in the context of the then prevalent assumption that African art was more or less synonymous with its sculptural art, which invariably led, as Beier’s text demonstrates, to the perception of West and central Africa, with their many traditions of figurative sculpture, as the continent’s most artistically fertile zones. In any case, Beier was fascinated by Salahi’s novel formal experimentation with Arabic calligraphy and folk art designs, his stunning mastery of line and drawing, and his mystical symbolism. In the West African Review, Beier notes that while the formal rhythm and sophisticated elegance of the drawings derive from the letters of the Arabic alphabet, their pictorial integrity did not depend so much on the literal depiction of Arabic script, which is nonetheless present as legible text, as on adapting the calligraphic flourish and structural principles of the script (figure 4.12).58 Combining these elements with non-Â�Arabic graphic patterns and designs extracted from local baskets, mats, and gourds, Salahi’s works resulted in a “perfect and success-


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Figure 4.12╇ Ibrahim El Salahi, Untitled, ink on paper, 1961. Image courtesy Iwalewa-Â�Haus, University of Bayreuth. © Ibrahim El Salahi.

ful blending of cultures,” thus accounting for the fact that the Sudan itself is at the nexus of Arabic and non-Â�Arabic African cultures. Soon after Beier’s Salahi essay, Denis Williams’s Black Orpheus review of Salahi’s 1963 show at the Galerie Lambert, Paris, pressed further, with greater critical sophistication than Beier, the conceptual implication of the confluence of Arabic and African forms in Salahi’s work. His images, Williams notes, are disclosed with the lyrical clarity of the Arabesque in lines that enclose and release instinctively African myths. . . . His attitude is not that of the magician, not mental, not that of a mind capitulating on the secrets of nature. It is an argument with the myths of the ancestors: a subjection to myth, a fervour that is nothing if not mystical.59 Besides Salahi and the Old Khartoum school artists, Beier sought out other artists who soon became a part of the expanding Mbari international network. At University College, Legon, in Ghana, where he saw Vincent Kofi’s monumental wood sculptures, he decided thereupon to introduce them to the Black Orpheus readership in 1961 prior to exhibition at the Mbari gallery in 1962 (figure 4.13).60 The show of five of Kofi’s major sculptures was quite popular, attracting considerable attention from the local community, particularly at Mbari-Â�Mbayo in Osogbo, where the African American


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artist Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000) saw it during his first visit to Ibadan and Osogbo in October 1962 (figure 4.14). Writing about Kofi’s wood sculptures in Black Orpheus, Beier noted that they “radiate a certain rugged, untamed power,” in part because of their characteristically solid, bulging forms and rough chisel work.61 His figurative style, unlike the naturalistic sculptural style he learned and taught at the art school, depended on dramatic distortions and the introduction of limited interstitial spaces so that the compositions would retain the columnar form of the logs from which they were carved (see figure 4.14). In Crucifixion (ca. 1960), for instance, Kofi depicted a tall figure with two short, paddle-Â�shaped hands raised above its head but without the cross. By fitting the crucified figure into the narrow log form, eliminating Christ’s cross, he invented an apocryphal crucifix. Rather than remind us of the biblical story of salvation, Kofi’s heroic figure, tortured and burdened by some indecipherable, awesome force, expresses the universality of pain. It is perhaps for this reason that Beier found this work both attractive and bewildering.62 At once heavy and archaic, Kofi’s early sculptures, in Beier’s view, do not readily evoke any specific African sculptural tradition and might as easily fit into the modernist tradition of such sculptors as Constantin Brancusi and Henry Moore. He argues that because “Ghana has no great tradition in wood carving, as have the Ivory Coast to the West of it and Nigeria to the East,” Ghana was a natural site for the emergence of “one of the most gifted modern West African carvers.”63 How might this be? Beier suggests that the lack of great indigenous traditions in Ghana, sparing its modern sculptors both the anxiety of influence and the burden of tradition, thereby afforded them the freedom to create a new and original sculptural form: Here [in Nigeria], our sculptors seem to be burdened by the heavy weight of a great tradition. Some of our artists repeat feebler and watered down versions of their forefathers work, [and] in their desperate desire to free themselves, get lost in their attempt to adopt and digest European forms. Only few have attained the originality and power of Vincent Akweti Kofi.64 Beier’s argument, strikingly similar to the earlier one about Salahi and the supposed cultural aridity of the Sudan, is silent on two important aspects of Kofi’s work. First, leaving aside the claim that Ghana was not home to a so-Â�called great tradition of sculpture, such as those of Baule, Benin, Yoruba, and Senufo, Kofi sought to anchor his determinedly modernist style to what he called Ghanaian inspiration.65 That is to say, he was no less concerned about the connection between his own work and Ghanaian/African artistic traditions as any other modern artist anxious about the fraught relationship


Figure 4.13╇ Vincent Kofi at Mbari-Â� Mbayo, Osogbo, 1962. Photo, Ulli Beier. © Estate of Ulli Beier.

Figure 4.14╇ Jacob Lawrence with Vincent Kofi’s Drummer, Mbari Mbayo, Osogbo, 1962. Photo, Ulli Beier. © Estate of Ulli Beier.


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artists often negotiate with traditions great or small. Second, he sometimes modeled his work after specific sculptural styles from Ghana. In one instance at least, Africa Awakening (early 1960s), he borrowed directly from the formal structure of Asante Akua’mma figures, suggesting that, unlike Beier, he believed that Ghana had sculptural traditions from which its modern artists could learn.66 Third, Kofi’s training at the Royal College of Art, London, brought him in contact with techniques, styles, and ideas of modern European sculpture. These “outside influences,” which he believed were inevitable, positively affected his consciousness of his Ghanaian heritage, allowing both to inform his personal style. For him “no art is produced in a vacuum.”67 To be sure, most of the essays and art reviews in Black Orpheus were written by Beier; they thus offer ample opportunity to examine the extent to which he used art criticism to articulate and chaperone a brand of modernism demonstrably different from the colonial models established in Nigeria by Aina Onabolu and Kenneth Murray. While he was joined in this work by other critics such as Denis Williams and Gerald Moore, who taught EngÂ�lish at the Ibadan Extra-Â�Mural Studies program, Beier’s evangelical style often differed from the more dispassionate tone of the other Black Orpheus art critics. Consider, for instance, Moore’s essay on Wilson Tiberío published alongside Beier’s on Kofi. Tiberío, a black Brazilian artist born into a community with thriving Yoruba traditions, was accused by white Brazilian critics of “racialism” for painting mostly black subjects; having traveled through West Africa in the 1940s, he painted pictures from his travels in the region. Adamantly against abstraction, which he called “intellectual masturbation,” his painting, even after moving to Paris in 1950, remained faithful to a modern realist tradition.68 Focusing exclusively on black subjects despite living in Europe, his nostalgia for black Africa and its diaspora, noted Moore, might explain the great beauty of his canvases, the powerful rhythm and grace of his composition, and the simplicity of his forms, even when he depicted themes of suffering. In a clear indication of his familiarity with and meditation on modernist figuration, the body of the mother with her suckling child in his Maternité is highly stylized—her enormous shoulders and arms, the tubular neck and geometric facial features, as well as the use of bold, flat, linear patterns to represent the cloth covering the lower part of her body. Even when he uses planar forms as structuring devices for negative spaces in his paintings, as in Les Forçats (The Convicts), an obvious borrowing from cubism, Moore noted that the appropriations are subordinated to “the humanism and compassion of his art.”69


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Unlike Beier, Moore avoids insinuating Tiberío as a model for West African artists. Nevertheless, the artist must have come across to Beier as a progressive black artist, versed in the language of modernist painting yet ideologically and spiritually committed to his African ancestry. Tiberío’s opposition to abstraction and his adoption of a realist style informed by a postcubist stylization and simplification of the human figure indicates, perhaps, that Beier was less against modernist realism as such than premodern, pseudoacademic narrative illusionism. Although most of the works shown at Mbari Ibadan or featured in Black Orpheus were by academically trained artists, Beier’s earlier interest in the art of the mentally ill was part of his broader understanding of what constitutes progressive art. Stressing originality of vision irrespective of the artist’s social status, level of training, or formal style, he began thinking about the possibility of establishing an alternative space in which he could encourage artistic and theatrical productions outside the academic circles of Ibadan. Thus, barely a year after the opening of Mbari Ibadan, a branch of the club opened at Osogbo, a smaller, less urbanized Yoruba town northeast of Ibadan. More popularly known as Mbari-Â�Mbayo, the Mbari Club at Osogbo was the brainchild of Duro Ladipo (1931–1978), a Yoruba actor who soon became a celebrated Nigerian playwright and dramatist.70 Imagined by Beier as a truly popular creative arena rather than the elitist space that, to his disappointment, Mbari Ibadan had become, Osogbo was to be primarily an experimental workshop for nurturing artistic talent, uninfluenced by Western art and academic practices. Although Beier continued to promote the work of formally trained artists, Mbari-Â�Mbayo represented a facet of his artistic philosophy that can be traced not to his dalliance with negritude and its invocation of the mythic pasts but to his longtime attraction to outsider art, which to him represented truly original artistic creativity. Mbari-Â�Mbayo thus provided Beier with the opportunity to explore and expand these interests without exciting the antagonism of his Mbari Ibadan colleagues.71 Its gallery often cohosted, with Mbari Ibadan, exhibitions of work by Nigerian and international artists also featured in Black Orpheus. During his tour of southern Africa in 1960, Beier met the Mozambican architect and painter Pancho Guedes (Amâncio d’Alpoim Guedes; b. 1925) and his colleague, the South African architect Julian Beinart.72 Beier also met the Mozambican painter and poet Malangatana Valente Ngwenya (1936–2011), then a twenty-Â�five-Â�year-Â�old whose artistic talent Guedes recognized and encouraged. Although Beinart (and Guedes) came to Ibadan to direct the first summer art workshop—modeled after similar programs that Beinart had

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already established in Lourenço Marques (Maputo)—an exhibition of Malangatana’s work did not materialize until June 1962 at Ibadan, from where it traveled to Osogbo.73 Beinart’s article on Malangatana, amplifying the arguments Beier had already made for the artist’s work in the exhibition brochure, appeared in Black Orpheus almost simultaneously. Beinart noted that most black artists in the western native townships in the Lourenço Marques area, like their counterparts in Nigeria, as Beier argued, “either thrive on corny postcard traditionalism” or are enthralled by European models. However, Malangatana was among the very few southern African artists who had attained a “personal synthesis of their own experience which [was] rooted deeply in an African past and at the same time exposed to the new contacts of a different cultural experience.”74 Disconnected from decorative folk art traditions of the townships, Malangatana invented a personal style that combined his technical naiveté with an ambitious, fertile, and terrifying pictorial imagination (figure 4.15). Described by Beinart as a brand of surrealism but without the “intellectual games” of European surrealism, Malangatana’s work conjoins erotic fantasies, occult visions, and eschatological concerns.75 In Secret Voyage, one of his earliest major paintings, a great long-Â�haired nude and a strangely skeletal figure dominate a landscape filled with disembodied eyes and heads, multicolored humanoid forms, and flowers. The palette is eclectic, the brushwork unsure, the drawing loose, yet the artist seems to have been impelled by the need to quickly and completely describe the myriad forms populating this imaginary landscape. A “true dream picture,” according to Beinart, Secret Voyage conveys the seamless oppressiveness of a terrible nightmare and enigmatic visions of a troubled mind. This and others of Malangatana’s early works, such as To the Clandestine Maternity Home (1961), left no doubt of his unusual ability to invent pictorial compositions that powerfully articulate the unpredictable outcomes of the clash of the postcolonial subject’s multiple religious, social, and political worlds (figure 4.16). In his Black Orpheus article, Beinart reproduced several paragraphs from Malangatana’s unpublished autobiography that revealed his experiences as the son of a migrant-Â�worker father and a mentally disturbed, overprotective mother. The excerpt narrates his childhood life of poverty in a family and society where sorcery and militant Christianity coalesced, resulting, Beinart invariably suggests, in the fantastic imagery the artist depicted in his canvases. By inserting the artist’s interesting autobiography in the middle of his text, Beinart confirms Beier’s assertion that the artist is “full of stories”; more importantly, the artist’s own text frames the paintings within a bio-


Figure 4.15╇ Malangatana Ngwenya, Untitled, oil on canvas, 1961. Image courtesy Iwalewa-Â�Haus, University of Bayreuth. © Fundação Malangatana Valente Ngwenya.


Figure 4.16╇ Malangatana Ngwenya, To the Clandestine Maternity Home, oil on canvas, 1961. Image courtesy Iwalewa-Â� Haus, University of Bayreuth. © Fundação Malangatana Valente Ngwenya.


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graphical narrative dominated by witchcraft, familial jealousy and violence, and imponderable mystical experiences. In other words, despite his strange, darkly surreal imagery, despite his undoubtedly fertile imagination, the artist’s work testifies, Beinart asserts, to the reality of his life experience and so might be considered realistic painting. By inserting Malangatana into the debate about Africans’ response to the putative clash of Western and indigenous cultures, Beinart presents the artist as successfully achieving the positive synthesis that many southern African artists failed to attain. With virtually no formal art training, the artist arrived at a fresh, modern, expressive style, at once naive and sophisticated. Malangatana thus represented one of the bright lights among the “exciting new generation” of African artists.76 He indeed became exemplary of the successfully modern and African artist whose creative originality and depth of vision remained fresh because of his lack of formal art training. Malangatana’s work, put differently, was proof of Beier’s insistent claim in his critical writing that modern artistic expression at best did not depend on and at worst was impoverished by formal European art school training.77 The most ambitious exhibition ever at Mbari Ibadan was that of a 1962 presentation of twenty original woodcuts by the leading German expressionist, Karl Schmidt-Â�Rottluff (1884–1976). To see the exhibition’s significance, note that apart from a small Henry Moore show in Kaduna and Ibadan organized by the British Council in 1957, the Schmidt-Â�Rottluff exhibition was the only exhibition of the work of a major modern European artist in Nigeria. Its successful realization testified both to Beier’s organizational genius and to his utter conviction that new Nigerian art had to engage with classical African art, albeit without directly emulating its formal characteristics, even if that meant presenting the work of European modernists as models for such enterprise. Sometime in 1961, Beier traveled to Frankfurt, Germany, for the opening of Susanne Wenger’s show, organized by Janheinz Jahn, coeditor of Black Orpheus, at Frau Hanna Becker vom Rath’s Kunstkabinett gallery. Seeing Becker’s considerable collection of German expressionist work, Beier asked to borrow some Schmidt-Â�Rottluff prints for a show at Mbari, Ibadan. With the help of the German embassy in Nigeria, which paid the insurance and shipping costs for the works, Beier put together the show that opened on February 20, 1962, with the German ambassador as guest of honor. The exhibition proved to be Mbari’s most expensive project and, in historical terms, among its most significant. The exhibition consisted of woodcut prints made between 1912—a year

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before the dissolution of Die Brücke—and 1923. It included such important works as Kneeling Woman (1914) and Girl before a Mirror (1914; figures 4.17 and 4.18). The latter depicts a naked woman with a disarticulated and distinctively African masklike face standing before a mirror, her reflected nude figure amplifying the erotic tenor of the composition. The anatomical structure of Kneeling Woman, on the other hand, conveys a powerful presence despite the figure’s otherwise alluring pose. This formal quality arguably derives from the influence of African statuary, a possibility made more concrete by the presence of what must be an African carved stool in the background. The exhibition also included Melancholy (1914), The Sun! (1914), Mother (1916), The Three Kings (1917), and Table of Contents for the J. B. Neumann Portfolio (1919). Beier’s introductory text in the exhibition brochure did not, as one might expect, adopt the kind of polemical language evident in his critical work. He did not, for instance, justify this show of work by a European modernist in Nigeria, whose artists, as he argued repeatedly, needed proper redirection. Rather, he more or less synopsized the radical aesthetic and politics of the Die Brücke and Schmidt-Â�Rottluff ’s place within the group. Die Brücke (the Bridge) was formed by four architecture students, Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Karl Schmidt-Â�Rottluff, in Dresden in 1905. The older members, including Emil Nolde, Edvard Munch, Cuno Amiet, and others, joined later, yet the group’s “internal logic,” according to Reinhold Heller, “demanded a new cohesion of individuals with a mutual identity in the concept of youth.”78 Nevertheless, Beier’s analysis of Die Brücke is revealing, particularly in the way he frames it: They wanted to take art seriously. [Max] Pechstein once said: “Art is not a game; it is a duty towards the nation, it is a public matter.” They wanted to shake off every type of academic routine. They believed in the absolute supremacy of the artistic personality and rejected all traditional rules. They were not interested in the imitation of nature. They were disinterested in the problems of space, proportion and perspective. Above all they protested against middle-Â�class aestheticism. They did not want to paint pretty pictures, which could adorn the drawing rooms of well-Â�to-Â�do citizens.79 It is hard to miss the point of Beier’s argument, for its relevance to the Nigerian situation is quite clear: The politics and aesthetic of Die Brücke supported his criticisms of the academic realism of Aina Onabolu and Akinola Lasekan and the bourgeois lifestyle of Ben Enwonwu; it also provided a mod-


Figure 4.17╇ Karl Schmidt-Â�Rottluff, Kneeling Woman, woodcut on cream wove paper, 1914. Gift of the Estate of Dr. Rosa Schapire, 1956.53. The Art Institute of Chicago. © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ars), New York / vg Bild-Â�Kunst, Bonn.

Figure 4.18╇ Karl Schmidt-Â�Rottluff, Girl before a Mirror (Mädchen vor dem Spiegel), woodcut print, 1914. Publisher: Graphisches Kabinett J. B. Neumann. Printer: Fritz Voigt, Berlin Edition: 75. Committee on Prints and Illustrated Books Fund and June Larkin in honor of Joanne M. Stern. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by scala / Art Resource, NY. © ars, NY.


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ern art-Â�historical basis for the nationalistic rhetoric and modernist aesthetic of the Art Society and its generation of artists. Although he did not make the point, the fact that Die Brücke itself was formed by a group of architecture students protesting “academic oversight and official exhibitions” in Dresden must have convinced him of the equally historical importance of the Art Society in the Nigerian context.80 Moreover, Beier’s claim, that of all the Die Brücke artists Schmidt-Â�Rottluff was most directly influenced by African sculpture, reveals why he decided on a show of his prints and not the more formally experimental works of Erich Heckel or Max Pechstein. With Schmidt-Â�Rottluff ’s prints it was easier to demonstrate that African art had influenced the work of European artists, thus making more forceful the argument he had advanced earlier with the work of Susanne Wenger. If indeed African sculpture and Yoruba adire respectively influenced the formal experimentation of Schmidt-Â�Rottluff and Wenger, Beier seemed to say, then the Art Society’s wish to turn to indigenous sculpture, mural art, and folktales for inspiration demonstrated their connection to a very positively modernist sensibility. In his Black Orpheus review of the Schmidt-Â�Rottluff exhibition, Denis Williams provides further justifications for exhibiting the German expressionist at Mbari. Though he contrasts what he calls the logic and clarity of the French and the “clumsy and fumbling” work of the German Die Brücke, both movements, he argues, jettisoned the “debris” of nineteenth-Â�century art, opening “possibilities for a vital and direct approach to pictorial communication never before witnessed in the art of Europe.”81 For him, Die Brücke searched for the “ecstatic, the hieratic, as functions of reality crucially essential for the life of the imagination.” In this quest, Schmidt-Â�Rottluff, like other members of Die Brücke, found it necessary to invent unambiguous plastic and pictorial forms dissociated from customary cultural vocabularies. It is for this reason, therefore, that the group’s works, Williams implies, are of tremendous significance for African artists searching for new forms expressive of the contemporary experience. Beier and Williams thus propose Schmidt-Â�Rottluff—whose work was exemplary of the European historical avant-Â�garde’s search for a new aesthetic at a crucial point in Europe’s fast-Â�evolving modern experience—as a model for Africans who themselves were at an equally critical juncture in their cultural and political history. The fact, as Beier and Williams saw it, that the Europeans realized their radical aesthetic through formal experimentation with African and Oceanic art provided the ballast for two key arguments they made for modern African art. First, because the German expressionists bor-


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rowed from African sculpture in the process of defining European modernism, contemporary African artists might as well return to the original inspirational source to develop new formal solutions, not just subject matter, for their own artistic problems. Second, in so doing, they lay claim to an international modernist heritage without relinquishing the uniquely African artistic identity resulting from their formal experiments. These considerations further explain Beier’s and Williams’s reasons for championing the work of some of the Art Society members, as well as those of Vincent Kofi, Ibrahim El Salahi, and others, during this period. Another major show at Mbari Ibadan was the exhibition of works by Jacob Lawrence, who, along with the African American expressionist painter William H. Johnson (1901–1970), was featured in Black Orpheus. Beier first encountered Lawrence’s The Migration of the Negro series (1940/41) in the 1941 edition of Fortune magazine; he saw some of his other paintings in the presentation of Cedric Dover (the author of American Negro Art) during the 1956 Sorbonne Congress of Black Writers and Artists. The opportunity to show the artist’s work in Nigeria came shortly after the 1960 independence celebrations, when the American Society of Art and Culture (amsac) organized a major program in Lagos featuring poet and playwright Langston Hughes, singers Nina Simone and Odetta, and other renowned African American writers, performing artists, and musicians.82 The Jacob Lawrence exhibition at Mbari, opened on November 1, 1962 by Nigerian historian Dr. K. O. Dike, principal of the University College, Ibadan, was organized by Beier in collaboration with amsac.83 In addition to Lawrence’s Migration series, the exhibition featured his War series (1946/47; figures 4.19 and 4.20). In his brief introduction in the exhibition invitation, Beier remarked on the qualities that made Lawrence an outstanding painter: Jacob Lawrence has said that “painting is like handwriting.” And indeed his own work is as private and personal as a man’s handwriting is. Completely unconcerned with fashionable artistic movements and “isms,” Jacob Lawrence tells the story of his people. Only an artist who is very mature, and sure of what he is after, could continue to tell stories in a time when abstract expressionism is the great fashion and when the word “literary” has become a term of abuse in the fashionable art world.84 Although Beier found attractive both Lawrence’s penchant for telling the untold story of his people in pictures and his rejection of the then fashionable, introverted abstract expressionist mode, he also notes that the artist’s

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Figure 4.19╇ Jacob Lawrence, The Migration of the Negro, No. 22: Another of the social causes of the migrants’ leaving was that at times they did not feel safe, or it was not the best thing to be found on the streets late at night. They were arrested on the slightest provocation. Panel 22 from the Migration Series, tempera on gesso on composition board, 1940–1941. Gift of Mrs. David M. Levy. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by scala / Art Resource, NY. © ars, NY. Figure 4.20╇ Jacob Lawrence, War Series: The Letter, egg tempera on composition board, 1946. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Roy R. Neuberger 51.11. Digital image © Whitney Museum of American Art. © 2009 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ars), New York.


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work was not merely illustrative. Rather than appear in a mimetic, naturalistic style, the severely distorted and gesturing figures, in the tradition of modernist painting, powerfully convey human suffering. Writing about Lawrence and William H. Johnson in Black Orpheus, Beier further notes Lawrence’s mastery of the rigorously composed pictorial space, as well as the fact that his paintings “seem constructed and built up according to very severe laws of pattern.”85 These personal compositional codes, from which the artist has developed a unique style, facilitate his mastery of expression as gesture. Thus, his paintings, Beier argues, are highly moving, powerfully expressive, and—contrary to Cedric Dover’s suggestion, in his book American Negro Art (1960), that they required extended captions—communicate visually the essence of their subject matter by means of gesture.86 Jacob Lawrence’s Nigerian visit was brief, lasting only ten days.87 However, he had seen enough of Yoruba culture and enjoyed the cultural atmosphere, particularly at Osogbo, to make him wish for a longer visit in order to “steep myself in Nigerian culture so that my paintings, if I am fortunate, might show the influence of the great African artistic tradition.”88 Two years later, he returned to Nigeria with his wife, Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, after several failed attempts to get approval from the US government.89 During this eight-Â�month second visit to Nigeria, the Lawrences stayed on the top floor of Ulli Beier’s residence at 41 Ibokun Road, Osogbo. There, Lawrence painted at least eight temperas, in addition to doing several drawings, which he exhibited at Mbari Ibadan in October 1964.90 In the artist’s statement, printed on the exhibition invitation, Lawrence said: Two years ago in November 1962 I was invited to have an exhibition in Nigeria; an honor accorded me by the American Society of Art and Culture and the Mbari Club of Artists and Writers. It was my first visit to Nigeria—indeed my first visit to the Continent of Africa. As a painter the visit to a country which has made so great a contribution to modern art was an experience of great value. As an American Negro I had looked forward to this experience with excitement and curiosity. The visit in 1962 was so stimulating, visually and emotionally, that I have returned to paint my impressions of Nigeria. I hope sincerely that these paintings are a social statement of some value.91 While we are unsure what Lawrence might have meant by the expectation that his Mbari paintings constitute “a social statement of some value,” his intention to transpose resources from African artistic traditions into a contemporary artistic language reminds us of a similar aspiration of the Art

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Society members. Painted with an unprecedented palette of intense cobalt, cadmium red and yellow, and contrasting black and white, the pictures capture the dense, brashly colorful, and chaotic Osogbo markets and streets in which humans, animals, and corrugated metal roofs jostle for space. In such paintings as Street to Mbari (1964) and Four Sheep (1964), Lawrence seems more interested in capturing the sensory intensity and tropical exuberance of the Osogbo/Ibadan environment than in experimenting with any particular Yoruba art form (figures 4.21 and 4.22). Moreover, his use of a strong black pigment for skin color and the retention of the brilliant white of the paper—in combination with saturated reds, blues, yellows, and surplus surface patterns—make his Mbari paintings his most sensorily taxing pictures. Never before had he painted a series of works with such busy, fragmented, highly patterned surfaces, and with such an intensely warm palette. In fact the distinctiveness of the Mbari paintings relative to Lawrence’s previous work led to a cold reception—when shown in 1965 at the Terry Dintenfass Gallery in New York—from reviewers who criticized them for their compositional density, intense patterns, and raw decorativeness.92 The international program of Mbari gallery was particularly robust in 1963: Ahmed Mohammed Shibrain (b. 1932) of the Old Khartoum school and the Ethiopian Skunder Boghossian (1937–2003) exhibited at Mbari, while Black Orpheus featured the sculptures of the Brazilian artist Agnaldo dos Santos (1926–1962), who in 1966 won the (posthumous) sculpture prize at the World Festival of Negro Arts, Dakar. Given the roster of art and artists previously presented at the gallery, Shibrain and Boghossian, along with dos Santos in Black Orpheus, are quite predictable. Their work fit the new, stylistically ambiguous aesthetic that Beier imagined the encounter of international modern art practice with local artistic traditions would produce. Denis Williams’s introductory essay in the Shibrain exhibition flyer (republished in the review section of Black Orpheus) frames the artist’s work within a nascent Sudanese and Arab modernism characterized by engagement with Arabic calligraphy (figure 4.23). However, this new development, Williams argues, is not historically isolated, given that Japanese prints and Persian miniatures had radically altered European art at the end of the nineteenth century. He also notes that the modernism of the school of Paris, itself a result of the meeting of the East and West, influenced modernist painting in Cairo, where a “province” of the school of Paris had developed.93 At Khartoum, he argues, while young artists embraced the idea of a modern aesthetic, they were also developing a new strand by focusing on Islamic ornamentation and Arabic calligraphy. The rich conventions of Islamic orna-


Figure 4.21╇ Jacob Lawrence, Street to Mbari, tempera, gouache, and graphite on paper, 1964. Photo: National Gallery of Art. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James T. Dyke 1993.18.1. © ars, NY.

Figure 4.22╇ Jacob Lawrence, Four Sheep, tempera and gouache on paper, 1964. Private collection. Photo: The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation / Art Resource, NY. © ars, NY.


Figure 4.23╇ Ahmed Shibrain, Calligraphy, ink on paper, ca. 1962. Image courtesy of Iwalewa-Â�Haus, University of Bayreuth. © Ahmed Shibrain.


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mentation, says Williams, “are now being strained by these new artists to encompass on one hand the findings of contemporary plastics and on the other to reflect something of the dynamic or modern African thought.”94 Asserting the pivotal role of Shibrain and Salahi in the group that was on the way to becoming a Khartoum school, Williams claims that this nascent school constitutes “the most formidable body of talent to be found anywhere . . . on the African continent today.”95 Let us note in passing, the crucial difference in Williams’s and Beier’s understanding and valuation of artistic tradition within the Sudanese context. Whereas Beier saw Sudan as a culturally arid region, because it did not have the familiar sculptural traditions that had come to represent African art, Williams, perhaps more conversant with the high status of calligraphy in Arab aesthetics, regarded this particular form as equal to sculpture in West Africa and thus with comparable influence on modern Arab artists. Although Shibrain’s work is based on the tradition of solar wood engraving prevalent in Sudan, he creates visually impressive textual characters by reducing forms to their fundamental structures, with emphasis on the contrast between heavy and thin lines and the dynamic tension between negative and positive spaces. In these drawings the gracefulness of Islamic arabesques is animated by the confident expressiveness of an artist for whom the abstraction inherent in Arabic calligraphy provides the opportunity to explore the graphic possibilities of pure form. In strictly formal terms, Williams suggests, the drawings that Shibrain showed at Mbari come closest to the work of the lyrical abstract French painter Hans Hartung.96 Whereas Beier’s and Williams’s art criticism is determined to chaperone the new African or black modernist work, Louise Acheson’s critical introductory essay to Skunder Boghossian’s work concentrates mostly on the artist’s subject matter and avoids making big claims for the work. Noting recurring images of birds, insectlike forms, skeletal figures, and eggs, she suggests they result from the artist’s exploration of a new brand of surrealism in the service of his “Afro-Â�Metaphysics.”97 In this metaphysical cosmos, the artist’s work from this period shows, life turns to death, to rebirth, and to life again in an endless cycle (figure 4.24). Significantly, Acheson argues that Boghossian’s formal inventions owe more to the influence of “African art and Western technique than by Coptic [sic] art of Ethiopia; although in certain paintings some decorative motifs and formal structures are Byzantine in feeling.”98 Acheson’s reading of Boghossian is, at the very least, most curious, for two reasons. The first is that it assumes, quite wrongly I think, that what she calls

175


Figure 4.24╇ Skunder Boghossian, Juju’s Wedding, tempera and metallic paint on cut and torn cardboard, 1964. Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Fund, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art / Licensed by scala / Art Resource, NY © Estate of Skunder Boghossian.

“African art” is foreign to Ethiopia and that Christian Orthodox artistic traditions are synonymous with Ethiopian art, especially given that Boghossian’s early painting, as Solomon Deresa has rightly pointed out, was influenced by Konso and Oromo funerary sculpture.99 Second, Acheson’s interpretation precludes the obvious influence of the painting and ornamental design traditions of Ethiopian Christian art on Boghossian’s use of dense, circular, or dotted marks to enrich parts of his canvases—a trend that began sometime in 1962 and became increasingly inalienable in subsequent years. As a student in Paris, Boghossian had come under the influence of negritude’s call for the recuperation of black subjectivity and in due course encountered the paintings of the Chilean surrealist painter Roberto Matta and the Cuban painter Wifredo Lam, which profoundly affected him.100 An artist of stupendous eclecticism, Boghossian was also attracted to the cosmogonies and my-


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thologies of the Dogon peoples of West Africa and the metaphysical realism of the Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola’s novels; taken together, they account for the pictorial complexity and compositional splendor of his masterpiece, Night Flight of Dread and Delight (1964; figure 4.25). In any case, it is indeed quite likely that Beier recognized this enigmatic rather than literalist conjunction of surrealist imagery, Ethiopian Christian ornamentation, and Oromo funerary sculpture in Boghossian, for that would place him squarely in the league of Salahi and Kofi, two exemplary Africans developing an aesthetic resulting from a combination of formal aspects of European modernism and indigenous African art. Similarly, the work of Agnaldo dos Santos seems to have recommended itself to Beier for its evocation of an African “feeling,” not from any direct relationship with a particular tradition of sculpture in Africa, except perhaps that of the Nguni of South Africa. Beier met dos Santos, a former apprentice to the renowned Brazilian modern sculptor Mário Cravo (b. 1923), during a 1962 tour of Bahia and Recife, Brazil. Of African descent, dos Santos made work with “a certain African feeling about it,” as Beier described it, despite the fact that he was barely familiar with African-Â�based religious practices and had little or no knowledge of African sculpture. Dos Santos made wood sculpture singed and polished to a black sheen; but his expressive forms evoke African sculpture no more than they evoke, say, Mexcala-Â�style figures from the post-Â�Olmec culture in Mexico. The unmistakably archaic quality of his figures, such as Nun (1950s–1960s; figure 4.26), without parallel in modern sculpture, is due in part to his surface treatment but also to the compactness of his figures. Like an ancient carver working with crude tools, he seems unwilling to do more than define the basic anatomical features, presumably because of some ritual imperative (figure 4.27). In this narrow sense dos Santos’s work might be said to induce an “African” feeling; that is, if we are willing to suppose that religious and ritual needs, as earlier European modernists assumed, determined form in African sculpture.

Conclusion

The fortunes of Black Orpheus and Mbari Ibadan differed, as did their longevity and overall impact and reach. Mbari Ibadan had considerably lost its original verve after 1964; by that time many of Beier’s early collaborators at Ibadan had dispersed or moved on. The journal survived under Beier’s direction for ten years, before its quick decline after the twenty-Â�second number

17 7


Figure 4.25╇ Skunder Boghossian, Night Flight of Dread and Delight, oil on canvas with collage, 1964. North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh. Purchased with funds from the North Carolina State Art Society (Robert F. Phifer Bequest), 98.6. © Estate of Skunder Boghossian.


Figure 4.26╇ Agnaldo dos Santos, Nun, wood, ca. late 1950s. Vilma Eid collection. Photo, Romulo Fialdini. Courtesy of the Galeria Estação.

Figure 4. 27╇ Agnaldo dos Santos, Untitled, wood, ca. 1950s. Photo, Joao Liberato. Courtesy of the Galeria Estação.


Figure 4.28╇ Naoko Matsubara, Ravi Shankar, woodblock print, 1961. Image courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, © ROM. © Naoko Matsubara. Figure 4. 29╇ Naoko Matsubara, A Giant Tree, woodblock print, 1962. Image courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, © ROM. © Naoko Matsubara.


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in 1967. More importantly, by the mid-Â�1960s the journal’s coverage of visual art had become somewhat vitiated. Instead of important feature articles on individual artists, most artworks were presented as decorative vignettes or portfolios and through occasional reviews. For its part, Mbari kept a busy exhibition schedule until 1966. In 1965 there were two important exhibitions, besides the William H. Johnson show of screen prints: a one-Â�person exhibition of woodcuts by the Japanese printmaker Naoko Matsubara (b. 1937; figures 4.28 and 4.29), whose style is influenced by the Mingei folk art practiced by her former teacher, the master printmaker Munakata Shiko (1903–1975); and a group show of Ukiyo-Â�e woodcuts featuring the mysterious Tôshûsai Sharaku (active 1794–1795), Kitagawa Utamaro (ca. 1753–1806), and others. Following Maxine Lowe’s exhibition of paintings and tapestries (August 1966), Ben Osawe (1931–2007), a Nigerian sculptor recently returned from EngÂ�land after training at Camberwell School of Art and Crafts, London, presented his sculptures in Â�December. Notwithstanding these impressive activities, the dissipation of Ibadan’s influence continued with the establishment of Mbari Enugu in 1963; it soon became the locus of artistic, theatrical, and literary activity for artists from eastern Nigeria, some of whom, like Uche Okeke, had been part of Mbari Ibadan. Further, the formation of the Society of Nigerian Artists in 1964 in Lagos marked a significant shift around this time: Ibadan had increasingly ceded its position as the center of artistic activity in postindependence Nigeria to Lagos, where many artists took up residence and participated in the founding of cultural institutions that were to play important roles in the development of 1960s Nigerian modern art (see chapter 6). Perhaps most important was the growth of critical discourse among young and established Nigerian artists and critics, but these debates took place in the pages of the Lagos-Â�based Nigeria magazine, not in Ibadan’s Black Orpheus.

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Chapter 5

AFTER ↜ Z ARIA

IN CHAPTER 4 I EXAMINED the role of Black Orpheus and Mbari Ibadan in the

development and transaction of postcolonial modern art and art criticism. As I made clear, Ulli Beier’s criticism and cultural network shaped Ibadan’s participation in this process, even as parallel networks in Lagos began to exert their own considerable influence on the Nigerian art world as it played out in the capital city. In this chapter I refocus attention on the work of individual Art Society members in the years after Zaria, at which point they had become leading exponents of an artistic vision most suited—as they and their supporters believed—to Nigeria’s sovereign, postcolonial culture. Though this vision was underwritten by a shared interest in the theory of natural synthesis, I contend that there was no singular understanding of how the theory should relate to or determine the style and subject matter of their post-Â�Zaria work. In fact, as their individual styles emerged in the early 1960s, the idea of natural synthesis yielded a wide range of formal procedures, given the manifold possibilities of what “native” art traditions constitute and the equally


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capacious archive of the modernist heritage from which their new work derived some of its technical and formal protocols. To be sure, I do not claim natural synthesis to be the singular force motivating this new work. Rather, I suggest that the underlying idea, that individual artists had the freedom to negotiate their relationship with inherited and appropriated artistic sources, remained paramount even as those artists, unfettered by the strictures of the academy and the demands of the curriculum, began to assert individual preferences. They did so in terms of media and themes and how they positioned themselves and their work in the context of the discursive spaces of the evolving modern art scene. This chapter is important to this book’s larger narrative for two reasons. First, a close reading of key moments in the unfolding work of leading members of the Art Society, as presented here, shows how stylistically different this work is from that of their predecessors. Second, by demonstrating the stylistic diversity within the work of this small group of like-Â�minded artists, this chapter foregrounds a crucial argument: that it is impossible to reduce postcolonial modernism in Nigeria to a given set of formal tactics; that is to say, a national style.

Uche Okeke: Experiments with Igbo Uli

On completion of their final year of work at Zaria in June 1961, Uche Okeke and Demas Nwoko spent some time in Ibadan, where, as part of the inaugural events of the Mbari Club, they had a joint exhibition of their work; as a focal point, Okeke painted a large mural inside the Mbari courtyard. To Okeke and Nwoko, the prospects of a career as practicing artists seemed attractive and feasible, especially when, in their final year as students, the visiting German ambassador, Count von Posadowsky, impressed by their work, announced the award of a travel scholarship to each of them to live and work in Germany. Thus, after the Mbari exhibition, Okeke began preparations for his trip to Germany, while Nwoko, having already received a scholarship from the French embassy, made arrangements of his own travel to France. Germany was especially attractive to Okeke, for he had developed a keen interest in the Weimer-Â�era Bauhaus schools and wished to establish a similar institution in Nigeria. As he imagined it, this Bauhaus-Â�inspired research center and museum, to be sited in his ancestral hometown of Nimo, would be “dedicated to the working out of new African Art-Â�Culture,” providing artist-Â�teachers, artisans, and students space for theoretical and practical experiments with old and new methods and materials.1 The trip to Germany


After Zaria — 185

Figure 5.1╇ Uche Okeke, mural at the courtyard, Mbari Ibadan, 1961. Reproduced from West African Review 32, no. 408 (December 1961): 42. © Uche Okeke.

was therefore a crucial step toward transforming his modest cultural center, established in Kafanchan with a growing art collection and library in 1959, into a major national, privately run institution. While his travel documents were being processed, Okeke lived in the Abule-Â�Oja suburb of Lagos, where he began a series of experimental drawings inspired by Igbo Uli, a purely decorative form of traditional body drawing and mural painting in eastern Nigeria. The direct impetus seems to have been the designs he made for his cousin, a metal-Â�gate fabricator, in which the main motifs were spiral forms reminiscent of those found in Uli art. The project seems to have reawakened in Okeke his earlier interest in this art form and triggered an impulse to go beyond the tentative engagement with its pictorial possibilities suggested by his late-Â�Zaria-Â�period painting Ana Mmuo (see ch. 3, figure 3.11) and the mural he did for the courtyard at Mbari Ibadan (figure 5.1). The mural, painted on two walls of the interior courtyard (often used for theatrical performances), consisted of flat, organic, abstract shapes similar to the ones he had used in Ana Mmuo. However, while the earlier work combines black, linear forms with bold shapes of color, the mural featured amorphous shapes of black and Indian red that seem to float, unanchored, like aquatic organisms across the blank wall space. Recognizing the novelty of Okeke’s style, the critic Dennis Duerden speculated that these forms “might


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be human figures or leaves blown in the wind, or birds, but they are dancing and floating, mysterious and compulsive and very distinctive.”2 Nevertheless, the mural figures appear to be variants of the flat shapes bounded by black lines that Okeke painted in Ana Mmuo, except that the empty spaces within the lines in the earlier work have now been filled in with solid black or red. But where the connection between the formal qualities of Igbo Uli art and those of the Mbari Ibadan mural and Ana Mmuo is tentative, the Uli provenance of his drawings from late 1961 onward are decisive and unmistakable. A brief outline of the main aesthetic principles and forms of Igbo Uli is necessary for an appreciation of Okeke’s post-Â�1961 pictorial experiments and the extent to which this new work announced the realization of his own interpretation of the theory of natural synthesis. Among the Igbo of eastern Nigeria, Uli artists, who were exclusively female, relied on an extensive lexicon of motifs that differ in form and meaning from one Igbo community to another, though several motifs were more widely distributed. A considerable number of motifs were abstractions based on natural forms—local flora and fauna, celestial bodies—and man-Â�made objects. These range from what Obiora Udechukwu has called “archetypal shapes”—such as the ntupọ (dot), akala (line), isinwaọji (curvilinear triangles and rectangles), and oloma or ọnwa (circles and crescents)—to more complex motifs derived from them, including agwọlagwọ (the concentric coil associated with the sacred python, prevalent in Igbo metal gate designs) and mbọ agu (the double triangle representing the leopard’s claw).3 These motifs were usually deployed on the wall or the human body in compositional schemes determined strictly by individual stylistic predilections rather than in accordance with any communally sanctioned system or any relation to their symbolism or meaning. Although the matrices, techniques, and pigments are different for body drawing and wall painting, the design principles and motifs are similar. But whereas body painters make use of just one pigment, also called Uli—a clear liquid from certain plants that oxidizes into a dark ink and fades after several days—mural painters have a palette of two to four colors made from natural sources.4 For his work Okeke focused on the body art, relying on its most salient formal characteristics: primacy of the line, simplification of otherwise complex forms, and what one might call the poetic balance of negative and positive space (figures 5.2–5.5). Signs of Life, an undated series of drawings produced between late 1961 and early 1962, clearly gives a sense of how Okeke approached his new work. While he interspersed bold motifs with lines that typically end in spiral agwolagwo motifs, suggesting an attempt to deviate from traditional conventions,


Figure 5.2╇ Some Uli motifs (illustration by the author).

Figure 5.3╇ Uli mural, Nsugbe, Anambra State, 1994. Photo, the author.


Figure 5.4╇ Uli mural, Eke shrine, Uke, Anambra State, 1987. Photo, Dr. Liz Peri. Figure 5.5╇ Woman decorated with Uli, Nimo, 1994. Photo, Dr. Liz Peri.


After Zaria —

the Uli motifs and designs remain unchanged from the indigenous prototypes. The result is that these drawings lack the spatial poetics of traditional Uli. Thus it is fair to speculate that in the Signs of Life series, Okeke was simply trying out pictorial possibilities by juxtaposing motifs drawn directly from the Uli corpus. Put differently, his primary interest was in familiarizing himself with the motifs and their behavior in diverse spatial contexts before mobilizing them to perform more complex pictorial tasks. In 1962 Okeke made From the Wild Region—a set of three drawings with borders reminiscent of the Uli drawings collected in the 1930s and now at Oxford University’s Pitt Rivers Museum—and the Oja Suite, his first major Uli-Â�inspired series, named after the Abule-Â�Oja neighborhood in Lagos. Typical of the Oja Suite drawings is From the Forest, depicting a shrub growing along a vertical axis on the left side of the composition, while similar linear forms suggesting a forest background occupy the rest of the picture plane (figure 5.6). The image resembles a very shallow depth-Â�of-Â�field photograph of a tendriliferous plant in a forest, yet the lines are crisp and elemental. That they are spontaneous, gestural marks requiring acutely coordinated mental process and rapid hand movement is attested to by the effortless manner in which single lines negotiate various paths, at times angular, at other times curvilinear. In Head of a Girl, a straight vertical line runs from high up on her forehead down to the nostrils, which are merely indicated by a corrugated M- or W-Â�shaped line (figure 5.7). This line, broken below the nostrils, ends in an agwọlagwọ mark, which represents the mouth. Crossing this vertical midline are two horizontal ones marking either the upper eyelid on the left or the eyebrow on the right. As with the mouth, the same agwọlagwọ motif, representing her bundled or curly hair, suggests the eyes and pupils in one single gesture. Even the many other short gestural lines tend to end in spirals, as though several autonomous centripetal forces pull the lines toward the center as soon as they emerge. It is also as if—when one imagines the drawing process—the artist’s pen was dancing on the paper, leaving the drawing as an index of that activity. This reading is apparently not entirely far-Â�fetched: Okeke has himself made a connection between dance and Uli, in that both the artist’s hand and the dancer’s movement are lyrical gestures.5 It might seem like a small point, but the use of the spiral motif in this work, as well as in many others in the Oja Suite, is in fact a key aspect of what I want to call Okeke’s system. This system is most evident in another quite remarkable drawing from 1962 (figure 5.8). In it, we initially see vertical lines broken into long and short linear marks. Between some of them are high-Â�density zigzag marks,

189


Figure 5.6╇ Uche Okeke, From the Forest, pen and ink, 1962. Artist’s collection. Photo, the author. © Uche Okeke.

Figure 5.7╇ Uche Okeke, Head of a Girl, pen and ink, 1962. Artist’s collection. Photo, the author. © Uche Okeke.


Figure 5.8╇ Uche Okeke, Owls, ink on paper, 1962. The Newark Museum, Gift of Simon Ottenberg, tr91.2012.38.42. © Uche Okeke.


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some of which end in spirals. These are mostly in the lower part of the picture and at the top corners. In the top right area especially, we see bolder marks, suggestive of dense foliage. On top of these is a large spiral at the apex of a triangular formation of spirals, four of which are placed diagonally on the picture plane. Between the two sets of spirals are marks reminiscent of ọkala isinwaọji motifs, and around all of these are concave lines breaking up the vertical ones. Once we realize that the title of this drawing is Owls it all begins to make sense: the two sets of lower spirals are pairs of eyes belonging to two owls, the ọkala isinwaọji being their vastly exaggerated beaks, while the moon hovers above them. Whereas in Head of a Girl the spiral form signifies the hair, eyes, and mouth, in Owls, it signifies (bird’s) eyes and the moon. In other words, with just one graphic gesture, the artist represents human, animal, and cosmic forms. Thus there is a conscious decision on Okeke’s part to invent new ways of seeing and representing not only the folktales he collected but also genre subjects. Indeed, this system of notation in its very extreme tends to become somewhat abstract, as is the case with some of the works he produced during his residency at the Franz Meyer Studios, Munich, in 1962 and 1963. The Munich Suite drawings include a few head portraits, such as Munich Girl, which presents another clear case of the polysemic power of the spiral form (figure 5.9). The eye on the right is unambiguously present, or so it seems, for the spiral mark that asserts its presence is, really, a lock of hair hanging down her forehead and ending in a curly bang. Perhaps testifying to the precariousness of this signifying gesture, the viewer has a hard time differentiating the left eye from what might be a long strand of hair that seems to hang over the eye, ending abruptly. Other Munich Suite ink drawings continue these visual tropes, modified only by the unique graphic qualities of brush and ink (compared to pen or charcoal). Thus, whereas in Munich Girl the lines glide effortlessly across the picture plane, defining the subject’s curly hair and frilly dress in linear detail, in Birds and Girl with Flowing Hair there is a struggle to force the liquid lines into curvatures-Â�that-Â� refuse-Â�to-Â�be-Â�spirals and to tame the ink-Â�loaded brush well enough to negotiate without breaking subtle curvatures and spirals. It seems, nevertheless, that what Okeke has done in all these drawings is confront us with the polysemic potential, actually the emptiness, of the motifs/signs. They do not carry meaning in themselves; instead, the context fulfills their signifying task. This is the ultimate lesson of the Oja and Munich suites. My argument for the instability of the spiral form in Okeke’s work draws from the research and writing of Rosalind Krauss and, more pertinently,


Figure 5.9╇ Uche Okeke, Munich Girl, charcoal on paper, 1962. Reproduced from Art in Development: A Nigerian Perspective (1982), p. ix. © Uche Okeke.

Yve-Â�Alain Bois, specifically their semiological reading of Picasso’s cubism. In Krauss’s critique of what she called “art history as a history of the proper name,” she argues against the tendency by art historians to read Picasso’s works as biographies; that is, explaining particular works by the artist’s relationship with mistresses, wives, friends, even pets. For her, the postcubist collages by their very nature are allegorical and polysemic.6 She argues, after Ferdinand de Saussure’s semiology, that the artist’s use of the musicological “clef ” sign in his collages represents not the guitar, an object, but an idea: perspectival depth, in a picture-Â�making mode that clearly spurned the use of perspective. For his part, Bois incorporated Charles Sanders Peirce’s semiotics in his analysis of Picasso’s cubism. Significantly, Bois determined different semiological phases in the artist’s cubist period, but the one that interests us here


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is the second phase, which he defined as the search for a “unitary system of notation.” Within this phase, says Bois, is the first of two periods during which, as in the artist’s Three Women (1907/8), “the same geometric sign, the triangle, is used over and over with a different semantic function, each time determined by its context.”7 This unitary system of notation to which Bois refers is evident, as we have seen, in Okeke’s use of one icon, the agwọlagwọ spiral, which in Uli represents the coiled python but which acquires a polysemic potency in Okeke’s drawings. While the spiral form serves a unifying purpose—after all, it seems as though every line aims at ending up a spiral or a segment of it—its referents are not static; its meaning depends entirely on the other lines, motifs, or spaces to which it relates. Yet the polysemy insinuated by Okeke’s drawings is culturally motivated; this is evident in their connection to Uli spatial program. The compositions depend on a key formal characteristic of Uli: the dynamic and poetic use of negative and positive space to organize the picture plane constituted by the body or the wall. Chike Aniakor eloquently captures some of this when he argues that In uli, the line dances, spirals into diverse shapes, elongates, attenuates, thickens, swells and slides, thins and fades out from a slick point, leaving an empty space that sustains it with mute echoes by which silence is part of the sound. . . . At other times, the line is a sweeping curvilinear shape with dotted edges powered by rhythmic echoes of negative spaces.8 In other words, the motifs engage their surrounding space in a dialogic and dialectical conversation, thereby turning empty space into zones of silence that amplify the positive spaces defined by motifs and outlined forms. For this reason, Uli body artists are sensitive to what constitutes appropriate designs for each human canvas. “They will,” as Cole and Aniakor have noted, “amplify a thin girl with bold patterns and modify corpulence with delicate ones.”9 I want to suggest that this same principle is evident in Okeke’s drawings of 1962, where, for instance, the intervening spaces between the brief notations of plant/zoomorphic forms play an active rather than a passive role in our experience of the plants/animals or figures. They do not constitute a background; rather they are the “mute echoes by which silence is part of the sound” of which Aniakor speaks. In a way, the “empty space” seems willing and ready to lift or clear like a mist, revealing more of the forms it covers or holds back. This deferred possibility is what makes it an active yet nega-


Figure 5.10╇ Uche Okeke, Birds in Flight, brush and ink, 1963. Artist’s Collection. Photo, the author. © Uche Okeke.

tive space. This dialectic of positive-Â�negative space, in addition to the lyrical quality of the line, guarantees the poetic quality of Okeke’s drawings and thus connects them to the visual and gestural poetry that is the hallmark of traditional Uli art. In Okeke’s Birds in Flight, where the picture plane is dominated by heavy dark masses, even the white untouched areas of the paper seem to acquire their own presence or their own form, such that it is always possible to think of the drawing as a negative image, the white parts representing positive forms (figure 5.10). What Okeke achieves in these works, from the perspective of modern drawing, is reminiscent of Alberto Giacometti’s inventive abrogation of the figure-Â�ground distinction, compellingly argued by Krauss.10 However, whereas Giacometti’s sculptural program radically altered sculpture’s normatively vertical orientation, realigning it to a horizontal plane and


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thereby merging it with the ground from which it always projected, Okeke’s drawing participated in what might be called the dialectics of figure and ground. That is, in these drawings, neither the figure nor the ground, the positive or negative form/space, subdues the other; instead, they hold off and sustain each other in a visual symbiosis. Okeke’s 1962 and 1963 drawings, therefore, are crucial not so much for formal inventiveness as for heralding what must be seen as the ultimate artistic implication of the idea of natural synthesis. For it is here that he successfully and rigorously examines and exploits the formal potential of an indigenous art form, based on a sensibility that comes from his internalization of the experimental approach to image making typical of twentieth-Â�century modernism. Unlike his Zaria paintings, in which he adapted figural qualities of Igbo sculpture in a rather illustrative, albeit inventive, manner, his post-Â� Zaria work relies on a sustained inquiry into the principle of design, as well as the conceptual parameters of a specific, traditional art form, Uli body art. Given this premise, what does one make of Ulli Beier’s assertion in 1968 that “[Okeke] was less interested in adapting certain forms of traditional African art. To him it was of vital importance for the artist to study and understand the content of African art”?11 To be sure, Beier rightly notes Okeke’s deep interest in Igbo folklore, which furnished the themes for many of his works. But he apparently did not recognize the significance of the change that occurred in the artist’s work after 1962. Beier’s statement flies in the face of the decisive role Igbo Uli played in Okeke’s reconstitution of his formal style, an experience crucial to understanding the artist’s vision of postcolonial modern art and his place in it.

Demas Nwoko: Encounters with Igbo and Nok Sculpture

As Okeke did before leaving for Germany, Demas Nwoko executed a large mural, The Gift of Talents (1961), in Tedder Hall at the University of Ibadan before he left for Paris in late 1961 for a nine-Â�month course in scenography and fresco painting. Where Okeke’s mural marked the beginning of a decisive break with his Zaria-Â�period work, Nwoko’s articulated a figural style inspired by Igbo sculpture but with a palette and color attitude still redolent of postimpressionist painting (figure 5.11). Unlike the resolutely abstract composition of Okeke’s Mbari mural, the main feature of The Gift of Talents is a dark, deific female form distributing stringed beads to her wards, who are represented in two horizontal registers: at the top, smaller figures try out their ornaments; the lower register shows seminaked figures already donning their beads, as well as naked ones


Figure 5.11╇ Demas Nwoko, The Gift of Talents, mural, Tedder Hall, University of Ibadan, 1962. Photo, Obiora Udechukwu. © Demas Nwoko.

reaching for theirs. Although the theme has biblical origins—the Parable of the Talents in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew (25:14–30)—Nwoko locates the scene in an imaginary Igbo world by replacing the male master in the biblical story with Ana, the Igbo earth goddess. Crucially, the disfigured facial anatomies, the schematically rendered trees at the flanks, and the surrounding flora, as well as the palette, are reminiscent of his earlier work. So rather than mark a rupture in style, the mural connects Nwoko’s Zaria work with his evolving 1960s painting and sculpture. In France, Nwoko designed the stage set for Mozart’s opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail during the Théâtre Lyrique’s annual summer school at Vichy. This was his second major stage design, after the one he did for Wole Soyinka’s A Dance of the Forest in October 1960. He also had a well-Â�received joint exhibition with Uche Okeke at the now defunct Galerie Lambert, Paris (May 1962).12 The trip to France, followed in 1963 by another short-Â�term study of theater design in Japan, hastened the shift of Nwoko’s focus from painting and sculpture to theater design and finally to architecture from the late 1960s onward. Nevertheless, in Paris he produced an important set of five paintings, the Adam and Eve series (1962), in which his early mature style became apparent. Nwoko’s Adam and Eve ostensibly refers to the biblical first couple, but they also quite pertinently signify the principle of dynamic duality implied by the aphorism ife kwulu ife akwudebe ya (“when something stands, something else stands beside it”), a concept discussed in this book’s introduction. They also draw on Igbo sculptural representation of the primordial or ancestral couple, which is a recurrent form in African sculpture. Specifically,


Figure 5.12╇ Igbo artist, male and female figures, 20th c. Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, Gainesville; Gift of Rod McGalliard. Photo Credit: Randy Batista Photography.

Igbo sculptors made male and female pairs of tutelary figures, usually kept in family or communal shrines. These wood figures, to which the living give votive offerings, often stand frontally, palms facing up, perpetually ready to receive ritual gifts, their columnar legs ending in fat, stunted feet with barely defined toes (figure 5.12). Nwoko mixes some of these elements with Western iconography in his Adam and Eve paintings and sculptures. Nwoko’s series, four of which are now lost, consisted of two paintings depicting a modern European couple in an urban setting (figure 5.13) and three other paintings of a naked couple set within a primordial, tropical, Eden. The first two, based on Nwoko’s observation of Parisian life; one shows an elderly couple in winter clothing clutching each other’s waist and facing the viewer with severe expressions. The woman holds a tiny dog, wearing what must be protective body covering, by a short leash. Because Nwoko came from a

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Figure 5.13╇ Demas Nwoko, Adam and Eve, oil on canvas, 1962. Artist’s Collection. Photo, the author. © Demas Nwoko.


Figure 5.14╇ Demas Nwoko, Adam and Eve, oil on canvas, 1963. Reproduced from Black Orpheus 15 (1964). © Demas Nwoko.

culture in which elderly people often enjoyed the company of their extended families, the sight of a lonely couple and their dog, as the picture conveys, seemed pathetic and ridiculous to him. Nevertheless, the transformation of quotidian scenes into a simultaneously comic and serious commentary on the human condition, the smooth brushwork, the use of complementary colors, the caricatured facial features, and the densely packed composition are all holdovers from his late-Â�Zaria painting. In the other three paintings, Nwoko has transformed the male and female figures in The Gift of Talents—the two in white skirts, their backs turned to the viewer—into an Adam and Eve couple. There are familiar codes from the biblical story: paradisiacal conviviality of bird, man, and beast in one panel, and the postexpulsion story of lost innocence and existential hardship for the biblical first couple in another (figure 5.14). The lushness of the flora


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in the one canvas and the withered thorny vegetation in the other, with the contrasting expressions of satisfaction and apocalyptic guilt on the faces of the couple, further amplify the tragic implications of that primordial act of disobedience. In what should be the second of the three pictures, however, Nwoko shows Eve bathing in a brook while Adam, attracted perhaps by her nakedness, spies on her. This apocryphal scene reminds us of his Bathing Women (1961; see ch. 3, figure 3.17) and thus conflates the biblical story with what might be autobiographical narrative. Back in Nigeria in 1963, Nwoko joined the theater arts faculty at the University of Ibadan, producing sets and costumes for Mbari Ibadan plays. That same year, he produced an important wood sculpture, Adam and Eve, in which he translates into three dimensions the figural style based on Igbo sculpture he had already explored in his Tedder Hall mural and Paris paintings (figure 5.15). Despite the fact that Adam and Eve and another carved figure, the seated Philosopher, also of 1963, held the promise of a new sculptural style based on a structural analysis of Igbo wood sculpture, the style of the two works indicates that Nwoko imagined traditional sculpture not as a model to be faithfully quoted but, as with Okeke, as a basis for developing a distinctly personal, modernist style. Building on the lessons of the 1963 wood sculptures, in 1964 Nwoko began to work on a stylistically coherent, rigorously focused body of work: terra-Â�cotta sculpture inspired by ancient Nok figures—sub-Â�Sahara’s oldest sculptures, produced by Iron Age cultures from northern Nigeria. The significance of this work is twofold. First, it marked the culmination of his formal examination of his relationship with indigenous Nigerian artistic traditions (as it happened, it was his last important series as a fine artist).13 Its intensity and experimental rigor not only matches Okeke’s work based on Uli; it also testifies to their shared ideas about the role of specific indigenous art forms in the emergence of postcolonial modernism. Second, in looking beyond his native Igbo culture for an inspirational source, he announced his divergence from Okeke’s and other Art Society artists’ ideas about ethnicity and artistic modernism in postindependence Nigeria. To appreciate the extent of Nwoko’s achievement with his terra-Â�cotta sculptures, let us consider briefly what ancient Nok art had to do with his work. Classic-Â�style Nok figures have large cylindrical heads, triangular or semicircular eyes with prominent perforated pupils, tubular torsos and limbs, and minimally defined, stumpy hands and feet (figure 5.16). Even in their weathered state, these ancient figures, dating from around 500 bce to about 200 ce, are modeled with impressive coiffures and headdresses, armbands,

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Figure 5.16╇ Head, classical style, Nok culture, terra-Â�cotta, ca. 400 bce–200 ce. Photo © Corbis.

and neck and waist beads. Although Nok figures are relatively small, the size of certain heads and fragmentary body parts suggest that some figures might have been up to four feet tall—a considerable feat for artists using a supposedly rudimentary clay-Â�firing process. This corpus is remarkable for its surprising artistic merit—and for its age, particularly within the context of Nigerian archaeology and cultural history—yet Nwoko’s attraction to it hinges on the fact that it helped him clearly articulate, as never before, an artistic vision already in formation in his undergraduate studies at Zaria. Nwoko was interested in the formal style of Nok terra-Â�cotta, the process involved in its modeling, and the clay-Â�firing technology that made it possible. He started experimenting with clays used by traditional potters in southern Nigeria around 1964. However, in the attempt to replicate the varied surface patina (produced by resinous matter) characteristic of ancient pottery and

Figure 5.15╇ Demas Nwoko, Adam and Eve, wood, 1962–1963. Artist’s Collection. Photo, the author. © Demas Nwoko.

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terra-Â�cotta, he realized that the open-Â�air firing normally used by local potters would be inadequate due to its thermal inefficiency and low operational temperatures. All this led to a ten-Â�day terra-Â�cotta sculpture workshop organized by Mbari Ibadan and the Department of Extra-Â�Mural Studies of the University of Ibadan in the summer of 1965. At the workshop, Nwoko devised a sunken outdoor kiln similar to the bowl furnace—a very old type of iron-Â�smelting furnace still used in Nigeria as late as the nineteenth century—by combining designs of the ancient northern Nigerian kilns with the open firing method used by contemporary Igbo potters. Nwoko’s kiln achieved the optimal firing temperatures needed to fuse the mix of grainy white sand particles and clay he used for his sculptures. The kiln’s design also caused the clay objects to come in direct contact with the burning teak logs, so that resinous matter from the wood gave the fired clay objects a variegated color and surface quality comparable to those of Nok terra-Â�cottas. The result, as critic Denis Williams noted rather hyperbolically, was historic: “As for the aesthetic merit Mr. Nwoko has produced work, in my view, immeasurably superior in concept and in sensitivity to the finest examples we know from Nok, and hardly inferior, in the originality of his idiom, to the masterpieces of Ife.”14 Nwoko’s ingenious effort to re-Â�create an ancient firing technique and process for his terra-Â�cotta figures testifies to his experimentalist sensibility, a willingness to venture into uncharted territory motivated by the possibility of realizing a new way of making art. Yet in replicating both the methods and furnace technology putatively used by the Nok sculptors, he established an ancient genealogy for his new sculptural language. There is yet another aspect to this series. Given the fragmentary state of the Nok corpus—usually consisting of heads without torsos, figures without heads, or fragments of both—Nwoko’s mostly full-Â�figure compositions rhetorically reconstitute and make whole the Nok artistic heritage. Yet this is not a merely restorative project, an attempt to revive the formal style of classical Nok. Rather, what makes this body of work so utterly fresh is, paradoxically, its idiosyncratic archaism, a quality we have seen in the sculptures of the award-Â�winning Brazilian sculptor Agnaldo dos Santos (cf. ch. 4). Despite the compelling ancient appearance of Nwoko’s sculptures—they do not look like objects of recent manufacture—his terra-Â�cotta figures represent contemporary Africans rather than subjects who existed in the past. A female figure, Titled Woman (1965), with huge anklets, arm bangles, and necklaces, for instance, depicts a modern titled western Igbo woman in her ivory and coral bead ornaments and fly whisk (figure 5.17). Another figure


Figure 5.17╇ Demas Nwoko, Titled Woman, terra-Â�cotta, 1965. Artist’s Collection. Photo, the author. © Demas Nwoko.

with a long flowing gown, small wristbands, and a huge dome-Â�shaped coiffure or headdress comes across as a contemporary, perhaps even urbanized, African woman of no specific ethnic origin. On the other hand, two well-Â� known figures, Senegalese Woman and the Asele Institute’s Philosopher (1965; figure 5.18), wear generic traditional attire, but rather than represent fabric folds realistically, Nwoko uses rounded threads of clay to barely suggest fold lines, thus guaranteeing both the archaic effect of the sculptures and, in a sense, their timelessness. It is clear from the foregoing that Nwoko’s experimental work, based on Nok (and to some extent ancient Ife) terra-Â�cottas, though coming slightly later, compares with Uche Okeke’s Igbo Uli-Â�influenced drawing and painting, in the sense that both artists derived their aesthetic logic from the formal characteristics of a particular traditional art form. The result is a coherent


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body of work that further argues for the viability of natural synthesis as a theoretical model for new work in Nigeria. But his appropriation of Nok sculptural language for Nwoko’s own work is significant for another reason: it shifted the notion of native belongingness inherent in Okeke’s understanding of natural synthesis, as well as the constitution of artistic heritage, from an ethnos to a nation-Â�state basis. Moreover, Nwoko’s Nok-Â�inspired sculpture invariably raises important questions about how different Art Society artists imagined their relationship with ethnicity, culture, and history in postcolonial Nigeria. For it departs from the assumption implied by the Zaria-Â�period mandate that members research the art forms and traditions of their native cultures—in other words foregrounding claims of ethnic authenticity as nationalism—which authorized Okeke’s Igbo Uli-Â�based work. Yusuf Grillo makes this point about the centrality of ethnicity as the locus of nationalist subjectivity in Nigeria: The very first thing for an artist (Chinese, Japanese, Nigerian, European [sic] etc.) is to know who he or she is. You have to know where you are coming from. You have to know your roots. Not because you are an artist, but for the simple reason that you are a person. For example you have been born in Benin. You have to know Benin, its traditions and history. If you are born in Ife, you ought to know all about Ife, the origin, mythology, the names of past Obas, the belief system and the culture of the people.15 Grillo, it seems to me, suggests that the assertion of a Nigerian identity implies an open identification with one’s ethnicity, which—if we are to believe anticolonial, nationalist politicians—is the locus of both political and existential authenticity in the context of the modern multiethnic nation-Â� state. But there is no consensus in the Zaria group on the question of the role of ethnicity in the national imaginary. For instance, Okeke’s pervasive focus on Igbo arts and cultures—as an artist, a folklorist, and a historian—testify to Grillo’s way of thinking about nationalism, whereas Nwoko’s sculptures suggest sympathies with transethnic nationalism; indeed both represent two distinct positions on the centrality of ethnicity and religious difference in the discourse of Nigerian national politics in the post–World War II period.16 Despite the pan-Â�Nigerian and pan-Â�Africanist outlook of early twentieth-Â� century politicians, emblematized in the late 1930s by the Nnamdi Azikiwe– led Nigerian Youth Movement (nym), ethnicity became a major factor in the rhetoric and practice of politics in Nigeria during the last decades of colonization. Nationalist politicians took this road—a process described by James Coleman as “regionalization of nationalism”—partly to fend off questions

Figure 5.18╇ Demas Nwoko, Philosopher, terra-Â�cotta, 1965. Collection of Asele Institute, Nimo. Photo, the author. © Demas Nwoko.

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about the authenticity of their popular mandate and partly to appeal to the strong ethnic nationalisms of their constituent power bases.17 Among the political elite, in other words, ethnic identification was a crucial part of their quest for national sovereignty, although it also complicated feelings of national belongingness among the nation’s diverse constituent peoples. In his rigorous experimentation and total identification with Igbo Uli art, Okeke seems to echo the brand of nationalism anchored on ethnic identity. On the other hand, Nwoko, like the early nym and the associated Zikist movement, substitutes the national for the ethnic; in other words, for him one is first a Nigerian, then an Igbo or Yoruba or Hausa. Nevertheless, Nwoko’s nationalism does not amount to a denial of one’s ethnicity. Instead, it is the recognition of an orientation and allegiance to a wider social and political space, the nation-Â�state, which in the Nigerian situation is, however, always fraught with difficulties arising from fractious interethnic relations. By seeking inspiration from Nok culture in the mid-Â�1960s, Nwoko reiterated and signified his politically unfashionable commitment to the idea of a Nigerian nation with common national interests and heritage.18 His work proposed that whatever belonged to one ethnic nationality or group (contemporary Jaba people) could be rightfully claimed by any citizen (Nwoko, an Igbo) of Nigeria. This is what makes Nwoko’s Nok series an important political statement masked, partly at least, by the force of its formal achievement.

Bruce Onobrakpeya, Folklore, and Experimental Printmaking

Bruce Onobrakpeya’s work in the early 1960s developed along two crucial, though ultimately complementary, lines. On the one hand, he sought to exhaust and transcend the possibilities of standard printmaking techniques and procedures; on the other, he focused on developing a new expressive style based on his study of his native Urhobo art, Benin royal and ritual sculpture, and Yoruba adire textile design. The meeting of these two paths sometime around 1965 resulted in the distinctive style that would characterize his mature work. Unlike his Art Society colleagues, Onobrakpeya (along with Jimo Akolo and Solomon Wangboje, also from Zaria) participated in and gained tremendously from the Mbari Ibadan and Mbari-Â�Mbayo, Osogbo, summer workshops led by the South African architect Julian Beinart and the Dutch sculptor and printmaker Ru van Rossem (figure 5.19). Having garnered some critical attention for his experimental printmaking while in Zaria, Onobrakpeya was introduced in the workshops to new and unorthodox materials


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Figure 5.19╇ Bruce Onobrakpeya and Ru van Rossem at summer workshop, Mbari-Â�Mbayo, Osogbo, 1964. Photo, Ulli Beier. © Estate of Ulli Beier.

and techniques that suited his approach to image making. Moreover, Julian Beinart’s assertion during the workshops, that a vibrant modern art in any country must seek inspiration from its folk art traditions, coincided with Onobrakpeya’s focus on Urhobo folklore and art as sources for his themes and design forms. To him, Beinart’s statement further vindicated the Art Society’s prescription of rigorous inquiry into indigenous art and craft as the basis for new work. Apart from the theoretical impetus that Onobrakpeya got from Beinart’s ideas, Ru van Rossem introduced him to copper engraving and etching techniques that would, by dint of a studio accident in 1967, yield innovative technical procedures characteristic of his printmaking from then onward. Van Rossem’s workshops convinced Onobrakpeya of the viability of printmaking as major art form, one not only amenable to an incredible range of formal and technical experimentation but also with the potential to supplant painting as his primary medium. Coincident with this gradual shift of emphasis away from painting was a drastic reconfiguration of his pictorial style around 1963 and 1964. Onobrakpeya’s paintings increasingly took on the graphic elements of his Zaria-Â�period linocut and lino-Â�engraving prints. This is evident in Man with Two Wives and Dancing Masquerader (both 1965) where, de-


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spite the occasional modeling and painterly passages—as in the man’s face—Â� Onobrakpeya achieves a dramatically graphic effect mostly with structural Prussian blue outlines and bold decorative patterns and images set against flat pictorial space (figures 5.20 and 5.21). The impact of his printmaking on his 1965 paintings is profound, so much so that the paintings’ formal qualities seem to derive directly from those of his prints. Note, for instance, that the same compositional elements characteristic of his early prints—flat color, reductive palette, bold structural lines, decorative patterns, extreme stylization—appear in his 1965 canvases. Whereas in his earlier paintings and prints, such as the covered way mural at the 1960 Nigerian Art exhibition or Quarrel between Ahwaire the Tortoise and Erhako the Dog (ca. 1960), he used what one might call generic abstract decorative patterns, by the mid-Â�1960s he was looking to specific indigenous design and art, as Okeke had a few years before. Appropriating Yoruba adire textile design and Urhobo and Edo sculptural forms and motifs, Onobrakpeya developed a pervasively decorative style often dependent on folk narratives for thematic focus. Around 1965, after he finished at Zaria, Onobrakpeya concluded that although he had received national renown for several notable book illustrations using conventional woodcut and linocut, these traditional printmaking techniques offered him no further technical challenges. He thus developed a collage process using canceled linoleum blocks to create composite relief panels. Calling this new work “bronze-Â�lino,” because he built his images from linoleum-Â�cut panels and gave them a bronze finish to enhance their visual appeal, he developed a sculptural relief style based on printmaking processes and materials. In Skyscrapers (1966), a bronze-Â�lino piece published in Nigeria magazine that year, he built a composite relief panel with linoleum blocks, from which he printed illustrations for Cyprian Ekwensi’s 1962 short story collection An African Night’s Entertainment.19 Arranged on a rectangular plywood support, the blocks define a geometrically irregular outline resembling the silhouette of an urban cityscape. Partly because each block has its own independent system of textures—with its own pictorial composition in reverse—the panel is nonnarrative and resolutely sculpturesque and, with the bronzed color, invokes diverse traditions of relief sculpture, from royal Benin to the Italian Renaissance and early twentieth-Â�century modernism. Onobrakpeya’s subsequent bronze-Â�lino works, such as Untitled and Pot (ca. 1966), become more pictorially complex, combining legible forms and expressive abstract gestures achieved by pouring glue over all or parts of the composition. He extends the textural range by gluing found objects onto the composition (figures 5.22 and 5.23).


Figure 5.20╇ Bruce Onobrakpeya, Man with Two Wives, oil on board, 1965. Collection of Federal Society of Arts and Humanities, University of Lagos Library, Lagos. Photo, the author. © Bruce Onobrakpeya.


Figure 5.21╇ Bruce Onobrakpeya, Dancing Masquerader, oil on board, 1965. Photo, the author. © Bruce Onobrakpeya.

In 1967, having acquired an etching press similar to the one used in the Mbari workshops, Onobrakpeya began in earnest to make copperplate engravings and etchings at his new painting and printmaking studio in the Palmgrove area of Lagos. It was here that an incident occurred—the artist called it a “hydrochloric acid accident”—that yielded the third process that revolutionized his technical procedures. He had ruined his first zinc plates because instead of nitric acid, he had used the more corrosive hydrochloric acid to etch them. Months later, Erhabor Emokpae, a fellow artist working at the time on the monumental Olokun—a tall wooden sculpture covered with copper coins, now in the collection of the National Council for Arts and Culture, Lagos—introduced him to Araldite®, an epoxy resin glue. Onobrakpeya used the resin to seal corroded parts of his zinc plates, but in the test proofs, the hardened drips of glue formed unanticipated deep bosses on the

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Figure 5.22╇ Bruce Onobrakpeya, Untitled, bronze lino, ca. 1966. Collection of National Council of Arts and Culture, Abuja. Photo, the author. © Bruce Onobrakpeya. Figure 5.23╇ Bruce Onobrakpeya, Untitled, bronze lino, ca. 1966. Collection of Federal Society of Arts and Humanities, University of Lagos Library, Lagos. Photo, the author. © Bruce Onobrakpeya.


Figure 5.24╇ Bruce Onobrakpeya, Travellers, deep etching, 1967. Reproduced from Bruce Onobrakpeya: The Spirit in Ascent (1992), p. 34. © Bruce Onobrakpeya.

paper. He realized that by pouring more glue on the plate, he could abrade and engrave the raised resin surfaces to produce a hybrid image combining delicate intaglio printing and soft embossed reliefs. He called the prints pulled from these altered plates “deep etchings” or “plastographs” because of their unique three-Â�dimensionality (figure 5.24). Onobrakpeya’s initial deep etchings, exemplified by Bathers I (1967), attest to the technical challenges of controlling his newfangled medium. In this work depicting three figures with impressive body decorations, a proliferation of accidental marks and deliberate designs spreads across the entire compositional surface, creating a pictorial tension absent in his earlier prints or paintings; the bathers seem only barely able to resist dissolving into the formless space around them (figure 5.25). But as he mastered the deep etching and plastography techniques, Onobrakpeya seemed to come


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Figure 5.25╇ Bruce Onobrakpeya, Bathers I, deep etching, 1967. Reproduced from Bruce Onobrakpeya: The Spirit in Ascent (1992), p. 37. © Bruce Onobrakpeya.

to terms with their susceptibility to more profoundly serendipitous results; they compelled him to rely, even more than before, on the pictorial possibilities of simplified figuration, decorative motifs, and surplus symbols adapted from royal Benin sculpture, Urhobo ritual art, and Yoruba adire design. Once reconciled to the idea of the value of accidents as catalysts for new techniques, his work increasingly depended, on the one hand, on repetition and recombination—of themes, motifs, forms—and on the other, on his invention of new processes in which printmaking, sculpture, and painting combine seamlessly.

Simon Okeke and the Myth of Igbo-�Ukwu

As the work of Uche Okeke, Demas Nwoko, and Bruce Onobrakpeya demonstrates, the desire to develop formal solutions to the conceptual problems raised by natural synthesis was a strong motivation for post-Â�Zaria work. Simon Okeke’s work reveals a different understanding, perhaps even a rejection, of the formalistic implications of natural synthesis operative in the work of the Art Society triumvirate. For Okeke, the desire for a style rooted in the traditional arts of Nigerian peoples or for the invention of a radically new


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form, different from the familiar language of figural realism acquired from his art school training, was not important to his modernist vision. Upon graduation from the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology in Zaria, Simon Okeke was appointed curator of the National Museum, Lagos, a position that provided him ample opportunity to study and research the museum’s extensive ethnographic collection. In 1962 he traveled to Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe), with that collection. The works were to be included in an exhibition organized by John Picton of the Lagos Museum and Frank McEwen, who convened the First International Congress of African Culture (icac), held at the Rhodes National Gallery in Salisbury (now the National Gallery of Zimbabwe), from August 1 through September 30. Attending that historic conference were such art world dignitaries as Alfred Barr Jr., founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; William Fagg, keeper of Ethnology at the British Museum; and Roland Penrose, cofounder of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; as well as the surrealist artist Tristan Tzara and several African scholars and artists. During the conference, Simon Okeke delivered a well-Â�received paper on Nigerian art, later visited the Great Zimbabwe and local cave art sites, and met a number of contemporary artists working in Salisbury. While these experiences shored up Okeke’s profile as a curator and expanded his understanding of the arts of Nigeria and Africa, they seemed to have had little effect on the development of his work as an artist. Nevertheless, his trips to major museum collections in France, Greece, Italy, and Libya might have deepened his appreciation of the Western premodernist figurative traditions evident in his post-Â�Zaria work. Despite the fact that Simon Okeke continued to make sculptures after Zaria, he turned to watercolor as his primary medium, developing a formal style described by art historian Marshall Ward Mount as the most unusual of the Zaria graduates.20 Presented in Okeke’s first major art exhibition in 1963, which was organized by Nigeria magazine at the Exhibition Center, Lagos, these watercolors secured his reputation as a painter. The watercolors are intriguing in part because of their sculptural illusionism; that is to say, they strikingly mimic the impressionistic three-Â�dimensionality of his earlier sculptural reliefs. The optical quality of the drawings is achieved, first, by meticulous abrasion of the heavy paper that has been washed with dark colors to reveal the constituent pictorial elements of his composition. By selective and successive use of dark lines, shading, and further abrasion, he modified the image until it acquired a virtual three-Â�dimensional quality. The resulting strong chiaroscuro (sometimes a softer sfumato) effect speaks to a


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keen sense of mass and volume acquired from his training as a sculptor and his familiarity with European Renaissance–era pictorial techniques. His sometimes strangely androgynous, oval-Â�headed, long-Â�limbed human figures—denizens of his imagined premodern, pagan society—seem to emerge from a dark chthonic realm. They appear to be either actively engaged in occult drama or trapped in ritual matrices, the latter suggested by beaded ornaments, ceremonial gear, and a proliferation of ritual pots and egg-Â�shaped forms. Because of these formal and thematic aspects of the watercolors, Uche Okeke aptly described his artist-Â�friend Simon Okeke as a “ritual realist” (figures 5.26 and 5.27).21 Let us note a crucial point, which is that the evocation of the mysterious through Simon Okeke’s pictorial style and subject matter was his particular means of responding to what he perceived as the ravages of European and Christian civilizations on Igbo culture and traditional society. Motivated by his own interpretation of the theory of natural synthesis, he had faith in the possibilities of a new, progressive order resulting from the disastrous cultural conflicts that defined African colonial modernity: I was born in a pagan society which had its charms. I felt myself surrounded by mysteries, supernatural influences and the wonders of a pure happy life. Then came the abrupt change over to Christianity and its teachings. To the new converts, the indigenous culture became a taboo and a mark of primitive living and a sure way to hell. Inspired art became a sinful outrage against the new religious thought. . . . At present, the sophisticated urban life polluted by the worst elements of Western civilization makes one feel a homeless, soulless, materialistic machine. But I entertain a belief that the Christian religion can exist side by side with a sound indigenous culture.22 It must be said, however, that despite Simon Okeke’s rather naive and clichéd view of what he calls pagan society and modern urban culture—or indeed the tactical shifts from the autobiographical to the anthropological voice—his firm belief in the cohabitation of religions and the synthesis of cultures must be seen as the basis for his thematic concerns. Still, we are hard pressed to find the connection between his desire for a postcolonial cultural synthesis and the sort of formal syntheses evident in the work of Uche Okeke, Demas Nwoko, and to a lesser extent Bruce Onobrakpeya. I thus find untenable the claim by Uche Okeke that Simon Okeke “was deeply influenced by the sculptural works of Nok, Igbo-Â�Ukwu, Ife and Benin”23 or the assertion by Jean Kennedy that “one is tempted to see in

217


Figure 5.26╇ Simon Okeke, Lady, mixed media on paper, 1965. Mr. and Mrs. Joe Obiago collection. Image courtesy of Arthouse Contemporary Ltd., Lagos. © Estate of Simon Okeke.


Figure 5.27╇ Simon Okeke, Off to Battle, mixed media, 1963. Princeton University Art Museum. Museum purchase, Mary Trumbull Adams Art Fund 2013– 43. © Estate of Simon Okeke.

[Okeke’s] work influences from the famous bronzes at Igbo-Â�Ukwu, east of the Niger River, where Okeke was born in 1937.”24 To be sure, Uche Okeke might have been driven primarily by the desire to extend his own formalist interpretation of natural synthesis to the work of his former Art Society colleague, thus demonstrating the group’s ideological unity beyond Zaria. On the other hand, Kennedy’s view of Simon Okeke’s work as bound to the ancient art of his native Igbo-Â�Ukwu reveals her uncritical acceptance of what had then become a canonical, if unfounded, story of the Art Society’s radical rejection of Western art in favor of Nigerian art traditions as the source of their new work. The consequence of Kennedy’s roots-Â�finding exercise is to make us lose sight of the crucial fact that the artist’s training in modernist figurative sculpture while at Zaria, his studies of Western museum collections, and his keen interest in science fiction and indigenous Nigerian cultures

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anticipated a visual language evidently unrelated to any ancestral Igbo or ancient Nigerian art forms. His watercolors reveal that Okeke readily combined traditional academic techniques, which he rigorously pursued in the Zaria sculpture studio and after, and contemporary figural language (remarkably similar to Ben Enwonwu’s), with which he explored themes relating to mid-Â� twentieth-Â�century Igbo culture. It is important to emphasize, on the evidence of Simon Okeke’s pictorial program, the difference between his work and that of Uche Okeke and Demas Nwoko, for whom the search for a new style based on exploration of the formal qualities of indigenous art was a primary preoccupation. Okeke was convinced that the ideological basis of natural synthesis, though important, did not warrant or necessarily imply a search for new formal styles extracted from any specific indigenous Nigerian artistic traditions. If, as I argue, the years after Zaria saw the realization of the work anticipated by natural synthesis, this work also reveals that even within the Art Society, there was no collective agreement on the specific stylistic direction of the new work, precisely because natural synthesis did not authorize such unitary style. In other words, although these artists concluded that political and cultural independence implied freedom to formulate new work based on the realization of the importance of both inherited and appropriated traditions, they differed in the extent to which these ideological questions should affect or dictate their formal styles.

Jimo Akolo: The London Paintings

If anyone looking at contemporary Nigerian art in the early postindependence period had any doubts about Jimo Akolo’s significance as a painter, his honorable mention at the Sixth São Paulo Bienal (1961) and mural commission for the Northern Nigerian House of Assembly in Kaduna laid those doubts to rest. Yet like Demas Nwoko and Uche Okeke, Akolo set his eyes to further travels and training in Europe, but for different reasons: while his colleagues saw the European trip as an opportunity to enhance their technical expertise in the cultural work they imagined for themselves, Akolo saw in Europe prospects for refining his painterly skills. Thus after two successful exhibitions at the Exhibition Centre, Lagos, and at Mbari Ibadan in the summer of 1962, he traveled to EngÂ�land later in the year, with the assistance of Dennis Duerden. In London, Akolo took courses at the Hornsey College of Arts and Crafts, producing several paintings in 1963, some of which were included in his one-Â�person exhibition at the Commonwealth Institute in Feb-


After Zaria —

ruary; and in a group exhibition, Painting and Environment: Nigeria, Uganda, at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in the summer of 1964. Returning to Nigeria in 1963, he served as an artist/education officer with the Ministry of Education, Kaduna. In 1964 he traveled to the United States, where he enrolled in the graduate program in education at Indiana University, although he continued to make art but not with the vigor of the preceding years. Akolo’s work after Zaria testifies to his firm commitment to the problem of painting as an expressive act and picture making as an end in itself. Yet as though influenced by the rhetoric of his former Art Society colleagues, soon after Zaria he attempted to adapt designs and patterns he associated with Hausa architecture and art into his work.25 Apart from depicting subject matter specific to Hausa and Islamic northern Nigerian cultures, his 1962 paintings—including Fulani Horsemen (figure 5.28) and the famed mural at the House of Assembly in Kaduna—are schematic and decorative and often consist of flat shapes of color and graphic lines. The connection between Akolo’s subject matter and his new style was not lost on a contemporary critic, who saw in the paintings a “severe discipline of Northern [Nigerian] design and pattern.”26 Whether or not these formal experiments were motivated by any sympathy for the arguments of his Art Society colleagues or were simply influenced by technical and political consideration necessitated by the mural commission for the seat of northern Nigerian political power, they were short lived. By the following year, although he continued to compose some of his pictures with colorful hard-Â�edge shapes, he reintroduced the vertical brushwork that had characterized his late Zaria work, effectively marking the end of his brief experiment with Hausa traditional design and pattern. As was true of Demas Nwoko and Uche Okeke, Akolo’s subject matter ranged from genre to the mythological and the obscure. Unlike them, however, he tried markedly different formal styles, perhaps less anxious about putting such work to any ideological service, given his firm commitment to painting as such. He seemed to have quickly dispensed with a brief interest in reflecting through his work a particular cultural signature; his London paintings and, to a certain extent, all subsequent pictures reveal a personal investment in the styles and techniques of modern realistic painting then popular in contemporary British art schools. In fact, more than before, his 1963 paintings come across as more technically daring and more ambitious in scale. They show Akolo as a confident artist, comfortable with the challenges of his medium and with his decision to focus on this rather than on the politics of form with which his Art Society friends were concerned. A defining characteristic of Akolo’s London paintings was the displace-

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Figure 5.28╇ Jimo Akolo, Fulani Horsemen, oil on canvas, 1962. Courtesy of British Empire and Commonwealth Museum. Bristol, UK. Photo, the author. © Jimo Akolo.


After Zaria — 223

Figure 5.29╇ Jimo Akolo, Untitled, oil on canvas, 1963. Courtesy of British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, Bristol, UK. Photo, the author. © Jimo Akolo.

ment of the earlier methodical brushwork by a very fluid paint application that left drips of color on the canvas surface. Even when he depicts human figures or covers large areas with brush marks, he does so with a remarkably gestural freedom; this is so despite the persistent tendency, as the brushwork shows, for his hand to move in predictable vertical sweeps. Where in his previous work his figures are summarily depicted with very little, if any, attention to anatomical details, the reduction becomes even more drastic, his drawing more imprecise and more self-Â�assured. In an untitled painting of 1963 depicting a couple in a landscape, for instance, he creates a tightly designed composition by reiterating the two figures’ verticality with his brushwork, as well as with long drips of color (figure 5.29). Despite the limited palette, the use of diverse textures and abstract shapes, as well as the dramatic combination of dark and light areas of color, emphasizes the artist’s increasing mastery of the craft of painting. In what might be his most ambitious painting of the period, Man Hanging from a Tree (1963; figure 5.30), Akolo’s preoccupation with picture making as such is even more evident. About six feet high and easily one of his most abstract paintings, only a figure with a white triangular body and red skull hanging upside down at the top right corner and a dark, disembodied skull at lower right point to the painting’s somber subject matter. Yet this man, far from commanding the viewer’s attention, seems like a mere pictorial element in the overall arrangement of large expanses of indefinable shapes of


Figure 5.30╇ Jimo Akolo, Man Hanging from a Tree, oil on board, 1963. Courtesy of British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, Bristol, UK. Photo, the author. © Jimo Akolo.

dark and light, almost white, color. The sudden shifts from black to white and from cadmium red to occasional cobalt blue and yellow ocher dramatically convey a mood that is at once disturbing and tense, effectively reifying the work’s dark, understated, subject matter. The drips here, unlike elsewhere, are agitated, as if violently splashed against the canvas surface, leaving irregular traces of paint. Perhaps he is trying out—something equally evident in another painting, Northern Horsemen (1965; figure 5.31)—the gestures of action painting or just practically emphasizing that the painter’s primary task is making pictures rather than telling stories or championing cultural ideologies. If Akolo’s work powerfully extends his Zaria-Â�period critique of the Art Society, it also reminds us once more that the problem of artistic-Â�cultural authenticity and freedom in the context of the decolonized nation was not a simple matter. Undoubtedly, in their aspiration to develop postcolonial

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Figure 5.31╇ Jimo Akolo, Northern Horsemen, oil on canvas, 1965. Courtesy of University of Sussex. Photo, the author. © Jimo Akolo.


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modernism, members of the Art Society and Akolo were concerned with the meaning and implication of the idea of freedom symbolized by political independence. Yet where key members of the society sought to define their modernism by situating it within the rhetoric of cultural freedom, which implied developing a new artistic form based on indigenous forms and aesthetics, Akolo’s modernism argues for the individual artist’s liberty to appropriate and claim, on his own terms, any relevant modernist and Western traditions. Akolo’s position on the question of postcolonial artistic language is moreover remarkably similar to that of the Senegalese painter Iba Ndiaye (1928–2008), who in rejecting Ibra Tall’s institutionalization of the negritude aesthetic at the École de Dakar in the early 1960s stoutly defended his commitment to the formalist concerns of the post–World War II school of Paris. It also reminds us of the Ethiopian abstract painter Gebre Kristos Desta (1932–1981), who in affirming his enchantment with modernist (abstract) painting rather than his Ethiopian Christian art heritage, famously declared: “What interests me is pure play with forms and colors. I’m not attracted by political and religious aspects of art.”27

IT IS NOTEWORTHY THAT IN SPITE of the stylistic and conceptual divagations

evident in the work of the artists examined in this chapter, they saw themselves as cotravelers on a journey of discovery, as inspired wanderers compelled by the thrill of political independence to push modern Nigerian art in many uncharted directions. And as Uche Okeke noted later, despite their “intensely individualistic” work, they were mutually committed to experimentation with diverse artistic forms and concepts, which he identifies as the hallmark of modern Nigerian art after 1960. Predictably, this quest for new imagery and attitudes, the bewildering cacophony of it perhaps, elicited vehement criticisms (as the next chapter shows) from older artists and critics disturbed as much by the loud, aggressive, and supposedly substandard quality of the emerging art as by the collusion of expatriate critics in pushing it to the mainstream.


Chapter 6

CONTESTING THE ↜ M ODERN Artists’ Societies and Debates on Art

DESPITE IBADAN’S IMPORTANCE as a center of contemporary art and cul-

tural activity in the first years after Nigeria gained independence from the United Kingdom, Lagos quickly attracted many of the leading artists, critics, and writers. By the middle of the 1960s, Lagos had completed its evolution as Nigeria’s modern art capital, thanks to the supporting institutions established during this period.1 Apart from the many artists who relocated from Zaria to Lagos, graduates of the local Yaba College of Technology and a few artists returning home after training overseas also settled in Lagos. They were attracted by the many exhibition opportunities offered by the invigorated Exhibition Centre and other emerging art galleries, the patronage from foreign agencies and expatriate collectors, and employment opportunities in civil service, schools, and the arts industry. The shift from Ibadan to Lagos moreover precipitated a significant change in the scope and tenor of debates, discussions, and transactions within the Nigerian art circles during the 1960s.


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This chapter focuses on developments in Lagos in the period between the Nigerian Art exhibition of October 1960 (see ch. 4) and the 1965 publication of Colette Omogbai’s historic manifesto in Nigeria magazine, a text that in unmistakable terms marked the high noon of a contemporary art world increasingly dominated by young artists who were both critically and historically self-Â�aware.2 I examine the role of cultural organizations, societies, and artists’ groups, the work of some key artists, and some of the significant debates on contemporary art that took place in the middle of the decade. Within a discursive space expanded beyond that of Black Orpheus, Mbari, and Beier’s critical networks, an art world that came to shape late twentieth-Â�century Nigerian art fully emerged. What is more, a view of this period, defined as it was by the euphoria of political independence, reveals in equal measure the anxieties, tensions, and power plays of emergent and old-Â�guard stakeholders, all competing for control of or at least influence over the direction and discursive infrastructure of modern Nigerian art.

AMSAC, the Arts Council, and the FSAH

Of the few available venues for art exhibitions in Lagos in the early 1960s, the Exhibition Centre and the American Society of African Culture (amsac) gallery were the most important. Established by the colonial government in 1943 as a space for exhibiting work by emerging contemporary Nigerian and expatriate European artists, for decades the Exhibition Centre offered the only functional space for shows in Lagos. Yet if the center seemed adequate for exhibitions by the few practicing artists in 1950s Lagos, the influx of artists from Zaria and overseas after 1960 made the addition of alternative exhibition galleries in the city both necessary and urgent. Thus when Michael Crowder became director of the center in 1959, his regular schedule of exhibitions by young and established Nigerian artists inaugurated an era of unprecedented growth in the art industry, but it also made more apparent the inadequacy of the center as the sole space for contemporary art exhibition in Lagos. On the other hand, amsac, which like the Congress for Cultural Freedom was funded by the cia, was mandated to promote African culture by building “bonds between American blacks and black Africans who had their struggle for freedom in common.”3 Merging in 1957 with the Council on Race and Caste in World Affairs (corac), which monitored the extent of communist exploitation of race relations for political gains and officially incorporated in 1960, amsac, with its West African regional office in Lagos, promoted work


Contesting the Modern —

by African and African American musicians, writers, and artists.4 In addition to organizing a festive conference attended by prominent African Americans during the 1960 independence celebrations in Lagos, amsac offered a regular schedule of cultural workshops and symposia with renowned scholars, artists, writers, and critics from the United States, Nigeria, and the West African region. In its gallery, amsac mounted art exhibitions, mostly featuring works by African American and other expatriate black artists. The society thus facilitated, as did the Mbari Club in Ibadan, the circulation of black international art in Lagos. In December 1961, as part of amsac’s occasional program of discussions on art and literature, Calvin H. Raullerson, its Lagos director, invited Uche Okeke, Simon Okeke, the African American painter Hale Woodruff, and William Lewis of Liberia to organize an exhibition of Nigerian and African American artists at J. K. Randle Hall in Lagos.5 The society also partnered with Mbari Ibadan to host exhibitions by such African American artists as Jacob Lawrence and William H. Johnson and the Ghanaian sculptor Vincent Kofi, but it rarely showed the work of Nigerian artists. However, despite the fact that it contributed significantly to the traffic of international art in the Lagos art scene, the amsac gallery was not an ideal exhibition venue. As the artist-Â�critic Okpu Eze noted in his review of Kofi’s 1962 exhibition: [Sculptures] were dumped among books and light intruded upon them from all conceivable angles. The transparent linen (or was it nylon?) used for window blinds played the trick of bringing the “carryings on” on the street below so close up to the eyes thus robbing the hall of the atmosphere conducive to the “monuments” on show.6 Whereas amsac focused on bringing foreign art and artists to Nigeria, the Nigerian Council for the Advancement of Arts and Culture (ncaac), established in 1959 by the federal government, was charged with “the preservation, revival, development and encouragement of arts and crafts, music and traditional culture.”7 Intended to expand the focus of the colonial-Â�era Nigerian Festival of the Arts, the council’s board consisted of eminent Nigerians and expatriates in the arts. The attorney and nationalist Kolawole Balogun was its founding chairman, and Tunji Adeniyi-Â�Jones, a medical practitioner, was its founding secretary. The council inaugurated a Federal Government Trophy to be awarded to distinguished artists and writers based on a single major work. Jimo Akolo won the trophy for his mural in the Northern House of Assembly in 1962, and Ben Enwonwu for his Sango sculpture for the Nigerian Electric Commission, Lagos, in 1964 (figure 6.1).8

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Figure 6.1╇ Ben Enwonwu, Sango, bronze, 1964. Nigerian Ports Authority, Marina, Lagos. Photo, the author. © The Ben Enwonwu Foundation.

As I noted in chapter 4, the intrigues surrounding the organization of the 1960 Independence Exhibition revealed that the relationship between the expatriate board members of the Lagos branch of the ncaac and Nigerian artists was often a fraught one. This was evident in the frictions between Michael Crowder and Nora Majekodunmi on the one hand and artists Uche Okeke and Demas Nwoko on the other during the preparations for the 1960 Nigerian Exhibition. There was also, of course, Enwonwu’s feud with the council over the independence exhibition. A major reason for this animosity was the feeling on the part of Nigerian artists that the art administration, represented by the expatriate-Â�dominated and all-Â�important Lagos branch, was too slow in decolonizing, thus keeping out capable Nigerians and preventing them from taking full responsibility for contemporary art programs in Lagos and around the country. This was the motivation behind Enwonwu’s influen-


Contesting the Modern —

tial essay “Into the Abstract Jungle,” a veiled critique of the council and its expatriate officers’ support of young abstractionists. For his part, Okeke wrote to Evelyn Brown at the Harmon Foundation, “We have no central art organisation in this country and I must tell you frankly that Mrs. Majekodunmi cannot judge or value my work. They are different from what she understands.”9 Simon Okeke also believed that the council, with its British bias, denied Nigerian artists access to the more desirable US art markets.10 These critical observations notwithstanding, the Lagos branch organized contemporary art exhibitions at the National Museum, Lagos, and facilitated the participation of Nigerian artists in overseas events, such as the 1962 São Paulo Bienal. It also established Gallery Labac (an acronym for “Lagos branch of the arts council”), the city’s first commercial gallery, directed by Afi Ekong (1930–2009), the most visible female artist on the Lagos scene and a well-Â� known television personality. A scion of the royal house of the Obong of Calabar and daughter-Â�in-Â�law of the Atta of Igbirra, Ekong studied fashion in EngÂ�land at Oxford City Technical School (now Oxford Brookes University), as well as art and the history of fashion at Saint Martin’s School of Art and the Central School of Art and Design in London in the 1950s. She had her first exhibition, the first by a woman artist in Nigeria, at the Exhibition Centre, Lagos, in 1958. She also had a well-Â� publicized solo exhibition at the Galeria Galatea in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in April 1961. In her work, which often depicted masks and genre subject matter, she sometimes combined a rich palette of brilliant color activated by expressive brushwork; at other times her colors are muted and heavy, with understated brush marks (figures 6.2 and 6.3). Ekong’s appointment as executive board member and art manager of the Lagos Art Council and art supervisor of the Gallery Labac confirmed her influence in the Lagos art and social scene and assured her a listing in the New York Times Magazine’s feature on the new African woman in 1963.11 In 1962 she ran Cultural Heritage, a Nigerian Television Channel 10 cultural promotion program featuring Nigerian traditional dances alongside the work of several young and established Nigerian artists, including Felix Idubor, Yusuf Grillo, Simon Okeke, Uche Okeke, and Festus Idehen. The Gallery Labac, designed by a prominent Lagos-Â�based British architect, Robin Atkinson (b. 1930), was not dedicated simply to exhibiting contemporary art. Rather, it displayed and sold works of contemporary artists as well as craft works—mostly traditional jewelry and souvenir-Â�type wood sculptures—from around the country. One might think that the lack of emphasis on contemporary art in the gallery’s operations was symptomatic of a

231


Figure 6.2╇ Afi Ekong, Meeting, oil on canvas, 1960. Federal Society of Arts and Humanities collection, University of Lagos Library, Lagos. Photo, the author. © Estate of Afi Ekong.

Figure 6.3╇ Afi Ekong, Cowherd, oil on canvas, early 1960s. Federal Society of Arts and Humanities collection, University of Lagos Library, Lagos. Photo, the author. © Estate of Afi Ekong.


Contesting the Modern —

recurring tendency established by the colonial-Â�era Festival of the Arts (from which the council evolved): the official focus on indigenous crafts, festivals, and traditional performances as modern Nigeria’s exemplary cultural products. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Gallery Labac’s boutique atmosphere, its indiscriminate presentation of craft and art for sale, met with the resentment of Lagos-Â�based artists who expected it to provide a new, respectable alternative to the Exhibition Centre.12 Besides the question of the quality of the gallery’s operations, another source of tension and, on occasion, outright confrontation within the ncaac board was the push by the artist-Â�members to transform the council into a more professional, effective entity actively engaged in qualitative cultural production and discursive transactions. The less controversial of this group’s two major initiatives was a first-Â�rate and provocative literary magazine planned in 1962 by the Lagos branch, with Chinua Achebe and Onuora Nzekwu (b. 1928) as leaders of its editorial board. Imagined as a magazine with substantial coverage of art exhibitions and reviews, Labac magazine— named after the Lagos branch—would have been a Lagos-Â�based alternative to Black Orpheus. But due to extensive deliberations and debates by the magazine committee and prohibitive production costs, plans for the magazine were later shelved. The magazine’s fate reveals the crisis of identity or, rather, the disagreement over the mission of the National Arts Council, constituted as it was by four classes of mostly Lagos’s cultural elite, all with different stakes in and ideas about the work of culture in postindependence Nigeria. The first group consisted of British serving and former government officials who still had extensive, if waning, influence in the city and country’s political and social institutions. This included people such as Kenneth Murray, Major J. G. C. Allen, Michael Crowder, and Nora Majekodunmi, who gradually withdrew from active participation in cultural circles or left Nigeria for good as the government’s “Nigerianization” policies took hold of the public sector. The second group included members of the Nigerian political and social elite, committed to sponsorship and support of Nigerian arts as part of their investment in the new nation. The most prominent among these were Dr. O. Adeniyi-Â�Jones, Mrs. Aduke Moore, Mr. Kunle Ojora, and Chief Kolawole Balogun, the council chairman. The third and fourth groups consisted respectively of influential and established artists and writers (e.g., Ben Enwonwu, Aina Onabolu, and Cyprian Ekwensi), and a cadre of young artists and writers of the independence generation eager to assume control of the structures of knowledge production and transaction in the arts. The different

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visions projected onto the cultural sector by these groups catalyzed perennial debates about the relevance of the council; a dramatic display of competing ideas was sparked by a memorandum that Ben Enwonwu wrote (December 1960), seeking the reorganization of the council in order to professionalize it. Enwonwu’s memo, written just months after his conflict with the Lagos branch over the 1960 Nigerian Art exhibition to celebrate the nation’s independence, is striking in its tone and substance. Apart from insisting on educating the masses through public lectures on art and art history to be organized by the council, the memo proposed that the reorganized body be mandated to “combat all reactionary tendencies which would lead to commercialisation of creative talents in the society.” It also proposed the Â�following: • Members should be given authority to prevent an attempt by any other members of the Council from wielding a bad influence in the country by publishing fallacious views of Nigerian art. • To create a distinct qualities [sic] between true art and its counterfeit; and to prevent egalitarian ideas of artists which are bad from prevailing in the society whereby young and inexperienced artists and craftsmen are encouraged to regard themselves as rival[s] of the more experienced and advanced artists. • Members of this body should be Africans. And this body should be limited in its membership to Nigerians.13 While the earlier Nigerian Art exhibition clash must have reminded the council’s expatriates and Nigerian members of the well-Â�rehearsed grounds for Enwonwu’s antagonism toward them, his desire to have the group sanction the delegitimization of its expatriate members and authorize his challenge of their relevance or the pertinence of their work (by restricting the council’s important art-Â�related programs to Nigerian-Â�only “professionals”) opened a new battle line. While there was apparently no formal response to the memo, Enwonwu soon moved his campaign for a Nigerians-Â�only professional body, what he called a Nigerian academy of art, outside the council, momentarily collaborating with Uche Okeke to forward his agenda.

WHILE THE ARTS COUNCIL was the undisputable locus of activity and debates on art and culture during the 1960s, the Federal Society for the Arts and Humanities (fsah) complemented the council’s work. Unlike the council,


Contesting the Modern —

fsah was nongovernmental; it focused on nurturing and institutionalizing the modern and contemporary arts of Nigeria. Founded by some well-Â� known art patrons—the first chief justice of independent Nigeria, Sir Adetokunbo Ademola; Chief A. Y. Eke, registrar of the University of Lagos; and other members of the Lagos social elite, including Nora Majekodunmi of the arts council—fsah also included some Lagos-Â�based artists, including Bruce Onobrakpeya, Erhabor Emokpae, and Yusuf Grillo, who was later appointed fsah secretary.14 Besides organizing contemporary art exhibitions, mostly at the J. K. Randle Hall in Lagos, the signal project for fsah was to open a national gallery of modern art and a recital hall in Lagos. By the mid-Â�1960s the society had secured the support of the Ford Foundation, New York, to help finance the gallery project; subsequently, fsah initiated an unprecedented art acquisition program, amassing perhaps the most important collection of 1960s work by both emerging and established Nigerian artists.15 The fact that fsah occasioned the convergence of Lagos’s social and cultural elite for the promotion of the visual arts was remarkable, both for what it says about widespread optimism in the first years of the independence decade and because the group’s commitment to building a national collection was one of the earliest symbolic gestures by this class of Nigerians to imagine the nation through art. The gallery project never materialized, however, due to friction between government officials, who wished to control the administration and funding of arts and culture, and fsah members, who were unwilling to cede such powers to state bureaucrats.16 The failure of the project, moreover, revealed widening fissures, as the decade wore on, between a political bureaucracy that saw nothing of modern art’s supposed cultural and symbolic capital and a social elite that believed this art was crucial to the making and consolidation of a new national culture. With everything else that was happening in the political sphere, the collapse of the very project that gave fsah its raison d’être signaled the end of utopian visions inaugurated by national independence.

Society of Nigerian Artists

The increasingly complex, sophisticated, and charged field of modern art in the Lagos scene of the early 1960s, concentrated as it was around ncaac, fsah, and other group or individual initiatives, compelled artists in the city to seek an independent professional forum outside the direct tutelary powers of the social elite networks. But the idea of establishing a national profes-

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sional artists’ organization was already a part of the Art Society initiative. For while disbanding in the spring of 1961, the Art Society leaders vowed to continue the group’s work beyond college (cf. ch. 3). Arriving in Lagos after graduation, some of the society members continued to meet informally and soon began exploring the possibility of a national association of artists. This is where their goals and that of Ben Enwonwu converged. In late October 1961, Uche Okeke, just back from Zaria and on his way to Munich, met with Enwonwu to discuss the formation of the Nigerian Art Academy—already proposed to the arts council by Enwonwu—as well as their shared misgivings about the council. Their meeting, which led to the November 18 inauguration of the academy, was also attended by several renowned artists, including Aina Onabolu, Felix Idubor, Demas Nwoko, Simon Okeke, Yusuf Grillo, Festus Idehen, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Afi Ekong, Clara Ugbodaga-Â�Ngu, Jimo Akolo, Erhabor Emokpae, T. A. Fasuyi, J. Nkobi, and M. A. Ajayi. Onabolu and Enwonwu were elected president and vice president–director, respectively. Fasuyi was appointed secretary, and Uche Okeke was named publicity secretary. Despite widespread interest shown by the academy’s inaugural members, however, the idea died soon afterward. Why the art academy idea failed is unclear, but we could speculate that the initiative was doomed from the onset for two primary reasons. First, it must have been confronted by the complicated logistics of creating a state-Â�sanctioned professional organization with the powers of censorship. Given the tension already existing between the artists and the still powerful expatriate officials of the arts council, the academy, which must have been viewed as a possible power rival to the council, stood little chance of getting official support. Moreover, recalling the explicit resentment for the social elite expressed in Enwonwu’s Times article and his antagonistic memo to the arts council of just months before, it is impossible to imagine how he could have secured governmental support for this project, even with his official position as the federal art adviser. Second, given the conflicting agenda of the two principal players within the “academy”—Enwonwu and Okeke—its core mission, as imagined by Enwonwu, was unsustainable. Here was Enwonwu, bent on both asserting his leadership and preeminence and controlling the irreverent, supposedly misguided young artists with their “egalitarian ideas”; then there were Okeke and his cohort, committed to breaking out of Enwonwu’s shadow and becoming an alternative to his leadership of the art scene. The academy thus seems to have been a collateral victim of the struggle between the old guard and the young avant-Â�garde, with their irreconcilable ideas about the role of modern art in postindependent Nigeria. But whatever the reasons for the collapse of Enwonwu’s initiative, the fact that it at-


Contesting the Modern —

tracted the “misguided youths” openly distrustful of his leadership clearly signaled the artists’ collective will to establish an institutional platform for managing their own affairs. On parting ways with Enwonwu, several of the young artists, led by the Lagos-Â�resident members of the Art Society and other Zaria graduates, returned to the original idea of an artists’ advocacy society rather than the regulatory entity Enwonwu envisioned. Thus, in January 1964 a group of twenty-Â�four artists held an inaugural meeting and exhibition of the Society of Nigerian Artists (sna) at the Exhibition Centre, with Yusuf Grillo as founding president and T. A. Fasuyi as secretary. Writing to the Harmon Foundation a month later to solicit its support, Fasuyi outlined the aims of the society. • To create a forum for Nigerian professional artists to come together; • To protect and promote Nigerian Artistic heritage; and • To foster the understanding and appreciation of the artist in Nigeria. He also noted that the society planned an annual exhibition of works by members, in addition to sponsoring other exhibitions. The group hoped to organize lectures and debates, publish its own magazine, and collaborate with other organizations with similar aims.17 The speed with which the society consolidated, expanded its membership, and initiated projects to raise awareness about its activities was a clear indication of the near desperate need, collectively felt on the part of the artists, to impress on the public the relevance of the modern artist to the new, postindependence Nigerian society. Â� By mid-Â�1964, the secretary’s report to the society, justifiably upbeat and celebratory, outlined the progress made in the group’s first six months. Its membership had increased to forty-Â�four, mostly because of new members from the eastern region, and there were art exhibitions in all the regional capitals. In collaboration with amsac it had organized two major lectures: by the African American scholar and artist James Porter (1905–1970), professor and chair of the Art Department at Howard University, and by the noted African American artist Jacob Lawrence, who was on his second visit to Nigeria. As part of its publicity campaign, sna supported Afi Ekong’s monthly art program, broadcast on Nigerian Television Service, which had already featured Emokpae, Festus Idehen, Yusuf Grillo, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Uche Okeke, and many other artists, thus facilitating the society’s effort to reach the wider public.18 These programs are noteworthy because although the society frequently collaborated with the arts council, there was no question that the Zaria group and its allies had taken firm control of the field, if not quite the leadership, of the Lagos branch of the arts council. Thus empowered,

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they reintroduced the idea of professionalizing the council by restructuring it in ways far more radical than those Enwonwu proposed in his 1960 memoÂ�randum. Throughout 1965 and early 1966, there were frequent deliberations within the arts council over a proposal to establish an Institute for Culture, a governmental entity that would take over and professionalize the council’s work. As outlined by the committee charged with implementing the report on the institute—based on memoranda by Afi Ekong and other artist-Â�members of the council—the institute would consist of four academies, sited in Lagos and the three federal regions, supported by the council and by the existing professional societies and associations.19 In spite of enthusiastic support for the institute by the council’s sna bloc, resistance was firm and passionate, so much so that Major J. G. C. Allen, who had submitted a withering critique of the initiative, resigned his membership. Others, including the former Zaria teacher Clara Ugbodaga-Â�Ngu, who led the short-Â�lived and little-Â�known Association of Nigerian Artists, were critical of the proposed institute’s elitism and of the fact that it seemed to duplicate the work of African studies programs in the newly established universities. Faced thus with an unprecedented internal crisis but also in consideration of the costs involved, the national committee of the arts council shelved the institute idea, although it continued to support sna. In any case, despite—or perhaps because of—sna’s early successes, arguments within the Lagos and national art worlds about the fate and direction of modern Nigerian art reached a new high in the mid-Â�1960s. In the pages of magazines and newspapers, young artists and critics, appearing in the cultural public sphere for the first time, engaged a broad range of issues, from the vexing question of the arts council’s relevance to the paradoxical failings of the sna, from abstraction in the work of emerging artists to the scale of their paintings and the price of the new work. In some sense, then, the sna’s founding catalyzed the consolidation of discourses on modern Nigerian art initiated by Aina Onabolu in 1920 and sustained through the years, in different measures, by the work of Kenneth Murray, Dennis Duerden, Ben Enwonwu, Ulli Beier’s network, the fsah, and the arts council.

Artists and Their Critics

While opening the sna’s inaugural exhibition in January 1964, Ben Enwonwu, in his dual role as federal art adviser and the society’s nominal patron, declared that artists were expected to


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stress the importance of the academic nature of art, and of the studies necessary for an African today who wishes to become an artist in the true sense. Through its debates and researches, the Society (of artists) will evolve new aesthetic principles based upon knowledge. It will afford reasons to academic debates on what is true art and what is its counterfeit. The society’s accepted principles will help to determine what constitutes the difference between a great work of art and a lesser one, the difference between art and craft, and the difference between an artist and a craftsman. The Society of Nigerian Artists will go further in formulating new aesthetics of African art.20 Apart from the fact that this statement recasts the main points that Enwonwu made in his 1960 Times article, in which he warned of the threats the social elite and the lack of leadership posed to Nigerian art, his invocation of what he calls the “academic nature of art” implies both a claim to the rigor demanded by modern art practice and the relevance of quality control in the art profession. Although he might not have been speaking of an academy in the institutional sense (as he hoped earlier), he clearly still believed in the value of an effective system of regulation and a structure for imposing and maintaining artistic standards. Only within this disciplinary order—not in the riotous, apparently laissez-Â�faire attitude of the young Lagos artists and their supporters—Enwonwu implied, could a new aesthetics of African art emerge. But we must note, if only in passing, that in this speech Enwonwu referred to the formulation of an aesthetic of African rather than Nigerian art. This appeal to an African artistic identity is significant no less because it was out of step with the aspirations of many of the younger, independence-Â� generation artists in the audience, whose focus since the establishment of the Art Society had been the search for and articulation of a Nigerian artistic character. Whereas Enwonwu continued to espouse ideas associated with the politics of African nationalists—coded into the rhetoric of pan-Â�Africanism and negritude—that saw Africa and the black diaspora as the relevant space of identity formation, the younger artists, as if heeding the theory of “national culture” proposed by Frantz Fanon (1925–1961), rallied instead to the politically realistic but no less fraught banner of the national. The January 1964 inaugural speech was only the latest example of Enwonwu’s relentless criticism of trends in postindependence Nigerian and African art. Only months before, he had published a widely read essay, “Into the Abstract Jungle,” in Drum magazine. In it he blamed European critics for the emergence of abstraction as the fashionable mode of expression among Nigeria’s young artists. “These funny artists,” Enwonwu argued, are

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busy copying the proverbial European painter or sculptor who sits in a coffee bar at Montparnasse or Chelsea or Greenwich Village, oozing more with garlic and artistic jargon than with refined sensibility and real knowledge, and whose admirers are the disillusioned people who, for want of better things to do, often go for the existentialism of Jean-Â�Paul Sartre.21 He further observed that these “copy-Â�cat and scatter-Â�brained artists,” who happened to be completely averse to what he called the “purity of aesthetic ideas,” were the ones “Africanist” Europeans vigorously promoted, thereby exposing Nigerian art to dangerous and unwholesome aspects of modern European art.22 Furthermore, having constituted themselves sole arbiters and judges of African art, European critics invariably encouraged young Nigerian artists to embrace “abstractionism,” which Enwonwu claimed was already sliding into obsolescence in European art. He saw this “invasion of Nigerian art by abstract art as part of the system of artistic colonialisation.”23 Let us note that Enwonwu’s rejection of abstraction is indicative of the precariousness of nonnarrative art at a time when art was expected to instruct, teach, and reify (or at least respond to and reflect on) collective imaginaries and experiences, even if from a personal perspective. In contemporary literary criticism, such sentiment was also widespread. Take, for instance, Ali Mazrui’s response to Christopher Okigbo (1930–1967), the great lyric poet and founding member of Mbari Ibadan, who famously declared that his poetry was not meant to communicate any meaning whatsoever. “To put it bluntly,” Mazrui stated, “Africa cannot afford many versifiers whose poems are untranslatable and whose genius lies in imagery and music rather than conversational meanings.”24 Okigbo and others were accused of willfully aping European modernist poetry, semantic obscurantism, aesthetic decadence, and elitism of the worst kind when they ought instead to have put their work in the service of their communities—a task impossible to achieve with their alienated literary style.25 On the heels of Mazrui’s critique, in their book on African literature the firebrand critics Chinweizu [Chinweizu Ibekwe], Jemie Onwuchekwa, and Ihechukwu Madubuike excoriated Okigbo, Wole Soyinka, and other Ibadan-Â�Nsukka poets, declaring that they were afflicted, as they called it, by “the Hopkins Disease” for reveling in the muck of formal trickery, lost in the catacombs of lyric mystery. For in their poetry, the critics noted, there is an abundance of such Hopkinsian infelicities as atrocious punctuation, word order deliberately scrambled to produce ambiguities, syntactic jugglery with suppression of auxiliary verbs and articles, the


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specious and contorted cadences of sprung rhythm, the heavy use of alliterations and assonances within a line, and the clichéd use of double and triple barreled neologisms.26 Both the formalist writers and their fellow abstract artists, their critics complain, were condemned to a state of literary inauthenticity because of their inordinate mimicry of distinctly European artistic/literary models. In art especially, according to Ben Enwonwu, the real culprits were European critics who, because of ignorance about the religious and social aspects of African art, were leading Nigerian and African artists “into the abstract jungle” rather than “up the artistic garden path.” This justified his assertion that no foreigner could sit in judgment on African art except for an artist, for only then could he appreciate the profound, if subtle, differences between African and European art.27 Enwonwu invoked another influential Nigerian voice in his offensive against abstraction. He cited an article published in Nnamdi Azikiwe’s West African Pilot by Akinola Lasekan, Uche Okeke’s former art-Â�by-Â�correspondence teacher, who at that time taught at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka’s art department. Enwonwu stressed Lasekan’s clarion call about the disturbing speed with which young, poorly trained Nigerian artists were taking up abstraction as the style of choice. Lasekan, who himself attained national fame for his political cartoons in the Pilot and his book illustrations, had in fact proffered two quite sympathetic and more nuanced reasons for the emergence of abstraction in contemporary African art. The first was the young artists’ desire to align their work with contemporary global trends informed by scientific logic; the second was their endeavor to differentiate their work from the cheap, mass-Â� produced image economy, too reliant on realism and mimesis.28 The claims Enwonwu makes in the Drum essay deserve closer scrutiny. First, most of the young artists, many of them graduates of either Zaria or the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, had established careers at odds with Enwonwu’s caricaturish view of supposedly indolent European modernists lolling in the coffee bars of Montparnasse or Greenwich Village. The Nigerian postcolonial modernists combined their studio work with employment as teachers and designers in the public and private sectors; the case of Uche Okeke was unusual, in that he maintained an independent studio practice while remaining focused on building his cultural center. Thus in postindependence Nigeria, the closest thing to Enwonwu’s “coffee bar” milieu was Mbari Ibadan, which nevertheless was a structured organization with paid membership and a staff responsible for the production, presentation, and publication of the important new African artists and writers of the early 1960s.

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Second, Enwonwu’s suggestion that no European could judge or offer a critical opinion of the work of African artists recalls the barefaced essentialism of Sir William Rothenstein’s nationalist critique of Parisian abstraction in the 1930s.29 His construction, à la his former teacher Kenneth Murray, of a seamless transition from traditional African art to the work of modern African artists, sidesteps the fact that the latter is also an inevitable consequence of colonial modernity and Africans’ response to it. It is as if, Enwonwu’s argument runs, the modern artist’s work proceeds directly and uninflected from that of his ancestors and from the cultural ethos that engendered and validated such practices. In other words, against the evidence of his own practice and career, he decouples modern African artists from the modern (art) experience—in which the African encounter with Europe (and its aesthetic traditions) plays a vital role—insisting on its unmediated connection to an imagined African essence. To be sure, this was not the first time Enwonwu had made such an argument about modern African art. At the African Culture and Négritude panel of the “African Unities and Pan-Â�Africanism” Conference (organized by amsac at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, in June 1960), Enwonwu argued that African art is mysterious and impervious to the kind of aesthetic analysis possible in European art.30 Asserting his personal connection to Africa’s mystique and its spiritual vitality, his own practice, he claims, shares the supposed mystical qualities of classical African art and therefore resists analysis based on Western critical principles.31 The problem with this position is not that it is clearly an adaptation of the black essentialist aspects of Léopold Sédar Senghor’s negritude aesthetics, itself informed by Lucien Lévy-Â�Bruhl’s seminal but ultimately controversial notion of “primitive prelogical mentality,” but that it conflates the work of artists working in relatively homogeneous African societies and that of modern artists like himself, as much at home with cultures of global modernity as with their indigenous cultures. Third, implicit in Enwonwu’s argument is an overestimation or misunderstanding of the nature of European critics’ influence on young artists in Nigeria. The expatriate champions of the new work from Zaria and Lagos—Ulli Beier, Michael Crowder, and even Dennis Duerden—had different levels of commitment to the artists and for different reasons. Where, for instance, Beier emphasized the connection between modern art and Nigerian cultural traditions and admired the resulting expressionism he found lacking in the work of older artists, Crowder identified with younger artists because of the range of fresh, alternative stylistic propositions they introduced to Nigerian art.32 Yet as far as we can tell, none of the critics directly influenced the style


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of, say, Demas Nwoko, Jimo Akolo, or Uche Okeke, as Enwonwu may have imagined; the changes that occurred in their work were internally consistent with their artistic and ideological convictions. What we cannot dispute is that the expatriates, who in any case were the pioneer critics in the field of modern Nigerian art, provided the independence generation of artists the path to the national mainstream that had been for years singularly dominated by Enwonwu. The paradox of Enwonwu’s argument about the role of expatriate critics in the rise of abstraction is that Beier—the most influential European critic working in Nigeria at the time—had no sympathy for abstract art, and none of the young artists he vigorously supported worked primarily in an abstract mode. Erhabor Emokpae—who, more than any other Nigerian artist of the period, occasionally produced abstract paintings—was not among Beier’s favorite artists; he was instead a protégé of Afi Ekong, who introduced him to the Lagos art scene. Enwonwu’s attack on abstraction as signifying cultural recolonization thus seems fundamentally flawed, because abstraction was neither characteristic of new trends in Nigerian art nor the preferred aesthetic of the supposedly dangerous European cultural Pied Pipers. His critical interventions might therefore be seen as part of a high-Â�stakes intergenerational struggle for the direction of Nigerian art. They were especially so seen, as the general criticism he received suggests, by young artists, who considered him antiprogressive and resistant to the emergence of new voices. Given the obvious differences in Enwonwu’s and Akinola Lasekan’s career paths and artistic styles, their common criticism of abstraction had to have been motivated by other considerations. Enwonwu’s work, to be sure, ranged from radical stylization to naturalistic figuration and often depicted female figures with elongated arms and necks that evoke the rhythm and grace of African dance, as in his Beauty and the Beast (1961; figure 6.4). His realistic portraits and landscapes, in their painterly vitality, contrast with Lasekan’s sedate, illustrative style, thus making them strange bedfellows in the style debate. I am convinced that these two artists’ criticism of abstraction was a pretext for resistance to the generational shift taking place in the Nigerian art scene. That is to say, obnoxious, trendy “abstraction” was not so much a problem of style as the symbol of everything that was wrong with the emergence of a new artistic context and sensibility, one with which Enwonwu and Lasekan could not identify. Although Enwonwu’s ire was directed at the Zaria graduates, with whom he vied for national attention from 1960 onward, there were other eligible targets, allies of the Zaria group nevertheless, such as Erhabor Emokpae

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Figure 6.4╇ Ben Enwonwu, Beauty and the Beast, oil on canvas, 1961. Federal Society of Arts and Humanities collection, University of Lagos Library, Lagos. Photo, the author. © The Ben Enwonwu Foundation.


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(1934–1984) and Okpu Eze (1934–1995). More than any others in the Lagos scene, Emokpae and Eze fit Enwonwu’s picture of the young, brash artist lacking rigorous academic training. The proud, charismatic Emokpae, the son of a Bini chief, had a tendency to create controversial work, which made him one of the most visible artists in Lagos. Not formally trained, he worked under a graphic design master at Kingsway Stores, Lagos, until 1953, when he became a graphic artist in the Ministry of Information. His art career began around 1954, soon after he transferred to the Enugu office of the Ministry, where he devoted more time to his art but also to reading.33 In Enugu, Emokpae met Afi Ekong. She, along with Prince Abdul Aziz Atta, at that time her husband, provided him with art materials; they became his first patrons. With their encouragement he returned to Lagos in 1958, where he joined West African Publicity Ltd., a subsidiary of the London-Â�based media conglomerate Lintas. Michael Crowder describes Emokpae’s early paintings as “naturalistic, lush, and tend[ing] towards the idealisation of the female somewhat like [Ivan] Tretchikoff,” the self-Â�taught and vastly popular South African painter whose work is similar to that of the American realist painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell.34 But Emokpae’s style during the late 1950s does not exhibit the elegant drawing and gaudy realism of Tretchikoff. If the clumsy execution and nonnaturalistic palette in My American Friend (ca. 1957) is a measure of Emokpae’s formal style during this period, it is safe to say that he was, like his Art Society counterparts, drawn to the formal lessons of postimpressionist painting (figure 6.5). By 1962 Emokpae was already painting the pictures that would distinguish him from other young artists also on the threshold of gaining critical attention in Lagos. In one of his best-Â�known paintings, Struggle between Life and Death (1962), Emokpae pays homage to modernist abstraction with black and white, reductively bold and geometric pictorial elements reminiscent of the suprematist work of the Russian avant-Â�garde painter Kazimir Malevich (figure 6.6). Yet Emokpae’s interest went beyond formal experimentation to include the use of colors and shapes for their symbolic power. In Struggle, the juxtaposition of reversed black and white squares and semicircles, with the addition of his palm prints, serves as a visual code for the dialectical relationship between life and death, being and nothingness: I see in life and death a dialogue between the womb and the tomb. They are the parentheses within which we love and hate, laugh and cry, grow and decay. This duality appears in varying dimensions throughout the complex pattern of creation and has been very largely the determining

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Figure 6.5╇ Erhabor Emokpae, My American Friend, oil on board, ca. 1957. Photo, Arthouse Contemporary Ltd., Lagos. © Estate of Erhabor Emokpae.

factor in the visual interpretation of my experiences. I speak of good and evil as contained in the motions of our thought and actions. I speak of the physical and metaphysical as expressed in the human experience. I speak of man and woman, their agonies and their ecstasies. I speak above all of life and death as whole.35 Despite the thematic density of Struggle, its compositional starkness, its resistance to simple narration, and its shocking lack of any of the familiar pictorial devices associated with academic or even modern precubist painting must have seemed too radical and artistically impoverished to many in Lagos—including Enwonwu, who might have had this picture in mind when he wrote his Drum article. Although few of Emokpae’s other paintings had such minimal imagery, except for the surprisingly colorful Dialogue (1962), his fascination with pictorial symbolism, spirituality, and the

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Figure 6.6╇ Erhabor Emokpae, Struggle between Life and Death, oil on board, 1962. Collection of Afolabi Kofo Abayomi. Photo, Anthony Nsofor. © Estate of Erhabor Emokpae.


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occult persisted; in a number of instances, his imagery verged on the surreal (figure 6.7). We do not know the extent, if any, of Emokpae’s intentional borrowings from the formal aspects or rhetoric of European surrealism. Nevertheless, on a few occasions he painted compositionally surrealist pictures—surreal in the sense that he juxtaposed in one pictorial plane visual elements and codes that defy the bounds of logic and reality. The two versions of The Last Supper (1963), by far his most controversial work, are good examples of this (figure 6.8). Both feature a uniformly dark picture plane with a large earthen vessel half filled with red liquid. Dipped into this and leaning against the rim of the vessel is a white cross, from which (what must be) blood drips back into the receptacle. Twelve hands, outlined in white impasto on the two sides and the bottom edge of the painting, reach toward the bowl of blood. A red cobweb spans the vertical and right-Â�hand crossbars, while green leaves along the top edge of the painting above a red half-Â�moon locate this nocturnal ritual scene outdoors. Emokpae here dispenses with all the grand and hallowed visual narratives of the biblical Last Supper, arguing with his primitive imagery that the ritual event in Jerusalem, as well as Christian reenactments of it, reflect the religion’s will-Â�to-Â�cannibalism. The graphic simplicity of the painting, its shocking allusion to a pagan ritual, and Emokpae’s vociferous criticism of Christian doctrines made it arguably the most discussed artwork of the decade.36 Emokpae’s work was also controversial for its ambitious scale and asking price. Although Jimo Akolo produced some large-Â�scale work, as did Okpu Eze, who also painted a number of semantically abstract pictures, Emokpae made the largest paintings by far in the Lagos art scene. His combination of abstract imagery and sparse formal elements with the grand scale and high price did nothing to pacify critics. In one instance, Yusufu Zaki, a Nigeria magazine reader who was convinced that the trend toward abstraction was a woeful mask for technical incompetence, admonished the Society of Nigerian Artists thus: Let the Society arrest the new movement towards larger canvases and bigger sculptures which, though they may lack substance aesthetically, technically, and from the point of view of composition, are becoming fashionable. This movement, I understand, has been sparked off by the news that a new organization (Is it the Federal Society of Arts and Humanities, or The Arts Council of Nigeria or an entirely new body?) with plenty of money is working hush-Â�hush for a said collection for posterity. In fact a friend of mine, who calls himself an artist, is working frantically on his


Figure 6.7╇ Erhabor Emokpae, Dialogue, oil on board, 1966. National Council of Arts and Culture, Abuja collection. Photo, the author. © Estate of Erhabor Emopkae.


Figure 6.8╇ Erhabor Emokpae, The Last Supper, oil on board, 1963. Photo, Clémentine Deliss. © Estate of Erhabor Emokpae.


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Independence Fantasy, a 12′ × 6′ monstrosity which he thinks the organization will lap up for a mere ₤3,000.37 Although neither Emokpae nor Eze was specifically mentioned in Zaki’s text, the fact that two of their paintings illustrated it suggests that their work was implicated in the critique. Emokpae’s Tears of God (1964), much larger than Eze’s, is a three- by eight-Â�foot oil painting on board. Pictorially nonreferential and bare, it features a large encrusted circular swirl at the top right corner and another lateral streak at the lower left in an otherwise dark, blank picture plane. The formal qualities of paintings like this further secured Emokpae’s reputation as the poster boy for all that was wrong with abstraction in the eyes of Ben Enwonwu and other critics. To critics like Zaki and Enwonwu, the huge asking price for Tears of God (₤315, more than $7,000 in current inflation-Â�adjusted buying power), was further proof of inordinate youthful ambition on Emokpae’s part (and other young so-Â�called abstract painters’, too)—an ambition to command prices generally thought to be reserved for such established contemporary masters as Ben Enwonwu and Felix Idubor. This was not a simple matter, given the hallowed space that Enwonwu in particular occupied in the public imagination. In fact, it was the scandalous price that Emokpae was asking for Tears of God that prompted the popular Nigerian novelist and occasional art commentator Cyprian Ekwensi (1921–2007) to publish “High Price of Nigerian Art,” a widely read critique of big, abstract, pricey paintings by young Nigerian artists. In this text, Ekwensi described his encounter with one of Emokpae’s paintings: A very impressive painting by Nigerian Artist Erabor [sic] Emokpae, covering an area eight feet by four feet [sic] and leaving little room for other paintings in the exhibition by three Nigerian artists. The exhibition was attended by the usual clique of American collectors, sophisticated Nigerians, and television and still cameras. For that price a large percentage of jobless Nigerians would happily give their services for twelve calendar months. How many Nigerians were appreciative enough to write a cheque for that figure and have the painting delivered? And again, was it becoming the vogue to sell paintings by the square foot? The answers to these questions and to many others which plague the mind about Nigerian art and Nigerian artists can best be answered by the artists themselves.38 It will come as no surprise that Ekwensi interviewed the two enfants terribles of abstract art (Eze and Emokpae) and their chief antagonist (Enwonwu) for this inquiry, but it is Enwonwu’s response that concerns us as

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he ties together the high price of contemporary art with the core problem he tackled in his Drum magazine article: the negative influence of European Pied Pipers on young Nigerian abstractionists. According to Enwonwu, the “highest price a Nigerian artist should ask for a painting is eighty guineas,” which makes sense to him, given that even he would charge three hundred guineas only for what he considers a masterpiece.39 The problem, as he saw it, had much to do with the lack of standard criteria for art evaluation in Nigeria whose art market is unlike Europe’s advanced one, where the price depended on such reasonable benchmarks as the artist’s reputation, training, age, professional experience, and the labor input of a given work. Apart from the fact that he saw no logical basis for any Nigerian artist—particularly those he considered inexperienced, lazy dilettantes who had found a safe house in abstraction—to compete with him in the art market, Enwonwu was convinced that the rise of abstract art was a consequence of the scandalous state of the unregulated market. As he put it, the absence of even a basic understanding of the business of art forces the artist to be a mere imitator of European artists; “as a result Nigerian art is being dragged into an abstract jungle.”40 These debates, elicited ostensibly by Emokpae’s singular gesture of demanding what his critics considered an inordinate price for a painting by a young artist, further indicated the degree to which Nigerian art had become a multilayered, contested terrain by the mid-Â�1960s. Erhabor Emokpae represented one of its facets in his desire to be unfettered by African artistic traditions, yet he walked along a parallel path of creative self-Â�determination with the Art Society group, whose members were grappling with the consequences of natural synthesis. Both groups, joined by the perception of excessive ambition, had to contend with the opposition of the old guard, represented by Ben Enwonwu and Akinola Lasekan, which was anxious about the displacement and reconfiguration of the normative order by the independence generation. It bears emphasizing that Emokpae’s aesthetic program, more profoundly influenced by then recent modernist work, was similar to that of Okpu Eze, whom Ulli Beier referred to as a Nigerian surrealist, and of Colette Omogbai (b. 1942), the painter from Zaria who also identified herself as a surrealist. In calling Eze a surrealist, Beier seems to have thought of surrealism in terms of the artist’s depiction of unreal and mythological subjects by means of stylized figural and abstract forms. But as Ekwensi astutely observed, Eze’s paintings result from the effort to “capture attitudes, movements, rhythm, dynamism, fleeting moments, unstable designs.”41 Even if the constituent


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elements of his compositions occasionally coalesce into imagery that seems to hover at the horizon of recognizability, as in Graven Image (1963), there is no reason to doubt that his primary interest is in the pictorial tension between order and chaos. Thus, despite his divergence from the compositional certainties of Emokpae’s hard-Â�edge symbolism and from the figurative impulse in Jimo Akolo’s work (see ch. 5, figures 5.28–5.31), the belief in art as underlying the expression of individual autonomy is paramount in Eze’s painting. If the work of Emokpae and Eze pressed hard against either the cult of beauty led by Enwonwu or the art for national culture championed by the Art Society group, Colette Omogbai’s arrival on the Lagos scene added a new, resoundingly feminist dimension to the discourse of modern art in Nigeria. Omogbai’s work and rhetoric is remarkable because of its radical rejection of the status quo and its critique of realistic painting and of the comparison often made by Enwonwu of painting and beauty. Her exhibition at Mbari Ibadan in 1963, when she was a senior student at Zaria, caused a sensation as much for the dramatic power of her imagery as for the clarity of her artistic vision. According to her artist’s statement, she had tried to work in an academic, realistic style while in college but found it so boring that she had to devise a way of “translating nature into strictly personal language to portray mood, intensity, feeling and emotion”42 In rejecting what she called the academic method in her first two years of art training, she opted for a vigorously expressionistic, nearly abstract mode. The result—a muscular style exemplified by Accident (ca. 1963; figure 6.9)— had few linear elements and large areas of thick impasto delivered with the palette knife. The mood here, as in her other paintings, is characteristically dark and somber, like her subject matter, and the paint surface is agitated and intense. While Accident and other paintings, including Agony (ca. 1963; figure 6.10), testify to a preoccupation with the human condition, the figural presence is nevertheless often subordinated to the spatial dynamic of the composition, with passages of dark color punctuated by bright, allusive shapes and highly abstracted forms. The sheer expressiveness of Omogbai’s paintings attracted Ulli Beier’s unconditional support. But the terms of her entrance into the Lagos art circles attracted praise and caution from other critics. Here was a young woman artist, as art critic Babatunde Lawal noted, who had just barely proven her artistic originality by painting in a style that lacked a “feminine touch” even as it brandished a “new plaque of revolutionary art.” According to Lawal, her premature flight into abstraction—without first demonstrating mastery of mimetic representation—threatened to reduce her work to the aristocratic

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Figure 6.9╇ Colette Omogbai, Accident, ca. 1963. Reproduced from Black Orpheus 14 (February 1964): 63. © Colette Omogbai.

opacity of abstraction.43 Omogbai’s painting, Lawal’s criticism suggests, was double trouble; for apart from jettisoning good old narrative realism, it destabilized stereotypes of women’s work. But if such criticism affected Omogbai, it seems to have hardened her resolve to confront her critics’ assumptions about what constitutes feminine art and about the bounds of taste in postindependence Nigerian art. In so doing, she inevitably confronted the wider critique of new work by Enwonwu, Ekwensi, and others. In a 1965 Nigeria magazine essay that reads like a classic manifesto, Omogbai challenged what she called man’s love for the “sweet and senti254


Figure 6.10╇ Colette Omogbai, Anguish, ca. 1963. Image courtesy of Iwalewa-Haus, University of Bayreuth.


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mental” and his parallel fear of and distaste for pictures of great intensity.44 Though she does not directly address a specifically Nigerian spectatorship, speaking of generic “man” instead, there is no question about her target, for she ridicules most, if not all, charges leveled against young artists like herself, Emokpae, Eze, and others who unapologetically dismissed illustrative, pretty, or narratively coherent work: Art to man is not a thing in itself. It is dependent. Paint must be explained in terms of words and in story-Â�telling words too. Man believes in meaning that can be expressed by clear and distinct ideas. He fails to realise the fact that to look for an explicit meaning in art is a fundamental error, based on a complete misunderstanding of the medium.45 Further on, she states that Man frowns at “Modern Art.” It is no use since it has no meaning. It is useless because it is out of keeping with the Old Masters vision. “It is art of the toddlers,” Man dismisses carelessly. . . . “Sit down my child, your eyes have not seen as many days as Abraham.” “Wait till you have stiffened for fifty more harmattans.”46 In these passages, Omogbai, then a twenty-Â�three-Â�year-Â�old Zaria graduate, responded indirectly but nonetheless forcefully to critics of expressive, nonrealistic, visually disturbing work—work generally and erroneously lumped under the rubric of abstraction. Her stance against pretty, mimetic, or narrative imagery, her insistence on the individual artist’s freedom to experiment with new forms, and her right to question received aesthetic traditions must be seen as part of the demand by a young generation of artists for fresh, sophisticated artistic practice, the future of which would be in its hands. That this new work and criticism sympathetic to it were opposed by older artists, along with the fact that it was stridently challenged by some emerging critics, testified to a general anxiety it caused in the Lagos art scene of the mid-Â� 1960s. Omogbai’s essay thus marked the moment when the genie of postcolonial modernism had escaped from the proverbial lamp and taken flight, ready to confront the past and present in its own voice, poised to assert its claims to the driving seat of Nigerian art.

I BEGAN THIS CHAPTER by noting the shift that had occurred in the early 1960s when Lagos displaced Ibadan as the center of discourse in contemporary art and culture. Whereas Black Orpheus was the voice of the Ibadan era,


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Nigeria magazine, a much older general-Â�interest publication, provided critical space for art discussions in 1960s Lagos.47 It bears emphasizing that the rise of Nigerian artists and critics as major players in debates on contemporary Nigerian art coincided with the displacement of expatriates who, for the most part, determined the tone and scope of the discourse in the first years of independence. As we have seen, Ulli Beier, with his circle of expatriate friends Gerald Moore, Denis Williams, and Julian Beinart, contributed most of the art criticism published in Black Orpheus during Beier’s editorship. Nigeria magazine, on the other hand, though also initially dominated by expatriate contributors, expanded its coverage of art criticism and commentary by Nigerians, especially during the editorship era of Michael Crowder (1960– 1962) and, even more so, the Nigerian writer Onuora Nzekwu (b. 1928; editor 1962–1966). Thus we could argue that if Black Orpheus inaugurated the discourse of postcolonial modernism, Nigeria—after its makeover as the cultural magazine of postcolonial Nigeria—provided the space for its Â�elaboration. Until Crowder’s tenure as editor, coverage of contemporary art in Nigeria was rare. But once Crowder took the helm, while simultaneously serving as director of the Lagos Exhibition Centre, he marshaled resources toward support of contemporary art, particularly the work of Zaria graduates. Even so, Nigeria magazine under Crowder, in terms of its contemporary art coverage, was still eclipsed by Black Orpheus. Everything changed with the arrival of Nzekwu, whose inaugural novel, A Wand of Noble Wood (1961), joined the work of Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and other independence generation writers in grappling with the consequences of Euro-Â�African cultural conflict in colonial and postcolonial Africa. From the start of his tenure, besides including a highly influential literary supplement, Nzekwu established a section called “Art Gallery,” a lively space for short art reviews and commentaries that, in addition to the combative letters-Â�to-Â�the-Â�editor section, captured the raw, discursive energy of an emerging field. Moreover, apart from featuring art and artists presented at the Exhibition Centre, the “Art Gallery” covered events at the galleries of amsac, Mbari Ibadan, and Osogbo, thus strengthening the magazine’s position as the leading platform for contemporary art in Nigeria. Looking at the list of post-Â�1962 contributors to the art pages of Nigeria and in the way it changed from expatriate writing to Nigerian voices, one could reasonably say that Nzekwu gave voice to his fellow emerging Nigerian artists, writers, and critics as they defined and occupied the postcolonial modernist mainstream. Put differently, Onuora Nzekwu irrevocably inaugurated Nigerians’ effective control—perhaps even decolonization—of the discourse on their own art and literature.48

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THE ACCOUNT THIS CHAPTER gives of the debates surrounding and the developments in Nigerian art in the first half of the 1960s, though necessarily incomplete, sufficiently maps out the important questions that artists and critics contended with in Lagos in the immediate postindependence period. One major development, signaled by the increasing critical discourse in Nigeria magazine and elsewhere and the founding of the Society of Nigerian Artists, was the simultaneous marginalization of expatriate critics and the emergence of Nigerian critical voices. In a sense, this was precisely what Enwonwu had pushed for since the 1956 Black Writers and Artists Congress at the Sorbonne. Enwonwu’s Drum essay, intended to elicit responses from other Nigerian artists and critics, must be seen as a fresh attempt on his part not so much to suppress emerging artists as to displace entrenched expatriates from the driver’s seat of contemporary Nigerian art criticism. The problem was, of course, that as the Nigerianization of art discourse unfolded, it did not follow the direction he anticipated, due to the emergence of younger voices resolutely loath to accept his leadership and opposed to his vision of modernism. Despite disagreements on stylistic trends and because of increased traffic in artistic practice and debates, the Lagos and Nigerian public took notice of this efflorescence, leading to calls for greater visibility of new and emergent as well as established artists. In fact so popular were such national sentiments that Nzekwu was motivated to publish a historic two-Â�part series, “Our Authors and Performing Artists,” in the first half of 1966.49 But the sudden end of his editorship of Nigeria soon after that series was published also speaks to the critical juncture at which the newly independent Nigerian nation had arrived that same year. For whereas the celebration of the stars of Nigeria’s literary and artistic modernism was an emphatic statement about the dramatic transformation that had occurred within the short period of political sovereignty, Nzekwu’s departure belied the crisis that had engulfed the new nation, following the first military coup of January 1966 and the subsequent civil war of 1967–1970.50 In other words, postcolonial modernism in Nigeria, after riding the euphoric wave of political independence, came of age at the very moment the nation, weakly constituted as it was, began to Â�unravel.


Chapter 7

CRISIS ↜ I N ↜ T HE POSTCOLONY

THIS FINAL CHAPTER focuses on the work of Uche Okeke and Demas Nwoko,

who combined the search for new formal modes to characterize their defining work with reflections on the deteriorating political conditions of the Nigerian nation. In my view, the postindependence political crises, the military intervention in 1966, and the civil war all adversely affected the sense of cultural nationalism that had earlier inspired members of the Art Society and others of that generation in Ibadan and Lagos. In other words, the resurgence of high-�stakes regionalism in the postindependence era left its mark on the art and culture sector, the most obvious case being the rise of Mbari Enugu and the unprecedented political art produced by Okeke and Nwoko between 1965 and 1968. By emphasizing the work of these two artists in this chapter, I do not wish merely to highlight their status as leading artists of their generation of postcolonial modernists; rather, I contend that their work during these years marked a critical moment when postcolonial modernism moved beyond the assertion of artistic autonomy or engagement with


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formal problems to directly confront the pathologies of newly independent Nigeria. Seen through the prism of the critical poetry of their friends Chris Okigbo and Wole Soyinka and by reconnecting the concerns of this generation of modernists to Nigeria’s colonial history and to the early years of its postcolonial experience, this body of work brings the narrative of this book to a fitting conclusion.

End of a Dream

Soon after Nigeria became a parliamentary republic in 1963, it began to experience tremendous stress; its constituent regional polities and ethnic nationalities, riven by inter- and intraparty conflicts, contested for power at the center. Although these tensions were already evident during the late colonial period and had led to the regionalization of the decolonization process, they became more intense after independence with the exit of the common enemy, the British Empire. These political crises brought heightened disillusionment and uncertainty about the national project and created mutual distrust among the major ethnic nationalities and fear of the latter by the minor groups anxious not to be overwhelmed in their own regions. The invariable result was greater assertion of ethnic and religious differences, which in turn catalyzed political contestations that troubled an already weak sense of national unity. Mutual suspicion over tactics and motives among the major ethnic groups and their allied political parties was manifested, to cite a few important examples, in the rejection of national census numbers in 1962/63, the federal government’s declaration of a state of emergency in the western region during the same period, and massive irregularities during the 1964/65 federal and regional elections.1 These crises provided further justification for military coups and political assassinations in January and July 1966, which in turn led to massacres of Igbo civilians in the northern region that September and the civil war of 1967–70.2 Nigeria’s postcolonial predicament had wide-Â�ranging effects on art. For one, the cultural nationalism that had inspired members of the Art Society and their colleagues in Ibadan and Lagos was replaced during the middle and late 1960s by doubt and angst about the role of art and culture in the independent but increasingly distressed nation. Second, anxieties about the fate of project Nigeria led to the failure of the government’s dreams for robust and effective national art and cultural institutions (led by the Nigerian Council for the Advancement of Art and Culture, Lagos (ncaac), and the Lagos


C risis in the Postcolony —

cultural elite (represented by fsah, the Federal Society of Arts and Humanities). Third, whereas the thrill of political independence did not quite motivate many artists to produce work in praise of the new nation, they were quick to anticipate and confront, as this chapter relates, the sobering realities of the unraveling postcolonial body politic.

Mbari Enugu

In 1963 Uche Okeke moved his cultural center, originally established in 1958 in Kafanchan (a northern Nigerian town where his family lived), to Enugu, the capital of the eastern region. That same year, a group of eastern Nigerian artists, writers, and playwrights, motivated by the desire for an effective platform for advancing a specifically regional cultural agenda, formed the Mbari Enugu. They were led in this venture by the Nigerian dramatist John Ekwere (life dates unknown). Within the next two years, this new alliance made possible unprecedented, dynamic creative interaction between a community of contemporary dramatists, musical performers, visual artists, writers, and critics from eastern Nigeria (figures 7.1–7.3).3 Though conceived as a laboratory for ambitious and experimental art, music, theater, and literature, the government expected Mbari to catalyze a renaissance in the region’s contemporary arts and culture. As it turned out, the expectation that Mbari Enugu would spur the development of the region’s culture and arts became urgent when the eastern region, as the Republic of Biafra, seceded from Nigeria in May 1967. Many Mbari artists, writers, and dramatists, together with their counterparts returning from other parts of Nigeria, joined the Arts Section of the Biafran Directorate of Propaganda and took part in cultural workshops directed by the Nigerian poet and novelist Gabriel Okara (b. 1921). The Arts Section was led by Uche Okeke, who was assisted by Ogbonnaya Nwagbara, Okeke’s former Art Society colleague. At this point the goals of postcolonial modernism in (eastern) Nigeria changed from inventing an aesthetic ideology informed by the experience of political sovereignty to supporting the young republic. While a full account of art in Biafra, particularly the work of artists and writers in the cultural workshops, must await a systematic study, the Â�remarkable transformation of the work of modernism in eastern Nigeria is strikingly reminiscent of the drastic paradigm change in Euro-Â�American avant-Â�garde art inaugurated—as the art historian Benjamin Buchloh has argued—by the Russian constructivists in the early years of the Russian Revolution.4

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Figure 7.1╇ Uche Okeke (seated right) and Lawrence Emeka (center), Mbari Enugu. Photo, courtesy Uche Okeke / Asele Institute, Nimo.

Figure 7.2╇ Scene from the Eastern Nigeria Theatre Group production of Andre Obe’s Noah, showing set and costumes designed by Uche Okeke, 1963. Photo, courtesy Uche Okeke / Asele Institute, Nimo.

Figure 7.3╇ Visitors at the opening of exhibition of work by Oseloka Osadebe (second from right) at Mbari Enugu, ca. 1964. Photo, courtesy Uche Okeke / Asele Institute, Nimo.


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Although Mbari Enugu was a logical outcome of the inaugural gesture at Ibadan by a new generation of artists and writers committed to developing artistic and literary modernism within the context of sovereign Nigeria and Africa, I must emphasize that Mbari Enugu is also important to the narrative of this book precisely because its existence was also symptomatic of the end of the euphoria of national independence. Whereas political independence and its implied freedoms inspired the Art Society, Mbari Ibadan, and the consolidating Lagos art world to search for and debate the meaning and relevance of national art and culture, ensuing crises in the body politic by the mid-Â�1960s stifled the nationalist thrust of developments in art, as the result of growing doubts about the viability of a unified Nigeria. Reflecting on the general trend across the West African region, the poet and critic Peter Thomas put it this way: hard on the heels of the initial euphoria of liberation from the white man’s rule has come, first, disillusionment with new black masters acting like white men in disguise (or worse), and then bloody massacres or a series of coups that leave the country more ravaged, weary, and sick at heart than it was before.5 Mbari Enugu also casts in higher relief the precariousness of the national imaginary that was only halfheartedly invoked in the struggle for political independence and was then almost immediately pushed to the sidelines of postindependence Nigerian political and cultural practice. As we have seen, political engagement by many Nigerian modernists, from Ben Enwonwu to the Art Society, often involved a critique of colonial ideology’s disastrous impact on the subjectivity of the colonized rather than depiction of ostensibly political themes in support of overarching national myths. The events of the mid-Â�1960s drastically changed the subject matter of modern Nigeria art: it became stridently critical of the sociopolitical life of the postcolonial state.

Art Prophesying War: The Work of Uche Okeke and Demas Nwoko in the Late 1960s Fanfare of drums, wooden bells: iron chapter And our dividing airs are gathered home. —Christopher Okigbo, from “Thunder Can Break”

I begin this last section of the book with two opening lines of “Thunder Can Break,” the first poem in Christopher Okigbo’s collection Path of Thunder. I do so not just to acknowledge this poet’s remarkable lyric power but

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precisely because these lines telegraphically capture, as only poetry can, the fragmentation of the postcolony. Okigbo was a founding member of Mbari Ibadan, and with Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe was an exemplar of the generation of writers who, like their counterparts in the visual arts, engaged in debates about form and content in postcolonial literary modernism. As the literary scholar Obi Nwakanma has noted, the sense of boundless freedom symbolized by political independence inspired the formal experiments and thematic focus of Okigbo’s inaugural collection, Heavensgate, completed in 1961.6 But the political upheavals that began in western Nigeria around 1963 turned Okigbo (who sympathized with the travails of the opposition party leader Obafemi Awolowo) and other Nigerian writers from “mandarins to militants,” in the words of the critic Ben Obumselu.7 Scholars have quarreled over meaning in Okigbo’s famously cryptic poems, with their allusions to dizzyingly diverse European, Asian, and African traditions and their eclectic borrowings from classical and contemporary poets, but there is no denying that his Path of Thunder poems, written in 1965 and 1966, are compelling works of prophetic vision. In them we simultaneously encounter the journey of a poet toward resolution of an inner personal journey through the sheer symbolic power of the word and confront a terrifying prophesy of a nation sliding into chaos, horrific ethnic cleansing, and war. Okigbo, as the literary scholar Dubem Okafor rightly noted, “is able to bring together, for compressed poetic treatment, the strands that constitute the messy conjuncture that was postindependence Nigeria and Africa.”8 Two memorable lines from the poem “Come Thunder” capture this: The arrows of God tremble at the gates of light The drums of curfew pander to a dance of death.9 If Okigbo’s Path of Thunder prophesied or at least anticipated the cataleptic trauma suffered by a nation at the brink of civil war, Wole Soyinka dissected and analyzed the political crises as they unfolded in his own poetry and prose. In the suite of poems “October ’66,” written in the wake of the first military coup (January 1966) and the July countercoup that precipitated the mass killing of eastern Nigerians living in the north, Soyinka chronicled or, rather, reflected upon the violence perpetrated on his fellow citizens in haunting lines. The events of 1966, as his poems seem to affirm, dramatically closed off any residual hope of salvaging the body politic buffeted by the harsh realities of its postcolonial condition. The desolation of the cosmic and natural realms invoked, for instance, by the first stanza of Soyinka’s “Harvest of Hate” is total, yet it powerfully conveys a sense of failure and utter disruption of sociopolitical normative order:


C risis in the Postcolony —

So now the sun moves to die at mid-Â�morning And laughter wilts on the lips of wine The fronds of palm are savaged to a bristle And rashes break on kernelled oil.10 What do these dark poems have to do with the work of Uche Okeke and Demas Nwoko? I want to suggest that there is a remarkable correspondence between the prophetic and analytical tenor of Christopher Okigbo’s and Wole Soyinka’s mid-Â�1960s poetry and Uche Okeke’s and Demas Nwoko’s work of the same period.11 Not only were they friends and colleagues at Mbari Ibadan, but they all participated in the debate earlier in the decade for an appropriate language of postcolonial literature and art. They also shared the devastating experience of bearing witness to the crumbling of the sovereign, imagined community, the making of which, just a few years earlier, had inspired their formal experiments and conceptual concerns. Like many among their generation in Nigeria and around the continent, they were soon convinced that the task of the postcolonial modernist artist or writer lay not only in developing a new visual or formal language but also, often as a next step, in deploying this new form to the critical examination of the postcolonial condition. Let us then look closely at the works of Okeke and Nwoko and specifically consider how each of them constituted a prophetic statement and critical commentary about the crises of the late 1960s in the Nigerian postcolony. In doing this cross-Â�disciplinary comparative analysis, I do not wish to reprise a cultural studies critique of the cult of medium specificity associated with mainstream Western modernism; rather, my point is to acknowledge their shared artistic visions and emphasize the intellectual context—Â� emblematized by the Mbari Club—from which their work emerged. The purpose is also to insist on and return to the idea that runs through this book: that the work of Okeke and Nwoko was part of a postcolonial discourse with which the political, intellectual, and cultural elite was engaged during the first decade of Nigeria’s independence. As we saw in chapter 5, Uche Okeke’s most important work in the first years after Zaria was his Uli-Â�inspired drawings on paper. In 1965, however, he made a bold move; or rather, he returned with unprecedented vigor and confidence to painting after internalizing and going beyond the formal lessons of Uli design and forms. What is different, apart from their distinctive style, is the scale of Okeke’s new paintings. Given the furor that Erhabor Emokpae’s large-Â�scale works caused in Lagos and Jimo Akolo’s equally large paintings caused in London, Okeke’s new works might have reflected his ambition for grand pictorial statements that would further secure his posi-

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Figure 7.4╇ Uche Okeke, Crucifixion, gouache on paper, 1962. Artist’s collection. Photo, Obiora Udechukwu. © Uche Okeke.

tion as a major painter of his generation. Such modestly scaled gouaches as Crucifixion and Primeval Forest (1962; figures 7.4 and 7.5), and drawings of the previous years, it seems, were no longer stylistically adequate, their format too modest to convey the big ideas underlying the new work. The 1965 paintings are thus remarkable in terms of both their formal ambition and their layered, indirect, yet compellingly strong political content. In several of them, moreover, there is a dissipation of the earlier anxiety about the cultural identity of his painting style; rather than continue to invoke the lyrical poetry of Uli line, the newer canvases reveal short, nervous strokes, heavily worked surfaces, and awkwardly drawn figures. All these elements are manifest in the paintings as signs of the disorder lurking on the sociopolitical horizon. Although in some of Okeke’s 1965 oil paintings, such as Nativity and Adam and Eve (figures 7.6 and 7.7), he returned to these recurrent Christian themes—the moment of expulsion of the primordial couple from Eden and the beginning of the Christian redemption story—the more compelling works deal ostensibly with Igbo mythology and metaphysics, as well as with real and fictional Igbo sociopolitical history. Oyoyo, a major work of the period, is easily the most significant of Okeke’s metaphysical paintings (figure 7.8). Already in 1963, while still in Germany, he had been contem-

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Figure 7.5╇ Uche Okeke, Primeval Forest, gouache on paper, 1962. Photo, ArtHouse Contemporary Ltd., Lagos. © Uche Okeke.


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Figure 7.6╇ Uche Okeke, Nativity, oil on board, 1965. Artist’s collection. Photo, the author. © Uche Okeke.

plating Igbo metaphysics and the possibility of using it as a source for deep meditative works of art. Writing to Nwoko, he stated that he had “gone a lot more metaphysical. . . . I have worked on the theme of Oyoyo and I think there is rich material for drama of “‘life unborn.’”12 Oyoyo (also called ogbanje in Igbo and abiku in Yoruba) refers to certain children who die prematurely only to return to the same mothers several times because their ties to the world of the unborn—bonds normally severed at birth—remain willfully unbroken.13 The prevalence of and enduring belief in the ogbanje phenomenon, despite the spread of Christianity and Islam, is attested to by its representation in modern literature, theater, and art, the best-known ogbanje character being, perhaps, Okonkwo’s daughter Ezinma in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.14 In turning to such subject matter, therefore, Okeke, like many of his contemporaries, contemplated an aspect of indigenous cultures at odds with the Christian as well as the modern secular worldview. Oyoyo, in a way, marks his return to the persistent question of cultural conflict in societies that, as a result of the colonial encounter, had come under the hegemony of Christian Europe and its cultures.15 In this painting, several awkwardly drawn and deformed figures cower behind towering, ancient trees in the deep shadows of the forest, their atten-


Figure 7.7╇ Uche Okeke, Adam and Eve, oil on board, 1965. Artist’s collection. Photo, the author. © Uche Okeke.


Figure 7.8╇ Uche Okeke, Oyoyo, oil on board, 1965. Artist’s collection. Photo, the author. © Uche Okeke.


C risis in the Postcolony —

tion focused on the ogbanje figure rendered in brilliant yellow, with her back turned to the viewer as though she stands at the threshold of the worlds of the living and the dead.16 Except for the figure squatting in the foreground with its hands covering its face, the others gaze with curiosity at the ogbanje. The preternatural light of this nocturnal scene, along with the fawning, spectral figures, conveys a feeling of tragic, inexorable metaphysical drama that the viewer—standing in for the distraught and powerless family of the ogbanje— is condemned to watch. This onerous burden, it seems to me, is the key to the covert meaning of this work. While Okeke did not explicitly make this connection, it seems—here I rely on the salience of the theory of intentional fallacy—given the other works he was making at this time, that Oyoyo might in fact also be about Nigeria. I am thinking here of the newly born nation that had suddenly developed signs of sickness and, by 1965, could either miraculously turn around toward the living or simply continue on its death-Â�bound journey, lured by bewildering powerful forces, just like the ogbanje figure in Oyoyo. The yellow figure in the foreground is, to put it differently, poised at the threshold of being, simultaneously pulled by incommensurate opposing forces of coherence and disintegration, of life and death. This idea of (the nation as) the born-Â�to-Â�die figure implicated in multiple cycles of hope and despair resonates with the last sequence of “Elegy for Alto,” Okigbo’s final poem in Path of Thunder, written just about the time Okeke painted Oyoyo: An old star departs, leaves us here on the shore Gazing heavenward for a new star approaching; The new star appears, foreshadows its going Before a going and coming that goes on forever. . . .17 To be sure, the literary scholar Mounira Soliman has argued that the ogbanje phenomenon has been deployed by West African writers—who mine its implied concept of reincarnation and its antagonism of existential orders— to “project different socio-Â�political agendas at different times in the history of their countries.”18 In Ben Okri’s The Famished Road (1991), Ade, a friend of Azaro, the ogbanje and central character in the novel, likened fictional Nigeria to the ogbanje/abiku, which, “Like the spirit child, keeps coming and going. One day it will decide to remain. It will become strong.”19 But where Soliman locates the political ideology of Wole Soyinka’s abiku in the tension between collectivity or the tradition of the family (representing the body politic) and individualism or the self-Â�determination of the abiku, Okeke’s ogbanje is the nation itself that must decide either to return to the sensate world of

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familial love or go to the chaotic “death” realm of discarnate, troubled, yet alluring spirits. It is this abiku, this nation, that Okri sought to rehabilitate or reimagine in The Famished Road as Azaro who, having refused to return to the land of the dead as his friend Ade did, chose life. Okri, so to speak, recomposed the ogbanje in Okeke’s Oyoyo by turning her back to face her family and the worldly desires, passions, and troubles that come with that decision. Thus, where Okeke’s is a dark vision of Nigeria of the 1960s teetering on the precipice, Okri’s ex-Â�post-Â�facto perspective on that period at least allowed the ogbanje/abiku/nation a chance to embark on an arduous journey of self-Â� rehabilitation. Where Okeke projects a coming despair, Okri dreams the possibilities of hope for a nation haunted by its past and present realities. These are alternative visions of 1960s Nigeria. While Oyoyo constitutes a metaphysical statement on the status of the nation in the mid-Â�1960s, Okeke’s paintings Conflict (After Achebe) and Aba Revolt (Women’s War) engage fictional and documented historical archives as if to suggest that they hold the key to the political destiny of (eastern) Nigeria. Painted with a palette of somber earth colors, Conflict depicts the scene in Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart (1958) in which powerful Egwugwu masks and their attendants converge on the Umuofia village church, as the mortified Reverend Smith and his interpreter stand between the surging crowd and the soon-Â�to-Â�be-Â�destroyed church (figure 7.9). The confrontation ostensibly began when the Christian zealot, Enoch, unmasked one of the Egwugwu. Enoch’s crime, the symbolic murder of an ancestral spirit, was considered a great abomination among the Igbo. Within the narrative context of the novel, however, it was also a signal act of violence perpetrated by a convert to the new alien religion. Beyond that, it marked for the fictional Igbo community the beginning of an impending cultural and political disaster that was sure to follow the incursion of Christianity and colonial control. In deciding to raze the church moments after the brief confrontation depicted in Okeke’s painting, the gathered Egwugwu and Umuofia elders hoped that this culturally sanctioned act of counterviolence would make whole the desecrated land and restore social order in the town. Still, their hopes came to naught. In response to the act of violence, the British district commissioner, following the familiar text of imperial action, arrested Umuofia’s elders and imposed a heavy fine on the community, thereby forcibly pacifying the town, just as the empire did to other African societies in the early days of colonialism.20 Â� Although Conflict is based on a work of fiction, it invokes a moment in imagined history in which heroic action achieved immediate but temporary


Figure 7.9╇ Uche Okeke, Conflict (After Achebe), oil on board, 1965. Photo, the author. © Uche Okeke.

resolution. That moment would soon be followed by a more devastating display of even greater violence by the invading alien culture and regime. Although Okeke had already represented this subject in an Uli-Â�inspired drawing published in the 1962 African Writers Series edition of Things Fall Apart, his ambitious return in 1965 to this particular moment of conflict in the novel, by way of his 1965 painting, is significant.21 One way to make sense of this choice is to suppose that although the people of Umuofia lost the war with the colonizers, the one raging instance during which the community demonstrated its refusal to surrender its freedom without a fight presented to Okeke a model of collective action for a society whose survival is threatened by overwhelming outside forces. In that climactic episode, the people of Umuofia courageously provide a firm answer to the haunting question that Okigbo asked in the fifth section of his “Lament of the Silent Sisters”:


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“And how does one say no in thunder?”22 In painting this subject, therefore, Okeke memorializes that singular imaginary act of popular resistance and returns it, if only symbolically, to the oral history of the Igbo people, whose complex sociopolitical organization and practices Achebe had reconstructed through the fictive narrative of Things Fall Apart. But if Okeke’s Conflict was based on a work of fiction, Aba Revolt (Women’s War; 1965) reimagines an actual historical event; namely, the revolutionary action in 1929 by women in eastern Nigeria against the colonial regime (figure 7.10). When Okeke conceived his picture, contemporary political developments had all but eclipsed the momentousness of the Women’s War, yet the event nevertheless had become a popular episode in modern Igbo folklore. Described in colonial literature as the Aba Riots, as if to reinforce the false stereotype of Africans as unruly, the phrase was also likely to elide the fact that the first major organized challenge to the well-Â�established southern Nigerian colonial regime was conceived and promulgated by women. Such a mass revolt nevertheless spoke to the uniqueness of Igbo society, particularly the power wielded by Igbo women, at least until the institution of a modern patriarchal society.23 Okeke’s pictorial account is in fact an exercise in visual mythopoesis, which is made obvious by the depiction of the leader of the women in the left foreground as Nwanyi Mgbolod’ala, a legendary Igbo Amazon remembered for her powerful, gigantic breasts. This conflation of characters not only connects modern Igbo political history to a deep past, it also amplifies and elevates the action of the leader of the Women’s War to the status of myth.24 That is to say, Okeke extends the significance of that event beyond its temporal specificity and instead proposes it as a model of ethical and radical action for all time. To be sure, the scene depicted in Conflict presents the Women’s War of 1929 as a heroic, even if ultimately unsuccessful, last-Â�ditch refusal by Igbo women—recalling the Egwugwu-Â�led confrontation by the Umuofia people—to hand over their destinies to the “invading” Europeans without a fight. In this sense, these pictures, seen against the background of heady regional politics of the 1960s, come across as subtle yet powerful enunciations of Igbo nationalism that, a few years later, would catalyze the Biafran secession from Nigeria.25 Compositionally, the monumental figures of the protesting women occupy a shallow pictorial space, effectively conveying a sense of impending, even if briefly frozen, violent action. Their spiked hair, contorted expressions, and powerfully deformed bodies and the missile-Â�shaped left arm of the women’s leader (to the left), combined with the crude, expressionist brushwork and the accents of flaming red paint all over the picture, coalesce in a disturbing and compelling image. Okeke’s intention, it seems quite obvious,


Figure 7.10╇ Uche Okeke, Aba Revolt (Women’s War), oil on board, 1965. Artist’s collection. Photo, the author. © Uche Okeke.


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was not to create a pretty picture; rather, the energy evoked by the facture and style of the painting comes close to articulating the dangerous powers unleashed by the irate women. The deployment of naked women’s bodies in this work complicates, though it does not refute, any claims one might make for it as a history painting. While ethnographically plausible, given that Igbo women routinely wore only waist wrappers in the early twentieth century, Okeke more crucially invoked a powerful imagery that may not have been mobilized in the Women’s War of 1929 but which is well known in many African cultures as a sublime biopolitical weapon: the naked woman’s body.26 Generally described as the curse of nakedness, the grave flaunting of especially postmenopausal naked bodies is considered by the Igbo the ultimate means of seeking justice, particularly when the community’s well-Â�being is threatened by the nefarious action of (usually male) individuals or corporate entities. The logic seems to be that such demonstrations remind everyone of the connection between the procreative power of the woman’s body and the survival of human populations; between the autohumiliated, exposed body and the rupturing of cosmic order, which can result in death or madness for the victim of the curse. Clearly then, Okeke’s painting links the Women’s War, perhaps even argues that its effectiveness must be connected, to the curse of nakedness, which remains today one of the rarest, most dreaded expressions of collective outrage by African women on behalf of their communities. It is tempting, moreover, to think that Okeke used the performance of the aggressive and violent Mgbedike-Â�type masquerade, traditionally owned by warrior-Â�grade men in the north-Â�central Igbo area (or even the more terrifying and ritually potent Egwugwu), as a visual model for this painting. The large beastly masks, fortified with powerful charms and often wielding weapons that could be used against rivals or irreverent spectators—as memorably presented in Herbert M. Cole’s documentary video Beauty and the Beast—Â�embody the untamable power of wild spirits and animals.27 In their study of Igbo masks, Herbert Cole and Chike Aniakor have noted that these masks, “as personifications of strength, bravery, and virility, project the ideals of middle-Â�age men in a theatrical context.”28 But let us emphasize that the aggressive power projected by the Mgbedike-Â�type masks in this painting is equally a theatrical surrogate for the crucial work of the age-Â�grade associations that owned such masks in the past, which is primarily to wage war and protect the community. Thus the symbolic, visual, and dramatic gestures associated with the mask are supreme displays, a kind of dramaturgical memorialization of a community’s confidence in its warrior grades


C risis in the Postcolony —

long after it has lost its sovereignty to the modern nation-Â�state and well after such indigenous military institutions transformed into social clubs known for their masked displays and community development projects. It is in these masking and similar dance events that we can find the Igbo performative iconography of war, and it is to them, it seems to me, that Okeke sourced the dramatic tenor—achieved through the bulky figuration, the intimidating gesture of raised arms, and the surge of closely packed figures toward the picture plane—of Aba Revolt (Women’s War). In conflating the curse of nakedness associated with the biopolitics of women’s bodies and the aggressive violence of male masks, therefore, Okeke invokes two powerful resources available in the Igbo world for administration of justice and defense of the community against oppressive alien forces. Seen in this light, the figures of Egwugwu in Conflict and half-Â�naked women in Aba Revolt are one and the same: embodied terrifying power deployed for the defense of a community whose very sovereignty is under attack. Combined with the anxiety signified by the artist’s expressive figural mode and painting style, the subject matter of Aba Revolt and Conflict testify to a troubled colonial past and insinuate the gathering crisis in the postcolony. A similar stylistic transformation such as the one that occurred in Okeke’s paintings in 1965 played out in Nwoko’s work in 1967 and 1968, at the onset of the civil war. Unlike most Igbo who fled the western and northern regions to go back to their homelands in the east, Nwoko, a staunch believer in the Nigerian national imaginary, remained in Ibadan, the central city of the western region, throughout the war.29 Remarkably, he produced several key works during this period, in addition to commencing work on his first and best-Â�known architectural projects: the design and construction of the New Culture Studios and the Benedictine monastery in Ibadan.30 For instance, in the wake of the coups and pogroms of 1966 and the initial hostilities of the civil war, Nwoko in his painting and sculpture pushed even further his penchant for figural caricature, which in fact revealed an attitude that, on closer reading, constituted a form of critical commentary on contemporary politics. On Nwoko’s use of the disfigured or caricatured form as a formal device, note that whereas his late Zaria work suggests a dark comedic view of political (Nigeria in 1959) or genre/personal subject matter (Bathing Women; see ch. 3, figures 3.15 and 3.17), the Paris paintings project a parodic vision of the city’s residents and the biblical primordial couple (illustrated in ch. 5), and in the late 1960s work, his figuration, characterized by greater deformation, implies an indictment of humanity’s tragic imperfections, which had brought on the catastrophic crisis into which the Nigerian nation was plunged.

27 7


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Although Nwoko’s work covered a wide range of subjects, his crisis paintings of 1967—his last significant pictures before he turned his full attention to architecture and furniture design—are remarkably unified by an unprecedented preponderance of red and yellow cadmiums in his palette. It is as if he wished to emphatically assert the relationship between his palette, the subject matter of his painting, and the bloodletting of the pogroms and conflagrations of civil war. This is most evident in two paintings from 1967, Crisis and Hunter in a War Scene. It is not important, it seems to me, whether or not these pictures were painted after the first shots of the war were fired in May of that year, for there is no significant difference, in terms of the traumatic effect on noncombatants—women and children—between the spectacular violence of the civilian massacres of 1966 and the equally vicious tactics employed by soldiers on both sides of the hostilities. What is crucial to understanding Nwoko’s critical enterprise, as these works attest, is that he also makes the connection between the intervention of the military in Nigerian politics, the devastation of the population, and the fraying of the fragile bonds of nationhood. Crisis shows several terror-Â�stricken, half-Â�naked, wide-Â�eyed women and children fleeing a scene of horror, the sources of their panic somewhere beyond the picture plane (figure 7.11). A few of the women support their drooping breasts—reminiscent of Okeke’s warring women—with their hands, in an enigmatic gesture that must symbolize their state of frightening emergency. Nevertheless, Nwoko seems concerned with the human condition in a general sense rather than committed to depicting particular histories or accounts of the Nigerian crisis. He achieves this by presenting a mise-Â�en-Â�scène of stereotypical victimhood—frightened, non–ethnically located women and children in an unidentifiable non-place, like actors on a bare stage. It is not so much that he is unwilling to identify the scene of the crisis, which would help identify the victim and the villain, the aggressor and the aggressed; rather, he seems concerned less with taking sides in the unfolding Nigerian crisis than with identifying with the helpless recipients of violence wherever the crisis plays out across the regional borders. This same tendency to draw on the experience of the civil war to make a universal comment on the horrors of armed conflict is evident in Hunter in a War Scene, in which a thin, naked man sits in an arid red field, his hunting gun by his side, as he contemplates the horror all around him (figure 7.12). Scattered within the picture plane are flat, floating anthropomorphic shapes representing dead people and iconic notations of desiccated vegetation and a network of thorns. But what is the painting about? What does a hunter have


Figure 7.11╇ Demas Nwoko, Crisis, oil on board, 1967. Artist’s collection. Photo, the author. © Demas Nwoko.

to do with war and the killing of men rather than wild animals? According to Nwoko, the painting was inspired by a scene he observed at Nsukka, the first major theater of the Biafran War. Against the better-Â�equipped national army, the ragtag Biafran troops, armed with Dane guns and machetes, were decimated; a lone surviving fighter was found among the dead, dazed by the imponderable carnage he had just witnessed. But while the painting may be a putative record of an observed postbattle scene, it reveals something of Nwoko’s estimation of Biafra, faced as it was by a superior national army backed by global powers, as an impossible idea that could only invite the desolation of the breakaway republic. Moreover, the futility of a war of independence executed by civilian conscripts against a more powerful professional army, along with the national army’s savage tactics, made the senselessness of war itself all the more apparent, as this work suggests. Here we are reminded of the surreal encounter, suffused with potential violence, in the last stanza of Wole Soyinka’s poem “Civilian and Soldier”: I hope some day Intent upon my trade of living, to be checked In stride by your apparition in a trench, Signalling, I am a soldier. No hesitation then But I will shoot you clean and fair With meat and bread, a gourd of wine A bunch of breasts from either arm, and that


Chapter 7 — 280

Figure 7.12╇ Demas Nwoko, Hunter in a War Scene, oil on board, 1967. Artist’s collection. Photo, the author. © Demas Nwoko.

Lone question—do you friend, even now, know What it is all about?31 Nwoko bears witness to deadly confrontation, both real and imaginary, of civilians and soldiers in a senseless war, yet despite (or perhaps given) his unwavering commitment to the dream of an undivided nation, the figure of the soldier simultaneously fascinated and repulsed him. It is fascinating because the nation’s unity depended on the federal army’s military campaign and repulsive because the political imperative of unifying the disintegrating nation could not justify the heavy civilian casualties suffered by the breakaway region(s). This view of the soldier and the Nigerian civil war as both necessary and abhorrent can be deduced from his sense of nationalism and his depiction of the soldier as a dark figure, a character who irrevocably changed the course of history in postcolonial Nigeria. At the beginning of the war, Nwoko made the acquaintance of what he would later describe as a friendly Biafran soldier in the vicinity of the Enugu front. From the sketches he made of this soldier Nwoko developed the two paintings Combatant I and Combatant II (1967), as well as the 1968 terra-Â� cotta figure Soldier (Soja).32 While these works may have been a response to an encounter with the particular soldier in Nwoko’s anecdotal account, the


Figure 7.13╇ Demas Nwoko, Combatant I, oil on board, 1967. Artist’s collection. Photo, the author. © Demas Nwoko.

images more crucially are not so much individual portraits as commentaries on the soldier as a monstrous figure whose forced intervention in the body politic has spelled disaster for independent Nigeria. Rather than humanize the benevolent Enugu soldier, as we might expect, Nwoko’s images come across as portraits of primal power indexed by the combatant’s tools of war. In both paintings the soldier is in full combat gear—helmet, automatic rifle, shoulder-Â�strapped bullet belt, and forest-Â�green uniform—but whereas the head of the figure in Combatant II is shown as inside the helmet, as one should expect, in Combatant I both are completely and structurally fused, resulting in a much more terrifying, sinister head (figures 7.13 and 7.14). We are thus compelled to view these two paintings as testifying to Nwoko’s conviction that the military campaigns effectively transformed the martial class from human beings who could have used controlled coercive violence to set


C risis in the Postcolony —

aright the fragmenting body politic to irredeemable death merchants whose presence in the political sphere was antithetical to any hope for progress in the postcolony. This is precisely how I read the terra-Â�cotta Soldier (Soja) (figures 7.15 and 7.16). With its hydrocephalic head, its brutally disarticulated, almost withering body, and its rough surface texture, Soldier has a much more disconcerting aura than any other of Nwoko’s works. Moreover, by archaizing the soldier’s military paraphernalia—the sophisticated modern firearm suggested in the Combatant paintings is reduced to a crude, clublike weapon, and the bullet belt is transformed into an elaborate necklace—Nwoko returns us, if tenuously, to his Nok-Â�inspired formal style. Soldier and the other 1968 terra-Â� cotta sculptures reveal the extent to which Nwoko had moved from what now seems like classically restrained formalism in the 1965 terra-Â�cotta series to a more baroque figuration. In the structurally complex Enuani Dancers (figure 7.17), in which a male and female pair engages in an erotic dance reminiscent of the energetic and acrobatic movements of traditional western Igbo dancers, the male dancer’s serpentine pose reveals a new confidence in Nwoko’s ability to work clay into technically challenging, dynamic forms. This dramatic formalism, absent in the earlier terra-Â�cotta, is equally present in the Dancing Couple (Owambe), which shows two figures with neckless heads, ornate nostrils, and huge grill-Â�like teeth locked in a sensuous, crushing embrace (figure 7.18). The wide, rectangular body of the male and the contrasting reduction of the female’s body to two massive bulbous forms that could be either buttocks or breasts, along with the three awkwardly displaced hands, heighten the surrealistic quality of the work. These two pairs of sculptures emphatically assert the emergence of a formal style that dramatically combines the expressive and surrealistic traits in Nwoko’s work since the late 1950s with his now sublimated Nok sculptural style. And this—in addition to its particular connection to the transformative political crises of the late 1960s—is precisely what makes Soldier a watershed piece of comparable significance to Nwoko’s earlier painting, Nigeria in 1959. There are in fact two important points to be made, on the one hand, about the relationship between Soldier and Nigeria in 1959 and, on the other, about the transformations in Nigerian politics during the independence decade in relation to the postcolonial modernism detailed in this book. First, in presenting the soldier as a symbol of the emergence of the military as key players in post–coup d’état Nigerian politics, Soldier memorialized (perhaps even figured) Nwoko’s mourning of the crushing end of the years of independence. If Nigeria in 1959 is about the dawn of independence and concomitant anx-

Figure 7.14╇ Demas Nwoko, Combatant II, oil on board, 1967. Artist’s collection. Photo, the author. © Demas Nwoko.

283


Figure 7.16╇ Demas Nwoko, Soldier (Soja), side view, terra-Â�cotta, 1968. Artist’s collection. Photo, Demas Nwoko. © Demas Nwoko.

ious optimism about the dividends of sovereignty, Soldier marks the crumbling of the progressive, if already fragile, national imaginaries that funded cultural and political work of the early 1960s and the inaugural terrors of the postcolony presided over by the military. Second, these two works are important signposts in Nwoko’s and Nigeria’s postcolonial modernism. If, as chapter 3 contended, the visual rhetoric of Nigeria in 1959 is deeply inflected by the young artist’s encounter with the work of the early twentieth-Â�century European avant-Â�garde, Soldier emerges from a stylistic detour—catalyzed by the theory of natural synthesis—that is characterized by appropriation and sublimation of the formal protocols of ancient Nok sculpture, a critical process at the core of what Nwoko and his colleagues anticipated from successful cultural decolonization.

Figure 7.15╇ Demas Nwoko, Soldier (Soja), front view, terra-Â�cotta, 1968. Artist’s collection. Photo, Demas Nwoko. © Demas Nwoko.

285


Figure 7.17╇ Demas Nwoko, Enuani Dancers, terra-Â�cotta, 1968. Artist’s collection. Photo, the author. © Demas Nwoko.

Conclusion

As this, the final chapter makes plain, Uche Okeke and Demas Nwoko’s work in the late 1960s raised the stakes and expanded the meaning of the political in postcolonial modernism. In other words, whereas political engagement by their generation of artists had previously revolved around claiming freedom for self-Â�narration and developing a postcolonial artistic language, it now included prognostications on and critical analyses of the distressed body politic. While this latter task had been taken up earlier by a few contemporary dramatists and writers—here Hubert Ogunde’s Bread and Bullet (1949) and Yoruba Ronu (1964)33 and Wole Soyinka’s Dance of the Forests come to mind—

286


Figure 7.18╇ Demas Nwoko, Dancing Couple (Owambe), terra-Â�cotta, 1968. Artist’s collection. Photo, the author. © Demas Nwoko.


Chapter 7 — 288

Nwoko and Okeke heralded a new visual politics that simultaneously marked the full immersion of modern Nigerian art in the unruly politics of the postcolony. This body of work, to be sure, emphatically fulfills the objective of the Art Society a decade before, which is the participation of the Nigerian artist in articulating the symbolic production of the postcolonial self in all its complexities and contradictions; and, as Aina Onabolu did decades before, Nwoko and Okeke boldly asserted in these late-Â�1960s paintings and sculptures, with greater vigor, the right to decide the language and tone of their own critical self-Â�assertion. There is no doubt, though, that the apparent reformulation by Okeke and Nwoko of the role of art in the postcolonial state raises a fundamental question about the very nature and meaning of postcolonial modernism. Here is the problem; if, as I argue throughout this book, postcolonial modernism was an argument for self-Â�making in the context of the decolonizing nation, might we say that once the relationship between the artist and the postcolonial state changes, as indexed in Okeke’s and Nwoko’s work described in this chapter, does it still make sense to lump this new work with the work preceding it? I propose that by becoming critical of the affairs of the postcolony soon after willing it into existence, Okeke and Nwoko expanded the work of postcolonial modernism and thus realized the full implication of mbari, the name (cf. chapter 4) Achebe gave the collective of writers, artists, dramatists, and critics established in Ibadan in 1961. The Igbo mbari thus provides a fitting conceptual model for postcolonial modernism in all its varied stylistic and thematic manifestations. But how can this be? Let us note that although the Igbo mbari was a monument to Ala and other deities and a celebration of a community’s achievements, it included, as Chinua Achebe has noted, “all significant encounters which man has in his journey through life, especially new, unaccustomed, and thus potentially threatening encounters.”34 In other words, in celebrating the gods and the human society, the mbari artists featured magnificent portraits of the gods and heroes and symbols of progress but also figures of disruptive forces— terrifying diseases, colonial forces, abominable characters—that must be confronted, neutralized, or appeased as part of the ritual of social renewal. The artists engaged in sheer display of artistic skill and vision, visualized the aspirations of the imagined community, and flagged moments, sites, and agents of social disorder. This sense that mbari artists conceived of their work as celebration and critique but also as a platform for expression of individual desires and collective imaginaries suggests a productive way of thinking of the relationship between the postcolonial modernist and the nation.


C risis in the Postcolony —

Whether it is the exploration of new and exciting visual language or the depiction of folklore and mythological subjects, genre themes and allegories of sociopolitical fragmentation, or commentary on colonial power relations and critique of postcolonial violence and dysfunction, the work of the artists discussed in this book—from Bruce Onobrakpeya to Erhabor Emokpae, from Colette Omogbai to Ibrahim El Salahi, from Demas Nwoko to Jimo Akolo, from Simon Okeke to Uche Okeke, among others—could have easily found a place in the Igbo mbari complex. And just as, according to Achebe, “the celebration of mbari was no blind adoration of a perfect world or even a good world . . . an acknowledgment of the world as these particular inhabitants perceived it in reality, in their dreams and their imagination,”35 postcolonial modernism’s relationship with the nation was one of critical examination of and commentary on the cultural and political dynamics of late colonialism and the postindependence period. In the end, what the work detailed in this book tells us is that during the mid-Â�twentieth century, nationalism and decolonization as ideas and practices in Nigeria and—as we now know—other parts of Africa and beyond, were primal catalysts of a short-Â�lived yet historically significant, complex, tangled, multilayered, and fraught artistic modernism.

289


NOTES

Introduction 1. For similar arguments, see Kapur, When Was Modernism, and Harney, In Senghor’s Shadow. 2. See, e.g., Vogel, Africa Explores. 3. See Okeke, “The Quest,” 41–75, and Ottenberg, New Traditions and The Nsukka Artists. 4. See Godwin and Hopwood, Architecture of Demas Nwoko; Okoye, “Nigerian Architecture,” 29–42. 5. See Enwezor and Okeke-Â�Agulu, Contemporary African Art. 6. See Beier, Contemporary Art in Africa; Mount, African Art; and Kennedy, New Currents. 7. See Enwezor, The Short Century. 8. See Fagg and Plass, African Sculpture, 6. 9. See Hassan, “The Modernist Experience in African Art,” 216. 10. Araeen, “Modernity, Modernism,” 278. 11. Shohat and Stam, “Narrativizing Visual Culture,” 28. 12. Bhabha, Location of Culture, 122. 13. Anderson, Imagined Communities, 114–116. 14. Nkrumah, Autobiography, 52–63. 15. Nkrumah defines consciencism as “the map in intellectual terms of the disposition of forces which will enable African society to digest the Western and the Islamic and the Euro-Â�Christian element[s] of Africa, and develop them in such a way that they fit the African personality. The African personality itself is defined by the cluster of humanist principles which underlie the traditional African society.” See Nkrumah, Consciencism, 79. 16. Taylor, “Two Theories of Modernity,” 183. 17. John S. Mbiti famously asserted the status of the individual in Africa with the


Notes to Chapter 1 — 292

dictum, “I am because we are; and since we are, therefore I am.” See Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy, 109. The tenability of this assertion has for years been a matter of intense philosophical debate. But there is ample evidence from popular sayings, proverbs, and aphorisms of diverse African peoples to suggest that individual subjectivity is for the most part strongly linked to an awareness of its dependence on a network of relations with other human and metaphysical beings. 18. Shutte, Philosophy for Africa, 47. 19. See Achebe, Arrow of God, 234, 20. Drewal, “Memory and Agency,” 242–243. 21. Jeyifo, Perspectives on Wole Soyinka, 117. 22. See Appiah, “Postcolonial and the Postmodern,” 62. 23. Italics added. See Young, Postcolonialism, 57. 24. Moore-Â�Gilbert, “Postcolonial Modernism,” 551. 25. See my “Politics of Form, 67–86.

Chapter 1: Colonialism and the Educ ated Afric ans 1. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk, 243–244. 2. Taiwo, How Colonialism Preempted Modernity. 3. Taiwo, How Colonialism Preempted Modernity, 11. 4. Carland, Colonial Office and Nigeria, 108. 5. Frenkel, “Edward Blyden,” 288. 6. Colonial government in southern Nigeria blamed the mission-Â�trained Africans for the massive consumption of alcohol responsible for the illicit liquor trade. For her part, the nineteenth-Â�century ethnographic writer and explorer Mary Kingsley thought that mission education made the African “the curse of the Coast.” Several other commentators emphasized the threat these mission-Â� trained Africans posed to the colonial system and its regime of racial and social hierarchy. For more, see Lyons, “Evolutionary Ideas and Educational Policy,” 15–19. 7. Lyons, “The Educable African,” 17. 8. Lyons, “The Educable African,” 17. 9. Lyons, “The Educable African,” 17. 10. Lugard’s influential book, Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa, in which he laid out the principles and practice of indirect rule, became a manual of sorts for colonial officers in colonial British Africa. See Lugard, Dual Mandate. 11. See Porter, Critics of Empire, 151. 12. Mary Kingsley once stated: “I regard not only the African, but all coloured races, as inferior—inferior in kind not in degree—to the white races.” Quoted in Porter, Critics of Empire, 151–152. Porter discusses Mary Kingsley’s influence on the development of indirect rule colonialism. 13. “[W]e are certain that the publication of the Report will add the last nail to the coffin of the Nigerian System, falsify the aspersions which have been cast upon the educated Native by daubing him an agitator who is denationalized by virtue


Notes to Chapter 1 —

of his liberal culture and attainments, and lastly prove conclusively that Sir Frederick Lugard’s infernal rule in Nigeria is nothing short of a policy of military terrorism, of subordination and domination which are at variance with the cherished traditions of British Imperial rule.” See “Amritsar and Ijemo: A Parallel and Suggestion,” Lagos Weekly Record, August 7, 1920, 5. 14. “Amritsar and Ijemo: A Parallel and Suggestion,” Lagos Weekly Record, August 7, 1920, 5. 15. Margery Perham, Lugard, 491. The first radical nationalist northern politicians, including Aminu Kano, the leader of the Northern Elements Progressive Union, and Sa’ad Zungur of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, were also among the first northerners with postsecondary education. See Coleman, Backgrounds to Nigerian Nationalism, 356. 16. Mbembe, “Provisional Notes on the Postcolony,” 12. 17. See Perham, Lugard, 491. 18. Anderson, Imagined Communities, 37–46. 19. Olusanya, “Henry Carr and Herbert Macaulay,” 282. 20. As Judith Byfield shows, some elite women in Lagos also defended polygamy, wore traditional dress, and criticized the economic disempowerment of women because of Christian marriage and new ideals of respectable womanhood. See Byfield, “‘Unwrapping’ Nationalism,” 12. See also Mann, Marrying Well, 89–91. 21. Webster, “The African Churches,” 255. 22. “Whitehall” is a colloquial reference to the seat of the British government. 23. Lugard, Dual Mandate, 80–81. 24. Afigbo’s The Warrant Chiefs is an excellent account of the impact of the so-Â�called warrant chiefs invented by the colonial administration among the Igbo, a people known for their fierce political independence and distrust of authoritarian government. Disdain for these warrant chiefs and the colonial regime coalesced into the popular uprising by women (the Aba Women’s War) in eastern Nigeria in 1929. 25. See Perham, Colonial Sequence, 143. 26. Perham, Colonial Sequence, 86. 27. For a description of the difficulties faced by Lugard upon rejection of his request by the Colonial Office, see Osuntokun, “Lagos and Political Awareness,” 267– 272. James Bright Davies, the editor of the Times of Nigeria, for instance, accused Lugard of “rancorous negrophobism,” which was responsible for the natives’ apparent sympathy for the Germans. Because of this, Davies served a six-Â�month jail sentence that raised his popularity as a champion of political independence. 28. Perham, Colonial Reckoning, 34. 29. Lugard, Dual Mandate, 460. 30. See Lyons, “Evolutionary Ideas,” 1–23. 31. Lugard, Dual Mandate, 433. My emphasis. 32. Lugard, Dual Mandate, 435. 33. Lugard, Dual Mandate, 452. 34. Lugard, Dual Mandate, 439.

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Notes to Chapter 2 — 294

35. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk, 42–43. 36. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk, 65–74. 37. Upon the death of Booker T. Washington, Jesse Jones became the “unofficial spokesman for the cause of black industrial education” and more or less determined the Phelps-Â�Stokes position on the subject. See Lyons, To Wash an Aethiop White, 150–151. 38. The white paper called for the “partnership between government and missions in education” and advocated an educational program tailored to the “mentality, aptitudes, occupations and traditions of the various peoples.” Quoted in Perham, Lugard, 661. The document was originally published in London in 1925 as Education Policy in British Tropical Africa. 39. See Robertson’s 1974 letter to Graham Thomas; Thomas, The Last of the Proconsuls, 117. 40. For further discussion of the political and religious aspects of Ethiopianism, see Ugonna, “Introduction,” xxiii–xxvi; Skinner, African Americans, 181–214; Shepperson, “Notes on Negro American Influences,” 299–312. 41. Azikiwe’s autobiography, My Odyssey, documents his difficulty finding a teaching or civil service position in Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, and Ethiopia. 42. Azikiwe, along with Obafemi Awolowo (1909–1987)—another important nationalist and lawyer—founded the Igbo State Union and Egbe Omo Oduduwa, respectively the pan-Â�Igbo and pan-Â�Yoruba cultural associations mandated to protect the interests of the two peoples within the context of the colonial state. 43. Azikiwe, Renascent Africa. His career and politics inspired young West African students, many of whom became important figures in West African nationalism. Kwame Nkrumah, Nwafor Orizu, and Mbonu Ojike, for instance, studied in the United States rather than EngÂ�land, as was normal in Anglophone colonial Africa. They also identified with Du Bois and Garvey. 44. Azikiwe, Renascent Africa, 98.

Chapter 2: Indirect Rule and Colonial Modernism 1. See Ogbechie, Ben Enwonwu. 2. Egonwa, “Evolution of the Concept,” 52–60. 3. Ogbechie, Ben Enwonwu, 45. 4. See Onabolu, “A memorandum on the teaching of art in schools and colleges by Chief Aina Onabolu M. B. E. Submitted to the Nigerian Council for Art and Culture held in the committee room of the House of Representatives on Wednesday, 15th August, 1962 as requested.” Kenneth Murray Archive, National Museum Library, Lagos. 5. Onabolu, Short Discourse. 6. This first one-Â�person exhibition helped Onabolu raise money for his overseas training. Although he had taken part in several group exhibitions, mostly during festivals and fairs, and had received many private and public portrait commissions, the 1920 show was conceived as a manifesto for this new art. 7. Onabolu, Short Discourse, 14.


Notes to Chapter 2 —

8. Dosumu, “Preface.” 9. Quoted from Oloidi, “Art and Nationalism in Colonial Nigeria,” 193. 10. Onabolu’s students and admirers called him “Nigeria’s Joshua Reynolds” and “Mr. Perspective.” 11. Kapur, When Was Modernism, 145–178. 12. Onabolu taught at the C.M.S. Grammar School, Wesleyan Boys High School (later called Methodist Boys High School), Eko Boys High School, Kings College, and Christ Church Cathedral School, Lagos. He also taught private art classes for most of his career. 13. Onabolu, Short Discourse, 8. 14. Araeen, “Modernity,” 278. 15. Letter from Kenneth Murray to E. R. J. Hussey, January 27, 1933. For his disapproval of art professionalization “in the EngÂ�lish sense,” see Murray to Arthur Mayhew, October 11, 1932. Kenneth Murray Archive, National Museum Library, Lagos. 16. Murray, “Art Courses for Africans,” 1021. 17. Murray, “Art Courses for Africans,” 1021. 18. Murray does not indicate the specific text(s) by Barton to which he referred. But these notes are consistent with the ideas Barton expressed in his six-Â�part series on modern art, to be discussed shortly. See the typewritten page titled “J. E. Barton on Art in Education for Citizenship,” Kenneth Murray Archive, National Museum Library, Lagos. 19. Ogbechie, Ben Enwonwu, 42. 20. Fry, “Sensibility versus Mechanism,” 497–499. 21. Barton, Purpose and Admiration. 22. Coomaraswamy, The Dance of Śiva, 21 23. Delange and Fry, “Introduction,” 7. 24. Murray, “Exhibition of Wood-Â�Carvings,” 12–15. 25. Rothenstein, “Whither Painting?,” 1115. 26. Ogbechie, Ben Enwonwu, 44. Similarly, Ola Oloidi (in “Art and Nationalism,” 194, n. 9) states: “Murray’s admirable teaching ideology went hand-Â�in-Â�hand with his vocal and dissenting response to the current European attitude towards Nigerian antiquities.” Here, I think, is the problem with the current assessment of Murray’s contribution to Nigeria’s art history: there is an unwillingness to separate his work as a teacher of “modern” art from his work as a visionary ethnographer and museologist noted for his dogged, ultimately successful campaign to establish a Nigerian national ethnographic museum. 27. Murray, “Arts and Crafts,” 156. 28. Murray, “Arts and Crafts,” 157. 29. Murray, “Arts and Crafts,” 162. 30. See von Sydow, “African Sculpture,” 210–227. The last section (225–227) begins with a question: “Is there a Renaissance of African Art in Africa?” 31. Von Sydow, “African Sculpture,” 226. 32. See Stevens, “Future of African Art,” 150–160. Stevens also helped compile the

295


Notes to Chapter 3 — 296

book Arts of West Africa, published in 1935 as a textbook of sorts for art teachers in need of models of traditional West African art. In his introduction to the book, Sir William Rothenstein reiterated the need to salvage the dying arts of West Africa for the region’s future artists, who would have to rely on the art of their ancestors to create an authentic African art: “How can the little that still survives of the old vision and cunning of hand be preserved in Africa, and how should they be continued?” See Rothenstein, “Introduction,” ix–xi. 33. Hiller, “Editor’s Foreword,” in The Myth of Primitivism, 1. 34. Olu Oguibe’s assessment of Murray’s work, in the context of modern Nigerian art, is an exception. See Oguibe, “Appropriation as Nationalism,” 243–259. 35. MacRow, “Art Club,” 250–257. 36. Osula, “Nigerian Art,” 244–251. 37. Osula, “Nigerian Art,” 245–247. 38. Osula, “Nigerian Art,” 249. 39. Danford, a sculptor, created the Emotan statue at the Oba’s Market in Benin City. The figure, rendered in the classic academic mode, portrays the legendary Benin Queen. 40. Danford, “Nigerian Art,” 155. 41. Duerden, “Is There a Nigerian Style of Painting?,” 51–59. 42. Duerden, “Is There a Nigerian Style of Painting?,” 59. 43. Taiwo, How Colonialism Preempted Modernity, 8.

Chapter 3: The Academy and the Avant- Â�Garde 1. Information about this exhibition is contained in a two-Â�page typescript unpublished catalogue, The Nigerian College of Technology Art Exhibition, in ncast files, Department of Fine Arts, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (henceforth dfa-Â� abuz). 2. Nigerian College of Technology Art Exhibition. 3. Professor Gerrard (1899–1998) apparently moderated the June 1959 examinations, though the negotiation for affiliation was still inconclusive. See college principal’s “Handing over Notes: Dr. C. A. Hart–June 1959,” mss Afr. S. 1623. C. A. Hart Papers, box 4, file 2, ncast, Rhodes House Archives, Oxford University. 4. Registrar to assistant principal, May 2, 1958. ncast files, dfa-Â�abuz. Ben Enwonwu’s birth date has long been a matter of controversy. Whereas most records indicate 1921, the art historian Sylvester Ogbechie proposed July 14, 1917, as Enwonwu’s actual birth date. However, a biographical note written by Enwonwu in 1938 at Kenneth Murray’s request, possibly the artist’s earliest autobiography— appropriately titled “Account of My Life”—states that he was born on July 4, 1917. 5. In his paper at the Negro Artists and Writers Congress in Paris, Ben Enwonwu also criticized the colonial government’s art commissions to European artists, such as Danford’s Emotan statue in Benin City. See Enwonwu, “Problems of the African Artist,” 434–435.


Notes to Chapter 3 —

6. Registrar to the assistant principal, Zaria branch, May 2, 1958. ncast files, dfa-Â� abuz. 7. Acting permanent secretary, Ministry of Education to the registrar, May 25, 1958. ncast files, dfa-Â�abuz. 8. See “Matchet’s Diary,” West Africa (April 10, 1954): 323. 9. “N. B. S. Talk Series: The Development and Teaching of Art,” undated typescript, 1. ncast files, dfa-Â�abuz. 10. “N. B. S. Talk Series,” 2. 11. On this topic, see Kapur, When Was Modernism, 111; Karnouk, Modern Egyptian Art, 1. 12. Details of the excursion to southern Nigeria by Zaria teachers and students and the courses offered by de Monchaux are from Uche Okeke’s diary entries and information de Monchaux provided me (via e-Â�mail) on December 8, 2010. At the Asele Institute, Nimo, in August 2002, Okeke gave me full access to his 1957– 1965 diaries. See Okeke, “Extracts,” 270–289. 13. Frith was a former student of Victor Pasmore at Camberwell, the bastion of the Euston Road School that at one time had William Coldstream as head of a team that included Lawrence Gowing, Claude Rogers, and William Townsend. 14. Frith met Lambert and her first husband, the composer Constant Lambert, through a mutual friend, Michael Ayrton. They became close after Isabel married Frith’s good friend Alan Rawsthorne. Frith provided this information to me via e-Â�mail on February 2, 2011. For further information on Lambert (aka Isabel Rawsthorne), see Jacobi, “Cat’s Cradle,” 293–314. 15. Sir Julian Huxley’s reply to Clifford Frith, January 25, 1962. ncast files, dfa-Â� abuz. 16. Letter and recommendation from Clifford Frith to the principal, N. S. Alexander, February 14, 1962. ncast files, dfa-Â�abuz. 17. Memorandum, “Teaching the History of Art in the University of Northern Nigeria,” signed by Donald Hope on May 19 and Eric Taylor on May 21, 1962. ncast files, dfa-Â�abuz. 18. See Enwonwu, “Problems of the African Artist,” 435. 19. The exhibition Paintings by Nigerian Schoolboys appears to have traveled to other venues between 1957 and 1958. A copy of this press release is in Akolo’s file in the Harmon Foundation Collection. Library of Congress, Washington, DC, Manuscript Division, Harmon Foundation Collection, African Artists, Box 83, Jima [sic] Akolo. 20. Like U. Okeke, Nwoko, and Onobrakpeya, Grillo had already distinguished himself as a young artist, having won medals and certificates in the Nigerian Festival of the Arts for three consecutive years. For his part, Olaosebikan, a schoolmate of Akolo at Government College, Keffi, was also mentored by Dennis Duerden. Quite likely, Akolo, who himself did not become a member of the society, may have pulled Olaosebikan into the Art Society group’s circle. On the other hand, Simon Okeke, like Uche Okeke, came from the Awka district, in the eastern region. Â� 21. Odita and Osadebe were in the same art class with Nwoko under the legendary

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teacher Roland Ndefo (1924–1999) at Merchants of Light School, Oba. In the fall of 1960, Ikpomwosa Omagie (life dates unknown) joined the society, making her the group’s only female member. From every indication, she did not complete the diploma course. 22. On February 9, 1959, Simon Okeke resigned the presidency of the Art Society. The next day, Uche Okeke replaced him; William Olaosebikan became the secretary. In 1960, Okechukwu Odita became the secretary after the graduation of Olaosebikan, Yusuf Grillo, and Simon Okeke. 23. See J. I. Vaatsough, “Students’ Activities,” Nigercol (May 1960): 23. 24. The issues ran from May 1958 to May 1961, the year the Art Society and the college disbanded. 25. In his diary entry of January 15, 1960, Okeke stated, in response to Mr. Frith’s talk about affiliation with Goldsmiths’: “I can foresee the danger of a European Art Empire in the nearest future if something drastic is not done soon enough. Our local condition, materials etc should be taken into account should truly national art be evolved in this space age.” 26. See Mphahlele, “Dilemma of the African Elite,” 324. 27. See Okeke, “Extracts,” 289. 28. Karnouk, Modern Egyptian Art, 2. 29. Geeta Kapur uses this term to refer to the work of progressive Indian modernists between the 1940s and 1960s, including F. N. Souza, Akbar Padamsee, Tyeb Mehta, and Jeram Patel. See Kapur, When Was Modernism, 272, n. 11. 30. Okeke, Art in Development, 1. Italics are mine. 31. Okeke, Art in Development, 2. 32. Okeke, Art in Development, 2. 33. Okeke, Art in Development, 2. 34. See Jules-Â�Rosette, Black Paris, 65. 35. Sartre, Black Orpheus, 21. 36. Okeke, Art in Development, 2. 37. For extracts from Blyden’s speech, see Legum, Pan-Â�Africanism, 263–265. 38. Legum, Pan-Â�Africanism, 263–265. 39. Legum, Pan-Â�Africanism, 265. 40. See Okafor, Development of Universities in Nigeria, 17. 41. See Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism, 98. 42. Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism, 91–92. 43. Allen, “Introduction,” 308. 44. Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism, 90. 45. See Harney, “The École de Dakar,” 18. 46. Fanon, “On National Culture,” 173. 47. Fanon, “On National Culture,” 174. 48. Demas Nwoko, taped interview with the author, in the presence of Uche Okeke. Idumuje-Â�Ugboko, Nigeria, August 21, 2002. 49. Okeke titled this work Beggardom at the time he painted it, as his diary notes indicate. Jumaa refers to the Friday Muslim religious service.


Notes to Chapter 4 —

50. On March 15, 1961, Okeke noted in his diary: “Worked on my painting 'Anammuo.' A purely experimental piece. It is a beginning of a fight which may be life-Â� long! My love for pure linear effects and shapes (abstract shapes) should be from now on fully exploited. I should study more closely our traditional mural decoration style. Awka Division [the administrative region to which his hometown, Nimo, belonged] has a good many examples of these decorations. I should more markedly show my contempt for mere superficiality inherent in naturalism. As far as that goes I am all out for my ancestral heritage!” 51. In 1956, before enrolling in the ncast, he worked as a curatorial assistant at the Jos Museum and was therefore quite familiar with its collections. 52. Some of these drawings accompanied his essay in Nigercol, and more were included in a monograph published in 1962 by Mbari Publications. 53. This second work, listed as “Beggars,” is illustrated in Mount, African Art, 141. 54. See Darah and Quel, eds., Bruce Onobrakpeya, 31. 55. Goldwater, Primitivism in Modern Art, 346. 56. Frith ventured into abstraction while studying under Victor Pasmore at Camberwell School of Art and Crafts (now Camberwell College of Arts, a branch of the University of the Arts, London). At Zaria he continued with abstraction alongside his better-Â�known figurative work. 57. Jimo Akolo, taped interview with the author, Zaria, August 10, 2002. 58. See Société africaine de culture, “Report of the Commission of the Arts,” 456. 59. See Crowder, “Nigeria’s Artists Emerge,” 30.

Chapter 4: Transacting the Modern 1. The three main themes of the congress were “(1) the richness of black cultures; (2) the crisis in these cultures in relationship to political action; and (3) the prospects for the future.” See Jules-Â�Rosette, Black Paris, 53. 2. See Jahn, “World Congress of Black Writers,” 39. 3. See, e.g., Yesufu, “Black Orpheus,” 24–51; Benson, Black Orpheus. 4. The journal’s advisory committee included the negritude heavyweights Aimé Césaire (1913–2008), Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906–2001), Paul Vesey (Samuel Washington Allen, b. 1917), J. A. Ramsaran (life dates unknown), and later, Léon-Â�Gontran Damas (1912–1978). Its second issue included a section on negritude, focusing on poems by Damas, Jacques Roumain (1907–1944), Guy Tirolien (1917–1988), and Roussan Camille (1912–1961), in addition to an article on Césaire’s poetry by Jahn. 5. See “Editorial,” Black Orpheus 1 (1957): 4. 6. See Jules-Â�Rosette, Black Paris, 61. 7. See Senghor, ed., La nouvelle poésie nègre. 8. For Beier’s account of his experience at University College, Ibadan, see Beier, In a Colonial University. 9. These included articles on Yoruba cement sculpture, Ibibio funerary monuments, Igbo mbari houses, mud shrines dedicated to the Yoruba goddess Olokun, and Yoruba adire dyeing. One of his earliest publications after arriving in

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Nigeria was an article on Yoruba wall painting, “Wandmalereien der Yoruba,” published in Das Kunstwerk 5 (1954/55): 37–40. 10. Akanji, “Wenger,” 29–31. “Akanji” refers to Sangodare Akanji, the name given to Ulli Beier by the Yoruba Sango cult. He also published under the pseudonyms Omidiji Aragbabalu and Obotunde Ijimere. The decision to publish some of his critical writings as Akanji or Aragbabalu and his creative work as Ijimere appears to be part of Beier’s strategy of inserting his polemical voice into the discourse of Nigerian art and literature, without drawing attention to his identity as a foreigner. This strategy, indeed, works well in this particular instance of writing about the work of Wenger, who at that time was his wife. Beier’s use of the name Obotunde Ijimere has been questioned by scholars. See Owomoyela, “Obotunde Ijimere,” 49. 11. Akanji, “Wenger,” 30. 12. For Dubuffet’s writings in defense of art brut and against elite culture and its institutions, see Jean Dubuffet, Asphyxiating Culture and Other Writings (New York, 1988). 13. Beier, “Two Yoruba Painters,” 30. 14. Kurtha, Francis Newton Souza, 32. 15. Aragbabalu, “Souza,” 16–21, 49–52. 16. Aragbabalu, “Souza,” 21. 17. See Kapur, Contemporary Indian Artists, 16. 18. See Dalmia, Making of Modern Indian Art, 92. 19. Mullins, F. N. Souza, 16. John Berger, the first important critic to comment on Souza’s work, “admitted,” according to Mullins, that “he was lost for words to explain” the artist’s work (25). 20. Aragbabalu, “Souza,” 21. 21. Souza’s darkly cynical paintings and drawings of Christian subject matter have been linked to his strict Catholic upbringing, his bitterness about the Goan church’s hypocrisy and racism in his adult years, and finally his turn to atheism and communism. See Kurtha, Francis Newton Souza, 39–41. 22. Years later, Beier continued to promote, exhibit, and publish the work of several important Indian artists. These included Sultan Ali, whose work combined surrealist imagery with Indian folk art forms; G. R. Santosh, a key member of the Neotantric school, whose abstract paintings explored magical signs of tantric yantras; and Tyeb Mehta, an associate of the Progressive Group, known for his expressive figural paintings, among others. 23. Beier, “Demas Nwoko,” 10–11. 24. Beier, “Demas Nwoko,” 11. 25. The exhibition, mounted in a thirty-five-Â�acre space on Victoria Island, Lagos, opened on October 1 and closed on October 22, 1960. More than 500,000 visitors saw the show, described in contemporary media as Nigeria’s greatest show. See, e.g., the report on the close of the exhibition in the Daily Times (Lagos), October 24, 1960. 26. Other members of the committee included Dr. Lopashich, Mrs. MacLaren, Mrs. Aduke Moore, and Dr. O. Adeniyi-Â�Jones.


Notes to Chapter 4 —

27. In a letter to the Federal Minister of Education dated July 29, 1960, Enwonwu stated that the Ministry of Commerce and Industry “had decided to dispense with his services in connection with the exhibition of Arts and Crafts . . . and [they] have preferred a European who is not an artist to undertake the Exhibition Organization.” Ben Enwonwu to the Hon. Aja Nwachukwu, M.H.R., Minister of Education, Nigerian Arts Council folder, Kenneth C. Murray archives, National Museum, Lagos. 28. Okeke designed the main mural on the front wall, while Onobrakpeya and Nwoko designed murals along the pavilion’s “covered way” and the craftsmen’s section, respectively. C. Mitchell and Company, a media firm, commissioned Yusuf Grillo to design a mural on the theme of Nigerian agricultural products. 29. In his diary report on the interview, Okeke wrote this statement in quotation marks. 30. In discussions while they were executing the mural projects at the arts and crafts pavilion, Okeke and Nwoko (and sometimes Onobrakpeya) expressed resentment at the high-Â�handedness of the arts council officials, particularly the chair, Nora Majekodunmi. 31. Enwonwu, “African Art in Danger,” 16. 32. As the next two chapters will show, these contestations, particularly between Enwonwu and younger Nigerian artists, had become more clearly defined by the middle of the 1960s. 33. For an illustration of this section of Nwoko’s mural, see Beier, “Contemporary Nigerian Art,” 31. 34. Throughout his career, Enwonwu’s formal style vacillated between realism—as in most of his landscape paintings and portraits—and a figural stylization evident in many of his dance series and in large-Â�scale compositions, such as his Beauty and the Beast, 1961. 35. Idubor ran a well-Â�known studio; several of his apprentices later established successful careers. Among them was his brother, Francis Osague (b. 1941), and Osagie Osifo (b. 1939), who were also represented in the exhibition. 36. Beier, “Contemporary Nigerian Art,” 31. 37. Beier, “Contemporary Nigerian Art,” 27. 38. Beier, “Contemporary Nigerian Art,” 30–31. 39. Beier, “Contemporary Nigerian Art,” 51. 40. Beier, “Contemporary Nigerian Art,” 51. 41. The need for this space assumed new urgency when the organizers of the Nigerian independence celebrations rejected Beier’s proposal to stage Wole Soyinka’s play A Dance of the Forests. The outright, though predictable, refusal to support the play, a dark view of the colonial past and postindependence future by Nigeria’s supposed cultural elite, most of them expatriate officers in the colonial administration, confirmed Beier’s growing suspicion that the emergence and sustenance of new and experimental Nigerian expressive arts must happen outside state-Â�owned institutions, away from the brazen conservatism of both the expatriate and national cultural elite. 42. The Farfield Foundation and the Congress for Cultural Freedom, it was revealed

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in 1967, were cia-Â�sponsored organizations. The congress in particular had several well-Â�known international artists and writers as its front men. Funding from the congress primarily came through Mbari’s first president, Ezekiel Mphahlele, who after leaving Nigeria became the African representative at the congress’s Paris office. For further details about the funding of Black Orpheus and Mbari, see Benson, Black Orpheus, 33–39. For the cia connections with Farfield Foundation and Congress for Cultural Freedom and their roles in US cultural politics during the Cold War, see Saunders, The Cultural Cold War. 43. Other members of the club included the South African Begum Hendrickse and the Nigerian writers Francis Ademola, Amos Tutuola, D. O. Fagunwa, Yetunde Esan, Mabel Imoukhuede, Kenneth C. Murray, and Segun Olusola. There were many more. 44. Ulansky, “Mbari: The Missing Link,” 250. 45. For an elaborate study of Igbo mbari, see Cole, Mbari, and Cole and Aniakor, Igbo Arts. 46. Cole, “Art as a Verb,” 34–41, 88. 47. Cole, “Mbari Is Life,” 87. 48. In fact, it was precisely the sense that the club could not forge a meaningful connection with its local community that led to Beier’s decision to support the desire of Duro Ladipo, the popular Yoruba language dramatist, to establish a new space in Osogbo, farther away from Ibadan and the university crowd, in 1962. The Osogbo space, popularly called Mbari-Â�Mbayo, became the first of many Mbari clubs to be established in Nigeria in the early 1960s. Other Mbari clubs were in Lagos and Enugu, the capital city of the eastern region. 49. Earlier in 1952, he had converted a walkway in the University College Library, Ibadan, into a gallery space, where he organized Sango, an exhibition of sculptures from the shrine of his friend and royal mentor, the Timi of Ede, and Artists against Apartheid, a show of solidarity with the accused in the 1956–1961 Regina v. F. Adams treason trial in South Africa. 50. The Exhibition Centre, Lagos, run by Michael Crowder, remained quite important, especially when Ibadan lost steam with Beier’s relocation to Osogbo and when some of the inaugural members settled in Lagos and elsewhere. 51. The wntv (Western Nigeria Television) Spotlight program gave them a thirty-Â� minute feature, while the federally owned nbs (Nigerian Broadcasting Service), Lagos, announced the opening in the evening news. Segun Olusola, a producer at wntv, and Chinua Achebe, acting director of programs at the nbs, were members of the Mbari Club. 52. See Beier, “Ibrahim Salahi,” 48–50. 53. Beier, letter to the author, by facsimile, October 10, 2003. For a brief but very useful critical biography of Williams, see Hazlewood, “Notes on a Life,” 14–15. 54. H. M. El Amin, Esq., secretary for cultural affairs at the Sudanese embassy, Nigeria, opened the exhibition on November 15, 1963. It closed on December 9. In an interview with me (at Mushin, Lagos, August 7, 2002), Bruce Onobrakpeya confirmed the enduring impact of Salahi’s work on his own painting.


Notes to Chapter 4 —

55. Beier, “Ibrahim Salahi,” 48. 56. Beier, “Ibrahim Salahi,” 48. 57. In later years, Salahi noted that in his effort at formal deconstruction of the Arabic calligraphic form, he was inspired by Picasso’s analytical cubism. See Beier, “Right to Claim the World,” 28. 58. Beier, “Ibrahim Salahi,” 49. 59. See Williams, “Ibrahim Es [sic] Salahi,” 44. 60. Earlier in 1961, in fact, the Department of Extra-Â�Mural Studies had organized a modest exhibition of Kofi’s smaller sculptures. 61. Beier, “Vincent Akweti Kofi,” 35. 62. Beier, “Vincent Akweti Kofi,” 36. 63. Beier, “Vincent Akweti Kofi,” 36. 64. Beier, “Vincent Akweti Kofi,” 36. 65. Writing about the creative process in 1964, Kofi states that “inspiration commands its form, whilst the technique, submitting to the discipline of wood or stone, must be swift as the favourite adze that expresses so well the spontaneous eruption of Ghanaian inspiration.” Cited in Watts, “Kofi,” 26. 66. Oku Ampofo, a pioneer Ghanaian modern sculptor, closely studied sculptures from Ghana and other parts of West Africa and adapted some of those forms for his own work. 67. See Delange and Fry, “Introduction,” 7. 68. Moore, “Tiberío,” 62. In 1966 Tiberío returned to Africa, visiting Senegal with his friend, the South African artist and fellow Paris resident, Gerard Sekoto, whose work also remained steadfastly realistic and focused on black South African themes in spite of his years of exile. Invited by Léopold Sédar Senghor to participate in the First International Congress of Black Writers and Artists (Paris, 1956), they stayed, traveled, and worked in Senegal for several months. See Spiro, Gerard Sekoto, 60. 69. Moore, “Tiberío,” 62. 70. In The Return of Shango, Beier discusses the beginnings of Ladipo’s Popular Bar, on Station Road, Osogbo, which became the site for Mbari-Â�Mbayo. The phrase mbari-Â�mbayo is a Yoruba expression that means “When I see, I will be happy.” Said to be a statement made by many Osogbo inhabitants in response to the programs of the club, Mbari-Â�Mbayo also was an ingenious domestication of the Igbo word and idea mbari. See Beier, Return of Shango, 14–15. 71. The Nigerian poet Christopher Okigbo, e.g., was known to have been adamantly opposed to the idea of encouraging illiterate (i.e., nonart school) types to make art. 72. Beinart has been a professor of architecture at mit since 1974. 73. See Beier’s introductory essay for the gallery brochure Exhibition of Paintings by Malangatana in the Ulli and Georgina Beier Archive, Migila House, Sydney, Australia. The exhibition opened June 25, 1962. 74. Beinart, “Malangatana,” 22. 75. Beinart, “Malangatana,” 22.

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76. Beinart, “Malangatana,” 27. 77. Responding to this aspect of his criticism, Beier reaffirmed his distrust of the impact of formal art training on artistic originality but also stated that great artists sometimes emerge despite art school training. In most cases, though, such artists, he says, have to free themselves from the art school influence: “If Picasso had gone to an art school run by an impressionist painter, he would have failed!” Beier, letter to the author, by facsimile, January 3, 2003. 78. See Heller, Brücke, 8. 79. See the brochure for the Schmidt-Â� Rottluff exhibition of woodcuts by Karl Schmidt-Â�Rottluff at Mbari Ibadan. Original copies of all the Mbari exhibition brochures referred to in this study can be found in the Ulli and Georgina Beier Archive, Migila House, Sydney, Australia. 80. See Heller, Brücke, 4. 81. Williams, “Schmidt-Rottluff,” 17. 82. Beier took Langston Hughes on a tour of Osogbo, where they visited the Sango shrine. 83. The exhibition was first held in Lagos at the amsac premises before it traveled to Ibadan. 84. See Jacob Lawrence exhibition invitation in the Ulli and Georgina Beier Archive, Migila House, Sydney, Australia. 85. Beier, “Two American Negro Painters,” 25. 86. Beier, “Two American Negro Painters,” 26; Beier’s emphasis. 87. Nesbett and DuBois, Over the Line, 182. 88. Nesbett and DuBois, Over the Line, 46. 89. See Hills, “Jacob Lawrence’s Paintings,” 182–183. 90. Yusuf Grillo, former Art Society member and the founding president of the newly established Society of Nigerian Artists, opened the exhibition on October 19, 1964. 91. See the invitation card to the exhibition in the Ulli and Georgina Beier Archive, Migila House, Sydney, Australia. 92. See, e.g., Barnitz, “In the Galleries,” 66. Other exhibitions of the work of African American artists followed Lawrence’s. In early 1961 Beier requested assistance from the Harmon Foundation, New York, in organizing an exhibition of William Johnson’s work. Eventually, the foundation sent sixteen screen prints and five block prints, exhibited at Mbari in 1965, by which time the original Mbari Ibadan members had more or less dispersed. Beier’s attempts to locate and exhibit the sculptor (later poet and novelist) Barbara Chase-Â�Riboud (b. 1939) and the painter and designer Irene Clark (1927–1984) at Mbari failed; his enduring wish to introduce more black American artists to Nigeria ultimately fell short. See Beier’s correspondence with the Harmon Foundation’s Evelyn Brown in box no. 102, African Artists, Harmon Foundation Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, DC. 93. Williams, “Shibrain—Mbari, Ibadan,” 45. 94. Williams, “Shibrain—Mbari, Ibadan,” 45.


Notes to Chapter 5 —

95. Williams, “Shibrain—Mbari, Ibadan,” 45. 96. Williams, “A Sudanese Calligraphy,” 19–20. 97. Acheson, “The Nourishers,” 2. 98. See the invitation brochure to the exhibition Skunder in the Ulli and Georgina Beier Archive, Migila House, Sydney, Australia. 99. Deressa, “Skunder in Context,” 80–85. 100. The South African painter Gerard Sekoto and his Brazilian friend Wilson Tiberío introduced Boghossian to Lam in 1959. Boghossian has himself spoken of the “bodily shock” that the work of Lam and Matta gave him when he first saw it in a Paris art gallery. Referring to that encounter, he stated that the “effect of all this was confusion about my work, but eventually that confusion became a suggestion.” See Mount, African Art, 114.

Chapter 5: After Zaria 1. Okeke’s diary entry, October 28, 1961. 2. Duerden, “‘Mbari’ Ibadan’s Arts Club,” 41. 3. See Udechukwu, “Lyrical Symbolism,” 94. Isinwaoji is a motif abstracted from the spaces between the three or four lobes of the kola nut (cola acuminata). It usually has four points (indicating a four-Â�lobed kola nut), but when it has only three points (three-Â�lobed), the motif is called okala isinwaoji—that is, half isinwaoji; oloma is “orange” and onwa is “moon”; agwolagwo is an onomatopoeic term for “spiral.” A variant of this motif, odu eke (python’s tail), has the outer end of the spiral stretched to a short line. For further studies on Igbo Uli, see Udechukwu, “Ọgwụgwa Aja Iyiazi,” 55–60; Okeke, “Igbo Drawing and Painting,” 106–115; Cole and Aniakor, Igbo Arts; Willis, “Uli Painting,” 62–67, 104; Willis, “Lexicon of Igbo Uli Motifs,” 91–120. 4. To achieve a blue color, some artists used an imported laundry powder that contained a blue pigment. 5. See Okeke, “Igbo Drawing and Painting.” He narrates the anecdotal story of Nne Ijele (mother of Ijele), an elderly woman who leads the majestic Ijele masquerade with song and measured dance. She had unsuccessfully tried to become a singer, but soon after dedicating herself to making Uli, she received the gift of song. To Okeke, this story reinforces the formal connection between Uli and song/dance. 6. See her essay “In the Name of Picasso,” in Krauss, Originality of the Avant-Â�Garde, 23–40. 7. Bois, “Semiology of Cubism,” 180. 8. See Aniakor, “What Is Uli?,” unpaginated. 9. Cole and Aniakor, Igbo Arts, 46. 10. Krauss, Originality of the Avant-Â�Garde, 43–85. 11. Beier, Contemporary Art in Africa, 46. 12. For a report on Nwoko’s activities in France, see Beier, “Nigerian Stage Designer,” 77. According to El Salahi, the owner of Galerie Lambert, a progressive gallery located in Saint-Â�Louis en l’Ile, was Mr. Romarovich, a Pole. The gallery adjoined a bookshop specializing in Polish literature, which was also run by

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Romarovich. Ulli Beier was apparently the contact person between the gallery and the artists; he had helped to arrange for two shows of El Salahi’s work at the same gallery in 1963 and 1967. Ibrahim El Salahi, conversation with the author, Oxford, EngÂ�land, June 20, 2003. 13. After 1968, Nwoko devoted much of his professional life to architecture and furniture design but also publishing and politics. At that point, he moved away, as it were, from painting and sculpture as a means of creative expression. 14. Williams, “Revival of Terra-Cotta,” 4–13. 15. Omoighe, “Interview with Yusuf Grillo,” 64. 16. See Schwarz, Nigeria, 52. 17. Coleman, Backgrounds to Nigerian Nationalism, 319–331. 18. Obafemi Awolowo, a foremost nationalist and champion of ethnic nationalism, had famously argued: “So long as every person in Nigeria is made to feel that he is a Nigerian first and a Yoruba or Ibo or Hausa next, each will be justified to poke his nose into the domestic issues of the other.” See Schwarz, Nigeria, 254. 19. See Ekwensi, An African Night’s Entertainment. 20. Mount, African Art, 135. 21. Okeke, “Peep into the Vistas II,” 9. 22. Excerpt from Simon Okeke’s 1959 artist statement, published in Okeke, Art in Development, 21–22. 23. Okeke, “Peep into the Vistas II,” 11. 24. Kennedy, New Currents, Ancient Rivers, 46. 25. Akolo is a Muslim from the Yoruba-Â�speaking town of Kabba, in northern Nigeria. 26. See a review of Akolo’s Ibadan exhibition, titled “Tradition and Individuality,” by an unnamed author in Daily Express [Lagos], September 26, 1962, 3. 27. Head and Desta, “Conversation with Gebre Kristos Desta,” 25.

Chapter 6: Contesting the Modern 1. Some of Nigeria’s most renowned artists, including Ben Enwonwu, Aina Onabolu, and Felix Idubor had studios in Lagos, as had several Zaria graduates—e.g., Yusuf Grillo, Simon Okeke, and Bruce Onobrakpeya. Of the writers, Cyprian Ekwensi, Onuora Nzekwu, J. P. Clark, and Chinua Achebe were Lagos residents. 2. Omogbai, “Man Loves What Is ‘Sweet’ and Obvious,” 80. 3. Cummings, The Pied Piper, 177. 4. At an amsac-Â�organized conference on pan-Â�Africanism in Lagos in 1960, John A. Davis noted that amsac’s goal was to rechannel the motivating force of pan-Â� Africanism toward the defense of neutralism, in other words toward fending off any communist invasion on the continent through its intellectuals, artists, and writers. See Davis, “Preface,” v–vii. 5. Ulli Beier, S. O. Biobaku, Alioune Diop, Kofi Antubam, Wole Soyinka, Langston Hughes, and other visiting African American writers took part in this program. 6. Eze, “Art and Atmosphere,” 80. The scene Eze described could have been any other exhibition space in Lagos, given that only the Exhibition Centre had a properly outfitted, custom-Â�designed gallery space in the city.


Notes to Chapter 6 —

7. Mission statement, as quoted in an editor’s note in response to a reader’s letter; Nigeria 88 (March 1966), 3. 8. Other members of the council board were Aina Onabolu, Ben Enwonwu, the composers T. K. E. Phillips and Fela Sowande, and Cyprian Ekwensi, a pioneer of the Nigerian novel. Other members were Nora Majekodunmi, Ulli Beier, and Kenneth C. Murray. Theresa Ogunbiyi, Mary Umolu, Hubert Ogunde, Akinola Lasekan, and Onuora Nzekwu later joined the board. 9. Letter from Uche Okeke to Evelyn Brown, July 27, 1961. Library of Congress, Washington, DC, Manuscripts Division, Harmon Foundation Collection, African Artists, box no. 94, Uche Okeke. 10. Letter from Simon Okeke to Evelyn Brown, December 4, 1961. Library of Congress, Washington, DC, Manuscripts Division, Harmon Foundation Collection, African Artists, Box no. 94, Simon Okeke. 11. Afi Ekong served as secretary of the Lagos branch of the ncaac between 1961 and 1967 and as national secretary from 1964 to 1966. The New York Times Magazine feature on “Women of the New Africa” (1963) included Ekong for her work as manager of Gallery Labac. See Bernheim and Bernheim, “New Kind of African Woman,” 14. 12. See the letter from Simon Okeke to the Harmon Foundation, December 4, 1961, cited above. Concerning the [Lagos branch] of the arts council Okeke wrote: “Now it will be very easy for you to get craft work from the arts council, but very difficult to get any really good work of art by an Artist done recently through that Council.” Enwonwu’s criticism of the gallery’s poor quality of work and bad display is mentioned in the minutes of the National Committee of the Nigerian Arts Council meeting, May 31, 1963. 13. Ben Enwonwu, “Professional Body / Nigerian Council for the Advancement of Art and Culture,” appendix C, minutes of 14th meeting of the Lagos branch of the Nigerian Arts Council, December 8, 1960. “Nigerian Arts Council Minutes” folder, Kenneth Murray Archives, National Museum, Lagos. 14. Aduke Moore, the famous Lagos lawyer, was also a member of fsah, as was Akintola Williams, a pioneer Nigerian accountant, and others. Chief Eke was the society’s president. 15. Statement by Yusuf Grillo in a taped interview with the author, July 24, 2002, Ikeja, Lagos. Besides Grillo, artists in the fsah collection include Ben Enwonwu, Uche Okeke, Simon Okeke, Demas Nwoko, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Richard Wolford, Erhabor Emokpae, Afi Ekong, John Kamen, Jimo Akolo, R. B. (Rufus Boboye) Fatuyi, R. O. Ojo, Israel Ala, and Jimoh Buraimoh. 16. The fsah collection is now housed in the University of Lagos Library. 17. Letter from T. A. (Timothy Adebanjo) Fasuyi to Harmon Foundation, Inc., February 28, 1964. Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division, Harmon Foundation Collection, African Artists, Box no. 102, Society of Nigerian Artists. 18. See “Society of Nigerian Artists: Six Months Progress Report,” in Society of Nigerian Artists file, Box no. 102, African Artists, Harmon Foundation Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

307


Notes to Chapter 6 — 308

19. The Academy of Art was to be located in Lagos. The institute’s primary functions were the establishment of study commissions, research fellowships, summer schools, lecture tours, and bursaries for international travel. 20. Enwonwu’s speech is quoted in a review titled “Exhibitions,” by a contributor identified simply as “Artist.” See Artist, “Exhibitions,” 69, 72. 21. Emphasis in original. See Enwonwu, “Into the Abstract Jungle,” 25. Admitting the essay’s polemical nature, Enwonwu stated that Nigerian art needed such debates, for “it is the privilege of the Nigerian intellectual or artist or writer to determine the course of his cultural future” (29). 22. Enwonwu, “Into the Abstract Jungle,” 25. 23. Enwonwu, “Into the Abstract Jungle,” 26. 24. Mazrui, “Meaning versus Imagery,” 153. 25. Chinweizu, “Prodigals, Come Home!” 1–12. 26. Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa, and Madubuike, Toward the Decolonization, 173. The phrase “Hopkins Disease” as used by the critics, describes the influence of the nineteenth-Â�century British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins on some supposedly alienated, “undecolonized” Nigerian and African writers. 27. Enwonwu, “Into the Abstract Jungle,” 26. 28. See Lasekan, “Problems of the Contemporary African Artists,” 31–32. 29. Rothenstein, “Whither Painting?,” 1077–1080, 1115. 30. Enwonwu “Comments,” 349–352. 31. Some Enwonwu scholars have stressed the ritual potentialities of his work, going so far as to claim that he successfully “deployed” his famous portrait of Queen Elizabeth II (1957)—because he invested it with ritual power—“to prod the Crown into granting independence to its subjects.” See Nzegwu, “The Africanized Queen.” 32. Beier and Crowder had no doubts about, indeed often emphasized, Enwonwu’s virtuosity, particularly as a wood sculptor. Recalling the reasons for his criticism of Enwonwu, Beier described him as “a great wood carver and potentially a very great artist!” However, Beier says, Enwonwu’s major problem was his lack of consistency: “Well, Picasso went through innumerable phases, but each phase represented a new period of exploration. Ben’s different styles meant that he was catering for different public tastes. I went to visit him often in his Lagos studio. He usually would say things like this: ‘Don’t look at that—this is not my real work. I am just doing this for the nuns. Or ‘I just have to do this portrait of such and such minister’s little daughter. My real work is here.’ And then he led me to the back room where he would be working on a fascinating wood carving. I feel that he dissipated his energies” [Beier’s emphasis]. See Ulli Beier, letter to the author, October 9, 2003. For Crowder’s critique of Enwonwu’s work, see Crowder, “Nigeria’s Artists Emerge,” 30. 33. See Jegede, “Essential Emokpae,” 199. 34. Crowder, “Nigeria’s Artists Emerge,” 36. 35. Emokpae’s reflections on the philosophical basis of his work, as told to Odia Eromosele Oniha in 1973. See Jegede, “Essential Emokpae,” 199.


Notes to Chapter 7 —

36. One reader, Shane Carthy, responding to Emokpae’s earlier claim that Christians promote cannibalism when they ritually eat and drink the body and blood of their deity, questioned the basis of what Carthy called Emokpae’s new theology. See Carthy, “Cannibalistic Christianity,” 79. In a later issue of the magazine, Emokpae also took issue with what he called the arrogance of the Christian religion. He returned to the question of the “Christian God” and the origin of good and evil: “This may be a long way from ‘The Last Supper’ but they are part of the thoughts that went into its creation. In it, I said the exercise of the Eucharist is cannibalistic and I stand by it, this does not mean that Christians are cannibals, so I should not be misunderstood.” See Emokpae, “Cannibalistic Christianity,” 167. Carthy’s final response to this debate is intriguing: “Christianity without Christ, as a cultural situation, is pretty thin, and as a theme for a painting could easily drive an artist to abstractionism, a style which might not suit his genius.” Carthy, “Cannibalistic Christianity,” 316. 37. See Zaki, “Towards an Art Revolution,” 235, 304. This painting is 6ʹ × 12ʹ. 38. Ekwensi, “High Price of Nigerian Art,” 36. 39. Quoted in Ekwensi, “High Price of Nigerian Art,” 40. 40. Enwonwu, quoted in Ekwensi, “High Price of Nigerian Art,” 40. 41. Ekwensi, “One Step Beyond,” 299. 42. See invitation brochure to Colette Omogbai’s exhibition of paintings at the Mbari Ibadan (August 3, 1963), in the Ulli and Georgina Beier Archive, Sydney, Australia. 43. Lawal, “Without a Feminine Touch,” 303. 44. See Omogbai, “Man Loves What Is ‘Sweet’ and Obvious,” 80. 45. Omogbai, “Man Loves What Is ‘Sweet’ and Obvious,” 80. 46. Omogbai, “Man Loves What Is ‘Sweet’ and Obvious,” 80. 47. Nigeria magazine originated with Nigerian Teacher, established in 1933 as a general-Â�interest magazine. 48. The expatriate readership did not fail to respond to the political implications of this editorial shift. Carey P. Cox, writing from Ibadan, complained that the late arrival of his copy of the magazine was “in fact a sad reflection on the policy of Nigerianisation” signaled by Nzekwu’s editorship. On the other hand, though, Kenneth Murray praised the editor for introducing the literary supplement, for “getting the new outlook among writers before the public.” See “Pats and Slaps,” Nigeria 76 (1963): 3. 49. See “Our Authors and Performing Artists,” part 1, 57–64; part 2, 133–140. 50. After fleeing Lagos in the wake of mass killings of the Igbo people in parts of Nigeria, Onuora Nzekwu later joined the Biafran cultural workshops directed by the Nigerian poet and novelist Gabriel Okara.

Chapter 7: Crisis in the Postcolony 1. Falola, History of Nigeria, 103–107. 2. The war, also known as the Biafran War, began after the breakaway eastern region, as the Republic of Biafra (named after the eastern Nigerian Bight of Biafra),

309


Notes to Chapter 7 — 310

asserted its independence from the Federal Republic, in response to the 1966 massacres of the Igbo in the northern region. The war ended with the surrender of Biafra in January 1970. 3. The Mbari Club network consisted of the Eastern Nigeria Theatre Group (entg), a young drama group originally called the Ogui Players, founded by Ekwere; the Lawrence Emeka–led Enugu Musical Society; Gabriel Okara’s Writers’ Club; and the British Council’s Art Club, directed by Uche Okeke. 4. See Buchloh, “From Faktura to Factography,” 83–119. 5. Thomas, “Shadows of Prophecy,” 342. 6. Okigbo commenced work on the collection in October 1960, just days after political independence. See Nwakanma, Christopher Okigbo, 202. 7. Obumselu, “Cambridge House, Ibadan,” 3. 8. Okafor, Dance of Death, 214. 9. Okigbo, “Come Thunder,” 66. 10. Soyinka, “Harvest of Hate,” Idanre and Other Poems, 50. 11. I do not argue that Okigbo’s poetry is essentially more prophetic than Soyinka’s, esp. given that Soyinka’s 1960 drama A Dance of the Forests is a prognostic warning about the possibility of failure of the sovereign postcolonial state. 12. Uche Okeke, diary note, March 18, 1963, Asele Institute, Nimo. 13. Azaro, the protagonist and abiku in Ben Okri’s novel The Famished Road, explains why the abiku desired to return to the land of the unborn rather than tarry on the earthly plane with their human parents: “We disliked the rigours of existence, the unfulfilled longings, the enshrined injustices of the world, the labyrinths of love, the ignorance of parents, the fact of dying, and the amazing indifference of the living in the midst of the simple beauties of the universe.” See Okri, The Famished Road, 1. 14. See Achebe, Things Fall Apart. Chapter 9 deals particularly with the ritual of breaking Ezinma’s bond with the world of the ogbanje. See also J. P. Clark[-Â� Bekederemo] and Wole Soyinka’s “Abiku” poems, first published in Black Orpheus 10 (1961/62). They were also later published in their respective individual collections: Clark, A Reed in the Tide; Soyinka, Idanre and Other Poems. 15. In Things Fall Apart (191), Achebe describes the suspension of a young female convert by Reverend James Smith, the zealous new priest. She had apparently “allowed her heathen husband to mutilate her dead child,” believed to be an ogbanje. Although both Christian converts and animists alike believed in the existence of ogbanje, the Reverend Smith saw anyone with such residual paganism as “unworthy of the Lord’s table.” 16. The ambiguously drawn figure of the ogbanje suggests that it could also be a male. 17. Okigbo, “Elegy for Alto,” Labyrinths, 72. 18. Soliman, “From Past to Present and Future,” 151. 19. Okri, Famished Road, 478. 20. Achebe, Things Fall Apart, 215. 21. See the African Writers Series edition of Achebe, Things Fall Apart.


Notes to Chapter 7 —

22. Okigbo, “Lament of the Silent Sisters,” Labyrinths, 43. 23. The Igbo term for the event is Ogu Umunwanyi (“women’s revolt,” or “women’s war”). “Aba Riots” is a double misnomer: the core event did not happen in the city of Aba, nor was it a riot. See, e.g., Van Allen, “‘Aba Riots,’” 59–85, 287–290. 24. Van Allen, “‘Aba Riots,’” 59–85, 287–290. 25. While Biafra included other ethnic nationalities in the eastern region, including the Ibibio, Annang, and Efik, the Igbo were demographically and politically predominant. 26. Reports of the official commission of inquiry and oral traditions do not indicate that nakedness was used as a weapon against the native authorities or the British officials during the Women’s War of 1929. See Falola and Paddock, Women’s War of 1929. 27. See Cole and Morell, Beauty and the Beast. 28. Cole and Aniakor, Igbo Arts, 131. 29. Though an Igbo, Nwoko is a native of Idumuje-Â�Ugboko, a western Igbo town in the then midwest region. 30. This book is not concerned with Nwoko’s important work as an architect and designer. For a recent study, however, see Godwin and Hopwood, Architecture of Demas Nwoko. 31. Soyinka, “Civilian and Soldier,” Idanre and Other Poems, 53. 32. Nwoko more recently changed the title of the Combatant paintings to Soldier in Ambush. As he told me, the title of any of his works could change depending on how he felt about particular works at any given time. 33. Hubert Ogunde (1916–1990) was a pioneer practitioner in the so-Â�called modern folk operatic theater. His Bread and Bullet (1949) was a strident critique of the colonial government’s brutal crackdown on a coal miners’ strike in Enugu, eastern Nigeria. Yoruba Ronu (Yorubas, Think!), on the other hand, satirized the early 1960s western regional government of Ladoke Akintola. Both plays were banned by the British colonial government and the postindependence western Nigerian government. 34. See Achebe, “African Literature,” 110. 35. Achebe, “African Literature,” 111.

311


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INDEX

Page numbers in italics refer to illustrations. Aba Revolt (Women’s War) (Uche Okeke, oil on board, 1965; fig. 7.10), 272, 274, 275, 277 Aba Women’s War, 293n24, 311n24 Abayomi, Afolabi Kofo, 119 abiku, Yoruba word for “life unborn,” 268, 271, 272 abstract expressionism, 169; African artists and, 136; German, 134; lacking in older African artists, 242; post–Â�World War II abstract, 127 abstract expressionist(s), 129, 130, 169 Abule-Â�Oja, suburb of Lagos, 185, 189 Académie Julian (Paris), 45 Academy of Art, was to be located in Lagos, 234, 308n19 Accident (Colette Omogbai, ca. 1963; fig. 6.9), 253, 254 Achebe, Chinua (born 1930) novelist, named Mbari Club, Ibadan, 63, 264, 273; and literary magazine, 233; works by, 10, 14, 79, 257, 268, 272, 274; and writers’ and artists’ club, 149, 288, 289 Acheson, Louise, essayist, 175–76 Adam and Eve (Demas Nwoko, oil on canvas, 1962; fig. 5. 14), 200 Adam and Eve (Demas Nwoko, oil on canvas, 1963; fig. 5. 13), 199

Adam and Eve (Demas Nwoko, wood, 1962– 1963, fig. 5.15), 200, 203 Adam and Eve series (Demas Nwoko, oil on canvas, 1962), five paintings, 197–98, 199, 200 adaptation theory, adaption, adaptationism, adaptationist: of black essentialist aspects of Léopold Sédar Senghor’s negritude aesthetics, 242; of European fauvist and symbolist formal styles, 113; following a model of acculturation for African societies, 60–62; ideas of British indirect rule educational policies, 18; ideas of Kenneth Murray, 132; of indigenous Nigerian art forms, 99; Lugardian model of, 63–64 Adebayo Doherty (Aina Onabolu, reputed to be his last painting), 45 Adelabu, Adegoke, federal minister of Natural Resources and Social Services, 72 Ademola, Francis, Nigerian writer, 302n43 Ademola, Sir Adetokunbo, 235 Adeniyi-Â�Jones, Dr. O., 233, 300n26 Adeniyi-Â�Jones, Tunji, medical practitioner, 229 adire, textile design, Yoruba, 168, 208, 210, 215, 299n9 Advisory Committee on Native Education, 34


Index — 328

Afigbo, A. E. (The Warrant Chiefs, 1972), 293n24 African Culture and Négritude, panel of “African Unities and Pan-Â�Africanism” Conference (organized by amsac at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, in June 1960), 242 African diaspora, 2, 12, 128, 132, 133, 160, 239 An African Night’s Entertainment (Cyprian Ekwensi, short story collection, 1962), 210 African personality: as anticolonial ideology, 11; contributes to cultural nationalism and pan-Â�Africanism, 16, 99; defined, 291n15; Edward Blyden and his idea of, 128; and negritude, 93–96; Nkrumah revived idea of, 9; political imperatives of, 93; rhetoric of, 4 “African Unities and Pan-Â�Africanism” Conference, 242 AfriCOBRA painters, Chicago, 98 Afrocentric aesthetic, 95 Afro-Â�Metaphysics” in Boghossian’s work, 175 Afro-Â�nostalgia, 96 Agbebi, Mojola (given name: David Brown Vincent), 28 Aggrey, Dr. J. E. K, of Ghana, 34 Aghama Youth Club of Fine Arts, Lagos, 64–65 agwọlagwọ spiral motifs, 186, 305n3 Ahmadu Bello University, Department of Fine Arts, Zaria, 296n1 Ajaka of Owo (Akinola Lasekan, watercolor and gouache on paper, 1944; fig. 2.2), 48 Ajayi, M. A., 78, 236 Akanji, Sangodare (name given to Ulli Beier by Yoruba Sango cult), 300n10 Akeredolu, J. D. (1915–1984), thorn carver, 119, 145 Akolo, Jimo (born 1934): and Art Society, 18, 124, 126; attracts international attention, 83; changes in, 243; “coolest formalist among them,” 147; discussed, 220–26; exemplar of progressive and modern Nigerian art, 140; figurative impulse in, 253; graduated from Nigerian College of Arts,

Science and Technology, Zaria, 83; and inauguration of Nigerian Art Academy, 236; influence of the European historical avant-Â�garde on, 127; and Kingsway Stores show, 141; London paintings of, 220–26; mentioned, 297n20; one of Nigeria’s and Africa’s most influential artists, 5; paint application of, 126; participates in Mbari Ibadan and Mbari-Â�Mbayo, Osogbo, summer workshops, 208; and Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, postcollege work of, 221, 224; postcolonial artistic language and, 226; star of new order, 146; won prizes at Northern Regional Festival of Arts, 85; works by, 124, 125, 138, 222–25, 289 Ala, earth goddess and guardian of creativity and justice, 149 Ali, Sultan, Indian artist, 300n22 Allen, Major J. G. C., chairman, Lagos Art Council, 233, 238 American Negro Art (Cedric Dover), 169 American Society of African Culture (amsac), 19, 228 Amiet, Cuno, 166 Ampofo, Oku, pioneer Ghanaian sculptor, 303n66 amsac. See American Society of African Culture Ana, Igbo earth goddess, 197. See also Ala Ana Mmuo (Land of the Dead) (Uche Okeke, oil on board, 1961; fig. 3.11), 101, 104, 106, 110, 185–86 Anatsui, El (born 1944), 4, 5 Anderson, Benedict: and Aina Onabolu, 47; and “colonial pilgrimage,” 9–10; and connection between rise of print capitalism and national consciousness, 27; study on nationalism, 9; tendency of political nationalism to insist on naturalness or authenticity of imagined nation, 92 Anglophone: Africa, 21, 96, 294n43; African and diaspora writers, 17, 132; and pan-Â� Africanists, 133; and Présence Africaine, 131–32 Anguish (Colette Omogbai, ca. 1963; fig. 6.10), 255 Aniakor, Chike, 194, 276


Index —

Annang (people), 311n25 anticolonial, anticolonialism, antiÂ� colonialist(s): and Aina Onabolu, 40, 41; and Art Society at Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria, 42; attacks against Frederick Lugard in print media, 29; ideologies, 11; and indirect rule, 26; and Kenneth Murray, 64; Lagos-Â�based paper, West African Pilot, 35; national consciousness, 130; nationalists, 16; politics of the turn-Â�of-Â�the-Â�century Lagosian and West African educated elite, 37; self-Â�affirmative theories, practices, and visions, 7; subjectivity, 3; 2007 and 1955 Asian-Â�African Conference, 92 antimodernist, 40, 42 Antubam, Kofi, 306n5 Appadurai, Arjun, anthropologist, 44 Appiah, Kwame Anthony, 13, 15 Arabic calligraphy, 172, 175 Araeen, Rasheed (born 1935), British artist, writer, and curator, 8, 51 Aragbabalu, Omidiji, pseudonym of Ulli Beier, 137, 300n10 Araldite®, epoxy resin glue, 212 archetypal shapes, such as ntupo (dot), akala (line), isinwaọji (curvilinear triangles and rectangles), and oloma or ọnwa (circles and crescents), 186 Arrow of God (Chinua Achebe’s novel), 10 Art House Ltd., Lagos, 46 Art in Development: A Nigerian Perspective (1982), 105 Art nègre, and negritude, 98 Art Resource, New York, 139, 167, 170, 173, 176 Art Society, founded by students, 261, 297n20, 298n22, 304n90; and Aina Onabolu, 42; art and theory of natural synthesis proposed by, 41–42; art for national culture championed by, 253; art of, 99–127; artists of, 183; asked to submit work for Kingsway Stores show, 141; attraction to other painting genres, 127–30; attraction to postimpressionist, 245; championed, 169; disbanded, 236, 298n24; and establishment of Society of Nigerian Artists, 19; explores possibility

of national association of artists, 236–37; and fauvist painting, 127; formation of, 1, 2, 71; and history of, 85–88; and idea of freedom symbolized by political independence, 226; ideas about ethnicity and artistic modernism in postindependence Nigeria, 201–7; indebted to “tactical root finding” of pan-Â�Africanism and negritude, 132; in independence period, 3; inspired by cultural nationalism, 259, 260; Jimo Akolo’s work and, 224, 226; motivating ideas of, 72; nationalistic rhetoric and modernist aesthetic of, 168; and natural synthesis, 88–93, 99, 127, 141, 215, 219, 220, 252; and négritude, 96, 98–99, 132; and political independence, 263; postcolonial modernism of, 16, 66, 133; radical, 17; rejection of Western art, 219; rhetoric of, 221; rigorous inquiry into indigenous art and craft as basis for new, 209; search for and articulation of a Nigerian artistic character, 239; and symbolic production of postcolonial self, 288; work of, artists of, 5, 6, 14, 17–18, 138, 140, 145, 184, 208 art world, 3, 16, 17, 169; British, 59; contemporary in Nigeria, 1, 64, 77, 183, 228, 238; dignitaries of, 216; of Lagos, 18, 140, 263 Arthouse Contemporary Ltd., Lagos, 115, 218, 246, 267 Artists Rights Society, New York, 170, 173 Arts and Crafts Pavilion, Nigeria Exhibition, 141, 143, 144, 301n30 Arts of West Africa (George A. Stevens, comp., 1935), 296n32 artwork(s): of Art Society, 72; contemporary African called third-Â�rate, 8; and Emokpae’s painting The Last Supper, 248; formalist analysis of specific, 3, 15; as objects of systematic art appreciation, criticism, and history, 84; presented as decorative vignettes or portfolios, 181; regarded as functional, ritual objects, 89 Asante Akua’mma figures, 160 Asele Institute, Nimo, 6, 120, 123, 124, 142, 262; Philosopher (Demas Nwoko, 1965; fig. 5.18), 205, 206, 207 Association of Nigerian Artists, 238

329


Index — 330

Atkinson, Robin (born 1930) Lagos-Â�based British architect, 231 Atta, Prince Abdul Aziz, 245 Atta of Igbirra, father of Prince Abdul Aziz Atta, 231 avant-Â�garde(s), 4; and Aina Onabolu, 39; Art Academy and, 71, 236; Euro-Â� American, 261; European, 47, 63, 101, 115, 116, 124, 127, 128, 129, 138, 168, 285; India’s first modernist group of, 137; interdisciplinary moment in Nigeria, 149; and Isabel Lambert, 82; modernist techniques of, 136; precubist and the Art Academy, 129; Russian, 245; twentieth-Â�century, 12; Uche Okeke, Demas Nwoko, and their cohorts constitute, 14; Viennese, 136, 150 Awolowo, Obafemi (1909–1987), opposition party leader, Nigeria, 264, 294n42, 306n18 Azikiwe, Nnamdi (1904–1996), leader of Nigerian Youth Movement, 16, 89, 207; autobiography, My Odyssey, 294n41; background of, 35–36; founded Igbo State Union and Egbe Omo Oduduwa, 294n42; and Renascent Africa, 36, 294n43; and W. E. B. Du Bois, 35; and West African Pilot, 241 Bacon, Francis, 82, 83 Balogun, Chief Kolawole, 229, 233 Bamboos (Uthman Ibrahim, watercolor, ca. 1935; fig. 2.8), 67 Bandele, George, famed Yoruba sculptor, 145 Bandung Conference of 1955, 131, 154 Barker, Roy, co-Â�founder with V. M. Barker, of art department at ncast, 72, 83; and “National Art,” 77–8; and radio lecture defending program, 76, 126; sought affiliation with British art school, 75 Barker, V. M., wife of Roy Barker, 72 Barr, Alfred, Jr., founding director of Museum of Modern Art, New York, 216 Barton, Joseph E., 55 Bataille, Georges, 83 Bathers I (Bruce Onobrakpeya, deep etching, 1967; fig. 5.25), 214, 215

Bathing Women (Demas Nwoko, oil on canvas, 1961; fig. 3.17), 110, 111, 112, 201, 277 Baule, tradition of sculpture, 158 Beauty and the Beast (Ben Enwonwu, oil on canvas, 1961; fig. 6.4), 243, 244, 301n34 Beauty and the Beast (Herbert M. Cole, video, 1985), 276 Beggars in the Train (Demas Nwoko, oil on board, 1959; fig. 3.13), 106, 107 Beier, Ulli (1922–2011), 16, 306n5; and aesthetic produced by encounter of international modern art practice with local artistic traditions, 172; and Africa Awakening (early 1960s), 160; art criticism of, 119; and artistic modernism, 132; author of Contemporary Art in Africa (1968), 6; and Ben Enwonwu, 252; and Black Orpheus, 17, 131, 133–34, 136–38, 140, 148, 149, 177, art criticism in, 257, reviews in, 153–54, 156–58, 160; championed work of some Art Society members, 169; and Colette Omogbai’s paintings, 252, 253; and development and transaction of postcolonial modern art and art criticism, 183; and Die Brücke, 166, 168; and emergence of Nigerian art, 228, 238, 242; and Indian artists, 300n22; and influences on Skunder Boghossian, 177; and interest in art of the mentally ill, 135, 136, 161; and Langston Hughes, 304n82; the Mbari Artists and Writers Club at Ibadan, 132, 149, 151; and Mbari gallery, 151, 153, and exhibition brochure, 151–52, 162; and Mbari-Â�Mbayo, 161, 302n48, 302n50, 303n70; and Nigeria magazine exhibition, 146–48; and 1961 continental tour, 153; and Okpu Eze, 252; organized shows at Mbari, Ibadan, of Schmidt-Â�Rottluff prints, 165, 168, 169, and exhibition brochure, 166, 168, 304n79, invitation, 169, 171; and Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, 138, 140, and authenticity of work at, 147, believed art coming from part of nascent international phenomenon, 153; and photographs by, 159, 209; promoted work of formally trained artists, 161; and proposal to stage Soyinka’s play A Dance


Index —

of the Forests, 301n41; pseudonyms of, 137, 300n10; summer art workshops organized by, 18; and Susanne Wenger, husband of, 133–34, and his opinion of her work, 136; and Uche Okeke, 140, 147, 196; understanding and valuation of artistic tradition within Sudanese context, 175; work of, 17; and work of Agnaldo dos Santos, 175; writings of, 6, 82, 151–52, 160–61, 162, 165, 166, 168, 169, 171, 175, 303n70 Beinart, Julian, South African architect and colleague of Pancho Guedes, 303n72; article in Black Orpheus, 161–62, 165; friend of Ulli Beier, 257; led Mbari Ibadan and Mbari-Mbayo, Osogbo, summer workshops, 208–9 The Ben Enwonwu Foundation, Lagos, Nigeria: works from, 58, 146, 230, 244 Benin, 207; ancient art of, 86; art of, and Julian Beinart, 79; early court style of, 145; ethnographic museum at, 78; personages and ceremonial events at, 143; royal and ritual sculpture, 208, 210, 215; sculptural traditions, 76, 158; and Simon Okeke, 217 Benin City, art at Oba’s Market in, 81, 296n39, 296n5 Berger, John, 300n19 Biafra, 279 Biafran: cultural workshops, 309n50; secession from Nigeria, 274; War (1967–1970), 4, 279–80, 309–10n2 Biafran Directorate of Propaganda, Arts Section, 261 Bida, glass-Â�bead manufacture in, 78 Biobaku, S. O., 306n5 Birmingham School of Art (top arts and crafts school in England), 52, 55 “Birom Burial,” Uche Okeke (1958), account of burial and funerary practices of Birom people of Middle Belt region, 86 Black Arts movement, United States, 98 Black Orpheus, journal, 131, 228, 302n42; advisory committee of, 299n4; art in, 199, 254, 255; art program of, 152; and Denis Williams’s review of the Karl Schmidt-Â�

Rottluff exhibition, 168; featured sculptures of Brazilian artist Agnaldo dos Santos, 172; fortunes of, 177, 181; founded at Ibadan, Nigeria, in 1957, 14; gave voice to new generation of Anglophone African and black diaspora writers and artists, 17; and German writer Janheinz Jahn, 132, 165; and Ibrahim El Salahi, 4, 154, and Denis Williams’s review of 1963 show at Galerie Lambert, Paris, 157; inaugurated discourse of postcolonial modernism, 257; and Jacob Lawrence and William H. Johnson, 169, and Ulli Beier, 171; and Julian Beinart’s essay on Valente Malangatana, 162; and Labac magazine, 233; and late-Â�1960s postcolonial Nigerian art and poetry, 19; and modern art, 133–34, 136–38, 140; and negritude, 99, 299n4; and Nigeria magazine, 257; and other art critics in, 160; primary authors of art criticism in, 257; role of in development and transaction of postcolonial modern art and art criticism, 183; signal forum of mid-Â�twentieth-Â�century African and black artistic and literary modernism, 2–3; and Ulli Beier, 17, 132, 133–34, 136–38, 140, 257, and interest in art of the mentally ill, 161, published emerging poets, novelists, and playwrights, 149, and his Susanne Wenger, Francis Newton Souza, and Demas Nwoko essays, 148, promotes the work of formally trained artists, 161, reviews by, 153, and transnational network of, 154, and Vincent Kofi, 158, wrote most of essays and art reviews in, 160; voice of the Ibadan era, 256; Wole Soyinka’s “Abiku” poems in, 310n14 Black Writers and Artists Congresses: (1956), 258; (1959), 128 Bleyl, Fritz, 166 Blyden, Edward Wilmot (1832–1912), educator and writer: author of “The Idea of an African Personality,” 93–94; concept of African Personality, 128; early black nationalist, 2; intellectual tradition of, 35; member of Lagos’s educated elite, 69; proposed West African University, 31, 36

331


Index — 332

Boghossian, Skunder (1937–2003), Ethiopian artist: exhibited at Mbari, 172; influenced by negritude, 176; and Wilson Tiberío, 305n100; work of, Louise Acheson essay on, 175–76; works by, 176, 178; and Ulli Beier, 177 Bois, Yve-Â�Alain, 193 Bonhams, auction house, London, 116, 119 Brancusi, Constantin, 158 Bread and Bullet (Hubert Ogunde, 1954), 286 The Bridgeman Art Library, 49 British arts and crafts movement, 56 British Council’s Art Club, directed by Uche Okeke, 310n3 British indirect rule, 7, 18. See also indirect rule bronze-Â�lino, technique developed by Bruce Onobrakpeya, 210 Brooke, Donald, 75 Brown, Evelyn, Harmon Foundation, 231 Bruce Onobrakpeya: The Spirit in Ascent (1992), 214, 215 C. Mitchell and Company, 301n28 C.M.S. Grammar School, Lagos, 295n12 Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (1939), by Aimé Césaire, 133 Calligraphy (Ahmed Shibrain, ink on paper, ca. 1962; fig. 4.23), 174 Camberwell School of Art and Crafts, London (now Camberwell College of Arts), 82, 181, 297n13, 299n56 Camille, Roussan (1912–1961), 299n4 Canclini, Nestor Garcia, 12 Carr, Henry, Lagosian lawyer, 27 Carroll, Father Kevin, workshop at Oye-Â� Ekiti, 145 Carr-Â�Saunders Commission, 82 Casely-Â�Hayford, J. E., 36 Catterson-Â�Smith, Robert (1853–1938), British Arts and Crafts movement, 55–56 Central School of Art and Design in London, 231 Césaire, Aimé (1913–2008): and negritude, 95–96, 299n4; and Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (1939), 133 Christ (Uche Okeke, 1961; fig. 3.9), 101, 102

Churchgoers (Demas Nwoko, 1959), 106, 109 “Civilian and Soldier” (Wole Soyinka, poem), 279–80 Cižek, Franz (1865–1946), Austrian art educator, 55–56, 136 Clark, Irene (1927–1984), painter and designer, 304n92 Clark, John Pepper, Nigerian poet, 149 Coconut Palms (Ben Enwonwu, watercolor, 1935; fig. 2.6), 58 Coldstream, William, 297n13 Coleman, James, 207 colonial nativism, 40, 41 colonial pilgrimage, 9–10 colonialists, 25, 27; objurgation of native artistic ambitions and agency, 69; and racist snobbery, thought, 7 Combatant I (Demas Nwoko, oil on board, 1967; fig. 7.13), 280, 281, 281; changed name to Soldier in Ambush, 311n32 Combatant II (Demas Nwoko, oil on board, 1967; fig. 7.14), 280, 281, 282, 283; changed name to Soldier in Ambush, 311n32 “Come Thunder” (Christopher Okigbo, in Path of Thunder, poetry collection), 264 “The Coming of John” (W. E. B. Du Bois, short story), 22 compound consciousness, 9, 11, 28 Conflict (After Achebe) (Uche Okeke, oil on board, 1965; fig. 7.9), 272, 273 Congress for Cultural Freedom (Paris), 149, 151, 228, 301n42 Coomaraswamy, Ananda (1877–1947): book, The Dance of the Siva (1918), 56 corac, Council on Race and Caste in World Affairs, 228 Council on Race and Caste in World Affairs (corac), 228 Covered Way mural (Bruce Onobrakpeya, gouache on paper, 1960), Nigerian Art exhibition, 143, 210, 301n28, 301n30; fig. 4.5 (detail), 144 Cowherd (Afi Ekong, oil on canvas, early 1960s; fig. 6.3), 232 craftwork: African, 61; Sudanese, 4 Craven, David, 12


Index —

Cravo, Mário (born 1923), Brazilian modern sculptor, 177 Crisis (Demas Nwoko, oil on board, 1967; fig. 7.11), 278, 279 Cromwell, Oliver, 32 Crowder, Michael: and Ben Enwonwu, 308n32; director of Exhibition Centre, 228, 302n50; editor of Nigeria magazine, 141, 257; and Erhabor Emokpae, 245; and government’s “Nigerianization” policies, 233; and 1960 Nigerian Exhibition, 230; on selection committee for Kingsway Stores exhibition, 141, 142; residence of, 142; and young artists in Nigeria, 129, 145, 242 Crowther, Reverend Samuel Ajayi, 28 Crucifixion (Francis Newton Souza, oil on board, 1959; fig. 4.3), 139 Crummell, Alexander (1819–1898), 94 cubism/cubist: formalist experimentation, 57; and members of the Art Society, 129– 30; and Pablo Picasso, 126, 127, 138, 193, 303n57; radical style of, 127; Wilson Tiberío and Les Forçats (The Convicts), 160 d’Eichthal, Gustav, French ethnologist, 25 Damas, Léon-Â�Gontran (1912–1978), 299n4 A Dance of the Forest, 1960 play by Wole Soyinka, 197, 286, 301n41, 310n11 The Dance of the Siva, 1918 book, Amanda Coomaraswamy, 56 Dancing Couple (Owambe) (Demas Nwoko, terra-Â�cotta, 1968; fig. 7.18), 283, 287 Dancing Masquerader (Bruce Onobrakpeya, oil on board, 1965; fig. 5.21), 209, 212 Danford, John A. (d. September 1970), British artist, regional director of British Council: essay by on Nigerian art, 65–67; bronze statue Emotan (1954), 78, 81, 296n39, 296n5; and Nigerian art, 147; and 1948 exhibition, 67 de Beauvoir, Simone, 83 de Monchaux, Paul (born 1934), Canadian sculptor and ncast faculty member, 74, 79, 80; graduate of the Slade, 78; lectures and seminars on African art by, 79, 297n12

decolonization: African, 95, in first half of twentieth century, 7; age of, 92; Aimé Césaire imagines as negritude in action, 96; cultural, 285, implications of, 131; development of independence movements and ideologies of, 22; implications and impact of political on thematic and stylistic directions of artists’ work, 14; Kwame Nkrumah’s concept of, 9, and African personality, 94; politics of, and Africa, 6, 289, artistic, 127, in Nigeria, 6, 13, 289, and Onuora Nzekwu, 257; regionalization of process of, 260; rhetoric and ideologies of inspire artists, 2, 4; waves of spread worldwide, 12, set off at end of World War II, 15, 24 Delange, Jacqueline, 57 Deliss, Clémentine, 250 Department of Extra-Â�Mural Studies at the University College, Ibadan, 204, 303n60 Derain, André, 83 Deren, Maya (1917–1961), 134 Desta, Gebre Kristos (1932–1981), Ethiopian abstract painter, 226 Dialogue (Erhabor Emokpae, oil on board, 1962, fig. 6.7), 246, 249 diaspora, African, 2, 12, 17, 94, 128, 132–33, 160, 239 Die Brücke (the Bridge), 121, 166, 168 Die Brücke (the Bridge) painters, Germany, 121; dissolution of, 166; formed by, 166, 168; members of, 166; Schmidt-Â�Rottluff directly influenced by African sculpture, 168 Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Mozart’s opera, 197 Dike, Dr. K. O., principal, University College, Ibadan, 169 Diop, Alioune (1910–1980), Senegalese teacher and entrepreneur and publisher of Présence Africaine, 131, 306n5 Diouf, Ibou, 98 dos Santos, Agnaldo (1926–1962), Brazilian artist: in 1966 won (posthumous) sculpture prize at World Festival of Negro Arts, Dakar, 172; work of, and Ulli Beier, 177; works of, 179, 204

333


Index — 334

Dosumu, A. O. Delo, 42 double consciousness (W. E. B. Du Bois idea), 10 Dover, Cedric (author of American Negro Art), 169 Dr. Sapara (Aina Onabolu, undated), 45 Drewal, Henry J., 11 Drummer (Vincent Kofi), 159 Du Bois, W. E. B. (1868–1963): and African personality, 16; and black emancipation pan-Â�Africanisms of, 37; and Booker T. Washington, 34; called for literary education of black “Talented Tenth,” 27, for standard black universities, 34; concept of race based on nineteenth-Â�century European racialist thought, 94; exerted tremendous influence on twentieth-Â�century African nationalists, 33; influence on educated class of Africans, 35; irritating racial equality of, 35–36; Nnamdi Azikiwe and, 35, 294n43; and notion of Double Consciousness, 10; short story by, 22; work of, 89 Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa, Lord Frederick Lugard’s influential book, 31, 209n10 Duerden, Dennis, art critic: assisted Jimo Akolo to travel to London, 220; education officer and art teacher at Keffi Boys Secondary School, 67; in discussion of contemporary Nigerian art used “synthesis,” 91; mentored William Olaosebikan, 297n20; and nature of influence on young artists in Nigeria, 242; and Uche Okeke, 185; work of, 238 Earning a Living (Demas Nwoko, 1959), 106 Eastern Nigeria Theatre Group (entg), 262, 310n3 “Ebinti Song,” Uche Okeke (poem, 1960), 86 École des Arts, Dakar, 97, 98 Edgbaston Church of England College for Girls, Birmingham, England, 56 Edo sculptural forms and motifs, 210 Education Policy in British Tropical Africa (1925), historic white paper, 34, 294n38 Efik (people), 311n25

Egbe Omo Oduduwa, pan-Â�Yoruba cultural association, cofounders Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo, 294n42 Egbenuoba (Uche Okeke, oil on board, 1961; fig. 3.7), 99, 100, 124 Egerton, Sir Walter, 23, 24 Egwugwu masks, 272 Eicher, Diana, 104 Eicher, Joanne B., and Cynthia, 104 Eid, Vilma, collection, 179 Eke, Chief A. Y., registrar of the University of Lagos, 235, 307n14 Eke shrine, Uli mural, Uke, Anambra State, 1987; photo, Dr. Liz Peri, fig. 5.4, 188 Ekeada, Felix Nwoko (born 1934), 85 Eketeke vbe Erevbuye (Two Laziest People) (Bruce Onobrakpeya, oil on board, 1961; fig. 3.18), 112, 113 Eko Boys High School, Lagos, 295n12 Ekong, Afi (1930–2009), 307n15; appointed to selection committee for 1960 Kingsway Stores exhibition, 141; bronze bust of (1930–2009; fig. 4.7), 145, 146; director, Gallery Labac, Lagos, 231, 307n11; Erhabor Emokpae, her protégé, 243, 245; and formation of Nigerian Art Academy, 236; and Lagos art council committee, 238; monthly art program, broadcast on Nigerian Television Service, 237; secretary of Lagos branch of Nigerian Council for the Advancement of Art and Culture, 307n11; works by, 232 Ekwensi, Cyprian (1921–2007), popular Nigerian novelist and occasional art commentator: Lagos resident, 306n1; member of board of Nigerian Council for the Advancement of Arts and Culture, 307n8, of National Arts Council, 233, of older generation of Nigerian artists, 19; 1962 short story collection An African Night’s Entertainment, 210; published “High Price of Nigerian Art,” critique of big, abstract, pricey paintings by young Nigerian artists, 251, 252; works of, 79, 210, 251, 254 Ekwere, John (life dates unknown), founded drama group Ogui Players, 310n3; led Mbari Enugu, 261


Index —

El-Â�Khalil, Mr. and Mrs. Faysal, collection of, 115 El Salahi, Ibrahim (born 1930), Sudanese artist, 289, 303n57, 305n12, 306n12; and Black Orpheus, 154, 157; and Bruce Onobrakpeya, 153, 302n54; effort at formal deconstruction of Arabic calligraphic form, 303n57; first African artist with one-Â�person show at Mbari, 153; and Khartoum school, 175; and Ulli Beier, 158, 177, and Denis Williams, 157, 169; work at Mbari, Ibadan, and in Black Orpheus, 4, 14, Slade period, 156; works of, 155, 157 Emeka, Lawrence, 262, 310n3 Emokpae, Erhabor (1934–1984), Nigerian sculptor and graphic designer, 5, 19, 307n15; appeared on Afi Ekong’s monthly art program, on Nigerian Television Service, 237; and Christianity, 248, 309n36; and Colette Omogbai, 256; discussed formation of Nigerian Art Academy, 236; early paintings described, 245; and European surrealism, 248; and hard-Â�edge symbolism, 253; member of Federal Society for the Arts and Humanities, 235, of National Arts Council, 233; not one of Ulli Beier’s favorite artists, 243; and price charged for his paintings, 252; son of a Bini chief, 245; target of Ben Enwonwu’s ire, 243, 245; working on monumental Olokun, 212; works by, 246, 247, 248, 249, 250, 251, 265, 289, 308n35; and Yusufu Zaki, 248, 251 Emotan (John Danford, bronze statue, 1954; fig. 3.5), 78, 81, 296n39, 296n5 Enoch, Christian zealot, 272 Enuani Dancers (Demas Nwoko, terra-Â�cotta, 1968; fig. 7.17), 283, 286 Enugu Musical Society, Lawrence Emeka–Â� led, 310n3 Enwonwu, Ben (also called Benedict Chukadibia, 1917–1994), 307n15, 308n20; abstraction, rejection of, 240, 241, 243, 251–52; birth date of, 296n4; bourgeois lifestyle of, 166; called for new aesthetics of African art, 239; claims made in Drum essay, analyzed, 241–43, 246, 252, 258;

criticism of the gallery’s [Gallery Labac, acronym for: Lagos branch of the Arts Council] poor quality of work and bad display, 307n12; criticism (1964) of trends in postindependence Nigerian and African art, 239–40; cult of beauty led by, 253; directed ire toward Zaria graduates, 243; essay “Into the Abstract Jungle,” 231, 308n21; famous 1956 critique of colonial art institutions, 84; Federal Art Supervisor in the Information Office, 75; given responsibility for official arts and crafts exhibition at Kingsway Stores exhibition, 141, feud with council over, 141–42, 230–31, 234; gives lecture on contemporary Nigerian art, 82; goals of for national association of artists, 236; member of National Arts Council, 233, older generation of artists, 19; memorandum (December 1960) asking for reorganization of National Arts Council, 234, 238; met to discuss formation of Nigerian Art Academy, 236, elected vice president–Â�director of, 236, initiative for collapsed, 236–37; and Ministry of Commerce and Industry, 301n27; national influence of, challenged, 146; Nigeria’s most famous artist, 75, 85; Nigerian modernist, 263; and 1960 Independence Exhibition, 230–31, 234; paper at the Negro Artists and Writers Congress in Paris, 295n5; picture of young, brash artist lacking rigorous academic training, 245; prices of works by, 251; radio broadcast by, 75–76; and rival Felix Idubor, 78, 145; and Roy Barker, 77; and Society of Nigerian Artists, 238–39; sophisticated “African style” of, 54, 145; student of Kenneth Murray, 54, 145; Times article (1960) by, 239; and Uche Okeke, 86, 220, 236; and Ulli Beier, 308n32; a voice of new generation of artists, 143; writes letter asking artists to withdraw from Kingsway exhibition, 141–42; works of, 58, 78, 145, 146, 147, 229, 244, 254, 301n34, 308n31, of African dancers and black female nudes, 98; and younger artists, 301n32

335


Index — 336

Enwonwu’s bronze bust, Head of Afi (Afi Ekong, 1930–2009), 145; (fig. 4.7), 146 Enwonwu’s bronze statue of Queen Elizabeth II in Lagos, commissioned by Foreign Office (1957), 78, 308n31 Enwonwu’s Sango sculpture for the Nigerian Electric Commission, Lagos (fig. 6.1), 229, 230 Enwonwu’s wood sculpture ensemble, Risen Christ (1953–1954) at the Anglican Chapel, University College, Ibadan, 78 Epstein, Jacob, 83 Esan, Yetunde, Nigerian writer, 302n43 Esie, Nigeria: soapstone sculptures at, 78; sculptural traditions, 76 Ethiopia Unbound (1911), book by Casely-Â� Hayford, 36 Euromodernist style, 127 European Art Empire, 298n25 Euston Road School pictures, 119, 121, 297n13 Ewu “Ewu,” Uche Okeke (poem), 86 Exhibition Centre, Lagos: Afi Ekong exhibition at, 231; first gallery exhibition of students’ work (1955), 72; and Gallery Labac, 233; inaugural meeting and exhibition of the Society of Nigerian Artists at, 237; and Jimo Akolo’s exhibitions at, 220; opportunities for exhibitions offered by, 227, 228; run by Michael Crowder, 257, 302n50; with properly outfitted, custom-designed gallery space, 306n6 extra-Â�mural program at University College, Ibadan, 132 Eze, Okpu (1934–1995), 306n6; artist-Â� critic, 119, 121, 229; called a surrealist, 252–53; dismissed illustrative, pretty, or narratively coherent work, 256; Erhabor Emokpae’s work similar to, 252; irreverent painter, 19, young, brash, 245; and Okechukwu Odita, 119, 121; and Vincent Kofi, 229; and work of, 253, large-Â�scale, 248; and Yusufu Zaki, 251 Ezeulu, priest, 10–11 The Fabled Brute (Uche Okeke, 1959), 103 Fagg, William, keeper of Ethnology at British Museum, 8, 216

Fagunwa, D. O., Nigerian writer, 302n43 Fakeye, Lamidi (1928–2009), Nigerian sculptor, 145, 147 The Famished Road (Ben Okri, novel, 1991), 271–72, 310n13 Fanon, Frantz (1925–1961), social philosopher: and critique of negritude, 98; idea of national culture, 98, 239 Farfield Foundation: cia-Â�sponsored organization, 301n42; subsidiary, Paris-Â�based Congress for Cultural Freedom, 149 Fasuyi, T. A. (Timothy Adebanjo), 82, 236, 237 Federal Society of Arts and Humanities (fsah), 19; collection at University of Lagos, 211, 213, 232, 244; represented Lagos cultural elite, 261; and Yusufu Zaki, 248 Female Model (Okechukwu Odita, oil on board, 1962; fig. 3.29), 121, 123 Fialdini, Romulo, 179 Fifth Pan-Â�African Congress, Manchester, England (1945), 9 First Congress of Black Writers and Artists, at the Sorbonne, Paris (1956): and Ben Enwonwu, 75, 258, 296n5; and Cedric Dover, 169; deliberations and communiqués issued at, 128; described by conservative French media as “Cultural Bandung,” 92; and Léopold Sédar Senghor, 303n68; organized by Alioune Diop, 131–32; themes of, 299n1 First International Congress of African Culture, Salisbury, Rhodesia (icac), 216 Flemming, A. W. L., British official in the Gold Coast, 29 folktale(s): and Art Society, 85, 168; Bruce Onobrakpeya collected, 112; Igbo, 103, 112; and Uche Okeke, 105, 106, 192; Urhobo, 143 Four Sheep (Jacob Lawrence, tempera and gouache on paper, 1964; fig. 4.22), 172, 173 “Françafrique,” 9 francophone: black writers and intellectuals in Paris, 95; journal Présence Africaine, 92, 132 Franz Meyer Studios, Munich, 192


Index —

Frith, Clifford, painter and former teacher at Camberwell School of Art and the Goldsmiths’ College, 82–83, 298n25; and British figurative modernism, 130; and Euston Road School, 119, 297n13; former student of Victor Pasmore at Camberwell, 297n13, 299n56; influence of as teacher, 119; and Isabel Lambert, 297n14; works of, 119, 121, 122 Fry, Margery, 57 Fry, Philip, 57, 59 Fry, Roger, art critic, 55, 56 Fulani Empire (Nigeria), 25 Fulani Horsemen (Jimo Akolo, oil on canvas, 1962; fig. 5.28), 221, 222 Fulani Portrait (Clifford Frith, oil on canvas, ca. 1960; fig. 3.26), 121 Fundação Malangatana Valente Ngwenya, 163, 164 Galeria Estação, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 179 Galeria Galatea, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 233 Galerie Lambert, Paris, 197 Gallery Labac (acronym for Lagos Branch of the Arts Council), first commercial gallery, in Lagos: Afi Ekong manager of, 307n11; boutique atmosphere, 233; criticism of gallery’s poor quality of work and bad display, 307n12; established, 231 Gauguin, Paul, 112 George, Deinde, 141 George, Patrick (born 1923): British figurative modernism of, 130; British painter and ncast faculty member, 78, 79, 84, 121; departed ncast, 82; and Isabel Lambert, 83; work of, 123 Gerrard, A. H., Slade art professor at ncast, 75, 296n3 Giacometti, Alberto, 83, 195 A Giant Tree (Naoko Matsubara, woodblock print, 1962; fig. 4.29), 180 The Gift of Talents (Demas Nwoko, large mural, 1961; fig. 5.11), 196, 197, 200 Gilroy, Paul, 12 Girl before a Mirror (Madchen vor dem Spiegel) (Karl Schmidt-Â�Rottluff, woodcut on cream wove paper, 1914; fig. 4.18), 166, 167

Goldsmiths’ College, London, 82, 87, 89, 298n25 Government Museum, Trivandrum, Kerala, India, 49 Gowing, Lawrence, 297n13 Graphisches Kabinett J. B. Neumann, 167 Graven Image (Okpu Eze, 1963), 253 Grillo, Yusuf (born 1934): and Afi Ekong, 231, 237; and Art Society, 85, 304n90; canvases of explored postcubist figuration and palette, 18; commissioned to design a mural on theme of Nigerian agricultural products, 301n28; executed commissions for Lagos churches, 11; Federal Society for the Arts and Humanities, 307n15, secretary of, 235; founding president of Society of Nigerian Artists, 237; graduation of, 298n22; and inauguration of Nigerian Art Academy, 236; influenced by early European avant-Â�garde, 115; and Jimo Akolo, 126; pointed out centrality of ethnicity as the locus of nationalist subjectivity in Nigeria, 207; stature and influence of, 5; and Ulli Beier, 147; won medals and certificates in Nigerian Festival of the Arts, 297n20; works of, 115, 115–16, 116, 117, 118, 119, 148; Zaria graduate, 306n1 Guedes, Pancho (Amâncio d’Alpoim Guedes; born 1925), Mozambican architect and painter, 161 Guernica (Pablo Picasso, 1937), 103 Hammersmith School of Art, London, 66 Harmattan Landscape with Figures (Clifford Frith, oil on canvas, 1960–1961; fig. 3.27), 119, 122 Harmon Foundation, New York, 231; and Simon Okeke, 307n12; T. A. Fasuyi solicits support from, 237; Ulli Beier solicits support from, 304n92 Hart, Mrs., patron of Art Society, 85 Hartung, Hans, lyrical abstract painter, 175 Harvest (Yusuf Grillo, early 1960s; fig. 3.22), 116, 118, 119 “Harvest of Hate,” poem, Wole Soyinka, 264 Hassan, Salah M., 155 Hathiramani, Mr. G., collection of, 119

337


Index — 338

Hausa Drummer (Jimo Akolo, oil on canvas, 1961; fig. 3.31), 124, 125 Hausa Standing (Patrick George, oil on hardboard, 1959; fig. 3.28), 123 Head of a Woman (Ben Enwonwu, bronze), 145 Head of Afi (Ben Enwonwu, bronze, ca. 1959. fig. 4.7), 145, 146 Heavensgate (Christopher Okigbo, inaugural poetry collection, 1961), 264 Heckel, Erich, 166, 168 Heller, Reinhold, 166 Hendrickse, Begum, South African writer, 302n43 “High Price of Nigerian Art” (Cyprian Ekwensi, Nigeria magazine), 251, 252 Hope, Donald, art educator at Zaria, 84, 153 Hopkins, Gerard Manley, and “Hopkins Disease,” 308n26 “Hopkins Disease,” phrase coined by critics, 240, 308n26 Hornsey College of Arts and Crafts, London, 220 Houphouët-Â�Boigny, Félix (1905–1993, president and prime minister, Ivory Coast), 9 Hughes, Langston, 169, 304n82, 306n5 Hunt-Â�Cooke, A., acting chief federal advisor on education, 72 Hunter in a War Scene (Demas Nwoko, oil on board, 1967; fig. 7.12), 278–79, 280 Husband, W. A., ncast registrar, 75 Husband and Wife (Oseloka Osadebe, oil on board, 1964; fig. 3.30), 121, 124 Huxley, Sir Julian (1887–1975), world-Â� renowned biologist and author, 83 Ibadan Extra-Â�Mural Studies program, 160 Ibeto, Christopher C. (Christopher Chukwunenye), student of Kenneth Murray, 54; works of, 58 Ibibio (people), 311n25 Ibo Dancers at Awka (C. C. [Christopher Chukwunenye] Ibeto, watercolor, 1937; fig. 5.7), 58 “Ibo Folk Tales,” Uche Okeke, 86 Ibrahim, Kamala (Ishag), key member of

“Old Khartoum school” based at the Khartoum Technical Institute, 153 Ibrahim, Uthman: student of Kenneth Murray, 54; works of, 67 Idah, Ovie, Nigerian sculptor, 147 Idehen, Festus, Nigerian sculptor, 147, 231, 236, 237 Idubor, Felix (1928–1991), and Afi Ekong, 231; apprenticed to a Bini master carver, 145; Ben Enwonwu’s great rival, 78; at inauguration of Nigerian Art Academy, 236; and prices for his work, 251; ran a well-Â� known studio, 301n35, 306n1; work evocative of early Benin court style, 145 Ife, 207; ancient art of, 86, terra-Â�cottas of, 205; and Demas Nwoko, 204, 205; ethnographic museum established at, 78; masterpieces of, 204; royal houses of, 47; and Simon Okeke, 217; sculpture, 51, 217, traditions, 76 ife kwulu ife akwudebe ya (Igbo saying, when something stands, something else stands beside it), 197 Igbo mbari: houses, 299n9; and Mbari Club, 150; name given collective of writers, artists, dramatists, and critics established in Ibadan in 1961, 149–50; and postcolonial modernism, 288–89; sculpture, painting, and architectural complex dedicated to Ala, goddess, 149 Igbo, 311n23; architecture, sculpture, and painting, 150; arts and cultures, 207; and Christian zealot, Enoch, 272; culture, mid-Â�twentieth-Â�century, 220, and traditional society, 217; cultural association, 294n42; dancers, 283; earth goddess, 197; figural sculpture, 18; folklore, 196, 274, and religion, 11, 86; folktales, 103, 106, 112; hunters’ cult among the north-Â�central, 100; imaginary world, 197; masks, 276, carved face, 100; mythology and metaphysics, 266, 268; nationalism, 274; native culture, 201; oral literature, 79; people, 208, 274, 293n24, 311n25, massacre of, 260, 309n50; performative iconography of war, 277; potters, 204; sculptors, 198; sculpture(s), 147, 152, 196,


Index —

198, 201; sociopolitical history, fictional, 266; traditional architectural design and principles, 5; traditional mural and body art, 101; woman, 204; women, 274, 276. See also Nwoko, Demas; Okeke, Uche; Owerri Igbo (people) Igbo State Union, pan-Â�Igbo cultural association, 294n42 Igbo Uli (body drawing and mural painting), 185; female artists of, 186; inspiration for Uche Okeke’s Oja Series, 14, 18, examples of, 190–91; motifs of, 187, 188, 189, 305n3; West African traditional graphic form, 5; works of, 184–86, 189, 192–93, 194, 196, 205, 207, 208 Igbo-Â�Ukwu: ancient art of, 85, 219; bronzes at, 219; myth of, 215; and Simon Okeke, 217 Ijimere, Obotunde (pseudonym of Ulli Beier), 300n10 Imoukhuede, Mabel, Nigerian writer, 302n43 indirect rule: and Advisory Committee on Native Education, 34; and anticolonialists, 26; apologists for, 22, 26, 30, 51; British, 7, ideology, educational policies, 18, 32, 34, white paper on, 34; challenges to, 29; and claim to preservation of preserving Islamic/African cultures and political structures, 25–26; and colonial education, 23; colonialism, 23, 35, 68, 69; and colonial modernism, 39; designed to suppress literacy and keep Africans from attaining modernity, 31; era of, 43; foundation in racist ideology and antimodern framework, 30; history of, 25; ideology and practice of, 21; and Kenneth Murray, 59, 64, 68, and book that laid out framework for, 292n10; and Lord Frederick Lugard, 25, 30, 31, 32; and Mary Kingsley, 25, 292n12; native antagonists to, 23; Nigeria relied on practice of, 42; and Nnamdi Azikiwe, 36; and Phelps-Â�Stokes Fund, 34; and the United States, 33, 35 “Into the Abstract Jungle,” essay, Ben Enwonwu, 231 Ionian Sports event, Ondo (1957), 85

isinwaọji, Uli motif abstracted from space at the head of four-Â�lobed kola nut (cola acuminate), 305n3 Iwalewa-Â�Haus, University of Bayreuth: collections of, 103, 135, 155, 157, 163, 164, 174 Iwin (Susanne Wenger, screen print, ca. 1958; fig. 4.1), 135 J. K. Randle Hall, Lagos, 229, 235 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle, 170, 173 Jahn, Janheinz (1918–1973): advocate of negritude literature, 132, 133, 229n4; coeditor of Black Orpheus, 165 Jeanes School, Kabete, Kenya, 34 Jensen, Theodore, Dutch painter, 47 Johnson, William H. (1901–1970), African American expressionist painter: exhibition for by Ulli Beier, 304n92; featured in Black Orpheus, 169, 171; show for sponsored by American Society of African Culture, 229; show of screen prints, 181 Jones, Jesse, 34, 294n37 Jos Museum, Zaria Art Department, 82, 85, 101, 299n51 Juju’s Wedding (Skunder Boghossian, tempera and metallic paint on cut and torn cardboard, 1964; fig. 4.24), 176 Jumaa (Uche Okeke, oil on board, 1961; fig. 3.10), 101, 103 Kafanchan, site of Cultural Center established by Uche Okeke, 185, 261 Kano, Aminu, leader of Northern Elements Progressive Union, 293n15 Kapur, Geeta, 47, 89, 298n29 Keffi Boys Secondary School, 67; 1956 exhibition of paintings and prints by at Museum of Modern Art, New York, 85 Kennedy, Jean: book by, 6; and Simon Okeke, 217, 219 kente cloth, 9 Kenyatta, Jomo (1894–1978), president and prime minister of Kenya, 9 Keta Girl (Kenneth Murray, graphite on paper, 1942; fig. 2.5), 52, 53 Khartoum Technical Institute, 153

339


Index — 340

Khoury, Franko, 104 Kings College and Christ Church Cathedral School, Lagos, 295n12 Kingsley, Mary, imperialist, 25, 63, 292n6, 292n12 Kingsway Stores show, 141, 245 Kirchner, Ernst Ludwig, 121, 166 Kisch, Martin, 24 Klee, Paul, 101 Kneeling Woman (Karl Schmidt-Â�Rottluff, woodcut on cream wove paper, 1914; fig. 4.17), 166, 167 Kofi, Vincent Akweti (1923–1974), Ghanaian sculptor, 4, 159; exhibition of work of, 157, 229, described in Black Orpheus, 158, 160; member of Mbari, 149; and Ulli Beier, 177, and Denis Williams, 169; work by, 159 kola nut (cola acuminata), 305n3 Krauss, Rosalind, 192, 193, 195 Kwami (Kenneth Murray, graphite on paper, 1936; fig. 2.4), 52, 53 Ladipo, Duro (1931–1978), Yoruba actor and playwright, 161, 302n48, 303n70 Ladipo’s Popular Bar, Station Road, Osogbo, site for Mbari-Mbayo, 303n70 Lady (Simon Okeke, mixed media on paper, 1965; fig. 5.26), 218 Lagos Observer, 27 Lagos Weekly Record, 25, 27, 30, 45 Lam, Wilfredo, Cuban painter, 176, 305n100 Lambert, Constant, 297n14 Lambert, Isabel (also called Isabel Rawsthorne, 1912–1992), figurative avant-Â�garde artist, 82, 297n14 “Lament of the Silent Sisters” poem, Christopher Okigbo, 273 Landscape with Skull and Anthill (Bruce Onobrakpeya, oil on board, 1961; fig. 3.19), 112–13, 114 Larkin, June, 167 Lasekan, Akinola (1916–1972): academic realism of, 166; academism of, replaced by Art Society, 129; correspondence courses at Hammersmith School of Art,

London, 66; criticized abstraction, 243; member of Nigerian Council for the Advancement of Arts and Culture board, 307n8, of older generation of artists, 19, 252; painted scenes of Yoruba legends and royal portraits (fig. 2.2), 47, 48; painting served as a documentary medium, 116; political cartoons and book illustrations of, 243; popularized pictorial realism, 145; published article in Nnamdi Azikiwe’s West African Pilot, 241; sedate, illustrative style of, 243; studio of, 73; and Uche Okeke, 241; works of, 48, 119 The Last Supper (Erhabor Emokpae, oil on board, 1963; fig. 6.8), 248, 250, 309n36 Lawal, Babatunde, 253–54 Lawrence, Gwendolyn Knight, 171 Lawrence, Jacob (1917–2000) African American artist, 159. 304n92; and American Society of African Culture, organized lecture for, 237, and Mbari Ibadan shows of work, 229; exhibited at Mbari Ibadan in October 1964, 171–72; The Migration of the Negro series (1940–41), 169, 170; saw Vincent Kofi’s show at Mbari-Â�Mbayo in Osogbo, 158; shows for works by, 169, 229; and Ulli Beier, 169, 171; works of, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173 Lévi-Â�Strauss, Claude, 92 Levy, Mrs. David M., 170 Lévy-Â�Bruhl, Lucien, 242 Lewis, William, of Liberia, 229 Liberato, Joao, 179 Lopashich, Dr., 300n26 Loram, C. T., white South African, 34 Lourenço Marques (Maputo), capital city of Mozambique, 162 Lowe, Maxine, 181 Lugard, Lord Frederick: adaptationist model of his ideas, 63; age of, 28; articulated objectives of colonial education in his magnum opus Dual Mandate, 31, 292n10; and attitude toward blacks, 29, 293n27; develops theory of indirect rule, 25, wants to extend to southern Nigeria, 30; and education of natives, 26–27, 31–32, 43, 54, and Memoranda on Edu-


Index —

cation (1919), 59; as governor general of Nigeria, 29; and indirect rule, 25, 30, 32, 292n20, critics of, 31; and John Danford, 68; and Kenneth Murray, 59–60, 63, 68; Nigeria formed under regime of, 25; rejection by Colonial Office of request to suppress press, 30, 293n27; rule of, infernal, 293n13, damnable, 30, terrible, 25–26; teaching British history in Nigerian schools, 32; type of native he feared, 35; wanted to preserve indigenous political systems, 29–30 Lunch at the Park (Oseloka Osadebe, oil on board, 1961; fig. 3.24), 119, 120 Macaulay, Herbert (1864–1946): declaration regarding Aina Onabolu’s art, 45; early black nationalist, 2, 28–29 MacLaren, Mrs., 300n26 Madonna and Child (Uche Okeke, 1961), 101 Madubuike, Ihechukwu, literary critic, 240 Majekodunmi, Dr. Moses Adekoyejo, 141 Majekodunmi, Nora: chair of the Lagos branch of the arts council, 141, 307n8; frictions with artists Uche Okeke and Demas Nwoko, 230–31, 301n30; member of Lagos social elite, 235; and Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, 141; waning influence in Lagos’s and Nigeria’s political and social institutions of, 233 Makerere College, Kampala, Uganda, 61 Malangatana, Valente (Malangatana Valente Ngwenya, 1935–2011), Mozambican artist: article about in Black Orpheus, 162, 165; autobiography of, 162; exhibition of work at Mbari Ibadan, 162; and Julian Beinart, 162, 165; and Pancho Guedes, 161–62; and postcolonial subject, 162; work of, 162; and Ulli Beier, 162, 165 Malevich, Kazimir, Russian avant-Â�garde Suprematist painter, 245 Man Hanging from a Tree (Jimo Akolo, oil on board, 1963; fig. 5.30), 223, 224 Man with Two Wives (Bruce Onobrakpeya, oil on board, 1965; fig. 5.20), 209, 211 Mary Trumbull Adams Art Fund, 219

The Masquerade (J. P. Clark, theatrical work, 1964), 151, 306n1 Matisse, Henri, 121 Matsubara, Naoko (born 1937), Japanese printmaker: exhibition of works, 181; works by, 180 Matta, Roberto, Chilean surrealist painter, 176, 305n100 Mazrui, Ali, 10, 240 Mbari Artists and Writers Club, Ibadan: description of activities of, 149–51; exhibitions and workshops at, 17; forum of mid-Â� twentieth-Â�century African and black artistic and literary modernism, 2–3; founded by Ulli Beier, 132 Mbari Enugu (established 1963): formation of, 19, 181; history of, 261, 263; rise of, 259; scenes at, 262 Mbari Ibadan, 183; and Bruce Onobrakpeya, 208; closest thing to Enwonwu’s “coffee bar” milieu, 241; elitist space, 161; exhibitions at, 132, 161, 257, Colette Omogbai’s, 253, 309n42, Jacob Lawrence’s, 169, 171, Jimo Akolo’s, 220, most ambitious: Karl Schmidt-Â�Rottluff ’s, 165, 304n79; fortunes of, 177; founding member Christopher Okigbo, 240, 264; friends and colleagues at, 265; and Ibrahim El Salahi, 4; inaugural art exhibition at, 152; inspired by political independence and its implied freedoms, 263; and invocation of Igbo mbari, 150; members of, 304n92; organizes terra-Â�cotta sculpture workshop, 204; partnered with American Society of African Culture, 229; plays at, 201; and Uche Okeke, 181, 265, mural of, at, 185, 186 Mbari-Â�Mbayo, the Mbari Club at Osogbo: brainchild of Duro Ladipo (1931–1978), 161; and Bruce Onobrakpeya, 208; established, 302n48; Ladipo’s Popular Bar site of, 303n70; nickname of Mbari Club at Osogbo, 161; scenes at, 159, 209; and Vincent Kofi’s shows, 157 Mbembe, Achille, 26 McEwen, Frank, convened First International Congress of African Culture, 216

341


Index — 342

Meeting (Afi Ekong, oil on canvas, 1960; fig. 6.2), 232 Mehta, Tyeb, progressive Indian modernist, 298n29, 300n22 Melancholy (Karl Schmidt-Â�Rottluff, 1914), 166 Memorandum of 1925, 43 Mercer, Kobena, 13 Merchants of Light School, Oba, 298n21 Meredith, Owen, 47 metropolitan France (mainland France), 91 The Migration of the Negro series (Jacob Lawrence, 1940/41), 169, 170 The Migration of the Negro, No. 22 (Jacob Lawrence, tempera on gesso on composition board, 1940–1941; fig. 4.19), 170 Millard, Patrick, British landscape painter, 82 Miró, Joan, 101 modernism, modernists: and Africa, 132, 133, 169, 289; and Aina Onabolu, 42, his colonial, 17, 133, 140, 145; and Akinola Lasekan, 145; Art Society, 129, 168, 263; and Ben Enwonwu, 145, 241, 258, 263; and black, 175; and Black Orpheus, 134, 136, 160; British figurative, 130, midcentury, 121; and Demas Nwoko, 201; early, 127, twentieth-Â�century, 210; defining, inspired by experience of colonization, racial discrimination, and encounter between Western modernity and indigenous cultures, 152; and Egyptian, 172; and Erhabor Emokpae, 245, 252; and European, 100, 108, 127, 130, 134, 137, 153, 165, 166, 169, 177, 241, art and artists, 106, art form or style, 136, avant-Â�garde, 101, 129, and later, 99, painters, 110, painting, 119, poetry, 240, stylistic sensibility, 126; figurative sculpture, 219; and Gebre Kristos Desta, 226; Geeta Kapur called “modernist universalism,” 89; heritage, 184; Indian, 138; and India’s first avant-Â�garde, 137; international, 140, styles, 128; and Jimo Akolo, 226; and Kenneth Murray, 140; and Mbari Enugu, 263; and Mbari Ibadan, 150; and natural synthesis, 91, 127; and negritude philosophy at the École des Arts, Dakar,

97; Nigerian, 126, 132, 133, 138, 140, 141, 201, 258, 259–60, 289; and Nigerian art, 77, and Egyptian counterparts, 88; and painting, 101, styles, 154; Parisian, 127, 134, 172; of Paul Gauguin, 112; and Roy Barker, 77; and Simon Okeke, 216; and Sudanese and Arab, 172; tendency to disassociate from nationalism, 78; tradition of sculptors as Constantin Brancusi and Henry Moore, 158; and Uche Okeke, 196, 201; and Ulli Beier, 132, 136–38, 140, 153, 154, 158, 160, 161, 166, 168, and Jacob Lawrence, 171; and Vincent Kofi, 158; Western, 78, 90, 137; and Wilson Tiberío, 160–61. See also premodernism; postcolonial modernism Modigliani, Amedeo, 116 Monster (Uche Okeke, oil on board, 1961; fig. 3.8), 99, 100 Montagu, Lord (Edwin Samuel Montagu), secretary of state for India at the British House of Parliament, 25 “Moonlight,” Uche Okeke (1960), 86 Moore, Aduke, Lagos lawyer, 233, 300n26, 307n14 Moore, Gerald, English instructor, Ibadan, extra-Â�mural studies program, 160–61, 257 Moore, Henry, 75, 158, 165 Moore-Â�Gilbert, Bart, 13 Mother (Karl Schmidt-Â�Rottluff, 1916), 166 Mother Nigeria (Uche Okeke, mural painted on straw mat support, 1960), 143 Mount, Marshall Ward, art historian, 216 Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, 197 Mphahlele, Ezekiel (later known as Es’kia Mphahlele), South African writer, 14; African representative to Congress for Cultural Freedom in Paris, 303n42; argued against gradualism in liberation of southern Africa, 88; exile living in Nigeria, 149; president of Mbari Ibadan, 151 Mrs. Spencer Savage (Aina Onabolu, portrait painting, 1906), 45 Munch, Edvard, 166 mural (Demas Nwoko, Arts and Crafts pavilion, Nigeria Exhibition, Lagos, 1960; fig. 4.6), 143, 144, 301n28, 301n30


Index —

Murray, Kenneth C. (1903–1972): adaptationist ideas of, 132; and Aina Onabolu, 16, 40–43, 47, 51, 52, 54, 62, 64, 68–69, 140; and Ananda Coomaraswamy, 56; and Ben Enwonwu, 242, 296n4; and Black Orpheus, 233; British art teacher, 16, 39, 52, 68; colonial models established in Nigeria by, 160; colonial modernism of, 17, 140; criticized African artist seeking mastery of stylistic modes and pictorial techniques of precubist era, 52; development as an educator, 57; disapproval of modernism’s nonspiritual basis, 55; educational (pedagogical) ideas of, 59–60, 61–62, 65, 73, 129; encounter with Franz Cižek’s ideas, 55–56; established ethnographic museums, 78; fashioned new arts and crafts curriculum that became model for southern Nigerian schools from early 1930s onward, 52, basis of contemporary African creative authenticity, 91; followers of fail to identify with formal experimentation of European avant-Â�garde, 138; and Francesca M. Wilson, 55; and Frederick Lugard, 59–60, 63; and George A. Stevens, 62; graduate of Birmingham School of Art in England, 52, 55; and indirect rule, 59, 68; influence of, 66; insistence on technical art education for production of craft, 27, 41–42; invested in recovering native art traditions and in training artists whose work would satisfy needs of rural and city dwellers, 54; and Joseph E. Barton, 55, 295n18; and Margaret Trowell, 61–62; misunderstanding of his art education in scholarly literature, 54–55; naive naturalism of his school, 54; nativism of, 41; Nigerian writer, 302n43; 1937 exhibition of paintings and sculptures organized by, at the Zwemmer Gallery, London, for his students, 57, 66; and Ola Oloidi, 295n26; and Olu Oguibe, 296n34; primitivist imagination of, 63–64; recommended apprenticeship with master traditional carvers for those who wished to practice professionally, 54; role in developing modern art in Nige-

ria, 64; and Sir William Rothenstein, 57; students of, 145, 148; teaching and ideas about African art in era of colonization, 59, 62–63; vision of African art, 40, 90, of modern Nigerian art of, 31, 40; work as an art teacher, importance of, 64; works of, 21, 53, 238 Museum of Modern Art, New York: collections of, 167, 170, 176; Committee on Prints and Illustrated Books Fund, 167; founding director of, 216; 1956 exhibition of paintings and prints by Keffi Boys, 85 My American Friend (Erhabor Emokpae, oil on board, ca. 1957; fig. 6.5), 245, 246 National Committee of the Nigerian Arts Council meeting, May 31, 1963, 307n12 National Council for Arts and Culture, Abuja (ncac), 148; Abuja collection, 58, 67, 144, 249 National Council for Arts and Culture, Lagos, 212 National Gallery of Art, Lagos, 145 National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 173 National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, 104 National Museum, Lagos, 216, 231 nationalism, nationalist(s): African, 33, 34, 154, 239, movements, 95, political, 29, visions of modernity, 21; and Aina Onabolu’s art, 47; anticolonial, 14; and Art Society, 168, 260; and Ben Enwonwu,77; and Benedict Anderson’s study of, 9; Chatterjee’s Indian, 10; colonial subjectivity, 8; continental, 37; crises in body politic by mid-Â�1960s stifled thrust of developments in art, 263; crises of postindependence, 14; cultural, 2, 6, 16, 19, 27, 42, 259, 260, African, 11; Demas Nwoko, 208, and soldiers, 280; early, 41, and education, 22; early black nationalists Edward Blyden and Herbert Macaulay, 2, 28; early-Â�twentieth-century radical, 8; elite, 45, educated, 51, political, 50; ethnic, authenticity, 207, in Nigerian politics, 143, strong, 208; Igbo, 274; impulse, an eager-

343


Index — 344

nationalism, nationalist(s) (continued) ness to claim diverse ethnic cultures and traditions as part of collective national heritage, 86; Indian, 138; and J. E. Casely-Â� Hayford, 36; James Coleman and “regionalization of nationalism,” 207; and Jomo Kenyatta et al., 9; and Kolawole Balogun, 229; and Lagos press, 27; negative influence of ideology on artistic creativity, 126; in Nigeria, 289; and Nnamdi Azikiwe, 35, 294n42; and Obafemi Awolowo, 294n42, 306n18; pilgrim cultural, 10; political, 92, ideologies and identity politics, 9; politicians, 88, important, 87; popular nationalist backlash against colonial regime, 75; radical(ist), 27, 31, 33, 293n15; and Sir William Rothenstein’s critique of Parisian abstraction, 242; struggles of early-Â�twentieth-Â�century Nigeria, 47; subjectivity in Nigeria, 207, and Yusuf Grillo, 207; tendency to dissociate modernism from, 78; unified art, 18; voices of, 40; West African, 45, 138; work of Nigeria’s political, 89. See also protonationalists Native Administration Works Department, 59 natural synthesis, 88–93, 127–30; and Art Society, 5, 17, 18, 41, 88, 89, 99, 127, 128, 129, 130, 141, 183–84, 215, 220, 252; and Demas Nwoko, 215, his Soldier, 285; and Kenneth Murray, 41, 90–91; prescribed a different approach, 98; selective use of artistic resources and forms from Nigerian/African and European traditions, 1; and Simon Okeke’s work, 215, own interpretation of theory of, 217; and Uche Okeke, articulated by, 4–5, 17, 90, 141, claims about, 126, emphasis on exploration and adaptation of indigenous Nigerian art forms, 99, formalist interpretation of, 219, formulation of, 89, 92, 93, 95, 96, ideological basis of, 220, realized implications of, 18, theoretical model, 207, theory of, 41, 186, thoughts on, 98 ncaac. See Nigerian Council for the Advancement of Art and Culture

Ndefo, Roland (1924–1999), 298n21 Ndiaye, Iba (1928–2008), Senegalese painter, 226 negritude, 2, 242; Aimé Césaire and, 95–96, 133, 299n4; arguments of, 17; and Art Society, 96, 98–99, 132; and Ben Enwonwu, 239; and Black Orpheus, 299n4; concerned with revivification of universal black soul and black experience, 96; ethos, 134; founders of, 131; invented in Paris during interwar period, 95; and Janheinz Jahn, 132; and Jean-Â�Paul Sartre, 91, 93, 96, 133; Léopold Sédar Senghor, 97, 242, 299n4; movement, 92, 133; and natural synthesis, 96; and Papa Ibra Tall, 98, 226; poetry, 91, 93, 96, 133; poets, 128; political and cultural ideologies associated, 18; proponents of, 11; and Skunder Boghossian, 176; Susanne Wenger’s visual, 134, 136; “tactical root finding” of, 132; and Uche Okeke, 93, 96, 98; and Ulli Beier, 161 negrophilia, 96 Neuberger, Mr. and Mrs. Roy R., 170 Neue Sachlichkeit painting in Germany, 109 New Currents, Ancient Rivers (Jean Kennedy, 1992), 6 The Newark Museum, 48, 191 Ngozi, Carolyn, 104 Ngwenya, Malangatana Valente (1936– 2011), Mozambican painter and poet. See Malangatana, Valente Ngwenya Niger Mission, British, 25 Nigercol, students’ magazine, 86, 299n52 Nigeria (magazine): and Bruce Onobrakpeya, 210; editor of, Michael Crowder, 141, 257; general-interest journal during the colonial period, 18; increasing critical discourse in, 258; 1965 publication of Colette Omogbai’s historic manifesto in, 228, 254, 256; organized Simon Okeke’s exhibition, 216; originated with Nigerian Teacher, established in 1933, 309n47, provided critical space for art discussions in 1960s, 257; Lagos review of Nigerian Art Exhibition of 1960, 146, 148; and Ulli


Index —

Beier, 134, art review of Demas Nwoko’s work, 140; and Yusufu Zaki, reader of magazine, 248 Nigeria 14 (1938), 58, 67 Nigeria 68 (March 1961), 144, 146, 148 Nigeria in 1959 (Demas Nwoko, oil on board, 1960; fig. 3.15), 107, 109, 110, 283 “Nigerian Art and Artists,” Okechukwu Odita essay, 86 Nigerian Art Academy, founded 1961, 236 Nigerian Art Exhibition (1948), 66 Nigerian Art Exhibition (1960), 140–48, 228; and Ben Enwonwu, 234; works at, 143–44, 210 Nigerian Arts Council, Lagos branch, 19 Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology (ncast; called Zaria), Zaria, 1, 16, 297n6, 299n56; African personality, 93–95, and negritude, 95–8; Art Department at, 72–73, 75–78, 82–5; artists at, 141–42, 148, 153, postcollege from, 227, 228, young artists at, 19, 147; Art Society at, 42, 85–88, art of, 99–101, 103, and Bruce Onobrakpeya, 112–13, and Demas Nwoko, 106–12, 151, formed at, 2, history of, 17, Igbo Uli, 184–86, 189, 192–93, 194–96, 265, postcollege, 184, 196–98, 200–2, 203–5, 207–8, 220, 236, 277, students at, other, 115–16, and Uche Okeke, 6, 18, 65, 99–106, 124, 151, work of, 116, 119, 121, 124, 126; art students at, 79; educators at, 153, 238, 297n12; exhibition at, 72; graduates of, 18, 237, 241, 243, 252, 253, 256, 257, 306n1, class of 1961, 149; history of, 71–72; and Jimo Akolo, postcollege work of, 221, 224; and natural synthesis, 88–93, 126–30; new work from, 242; and Nora Majekodunmi, 141; and Simon Okeke, postcollege work of, 215–17, 219–20; students from, 208, 209, 210, 297n12; Ulli Beier and, 138, 140, and authenticity of work at, 147, believed art coming from part of nascent international phenomenon, 153; work of Art Society students after graduating from, 183 The Nigerian College of Technology Art Exhibition, 72

Nigerian Council for the Advancement of Art and Culture, Lagos (ncaac), 140, 260 Nigerian Electric Commission, Lagos, 229 Nigerian Festival of the Arts, colonial era event, 229, 297n20 Nigerian Teacher, established in 1933, 309n47 Nigerian Youth Movement (nym), 207 Night Flight of Dread and Delight (Skunder Boghossian, oil on canvas with collage, 1964), 177, 178 Nimo, ancestral hometown of Uche Okeke, 184, 299n50 Nkobi, J., 236 Nkrumah, Kwame (1909–1972), leading pan-Â�Africanist: and African personality, 128; and consciencism, 291n15; first president of Ghana, 94; and honorific “Osagyefo,” 9; and pan-Â�Africanism, 9, leading, 94; studied in United States rather than England, 294n43 Nok culture, 196, 203; and Demas Nwoko, 196, 201, 203, 204, 205, 207, 208, 283, sculptures, 201, 207, 285; figures, 203; terra-Â�cottas, 203, 204, 205; and Uche Okeke regarding Simon Okeke, 217 Nolde, Emil, 166 Northern Horsemen (Jimo Akolo, oil on canvas, 1965), 224, 225 Nsofor, Anthony, 119, 247 Nsukka, first major theater of Biafran War, 279 Nsukka School: famous for exploration of Igbo Uli and other West African traditional graphic forms, 5; and Obiora Udechukwu, 153; Uche Okeke, head of art school at, 4, 5, reputation as doyen there, 6, work of there, 153 Nun (Agnaldo dos Santos, wood, ca. late 1950s), 177, 179 Nwagbara, Ogbonnaya (1934–1985), 85, 261 Nwakanma, Obi, literary scholar, 264 Nwanyi Mgbolod’ala, legendary Igbo Amazon, 274 Nwoko, Demas (born 1935), 297n20, 297n21, 307n15; adopted a vivid expressionistic style, 106; became de facto lead-

345


Index — 346

Nwoko, Demas (continued) ing voices of new generation of artists, 143; believed in Nigerian national imaginary, 277; and Biafran War, 279, and artwork of, 280–85, and soldier, 280– 81, 283, 285; and Christopher Okigbo’s poetry, 265; and civil war, 277; concerned about implications and impact of political decolonization on work, 14; and crises of the late 1960s in the Nigerian postcolony, 265, 278–81, 283, 285; and crisis paintings of 1967, 278; and Denis Williams, 204; designed the stage set for Mozart’s opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail, 197; developed figural style, 18; drew ire of Michael Crowder and Nora Majekodunmi, 141, 230; essay on in Black Orpheus, 138, 140, 148; frictions with Nora Majekodunmi, 230–31, 301n30; friends of, 85; at Galerie Lambert, Paris, 197; graduated from Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria, 83, 88, 149, postcollege, 184, 196–98, 200–202, 203–5, 207–8, 220, 277, work at, 106–12, 151; helped found Mbari Artists and Writers Club at Ibadan, 132, executed mural at, 143, 144, 301n28, 301n30, member of, 149, organized the arts section at Nigerian Art Exhibition, 1960, 141, 151, 230; and imaginary Igbo world, 197; and Igbo mbari complex, 289; and Jimo Akolo, 220; joined theater arts faculty at University of Ibadan, 201, and meeting to discuss formation of Nigerian Art Academy, 236; Mbari Artists and Writers Club, Ibadan, helped found, 132; at Mbari exhibition, 151, 152, 184; moved to more baroque figuration, 283; and nationalism, 208; native of Idumuje-Â�Ugboko, an Igbo town, 311n29; and natural synthesis, 215, 285; Nigerian architect, 5, 306n13, 311n303; and Nok culture, 201, 203, 204, 205, 207, 208, 283, 285; part of an avant-Â�garde, 14, 149, a new transdisciplinary group of Nigerian visual and literary artists, 149, part of discourse, 265, political art of, 259; Nigeria magazine article, 146, 147; and oyoyo (also called ogbanje in Igbo and

abiku in Yoruba), 268; and postcolonial role of art in state and, 288, work of, 286; and postcolony, 288; produced sets and costumes for Mbari Ibadan plays, 201; and Radio Nigeria interview, 141; raised stakes and expanded the meaning of political in postcolonial modernism, 286, 288; read about European modern artists, 99; received scholarship from French embassy to travel to France, 184, spent nine months studying there, 196; and sculpture workshop at Mbari Ibadan, 204, devised a sunken outdoor kiln similar to bowl furnace at, 204; and Simon Okeke, 220; studied French postimpressionists, 112; and Uche Okeke, 85; and Ulli Beier, Black Orpheus essay, 138, 140, 148, 154; wanted Nigerian nation, 208; won silver cup for best all-Â�around entry in art in Western Regional Festival of Arts, 85 Nwoko, Demas, works by: 106–12, 107, 108, 109, 110, 111, 143, 144, 196, 197, 197–98, 199, 200, 200–205, 203, 205, 206, 207, 263, 279, 280, 280, 281, 281, 282, 283, 284, 285, 285, 286, 287, 311n32; formal syntheses evident in, 217, and search for new formal modes to characterize their defining work in light of political situation, 259, on theme of Adam and Eve, 18, 199, 200, 200, 203; show disillusion about prospects of new nation, 19; significance of, 207; style of, 243; and Zikist Movement, 208 Nza the Smart (Uche Okeke, pen and ink, 1958; fig. 3.12), 101, 103, 105 Nzekwu, Onuora (born 1928; Nigerian writer), 306n1; editor of Nigeria magazine, 1962 to 1966, 18, 233, 257, 309n48; inaugural novel of, 257; joined Biafran cultural workshops, 309n50; member of board of Nigerian Council for the Advancement of Arts and Culture, 307n8; wrote “Our Authors and Performing Artists,” 1966, 258 Obiago, Mr. and Mrs. Joe, collection, 218 Obong of Calabar, royal house of, 231 Obumselu, Ben, critic, 264


Index —

“October ’66,” suite of poems, Wole Soyinka, 264 Odetta (Odetta Holmes), 169 Odita, Okechukwu (born 1936): and Art Society, 85, became secretary of, 298n22; debt to continental European modernism, 121; and essay in Nigercol, 86; and influence of Clifford Frith on, 119; and influence of early European avant-Â�garde on, 115; and Okpu Eze, 119, 121; and Oseloka Osadebe, 297n21; works of, 119, 120, 121, 123 odu eke (python’s tail) (Uli), 305n3 Off to Battle (Simon Okeke, mixed media, 1963; fig. 5.27), 219 ogbanje (called oyoyo in Igbo; abiku in Yoruba), 268, 272 Ogboni Chief (Demas Nwoko, oil on board, 1960; fig. 3.14), 107, 108 Ogu Umunwanyi (“women’s revolt,” or “women’s war”), 311n23 Ogui Players, founded by John Ekwere, 310n3 Oguibe, Olu, 64, 296n34 Ogunde, Hubert, Bread and Bullet (1954) and Yoruba Ronu (1964), 286, 307n8, 311n33 Ojike, Mbonu, 294n43 Ojora, Mr. Kunle, 233 Okafor, Dubem, literary scholar, 264 okala isinwaọji, motif abstracted from space at the head of three-Â�lobed kola nut (Uli), 305n3 Okara, Gabriel (born 1921), Nigerian poet and novelist, Writer’s Club, 261, 309n50, 310n3 Okeke, Simon Obiekezie (1937–1969), 79, 215–17, 219–20, 307n15; and Afi Ekong, 231; and Akinola Lasekan, 241; appointed curator of National Museum, Lagos, 216; and Art Society, 85, 220, elected president of, 85, resigned as, 298n22; believed that the Nigerian Council for the Advancement of Arts and Culture denied Nigerian artists access to more desirable US art markets, 231; Benin and, 217; came from Awka district, in eastern region of Nigeria, 297n20; delivered paper at First Inter-

national Congress of African Culture, 216; difference between his work and that of Uche Okeke and Demas Nwoko, 220; exhibition organized by Nigeria magazine, 216; and Harmon Foundation, New York, 307n12; and Ife art, 217; and Igbo-Â�Ukwu art, 217, work bound to ancient art of, 219; invited to organize an exhibition of Nigerian and African American artists at J. K. Randle Hall in Lagos, 229, to submit work for Kingsway Stores show, 141; and Jean Kennedy, 217, 219; and modernism, 216; natural synthesis and his work, 215, 219; and Nigerian Art Academy, 236; and Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology (ncast), Zaria, postcollege work of, 215–17, 219–20; and Nok culture, 217; one of Nigeria’s most renown artists, 306n1; relied on techniques and styles borrowed from early modern Western art, 18; and Uche Okeke, 217, 220; and Ulli Beier, 147, 196; works of, 218, 219, 289 Okeke, Uche (born 1933), 14, 142; and African personality, 95, 96; and Aina Onabolu, 129; ancestral hometown of, 184, 299n50; in art department at Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria, 85; and Art Society, 88, formation of, 85, as president, 298n22, selected as secretary, 85; and avant-Â�garde, Demas Nwoko and their cohorts constitute, 14; and Ben Enwonwu, 86, 220, 236; came from Awka district, in eastern region of Nigeria, 297n20; collected Igbo oral literatures, 79; contributed to “Nigerian Art and Artists,” 86; de facto leading voice of new generation of artists, 143; and Demas Nwoko, 85, frictions with Nora Majekodunmi, 230–31, 301n30, at Galerie Lambert, Paris, 197, at Mbari exhibition, 151, 152, 184, and oyoyo, 268, and postcolony, 288; and Dennis Duerden, art critic, 185; directed British Council’s Art Club, 310n3; and disagreement with Africans copying European artists, 127–28; disÂ� illusioned about prospects of new nation, 19; drew ire of Michael Crowder and Nora Majekodunmi, 141, 230; El Anatsui, intel-

347


Index — 348

Okeke, Uche (continued) lectual connections to, 4; established Cultural Center, Kafanchan, 185, 261; and folktales, 105, 106, 192, Igbo, 103, 112; graduate of 1961 class at Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria, 83, 88, 149; had successful one-Â�person exhibition at Jos Museum in 1956, 85; and Igbo folklore, 196, traditional mural and body art, 101; and Igbo Uli, Oja Series, 14, 18; invited to submit work for Kingsway Stores show, 141; involved in discussions with Demas Nwoko and Simon Obiekezie Okeke on forming Nigerian art society, 85; and Jimo Akolo, 124; Mbari Artists and Writers Club, Ibadan, helped found, 132, member of, 149; Mbari Ibadan, 181, 265, mural of, at, 185, 186; member of Aghama Youth Club of Fine Arts, 65; and modernism, 196, 201; and natural synthesis, articulated by, 4–5, 17, 90, 141, claims about, 126, emphasis on exploration and adaptation of indigenous Nigerian art forms, 99, formalist interpretation of, 219, formulation of, 89, 92, 93, 95, 96, ideological basis of, 220, realized implications of, 18, theoretical model, 207, theory of, 41, 95, 186, thoughts on, 98; and negritude, 93, 96, 98; and Nigerian Art Exhibition (1960), 140, 143, 146, 147; and Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, 6, 18, 65, 99–106, 124, 151, Igbo Uli, 184–86, 189, 192–93, 194–96, 265, postcollege, 220, 236, work at, 116, 119, 121, 124, 126; and Nok culture, regarding Simon Okeke, 217; Nsukka School, head of art school at, 4, 5, reputation as doyen there, 6, work of there, 153; and pan-Â�Africanism, 98–99; and postcolonial self, 93, modern art and, 196, part of discourse, 265, role of art in state and, 288, work of, 286; poetry by, 86, 130; practicing Roman Catholic, 11; publications by, 86; published articles in Nigercol, 86; read about work of European modern artists beginning with symbolists, postimpressionists, 99; retrospective exhibi-

tion of (1963), 6; studied work of French postimpressionists, 112; Uli-Â�influenced drawing and painting, 205; and Ulli Beier, 140, 147, 196; went on ten-Â�day study tour of southern Nigeria, 78 Okeke, Uche, drawings: Birds in Flight, 195; experimental, 18, 105; The Fabled Brute, 103; figure-Â�ground aspects of, 196; folktale quality of, 106; Munich Suite drawings, 192; Nza the Smart, 101, 103, 105, Oja Series, 14, Owls, 192; poetic quality of, 195; and Uli as python, 194; Uli-Â�inspired drawings on paper, 265, 273 Okeke, Uche, examples of, 190–91; use of agwọlagwọ spiral, 194; works of, 99–106, 100, 102, 103, 104, 105, 110, 124, 143, 184– 86, 189, 192–93, 195, 196, 205, 207, 208, 266, 268, 270, 271, 272, 273, 274, 275, 277 Okeke, Uche, paintings: Aba Revolt (Women’s War), 272, 274, 275, 277; Conflict (After Achebe), 272, 273; Crucifixion, 266 Okigbo, Christopher (1930–1967), lyric poet: accused of copying European modernist poetry, 240; African writer, 14; and Demas Nwoko, 265; founding member of Mbari Ibadan, 240, 264; member of Mbari Artists and Writers Club, Ibadan, 149; member of Mbari Club, 19; opposed to illiterate (i.e., nonart school) types making art, 303n71; poetry of, 14, 19, 260, 263–64, 265, 271, 273, 310n6, 310n8; sympathized with Obafemi Awolowo, opposition party leader, 264 Okolobia, poem, Uche Okeke, 90, 99 Okri, Ben, novel, The Famished Road (1991), 271–72, 310n13 Olaosebikan, William (life dates unknown): and Art Society, 85; graduation of, 298n22; and Jimo Akolo, 297n20; mentored by Dennis Duerden, 297n20 Old Khartoum School in the Sudan, 4, 153, 172; artists of, 157 Oloidi, Ola, 295n26 Olokun (sculpture covered with copper coins, Erhabor Emokpae, c. 1967), 212 Olokun, Yoruba goddess, 299n9


Index —

Oloogun (Yusuf Grillo, oil on board, 1960; fig. 3.20), 115 Olusola, Segun, Nigerian writer, 302n43, 302n51 Omagie, Ikpomwosa (dates unknown), 298n21 Omogbai, Colette (born 1942), painter from Zaria: arrival on Lagos scene added new feminist dimension to discourse of modern art in Nigeria, 253; and Babatunde Lawal’s criticism, 253–54; and Erhabor Emokpae, 256; exhibitions at Mbari Ibadan, 253, 309n42; identified herself as a surrealist, 252; irreverent painter, 19; Nigeria (magazine), publication of her historic manifesto in, 228, 254, 256; Ulli Beier and her paintings, 252, 253; works of, 253, 254, 255, 289 “On National Culture” (Frantz Fanon, essay, 1959), 98 Onabamiro, Dr., 151 Onabolu, Aina (1882–1963), 294n6; and A. O. Osula, 64–65; absent from Nigerian Art Exhibition (1960), 145; academic realism of, 166; “academism” of, 47, 51, 64, 129; and African artists seeking literary education equivalent of art training emblematized by his career, 27; and Akinola Lasekan, 66; and anticolonialism, 40, 41; and Art Society, 42, 129; as art teacher, 50–51, 54, 62, 64, 295n12; attended meeting to discuss formation of Nigerian Art Academy, 236, elected president, 236; and avant-Â�garde, 39, European, 138; and Benedict Anderson, 47; and colonial models established in Nigeria by, 160; and colonial modernism of, 17, 133, 140, 145; critical role of in development of Nigerian modern art, 64; demand for British art teacher, 68–69; and discourses on modern Nigerian art he initiated in 1920, 238; and Herbert Macaulay’s declaration regarding his art, 45; and Kenneth C. Murray, 16, 40–43, 47, 51, 52, 54, 62, 64, 68–69, 140; on Kingsway Stores exhibition selection committee, 141; looked to premodern tradition, 129; member of

board of Nigerian Council for the Advancement of Arts and Culture, 307n8; and mission of National Arts Council, 233; and modern art, approach to too naturalistically “Victorian,” 148, task of, 45; and modernism, 42, 51; nationalism and his art, 47; naturalistic, colonial-Â�era portrait paintings of, 8; and postcolonial modernism, 40, 69; promotion of “high art” values, 47; role of in articulating symbolic production of postcolonial self, 288; saw no pictorial grandeur in Yoruba or Nigerian history or myths, 45, 47; students and admirers called him “Nigeria’s Joshua Reynolds” and “Mr. Perspective,” 295n10; studio of, 73, 306n1; trained in London and in Paris (at Académie Julian), 45; and Uche Okeke, 129; and vision of a Nigerian art academy, 73; and Western academic tradition, 47; work of, 21, 39, as art teacher, 50–51, 54, 62, 64, as a part of the radical work of emergent anticolonialism, 40, discussion of, 45, 47, 49–51, literary, 43, 44, preempted postcolonial modernism of midcentury, 40, reassessments of, 51; works of, 45, 46 Onobrakpeya, Bruce (born 1932), 142, 209, 297n20, 307n15; and Art Society, 113, 208, elected treasurer, 85; attended meeting to discuss forming Nigerian Art Academy, 236; and Benin sculpture, 215; bronze-Â�lino, technique developed by, 210; collected folktales, 112; completed eleven paintings commissioned by United African Company for Ionian Sports event in Ondo in 1957, 85; and concerns about implications and impact of political decolonization on thematic and stylistic directions of his work, 14; and Demas Nwoko, 112; and Edo sculptural forms and motifs, 209; and Erhabor Emokpae and Araldite®, 212; featured on Nigerian Television Service, 237; and Federal Society for the Arts and Humanities, 235; and folk narratives, 210; and formal syntheses Â�evident in the work of, 217; graduated in 1961, 88; helped organize art section of

349


Index — 350

Onobrakpeya, Bruce (continued) Nigerian Art Exhibition, 141; and “hydrochloric acid accident,” 212; and Ibrahim El Salahi, 153, 302n54; as illustrator using geometric shapes, bold decorative patterns, and schematically rendered forms, 143; invited to submit work for the Kingsway Stores show, 141; and Julian Beinart, 209; made copperplate engravings and etchings, 212; and Mbari Ibadan, 208; and Mbari-Â�Mbayo, the Mbari Club at Osogbo, 208; and mural painting, 143, 144, 147; and natural synthesis, 215; and Nigeria magazine, 210; and Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, 112–13; one of Nigeria’s and Africa’s most influential artists, 5; painting and printmaking studio, 306n1, in Palmgrove area of Lagos, 212; and Paul Gauguin, 112; and plastograph, term invented by, 214; popularized pictorial realism, 145; practicing Roman Catholic, 11; printmaking of, 208–10, 212, 214–15; received national renown for several notable book illustrations, 210; and Ru van Rossem, 209; and Ulli Beier, 140, 146; and Urhobo, 208, 209, adire textile design, 209, 215, ritual art, 215, and Yoruba art, 18; work of, 289, discussed, 208–10, 212, 214–15; works of, 112–13, 113, 114, 211, 212, 213, 214, 215, covered way mural, 143, 144, 301n28, 301n30, forest scenes recur in, 112; and workshops, 208–9 Onwuchekwa, Jemie, literary critic, 240 Opa Oranyan, iron-Â�studded monolith, at Ife, 78 Orizu, Nwafor, 294n43 Osadebe, Oseloka (born 1935), 262; in art department at Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria, 85; and Art Society, 115; debt to continental European modernism, 121; work of, 121, exhibition of, 262, indebted to European avant-Â�garde, 116, 119; works of, 119, 120, 121, 124, 297n21 Osague, Francis (b. 1941), 301n35 “Osagyefo,” honorific for Kwame Nkrumah (1909–1972), 9

Osawe, Ben (1931–2007), Nigerian sculptor, 181 Osifo, Osagie, Nigerian sculptor, 147, 301n35 Osogbo, Yoruba town northeast of Ibadan, 161, 171; gallery of, 257; Mbari-Â�Mbayo in, 157, 159, 208, 209, established, 302n48, site of, 303n70; Osun cult in, 134; Sango shrine at, 304n82 Osula, A. O.: founded Aghama Youth Club of Fine Arts, 64–65; 1952 prediction of emergence of artists whose work would result from a synthesis of Western and local art traditions and styles, 89, 91; pointed to next logical phase of modern Nigerian art, 65–66 Ottenberg, Simon, 48, 191 Otter Gallery, University of Chichester, England, 53 “Our Authors and Performing Artists” (Onuora Nzekwu, 1966), 258 Owerri Igbo (people), 150 Oxford City Technical School (now Oxford Brookes University), England, 231 Oye-Â�Ekiti workshop, Father Kevin Carroll’s workshop at, 145 oyoyo (also called ogbanje in Igbo and abiku in Yoruba), 268 Oyoyo (Uche Okeke, oil on board, 1965; fig. 7.8), 266, 268, 270, 271, 272 Padamsee, Akbar, progressive Indian modernist, 298n29 Painting and Environment: Nigeria, Uganda, Whitechapel Art Gallery, exhibition, summer 1964, 221 Paintings by Nigerian Schoolboys, exhibition at MoMA, New York, 1956, 297n19 The Palm-Â�Wine Drinkard (Amos Tutuola, 1952), 151, 177 pan-Â�Africanism/pan-Â�Africanist: advocates of, 2; and “African personality,” 93; and Art Society, 99, work of, 18; and Ben Enwonwu, 239; conference on, 242, 306n4; disseminated through Ulli Beier, Black Orpheus, 99, 133, and Mbari Club, 17; and Kwame Nkrumah, 9, 94; of Marcus Garvey, 16, 35, 37; movement, 34, 35; of


Index —

Nnamdi Azikiwe, 16, 35, 89, 207; outlook of early-Â�twentieth-Â�century politicians, 207; and Renascent Africa (Nnamdi Azikiwe), 36; “tactical root finding” of, 132; and Uche Okeke, 98–99; of W. E. B. Du Bois, 16, 35, 37, 89, force behind establishment of, 33–34 pan-Â�Nigerian, 47, 207 pan-Â�Yoruba cultural associations, 294n42 Patel, Jeram, progressive Indian modernist, 298n29 Path of Thunder (Christopher Okigbo’s poetry collection), 14, 263–64, 271 Pechstein, Max, 166, 168 Peirce, Charles Sanders, 193 Penrose, Roland, cofounder of Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 216 Phelps-Â�Stokes Fund Commission, 34, 43, 294n37 Philosopher (Demas Nwoko, terra-Â�cotta, 1965; fig. 5.18), 201, 205, 206, 207 Picasso, Pablo: “Blue Period” paintings of, 116; cubism, reading of by Charles Sanders Peirce, 193, Rosalind Krauss, 192, 193, and Yve-Â�Alain Bois, 193; as cubist, and Francis Newton Souza, 138; designed poster for First International Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Paris (1956), 92; horse in center of Guernica (1937), 103; Ibrahim El Salahi inspired by, 303n57; and Isabel Lambert, 83; and Parisian avant-Â�garde, 63; radical abstraction of Picasso-Â�Braque cubism, 127; synthetic cubism of, and Jimo Akolo, 126; and Ulli Beier, 304n77, 308n32; Yusuf Grillo influenced by, 116 Picton, John, of the Lagos Museum, 216 Pine, B. C. C., acting governor of Sierra Leone, 24 Plass, Margaret, 8 plastograph, term invented by Bruce Onobrakpeya to describe prints that combine intaglio and relief processes, 214 Porter, James, from Howard University, 237 Portrait of J. D. Akeredolu (Akinola Lasekan, oil on canvas, 1957; fig. 3.23), 119 postcolonial, postcoloniality, 13; Africa, 257; and Art Society, 128, work of, 14; com-

mentary on state as eclipsed by political crises from late 1960s onward, 14; crisis that led to civil war, 19; critique of violence and dysfunction, 289; cultural synthesis, 217; culture, 71, 90, 183; Demas Nwoko, part of discourse, 265, role of art in state and, 288, work of, 286; development of modern art and art criticism, 183; existential ennui, 138; Ibadan and artistic production and debate, 18; Jimo Akolo and artistic language, 226; Kwame Anthony Appiah’s description of, 13, 15; language of literature and art, 265; literary world, 153; need to imagine the postcolonial self, 11; Nigeria, 207, 257, condition, 264, 265, experience, 260, history in, 280, sociopolitical life of state of, 263; Nigerian/African art, artist, 288, and poetry, 19, practice, 17; possibility of failure of sovereign state, 310n11; self, and Uche Okeke, 93, modern art and, 196, part of discourse, 265, role of art in state and, 288, work of, 286; society, 91; subjectivity, 10; theory, 13; and unfolding order, 151; unraveling body politic, 261; and Valente Malangatana, 162; world, 88 postcolonial modernism: and Art Society, 133, 224, 226; and Black Orpheus, 257; and Demas Nwoko, 259, 265, 285, 286, 288; emergence of, 201; literary, 264; in Nigeria, 129, 184, 258, 285, artist or writer, 265, eastern, 261, relationship with, 289; Nigerian, 241, 256, 257, politics, 283; and Uche Okeke, 259, 265, 286, 288; and Ulli Beier, 151; Western, 265 postcolonial modernity, 12; African, 11, 128 postcubist: collages, 193, aesthetic,127; figuration and palette, 18; Parisian modernism, 55; stylization and simplification of the human figure, 161 postimpressionists, 99, 112, 116 postindependence: Africa, 264; African art, 239; crises of nationalism, 14, political, 19, 259; era, 19, 94; future, dark view of, 301n41; in Lagos in period of, 258; Nigeria, 1, 84, 142, 181, 201, 233, 241, 264; Nigerian art, 140, 146, 239, 254, direction of, 19, in period of, 220, political and

351


Index — 352

postindependence (continued) cultural practice, 263, and society, 84, 237, students, 84, Western government, 311n33; period, 289; Senegal, 93; years, interregional rivalry in, 83 post-Â�Renaissance, 64, 127 Pot (Bruce Onobrakpeya, bronze-Â�lino work, ca. 1966), 210 Prayer (Ibrahim El Salahi, oil on Masonite, 1960; fig. 4.11), 155 Praying Woman (Demas Nwoko, 1960), 109 precolonial, 25, 95 precubist, 52, 129, 246 premodernism, Western, 216 Présence Africaine, influential francophone journal, 92, 131–32 Price-Â�Mars, Jean (1876–1969), Haitian writer, 131 Prince of Wales College, Achimota, in the Gold Coast (Ghana), 62 Princeton University Art Museum, 219 Progressive Artists Group (pag), Mumbai-Â� based, 137 protonationalists, 27 Purpose and Admiration, book, Joseph E. Barton (1933), 55 Quarrel between Ahwaire the Tortoise and Erhako the Dog (Bruce Onobrakpeya, mural, ca. 1960), 209 Queen Elizabeth II, 78, 308n31 Radio Nigeria, 141, 145 Ramsaran, J. A. (life dates unknown), 299n4 Raullerson, Calvin H., director of amsac, Lagos, 229 Ravi Shankar (Naoko Matsubara, woodblock print, 1961; fig. 4.28), 180 Rawsthorne, Alan, 297n14 Rawsthorne, Isabel, 297n14. See also Isabel Lambert Renascent Africa (Nnamdi Azikiwe, 1937), 36, 294n43 The Return of Shango (Ulli Beier, 1995), 303n70 Reynoldian Royal Academy, model, 73; style, 45

Richardson, Marion, 56 Robertson, James, former governor, Sudan; later, Nigeria, 35 Rogers, Claude, 297n13 Rothenstein, Sir William, principal, Royal College of Art, 57, 59, 242, 296n32 Rouault, Georges, French fauvist, 138 Roumain, Jacques (1907–1944), 299n4 Rousseau, Henri, 112 Royal Couple, tapestry, Papa Ibra Tall (1965; fig. 3.6), 97, 97 royal house of the Obong of Calabar, 231 Royal Ontario Museum, 180 Sabada (Dance) (Yusuf Grillo, 1964; fig. 3.21), 115, 116, 117 Saint Martin’s School of Art, England, 231 Salahi, Ibrahim. See El Salahi, Ibrahim Sango, exhibition of sculptures from shrine of the Timi of Ede, 302n49 Sango cult, Yoruba, 300n10 Sango sculpture (1964), by Ben Enwonwu, for Nigerian Electric Commission, Lagos (fig. 6.1), 229, 230 Sango shrine, Osogbo, 304n82 Santosh, G. R., key member of Neotantric school, whose abstract paintings explored magical signs of tantric yantras, 300n22 Sartre, Jean-Â�Paul: existentialism of, 240; giant of French left intelligentsia, 92; and negritude, 91, poetry, 93, 96, 133 Schapire, Dr. Rosa, Estate of, 167 Schmidt-Â�Rottluff, Karl (1884–1976), German expressionist artist: exhibition at Mbari Ibadan, 165; member of Die Brücke, 166, 168, of all most directly influenced by African sculpture, 168; and Ulli Beier, puts together show of work of, 165, 168, writes exhibition brochure for, 166, 304n79; 168; works of, 165–66, 167, and review of by Denis Williams, 168 Second International Congress of Black Writers and Artists, Rome (1959), 92, 98, 128 Secret Voyage (Valente Malangatana, painting), 162 Sekoto, Gerard, 303n68 Senghor, Léopold Sédar (1906–2001),


Index —

president and prime minister of Senegal: on Black Orpheus advisory committee, 299n4; committed to “Françafrique,” 9; invited Gerard Sekoto and Wilson Tiberío to participate in World Festival of Negro Arts (Dakar, 1966), 303n68; met with Kwame Nkrumah while a student in Europe, 9; ruled Senegal with help of French advisers, 9; and “the civilization of the universal,” 92; thought negritude visual and literary aesthetic unique to black people, 97, advocated African cultural independence and uniqueness among negritude poets, 128 Senufo: Ghanaian tradition of sculpture, 158; West African masks, 156 Sharaku, Tôshûsai (active 1794–1795), Japanese printmaker, 181 Sheep Grazing (Okechukwu Odita, oil on board, 1961; figs. 3.24, 3.25), 119, 120 Shibrain, Ahmed Mohammed (born 1932), colleague of Ibrahim El Salahi, 153; and Denis Williams, 172, 175; in group becoming Khartoum school, 175; showed at Mbari in 1963, 153, 172, 175; and Ulli Beier, 153; work of, work is based on tradition of solar wood engraving prevalent in Sudan, 175; works of, 174 Shiko, Munakata (1903–1975), master Japanese printmaker, 181 A Short Discourse on Art (Aina Onabolu, 1920), 43, 44, 49, 50 Shrenk, Reverend Elias, 25 Shutte, Augustine, South African philosopher, 10 Simone, Nina, 169 Sisi Nurse (Aina Onabolu, oil on canvas, 1922; fig. 2.1), 45, 46 Slade School of Fine Art, London, 54, 62, 75, 154 Smithsonian Institution, 104 Society of Nigerian Artists (sna): admonished by Yusufu Zaki, 248, 251; and Ben Enwonwu, 238–39; discussion of, 235–38; established in 1964, 19, 181, 237, 258; Yusuf Grillo, president of, 304n90 sociocryonics, concept proposed by Olufemi Taiwo, 23

socio-Â�political history of Nigeria, 271 Soldier (Soja), terra-Â�cotta figures, Demas Nwoko (1968; figs. 7.15, 7.16), 280, 283, 284, 285, 285 Soldier in Ambush (Demas Nwoko), former name of the Combatant I and II paintings, 311n32 Soliman, Mounira, literary scholar, 271 Souza, Francis Newton (1924–2002), expatriate Indian artist, 298n29; Catholic background of, 137, and treatment of Christian subjects, 300n21; cofounded Mumbai-Â�based Progressive Artists Group, 137; and John Berger, 300n19; turned to native Indian art, 138; and Ulli Beier, 137, essay by, 138, 148; where born, 137; works of, 137, 138, 139 Soyinka, Wole, 306n5; afflicted by “the Hopkins Disease,” 240; African writer, 14; A Dance of the Forests, 286, 301n41, 310n11, Demas Nwoko designs stage set for, 197; exemplar of writers engaged in debates about postcolonial literary modernism, 264; member of Mbari Artists and Writers Club, Ibadan, 14, 19, 149, inaugural member, 149; poetry, of, 19, 260, 264, 265, 279–80, and abiku, 271, 310n14; Ulli Beier, 301n41, consults with, regarding formation of an artists and writers club, 148; work grappled consequences of Euro-Â�African cultural conflict in colonial and postcolonial Africa, 257 Stern, Joanne M., 167 Stevens, George A., first official art teacher in British West African colonies, 62, 295n32 Street to Mbari, tempera, gouache, and graphite on paper, Jacob Lawrence (1964; fig. 4.21), 172, 173 Struggle Between Life and Death, oil on board, Erhabor Emokpae (1962; fig. 6.6), 245, 247 The Sun! (Karl Schmidt-Â�Rottluff, 1914), 166 Surrealism, 127; access of African artists to thwarted, 136; and Colette Omogbai, 252; and Denis Williams, 175; and Erhabor Emokpae’s intentional borrowings from European, 248; and Julian Beinart,

353


Index — 354

Surrealism (continued) 162, 175; and Okpu Eze, 252; and Skunder Boghossian’s work, and his new brand of surrealism in service of his “Afro-Â� Metaphysics,” 175; and Ulli Beier, 136, 252; and Valente Malangatana’s work, 162 The Susan Wenger Foundation, Zöbing am Heiligenstein, 135 Symbolism, 186; graphic, of Arabic texts, 154; hard-Â�edge, 253; mystical, Salahi’s, 156; pictorial, 286; ritual, 138 Symbolists: Art Society and European, 99; color, 112, 113, and Bruce Onobrakpeya, 113; and Paul Gauguin, 112 Table of Contents for the J. B. Neumann Portfolio (Karl Schmidt-Â�Rottluff, 1919), 166 Taiwo, Olufemi, historian, 15, 23, 69 Tall, Papa Ibra, 98, 226; work of, 97 Tate Gallery, London, 139 Tears of God, oil on board, Erhabor Emokpae (1964), 251 Tedder Hall, men’s residence hall, University of Ibadan, 196, 197; mural at, 201 Tempels, Placide (1906–1977), 134 terra-Â�cotta: and Demas Nwoko, 201, 203–4, works in terra-Â�cotta by, 205, 206, 207, 283, 284, 285, 286, 287; Nok sculpture, 201, 203–4, 205; works, 203, 205, 206, 284, 285, 286, 287; workshop organized by Mbari Ibadan and Department of Extra-Â�Mural Studies of University of Ibadan, 204 Terry Dintenfass Gallery, New York, 172 Théâtre Lyrique, annual summer school at Vichy, 197 Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe, 1958), 14, 268, 272–74 The Three Kings (Karl Schmidt-Â�Rottluff, 1917), 166 “Thunder Can Break,” first poem in Christopher Okigbo’s collection, Path of Thunder, 263 Tiberío, Wilson, black Brazilian artist: Gerald Moore’s essay on in Black Orpheus, 160–61; and Skunder Boghossian, 305n100; visited Senegal with friend Gerard Sekoto, 303n68

Timi of Ede, the, 302n49 Tirolien, Guy (1917–1988), 299n4 Titled Woman (Demas Nwoko, terra-Â�cotta, 1965; fig. 5.17), 204, 205 To the Clandestine Maternity Home (Valente Malangatana, oil on canvas, 1961; fig. 4.16), 162, 164 Todd, G. E., 78, 79 Touré, Ahmed Sékou (1922–1984) of Mali, 94 Townsend, William, 297n13 Travellers, etching, Bruce Onobrakpeya (1967; fig. 5.24), 214 Tretchikoff, Ivan, South African painter, 245 triple heritage, 10 Trowell, Margaret, British artist in Uganda, 61, 62 Tsoede bronzes at Tada, 78, 80 Turner, William, 49 Tutuola, Amos (The Palm-Â�Wine Drinkard, 1952), 79, 151, 177, 302n43 Two Saints in a Landscape (Francis Newton Souza, oil on board, 1961; fig. 4.2), 139 Two Yoruba Women (Yusuf Grillo, oil on canvas, 1960; fig. 4.8), 148 Tzara, Tristan, surrealist artist, 216 Udechukwu, Obiora (born 1946): and “archetypal shapes,” 186; leading figure in the Nsukka School, 153; photographs by, 197, 266; and retrospective exhibition of Uche Okeke, 5 Ugbodaga-Â�Ngu, Clara, 236, 238 Ugoji, Jerome O., 54 Uli artists, Igbo, Eastern Nigeria, 186 Uli body artists, 194; art, 196 Uli forms: ntupọ (dot), akala (line), isinwaọji (curvilinear triangles and rectangles), and oloma or ọnwa (circles and crescents), agwọlagwọ, the concentric coil associated with the sacred python, and mbọ agu, double triangle representing the leopard’s claw, 186, 305n3 Ulli and Georgina Beier Archive, Migila House, Sydney, Australia, mentioned, 303n73, 304n79, 304n84, 304n91, 305n98, 309n42


Index —

Umana, A. P. (born 1920), 54, 145 United African Company, 85 University College Library, Ibadan, 302n49 University College London Art Museum, 123 University College London, 75, 123 University College, Legon, 157 University of Bayreuth, Iwalewa-Â�Haus, collections of, 103, 135, 155, 157, 163, 164, 174 University of Chichester, England, 53 University of Ibadan, 196, 197, 201, 204 University of Lagos Library, Lagos, Federal Society of Arts and Humanities collection, 211, 213, 232, 244, 307n16 University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 5, 241 University of Sussex, 125, 225 Untitled (Agnaldo dos Santos, wood, ca. 1950s; fig. 4.27), 179 Untitled (Bruce Onobrakpeya, bronze lino, ca. 1966; figs. 5.22, 5.23), 210, 213 Untitled (Ibrahim El Salahi, ink on paper, 1961; fig. 4.12), 157 Untitled (Ibrahim El Salahi, oil on canvas, 1954–1957; fig. 4.10), 154, 155 Untitled (Jimo Akolo, oil on canvas, 1963; fig. 5. 29), 223 Untitled (Valente Malangatana, oil on canvas, 1961; fig. 4.15), 163 Urhobo: folklore, 11, 112, 209; folktales, 143; oral narratives, 112; personages and ceremonial events, 143; religions, 11 Urhobo art, 18, 208, 209; ritual, 215 Urhobo sculptural forms and motifs, 210 Utamaro, Kitagawa (c. 1753–1806), Japanese printmaker, 181 van Gogh, Vincent, 112 van Rossem, Ru, professor of Graphic Arts at the Art Academy in Tilburg, Holland, 209; and Bruce Onobrakpeya, 209; Dutch master printmaker, 153, 208 Varma, Raja Ravi (1848–1906): Bengal School artist, 137; learned from Dutch painter Theodore Jensen while in Travancore royal court, 47; native revivalism of Bengal school, initiated by, 137; pioneer modern Indian painter, 45; works of, 49

Verger, Pierre (1902–1996), 134 Vesey, Paul (Samuel Washington Allen, born 1917), 299n4 Vincent, David Brown (also known as Mojola Agbebi), 28 Voigt, Fritz, 167 vom Rath, Frau Hanna Becker, Kunstkabinett gallery, Frankfurt, Germany, 165 von Posadowsky, Count, German ambassador to Nigeria, visiting Zaria, 1961, 184 von Sydow, Eckart (1885–1942), 60, 63, 295n30 A Wand of Noble Wood (Onuora Nzekwu, inaugural novel, 1961), 257 Wangboje, Solomon, 208 War Series: The Letter (Jacob Lawrence, egg tempera on composition board, 1946; fig. 4.20), 170 The Warrant Chiefs (A. E. Afigbo, 1972), 293n24 Washington, Booker T. (1856–1915), African American educator: apparent acceptance of black’s status as inferior, 34, 34; death of, 294n37; and Dr. J. E. K Aggrey of Ghana, 34; ideas of influential with twentieth-Â�century African nationals, 33; and industrial/agricultural education program at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, 33; and W. E. B. Du Bois, 27, 33; work of, 25 Waters, Grant, collection of, 122 Wenger, Susanne (1915–2009), Austrian-Â� born artist who became a Yoruba priestess, Adunni-Â�Olorisa: founding member of the Viennese Art Club, 133–34; interest in art of the mentally ill, 135, 136; priestess of Osun cult in Osogbo, 134; wife of Ulli Beier, 133–34, 300n10, and his article on her work, 134, 138, 148, 168, and claim for her visual negritude, 136, and his opinion of her work, 136; works of, 135 Wesleyan Boys High School (later called Methodist Boys High School), Lagos, 295n12

355


Index — 356

West, Western (when referring to European, non-Â�African cultures): absolutes at the basis of Western worldviews, 10; African/ indigenous cultures/traditions, 10, 137, 138, 165; African and Western art history not taught at Zaria, 78; Akolo’s modernism, 226; architectural design and principles, 5; Art Society did not reject art of, 88; Art Society’s radical rejection of, unfounded story, 219; art traditions, 6, and synthesis with indigenous techniques, 8; Black Writers and Artists congresses, 128; blending of African and Western art by Osula, 66, by Boghossian, 175; Blyden and encounter with Western civilization, 93; control over black Africa, 110; decadence/worst elements of Western art and civilization, 91, 217; design principles of Western art, 54; economic and political modernity, 10; impact on Nigerian art, 79; influence of Western art technique, 65; inhumanity and materialism of, 63; interaction among non-Â�Western artists, minorities in West, and Western art movements, 13, 138, 152; knowledge systems, 28; modern African politics, cultures, and art, 96; names changed from Western to Yoruba, 28; Nigerian artists’ acceptance of Western methods, 77; notions of nationalism, 9; Onabolu and mastery of Western “fine art,” 49; Osogbo not influenced by Western art and academic practices, 161; pilgrimage to, 10; pioneer modern painters in non-Â�Western world, 51; prejudices against black man, 94; strictures of Western education, 136; styles borrowed by S. Okeke from modern Western art, 18; Western culture, cultural heritage, 28, 29; Western iconography in Nwoko’s art, 198; Western modernity, 11, 12; Western museum collections, studied by S. Okeke, 219; Western techniques of realism, illusionism, 41, 69, and Onabolu’s work, 44, 45, 47, 50; Western-Â�style art schools in Africa, 23; Western-Â�style education, 24, 26 West African Review, 32, 152; and Ibrahim El

Salahi, and Ulli Beier essay on, 153, 156; images from, 152, 185 West African University, proposed, 31 Western Regional Festival of Arts, 85 White Fraternity (Demas Nwoko, oil on board, ca. 1960; fig. 3.16), 110, 110 Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 170 Williams, Akintola, pioneer Nigerian accountant, 307n14 Williams, Denis (1923–1998): and Arabic calligraphy, 172, 175; asserted pivotal role of Ahmed Shibrain and Ibrahim El Salahi in group that was on way to becoming a Khartoum school, 175; and Black Orpheus, contributed most of art criticism published in, 257, review, 160, 172, of Ibrahim El Salahi, 157, of Karl Schmidt-Â�Rottluff exhibition, 168; championed the work of some of Art Society members, 169; and Demas Nwoko and Nok sculpture, 204; Guyanese artist and art historian, 153; and Khartoum school, 175 and Ulli Beier, 153; and understanding and valuation of artistic tradition within Sudanese context, 175; wrote introductory essay in Ahmed Mohammed Shibrain exhibition flyer, 172, compared Shibrain to lyrical abstract French painter Hans Hartung, 175 Williams, K. O., assistant principal at Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, 72 Williams, Sapara, Lagosian lawyer, 27 Wilson, Francesca M., 55, 56 Women’s War of 1929, 274, 276, 311n26. See also Aba Women’s War Woodhouse, John, colonial secretary, 31 World Festival of Negro Arts, Dakar, 172 Writers’ Club, Gabriel Okara, 310n3 Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, 227, 241 Yaba Technical College, 145 Yoruba, 208, 306n18, 306n25; and actor Duro Ladipo, 161, 302n48; art, 18, form, 172; cultural, 171, heritage, 28; cultures, 134; first king of, 78; generic portraits and Art Society members, 115; goddess


Index —

Olokun, 299n9; history or myths, 45; legends and royal portraits, 47; names, 28; religion, 136; ritual, 136, experts, 28; and sculptor George Bandele, 145; sculpture, 79, cement, 299n9; tradition of sculpture, great, 158; traditional masks, sculpture, and drawings, 44; traditions, 160; wall painting, 310n9; woman, Yusuf Grillo painting of, 116; words, 268, 272, 303n70; workshop, Lamidi Fakeye trained in, 147 Yoruba adire textile design. See adire textile design, Yoruba Yoruba Ronu (Hubert Ogunde, 1964), 286, 311n33

Yoruba Sango cult, 300n10 Young Turks, 19 Young Woman with a Veena (Raja Ravi Varma, oil on canvas, ca. 1901: fig. 2.3), 49 Zaki, Yusufu, 248, 251 Zaria. See Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology Zikist movement, 208 Zungur, Sa’ad, of National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, 293n15 Zwemmer Gallery, London, 57, 66 Zwemmer show (exhibition), 57, 59

357

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