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Decolonization in


Art and


Duke University Press

Durham and London 2015

2015 Duke University Press

All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper
Designed by Heather Hensley
Typeset in Scala and Meta by Tseng Information Systems, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Okeke-Agulu, Chika.
Postcolonial modernism : art and decolonization in
twentieth-century Nigeria / Chika Okeke-Agulu.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
isbn 978-0-8223-5732-2 (cloth : alk. paper)
isbn 978-0-8223-5746-9 (pbk : alk. paper)
1. Art, Nigerian20th century.2. PostcolonialismNigeria.
3. DecolonizationNigeria.I. Title.
n7399. n 5O394 2014
isbn 978-0-8223-7630-9 (e-book)
Cover: Demas Nwoko, Nigeria in 1959, oil on board, 1960.
Artists 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-agulu

(Nwokafor Ayaghiliya; 19291993)



List of Illustrations

xiii Acknowledgments

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

291 Notes

313 Bibliography

327 Index



Aina Onabolu, Sisi Nurse, 1922, 46


Akinola Lasekan, Ajaka of Owo, 1944, 48


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


Kenneth Murray, Kwami, 1936, 53


Kenneth Murray, Keta Girl, 1942, 53


Ben Enwonwu, Coconut Palms, 1935, 58


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


Uthman Ibrahim, Bamboos, ca. 1935, 67


Sculpture studio with students work, ca. 19581950, 74


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


Photograph of Tsoede bronzes, including the well-known seated figure

(right) from Tada, 1959, 80


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

London, 1953, 81



Papa Ibra Tall, Royal Couple, 1965, 97


Uche Okeke, Egbenuoba, 1961, 100


Uche Okeke, Monster, 1961, 100


Uche Okeke, Christ, 1961, 102


Uche Okeke, Jumaa, 1961, 103


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


Uche Okeke, Nza the Smart, 1958, 105


Demas Nwoko, Beggars in the Train, 1959, 107

List of Illustrations


Demas Nwoko, Ogboni Chief, 1961, 108


Demas Nwoko, Nigeria in 1959, 1960, 109


Demas Nwoko, White Fraternity, ca. 1960, 110


Demas Nwoko, Bathing Women, 1961, 111


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


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


Yusuf Grillo, Oloogun, 1960, 115


Yusuf Grillo, Sabada (Dance), 1964, 117


Yusuf Grillo, Harvest, early 1960s, 118


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


Oseloka Osadebe, Lunch at the Park, 1961, 120


Okechukwu Odita, Sheep Grazing, 1961, 120


Clifford Frith, Fulani Portrait, ca. 1960, 121


Clifford Frith, Harmattan Landscape with Figures, 19601961, 122


Patrick George, Hausa Standing, 1959, 123


Okechukwu Odita, Female Model, 1962, 123


Oseloka Osadebe, Husband and Wife, 1964, 124


Jimo Akolo, Hausa Drummer, 1961, 125


Susanne Wenger, Iwin, ca. 1958, 135


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


Francis Newton Souza, Crucifixion, 1959, 139

Okeke and Onobrakpeya working in Michael Crowders residence,

Lagos, summer 1960, 142


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


Demas Nwoko, mural, Arts and Crafts pavilion, Nigeria Exhibition,

Lagos, 1960, 144


Ben Enwonwu, Head of Afi, 1959, 146


Yusuf Grillo, Two Yoruba Women, 1960, 148

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



Ibrahim El Salahi, Untitled, 19541957, 155


Ibrahim El Salahi, Prayer, 1960, 155


Ibrahim El Salahi, Untitled, 1961, 157


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


Jacob Lawrence with Vincent Kofis Drummer, 1962, 159


Malangatana Ngwenya, Untitled, 1961, 163


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


Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Kneeling Woman, 1914, 167

List of Illustrations


Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Girl before a Mirror (Mdchen vor dem Spiegel),

1914, 167

Jacob Lawrence, The Migration of the Negro, No. 22, 19401941, 170


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


Jacob Lawrence, Street to Mbari, 1964, 173


Jacob Lawrence, Four Sheep, 1964, 173


Ahmed Shibrain, Calligraphy, 1962, 174


Skunder Boghossian, Jujus Wedding, 1964, 176


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


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


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


Naoko Matsubara, Ravi Shankar, 1961, 180


Naoko Matsubara, A Giant Tree, 1962, 180


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


Some Uli motifs, 187


Uli mural, 1994, 187


Uli mural, Eke shrine, 1987, 188


Woman decorated with Uli, 1994, 188


Uche Okeke, From the Forest, 1962, 190


Uche Okeke, Head of a Girl, 1962, 190


Uche Okeke, Owls, 1962, 191


Uche Okeke, Munich Girl, 1962, 193


Uche Okeke, Birds in Flight, 1963, 195


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


Igbo artist, male and female figures, 198


Demas Nwoko, Adam and Eve, 1963, 199


Demas Nwoko, Adam and Eve, 1962, 200


Demas Nwoko, Adam and Eve, 19621963, 202


Head, classical style, Nok culture, ca. 400 bce200 ce, 203


Demas Nwoko, Titled Woman, 1965, 205


Demas Nwoko, Philosopher, 1965, 206

Bruce Onobrakpeya and Ru van Rossem at summer workshop,

Mbari-Mbayo, Osogbo, 1964, 209



Bruce Onobrakpeya, Man with Two Wives, 1965, 211


Bruce Onobrakpeya, Dancing Masquerader, 1965, 212


Bruce Onobrakpeya, Untitled, ca. 1966, 213


Bruce Onobrakpeya, Untitled, ca. 1966, 213


Bruce Onobrakpeya, Travellers, 1967, 214


Bruce Onobrakpeya, Bathers I, 1967, 215


List of Illustrations



Simon Okeke, Lady, 1965, 218


Simon Okeke, Off to Battle, 1963, 219


Jimo Akolo, Fulani Horsemen, 1962, 222


Jimo Akolo, Untitled, 1963, 223


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


Jimo Akolo, Northern Horsemen, 1965, 225


Ben Enwonwu, Sango, 1964, 230


Afi Ekong, Meeting, 1960, 232


Afi Ekong, Cowherd, early 1960s, 232


Ben Enwonwu, Beauty and the Beast, 1961, 244


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


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


Erhabor Emokpae, Dialogue, 1966, 249


Erhabor Emokpae, The Last Supper, 1963, 250


Colette Omogbai, Accident, ca. 1963, 254


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

Obes Noah, showing set and costumes designed by Uche Okeke, 262


Visitors at the opening of exhibition of work by Oseloka Osadebe

(second from right) at Mbari Enugu, ca. 1964, 262


Uche Okeke, Crucifixion, 1962, 266


Uche Okeke, Primeval Forest, 1965, 267


Uche Okeke, Nativity, 1965, 268


Uche Okeke, Adam and Eve, 1965, 269


Uche Okeke, Oyoyo, 1965, 270


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


Uche Okeke, Aba Revolt (Womens War), 1965, 275


Demas Nwoko, Crisis, 1967, 279


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


Demas Nwoko, Combatant I, 1967, 281


Demas Nwoko, Combatant II, 1967, 282


Demas Nwoko, Soldier (Soja), 1968, 284


Demas Nwoko, Soldier (Soja), 1968, 285


Demas Nwoko, Enuani Dancers, 1968, 286


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


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



Sonoiki, of Art House Contemporary Ltd, Lagos; Vilma Eid, of Galeria Estao, So Paulo; and Ulf Vierke and Sigrid Horsch-Albert, of Iwalewa-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-Abayomi for giving me access to his private art collection, and to Chinwe Uwatse, Ndidi Dike, Ego Uche-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 England, 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-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 Ullis 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-


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-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 books 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 Udefriends 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




Okeke-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.



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 Societya 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


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-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 (18321912) and Herbert Macaulay (18641946)
and later by advocates of negritude and pan-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 workas this book amply showswas
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 Nigerias postcolonial modernity.
What is more, in the way it follows the antagonistic relationship between
the colonial regime and Lagos-based intellectual elite, the debates among
colonial art educators, curricular strategies within the art department at
Nigerias 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 books 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-twentieth-century phenomenon.1 This book thus crucially maps
the unprecedented, largely ill understood, yet fundamental artistic, intellectual, and critical networks in four Nigerian citiesZaria, Ibadan, Lagos,
and Enuguconnecting Nigerian, African, African diaspora, and European
artists, critics, and the cultural elite during the continents 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, Ibadantwo signal
forums of mid-twentieth century African and black artistic and literary mod-


ernism. Still, the books 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-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 studywhich 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 historiesthat 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


see the salience of its key arguments in the modern art of various African
countries, where groups of artists during the mid-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 Sudanwhere 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 techniquesor at the work of
the schools 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-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-first centurya phenomenon announced
by the 2004 ArtNews magazine cover Contemporary African art: The newest
avant-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-renowned Ghanaian-Nigerian
artist (born 1944), without any knowledge of his intellectual connections to
two Mbari artists, Uche Okeke and Vincent Kofi, and to Kwame Nkrumahs
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 (19671970), Uche Okeke (born 1933) became head of the art school at
Nsukka. He soon reorganized the art program and more or less institutional-


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 Nkrumahs 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-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-1960s (see chapter 5) but also
on the massive network of artists associated with his studio in Lagos, became
one of Nigerias and Africas most influential artists. The stature and influence of their other colleaguesamong them Yusuf Grillo, Erhabor Emokpae,
and Jimo Akolois no less illustrious. In short, even within the irrefutably
complex, multiple trajectories that constitute contemporary Nigerian art in
the late twentieth and early twenty-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


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 Beiers Contemporary Art in Africa (1968), Marshall Ward Mounts African Art: The Years since 1920 (1973), Jean Kennedys 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 Okekes personal
archives, including his stunningly meticulous diary entries from the mid-
1950s through the 1960s, spurred my two-decade-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 collaborationwith my friend and colleague Okwui
Enwezorthat became the complex, traveling exhibition The Short Century:
Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 19451994, 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-century Nigeria without close attention to the political and cultural implications of Africas 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


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-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-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-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-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-
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-definitionwhich characterized the African anticolonial and decolonization movementslaid 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-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


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-rate artwork to
us because the art presented here emulates the Western traditionthis is
a criterion for selectionand 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-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-consciously deployed
mimesis. Moreover, they sidestep the rather complex strategies adopted by
colonial subjects committed to asserting, even within the limited political-
discursive space available to them, their right to determine and articulate
their own visions of modernity. Indeed, early-twentieth-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-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.


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 Andersons
point here is to draw a direct, uncomplicated line between Western education during the colonial period and the colonial subjects 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 (18941978), Flix Houphout-Boigny
(19051993), and Lopold Sdar Senghor (19062001)who, respectively,
became the first presidents and prime ministers of Kenya, Ivory Coast, and
Senegalbefore and after the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester
(1945).14 However, while Senghor and Houphout-
Boigny demonstrated
their infatuation with la civilisation franaise and political commitment to
Franafrique, Kenyatta and Nkrumahs 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 Nkrumahs return from England, he revived the idea of African personality and his own concept of decolonization through consciencism
as guiding principles for political pan-Africanism.15 He also colorfully placed
Ghanas 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-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 Nkrumahs
and Kenyattas 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.



This tendency to embrace native cultures and to publicly express ones

attachment to them after a pilgrimage to the Westall this while appropriating usable ciphers of Western economic and political modernitysuggests
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 Chatterjees 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-prone, unstable, and inauthentic postcolonial subjectivity? One thing is certain: theories of mimicry, W. E. B. Du Boiss notion
of double consciousness, or Ali Mazruis idea of triple heritage do not sufficiently explain how self-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 Achebes novel Arrow of God,
in which the priest Ezeulu, an appointed protector of his communitys traditions against the onslaught of alien Christian-colonial culture, admonished


his school-bound son to thoroughly master the white mans system of writing
upon which colonial governance is based, such that he could write with his
left handin 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-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 sons 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-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-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 themsay, Uche
Okeke and Bruce Onobrakpeya, who are practicing Catholicsdepicted
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 artiststo cite Biodun Jeyifos argument about parallel developments in modern African literatureis a product of a replete African world which derives its deepest truths and resources




endogenously, not in exclusivist, racial-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-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
exemplified by that of Paul Gilroy, Nestor Garcia Canclini, and David Cravensought 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-century avant-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 asthis is importantsuch
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


study of the conjunction of art and the politics of decolonization in twentieth-

century Nigeria, I am inspired by Kobena Mercers idea of cosmopolitan
modernisms. For him, this term describes two related experiences: first, the
two-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-Western artists, minority
artists in the West, and Western art movements that have engaged different
cultures. However, if Mercers cosmopolitan modernismsdrawing on postcolonial theorys onslaught against the hegemonic and universal ambitions
of what now looks like an insular strain of Western modernismserves as a
conceptual tool for articulating a broad-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 Appiahs description of postcoloniality as the condition of the elite, college-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-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 Appiahs 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, philosopherssimultaneously
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 colonialisms 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 sovereigntybut
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-Gilbert has
put it, both the critical conjunction of postcolonialism and modernism and




the wide-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, Eskia Mphahlele, Christopher
Okigbo, for instance) shared the same concerns with their artist-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 Okekes Oja Series, a suite of drawings inspired by Igbo Uli traditional drawing (and in Achebes Things Fall Apart);25 and second, in Okeke
and Demas Nwokos crisis paintings (as well as in Christopher Okigbos
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 artists 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-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.


Let me return to Appiahs description of the postcolonial as a space-

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
compoundmessy, fraught, and inevitably distinctivepostcolonial modern subjectivities.

BEFORE I SUMMARIZE this books 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-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-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




even in colonialisms 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-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-century Nigeria.
Building on the first chapter, the second situates the work of pioneer Nigerian modernist painter Aina Onabolu (18821963) and the British art teacher
Kenneth Murray (19031972) 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 Murrays 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 countrys first tertiary-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 Londons control of colo-


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 schools 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 historys view of a period that I insist is
most fundamental to our understanding of the stakes of twentieth-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 groups 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 Onabolus brand of colonial modernism (and a critique of Kenneth Murrays).
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 1960sas 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 Beiers 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-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,




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-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-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 stylemanifest in his wood sculptures and in a suite of paintings on the theme of Adam and Eve while on
a one-year visit to Paris in 1962/63influenced 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 Nigerias 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 Lagoss new significance as the hub of modern art and
culture during this period. First was the radical transformation in 1962 of
Nigeria, a general-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


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 Societys dream of translating the modest college-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-called young Turks and the older generation
of artistsrepresented by Ben Enwonwu, Akinola Lasekan, and the novelist/critic Cyprian Ekwensiabout 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-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 (19671970). Apart from the fact that these works, in terms
of their formal ambition and conceptual complexity, marked a watershed in
Okeke and Nwokos 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.


Chapter 1


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 (18821963)
and Kenneth C. Murray (19031972). But this chapter also does something
else. It sets the ground, sustained throughout the book, for keeping the evo-

Chapter 1


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-century
British colonial administration was particularly suspicious of what was then
called literary educationsocial 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-Reconstruction United States (the period of the
1895 Atlanta Compromise). Consider, for instance, that moment in W. E. B.
Du Boiss 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,
Ill 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! well 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 wereI knew your father, John, he
belonged to my brother, and he was a good Nigger. Wellwell, 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
What is certain is that the fear of the revolutionary potential of the educated native in post-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-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-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 institutionsin 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 sociocryonicswhich
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 forms3
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 governments 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 mans burden.
In any case, the governments 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


Chapter 1


after the Berlin-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 governments 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-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 regimea high-intensity drama that, in
turn, laid the grounds for the independence and decolonization movements
of the postWorld 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 Shrenks 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-nilly, the colonial governments
emphasis on technical and low-grade education in the era of indirect rule.
Indirect rule has a complex history. The best-known and the most influential model of British colonial governance in Africa, it is usually associated
with Lord Frederick Lugardunder whose regime Nigeria was formed in
191410and derived in part from the earlier ideas of the French ethnologist
Gustav dEichthal, who advised the precolonial British Niger Mission against
disrupting the Islamic society of the Fulani Empire in todays northern Nigeria. The mission, he reasoned, would do better to leave the Muslim Africans
to develop in their own way, separate from the Europeans. DEichthals 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 dEichthal, other important voices, such as the anthropologist
and self-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 Kingsleys 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 rules 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, Lugards 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
Lugards Nigeria.13 The journal noted that Montagus statement


Chapter 1


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 rules 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 presshis eternal enemiesnever 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-managing the colonized peoples 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

relevancebecause job prospects for those so trained were slimothers

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 antinative 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-Reconstruction era. My parallel
pointdetailed in the following chapteris 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 Onabolus career and on the other by Kenneth
Murrays 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-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.


Chapter 1


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 Lagoss 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 familyhis 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 Societywas an African with a
compound consciousness, one who laid claim to and defended the Africans
right to Yoruba, African, Arab, and Western cultural heritages. Indeed, G. O.
Olusanyas interpretation of the appellation black Englishman given to Ma
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-world of the modern African.
Macaulay indeed belonged to a section of Lagoss 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-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 governmentA. W. L. Flemming,
a British official in the Gold Coast, once described them as West Africas
curseposed the toughest challenge to indirect rule and British imperialism
and, in fulfillment of the very fears of colonialisms 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-called native authorities where


Chapter 1


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-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-educated and politically-minded progressives.26 This
statement reveals Lugards theoretical and political dilemma, for it implies
that the products of British-established and -controlled boarding schools (although he may have had in mind only those trained in England) were not
expected to aspire to political leadership and that British-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-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 Lugards 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 Lugards rule must bring with it freedom from colonial oppression and terrorism and the beginning of self-government supported by major constitutional changes. Take, for instance, the editorial of
February 122, 1919, in which the Lagos Weekly Record celebrated the end of
the damnable Lugard rule, while anticipatingin vain as it turned outthe
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-determination in the print

media usually foregrounded the idea that indirect rule, by its very nature,
was designed to suppress anything beyond bare-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 colonialisms to-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
thatto keep attention on the reason for this excursion to this particular historyprovided 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-era education
programs in Nigeria, including especially Kenneth Murrays 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-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 Lugards 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 Lugards 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


Chapter 1


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 Lugards 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-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. Lugards 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: Lugards 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 peoples right to political and cultural

C olonialism and the Educ ated Afric ans


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 Britains 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-Reconstruction
America, the men whose ideas exerted tremendous influence on twentieth-
century African nationalists, were unquestionably Booker T. Washington
(18561915), W. E. B. Du Bois (18681963), and Marcus Garvey (18871940).
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-African
terrorist in colonial government quarters. But what were the stakes?
The colonizers 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-level industrial skills rather than the classical and literary education
offered in standard universities. Seen as less threatening to the racial status
quo, Washingtons 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-uplift.
On the other hand, W. E. B. Du Boisone of the forces behind the estab-

Chapter 1


lishment of the pan-Africanist movementwaged intellectual war against

Washingtons apparent acceptance of the Negros status as hewer of wood
and drawer of water.35 Du Bois argued that Washingtons 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-of-the-century United States, I must for the
moment mention in passing the importance of Marcus Garvey, particularly
in catalyzing the politicalas opposed to the intellectualimagination of
African nationalists toward the fight for self-government.
Despite Du Boiss criticism, the influential Phelps-Stokes Fund Commissionwhich 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
Africansin its reports of 1922 and 1924 endorsed Washingtons 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-Stokes Fund and head of the commission, also played an active
role in the government-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-Stokes in the politics of African colonial education inevitably catalyzed the mainstreaming of Washingtons pedagogical system no less because Jones, an ardent advocate of Washingtonian industrial education, became the shadow architect of the funds vision of education in Africa. The
Phelps-Stokes Funds alliance with indirect rules visions of colonial education, their joint support for Washingtons industrial education, and the
disinterest in Du Boiss 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 (19041996), a foremost Nigerian nationalist, was the

interwar periodeducated African par excellence, the type of native whose
emergence Lugard and the colonial administration feared. At twenty-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-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-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-based paper, West African Pilot.41
Azikiwes rise in continental politics in a way exacerbated the colonizers
long-standing anxieties about the educated African, especially the type corrupted by the seditious politics of Garvey and the irritating racial equality


Chapter 1


ideas of Du Bois. Azikiwe and others like him embodied the colonizers 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 colonizers mantra of the culturally alienated
native and schooled in the discourse of anti-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-Africanist
heritage, waged an all-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-Hayfords biofictional book Ethiopia Unbound (1911), unquestionably the most influential contemporary literary argument for African nationalism. For Azikiwe (as for Casely-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
Africans relationship to the continents 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-Africanism for modern Africa. Rather than remain obsessed with the
question of the modern Africans cultural authenticity measured against the
extent of his connection to an imaginary root culture, Azikiwe focused on
using the ideological rhetoric of pan-Africanism to attain not just racial accommodation but outright self-rule. It is here that he seems to have drawn
most from the Africa-for-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-Africanism, as announced in Renascent Africa, must break the shackles of colonialism and restore Africas battered image and lost glories not so much by invoking the
vitality of the continents 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-of-the-century Lagosian and
West African educated elite, the black emancipation pan-Africanisms of Du
Bois and Garvey, and the continental nationalism of the mid-century West
African political elitea radical fusion that produced a self-defined vision
of African modernity completely at odds with colonialisms 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-era
art and art education.


Chapter 2


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 Africans 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-garde. Onabolus 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 England, 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 (19031972) as an educa-

Chapter 2


tion officer with the mandate to teach art in Lagos and southern Nigerian
schools. However, and this is crucial, Murrays ideas about modern art for
colonial Nigeria directly opposed those of Onabolu. If Onabolu saw in art the
vehicle and tool for asserting the Africans modernity and as a means for pictorial performance of his modern subjectivity following similar arguments
made by many among Lagoss black educated elite, Murray saw things differently. Indeed, Murrays vision of African art mirrored the antimodernist ideological basis of Britains 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 Africans 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, Murrays 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 Onabolus painting,
given that he set out to disprove colonial and racist assumptions about the
Africans artistic ability, how this constitutes an art-historical problemone
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 Murrayhas 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-
twentieth-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
nationalistsmissionaries, educationists, lawyers, journaliststhat we find
committed believers in the Africans 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-century African anti-imperialism and British colonialism. What
becomes clear is that even in colonialisms 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 Onabolus 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-twentieth century is the belief in the Africans 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-twentieth-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 Murrays aesthetic philosophy and pedagogy.1 Similarly, another study argued, with remarkable directness, that the concept of natural
synthesis is Murrays baby.2 In other words, Murrays insistence on reviving
so-called traditional arts and crafts as a basis for a new Nigerian art provided
Okeke and his colleagues the fundamental theoretical and intellectual frame-


Chapter 2


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 chapters 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 Onabolus 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-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
Murrays 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-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 Onabolus 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 Onabolus
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 colonialisms 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. Johns Wood
School of Art. In it, he carefully establishes his credentials as a self-taught,
confident, articulate, and passionate advocate of painting as the highest form
of fine artas 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 realismresulting from
the rigorous application of one-point perspective and the use of focus as a
compositional devicehad the singular and crucial value of providing visual


Chapter 2


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 English academic painting, no doubt with the intention of establishing a
particular art-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 Onabolus 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 dure 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 craftsa refusal to appreciate culture as process rather than
product, as the social-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 selfwhich is precisely what the science of perspective, associated
with Western painting, and even the less artful medium of photography afforded himrather 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 Onabolus 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. Onaboluthe interpretation of Africa to the outside
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 Macaulays declaration, in response to a 1920 exhibition of
work by students at St. Johns Wood, that Onabolus art was a clear, marvellous vindication of our strugglea 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,
Onabolus 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 Acadmie 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, Onabolus 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 (18481906), Onabolus 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


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 (19161972), 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 paintersas did Varma, who learned from
the Dutch painter Theodore Jensen while in the Travancore royal courthis
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 Onabolus academism, these considerations, we have to concede,
trouble the description of Onabolus art as nationalist if, following Benedict
Anderson, we take it that one of nationalisms 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-Indian vision
by subsuming the colonys demographic and cultural diversity in the hegemonic interests of [Indian] national unity11 (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-century Nigeria, his work suggests that colonial-era Nigerian nationalism (shorn of pan-Nigerian national
allegories) did not follow the classic path theorized by Anderson or indexed
by Varmas paintings.
Nevertheless, it bears emphasizing that Onabolus initial attraction to the
Western academic tradition and pictorial realism at the very moment the
European avant-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 chargein its rejection of traditional artas
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 paintingborrowed from or instigated by the cultural and historical otherfrom the ashes of tradition. This
antitraditionalism of the European avant-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, Onabolus
promotion of high art valuesthe two quotations by Owen Meredith


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

geniusnot 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 paintingsas F. H. Harward declared in
his foreword to the artists 1920 exhibition cataloghad 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, Onabolus art was resolutely the visual art


Chapter 2


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 Onabolus part to focus on the singularity
of realisms power as a tool for narrating history, not by giving an account
of events and deeds of modern Nigerian heroes and leadersas in normative history paintingbut by simply bearing witness to their embodied
humanity, which was a crucial act in the process of gaining control of the
natives subjectivity. Given the prevailing tendency to associate realism with
rationality, which in turn was the motivating logic of Western modernitys
institutions and knowledge systems, mastery of this visual mode more or
less implied the demonstration of ones ability to be modern, which for the
African was not yet a settled question. In other words, Onabolus task was not

Indirect Rule and Colonial Modernism

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
Onabolus 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 Onabolus work in recent art-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 Araeens assertion that the realism
of [Onabolus] 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 Africas own historians, who have in different measures looked to Onabolu as the initial point of the continents entry into art history, when in fact
his work amounted to nothing but mimicry under the tutelage of colonial
paternalism. Araeens point, in essence, is that because of European colonialisms far-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, Onabolus 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
artists mimicry assured Africas marginality in what Araeen calls the mainstream history of modernism. Of Araeens many troubling pronouncements
on Onabolus modernism, the two that parallel more cogently the problem
of this book and this chapter are, first, Araeens erroneous assumption that
African modernism is one uniform, uninflected story of appropriating European artistic forms and concepts; and, second, his claim that Onabolus academism is nothing but mimicry and irresponsible abandonment of his African tradition. Here, Araeens 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


Chapter 2


and crafts teacher in colonial Nigeria, Murrays 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 Murrays 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 arts 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-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, England. 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, England. Estate of
Kenneth C. Murray.

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Whereas Onabolu prepared students for professional work as 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 Murrays schoolcharacterized by idiosyncratic, flat pictorial space, unsophisticated palette, and rudimentary draftsmanshipwas, as it turned out, not a transitory style of juvenilia. Rather, it continued into the artists mature years, with the singular
exception of Enwonwus 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, Murrays 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 Onabolus 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 Lugards 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 Murrays private convictions cannot lead to the sort of conclusions made by scholars who have argued that Murrays art teaching was distinctly opposed to the mainstream
model of colonial native education.
The misunderstanding of Murrays art education in the scholarship is

Indirect Rule and Colonial Modernism

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 Murrays 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 imaginaryideas excerpted
from the British educator Joseph E. Bartons writing on On Art in Education for Citizenship.18 It has been argued that these notes represent Bartons
articulation of modernisms search for non-materialistic, spiritual values
and thus extrapolates a correlation between this idea of European modernism and Murrays 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 postWorld War I Britain, who in his famous six-part lecture series
on the bbc in 1932 pushed for popular acceptance of the formal purism of
functionalist architecture and abstract arta position so radical that Roger
Fry20 had to call for the reclamation of what he called the tremulous vitality
of artistic sensibility from Bartons mechanistic and functionalist aesthetic
suggests that Murray could not have found in Bartons 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-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 Murrays
disapproval of modernisms nonspiritual basis, its expression of Western
modernitys 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 Ciek (18651946)
must be put in proper historical perspective to grasp the specific ways it relates to Murrays work. Quite rightly, a pamphlet in Murrays archive, produced by Francesca M. Wilson for the 1921 art exhibition of paintings by
Cieks students in London, irrefutably connects Murrays 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 England), where Murray had trained, had familiarized him with pedagogical methods that were much more fundamental than those of Ciek.
As it happens, Robert Catterson-Smith (18531938), a former principal at


Chapter 2


Birmingham and an important voice in the British arts and crafts movement, had developed and taught a radical method of encouraging the childs
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-Smiths 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 Murrays art teaching
in Nigeria. Birmingham also provided the context for Murrays encounter
with Cieks ideas, because Francesca Wilson, author of the Ciek pamphlet
in Murrays archive, was a history teacher at the Edgbaston Church of Eng
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 Cieks students, organized by Wilson, traveled for several years (along
with Wilsons text), Murray might in fact have come across both when he was
still a student at Birmingham. In any case, Catterson-Smiths and Richardsons idea of memory drawing, together with Cieks 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 Murrays 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 (18771947).
A passage from Coomaraswamys 1918 book Dance of the iva, which was
included in a typescript of quotes in Murrays 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 iva, Coomaraswamy cites Sukracharyas 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

Indirect Rule and Colonial Modernism

What emerges from this tracking of Murrays 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-optation
and transmogrification of these ideas about nurturing artistic originality
and authenticity into arguments about African cultural exceptionalism, the
Europeans mandate to determine the conditions of Africas 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 English press, as evidence of Murrays 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 Britains cultural modernity? How do the exhibition reviews confirm my reading of Murrays teaching as a process of creating African art that was anything but modern and progressive for its time?
Murrays 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 Englands 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-African art, provided him the
opportunity to simultaneously argue for the retention and expression of national essences through art and to criticize English/European artists whose
modernism was linked to cubist formalist experimentation with African
(and Oceanic) sculpture. In other wordsthis applies to the shows enthu-


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

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.

Indirect Rule and Colonial Modernism

siastic reception by the conservative pressthe 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 Englands dominions (Canada, Australia, South Africa, India, New Zealand). While the latter show revealed the dominion artists familiarity with
nineteenth- and twentieth-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.
Murrays 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-called primitive non-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, Murrays work was a part of the mainstream British-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 Lugards 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-


Chapter 2


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 syllabusthe syllabus for art teachers
that he designed and the government adopted in 1933thereby 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 Lugards ideaa 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-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
Departments 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-

Indirect Rule and Colonial Modernism

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 Africans 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-called African
lines. Moreover, if, as most observers noted, the Africans encounter with the
West had been a rapid process, did not the idea that limiting the Africans
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
Murrays 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 formalisman approach, I suggest, that in the given historical context represented the new and the progressiveor to the formal
possibilities of the different modes of Western contemporary art. In a sense,
the work of Trowells and Murrays 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
teachers primitivist imagination but also simultaneously led to systematic


Chapter 2


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, Germanyexemplifies this minority
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 Tylors 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, Stevenss
position was far from radical. This part of his work, articulated in a 1928
article in the journal Africa, attracted Kenneth Murrays 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 English 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. Stevenss work
is important, then, not so much for what he achieved during his three-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 Onabolus pedagogy by the colonial government if he, rather than Murray, had been posted to Lagos.
This analysis of Murrays 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 Europes bourgeois society, which is how we often think of the artistic avant-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-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 convincedfollowing
Chinua Achebes critique of Conrads Heart of Darkness and the arguments
of Edward Said about European intellectuals participation in the production of orientalismthat 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 Murrays
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 civilizations 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 regimearguably driven
by his realization that the governments policies were moving away from
the Lugardian adaptationist modelhis ideas about contemporary African
cultures and art were remarkably similar to von Sydows. In a way, Murray,
like European avant-garde artists of his day, inherited, as Susan Hiller has
argued, an unconscious and ambivalent involvement with the colonial transaction of defining Europes 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-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-


Chapter 2


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 Murrays 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 Murrays 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-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 Africans intellectual inferiority; how better to show this than through mastery,
what Olu Oguibe aptly calls reverse appropriation, of the creative sophistication that post-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-making techniques. It
is unprofitable now to speculate the fate of Nigerian art had Murrays program not displaced that of Onabolu as the official curriculum for art teaching
in Nigerian schools. What is certain is that despite Onabolus 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 Onabolus 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

clubs 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 Murrays pedagogy, had no interest in the supposedly vital native arts
and crafts. Moreover, in carrying forward Onabolus 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 Nigerias 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 Nigeriatraditional
craftsmen and the artists who based their styles and techniques on European
exampleshe 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-
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 techniquethey 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-day, but,
when they succeed, their worth must surely be recognised by all.38
Osulas 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-called traditional art


Chapter 2


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 artpresumably people like
Kenneth Murrayclearly 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-insufficiency seemed
to have compelled Osulas candid assessment; but he was also quite possibly
convinced that the fast-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 artistsmany of whom were taking correspondence
art courses offered by Onabolu and his former student Akinola Lasekan
(19161972), who himself took correspondence courses at the Hammersmith School of Art, London (figure 2.8)Murrays 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 Murrays 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 Murrays former students, artists influenced by his teaching, as
well as Onabolus 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

The 1948 exhibition reflected Danfords 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-

Chapter 2


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-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 formulatednever mind that it was based on
the work of teenagersseemed 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 Murrayindirect 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 Onabolus 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 contingentor to put it more starkly, Onabolus 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 Lagoss educated elite before him, must have felt his own fair share
of the official antagonism directed toward educated nativesthis was the
subtext of his 1920 treatisebut 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 subjectivitys 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-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 Onabolus intention are
not far-fetched, for as will be seen, it is from Onabolus model of the speaking, self-aware colonial subject convinced of his connection to world historical culturesnot just to that of his real or imagined ancestors, as indirect
rule colonialism arrogantly arguedthat postcolonial modernism unfolded
in Zaria, Ibadan, and Lagos during the independence decade.


Chapter 3


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

ence and Technology (ncast) in Zaria, the first degree-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-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 Nigerias
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


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-year
course Art for Teachers or the three-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
Nigerias emergent academic community. But if the public was dubious of
the programs place within the academic institution and beyond, it must have
been in part because in its first years, the Art Sectionas it was originally
calleddid 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-faire and demanded from its practitioners
less intellectual investment. The programs 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-
Cooke; and the assistant principal of ncast, Ibadan branch, K. O. Williams.
This high-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-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 exhibitions
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-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-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 English. 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
The transformation from an art-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-year Teachers 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 Onabolus (no doubt inflexible) vision of a Nigerian art academy; but whereas
Zarias 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-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


Figure 3.1 Sculpture Studio with students

work, Art Department, Nigerian College of Art,
Science and Technology, Zaria, ca. 19581960.
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 programs profile. For instance,
Donald Brooke, a lecturer in sculpture and an acquaintance of the famous
English sculptor Henry Moore, believed that bringing high-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. Gerrards appointment as Zarias external
examiner, although negotiations between the two schools were ultimately
The failure to secure London affiliation was not Zarias only problem. A
devastating challenge came in the form of withering criticism of the art program broadcast on national radio by Nigerias most famous artist, Ben Enwonwu (19171994), 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 schools 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-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 Enwonwus 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 governments 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 worlds 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-


Chapter 3


ant and prideful personality often collided with the strictures of colonial civil
service. In any case, Zarias 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 countrys diverse ancient cultures. It was also designed to address the corollary problem of calibrating
the art schools relationship, in terms of its curricular offerings, with these
same traditions, which had assumed increasing significance in the Nigerian
national imaginaries. Barkers 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-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-changing community
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 follyto spite ourselves and deliberately to limit our
future growth. Our National Characteristics and our African Art will not
appear by forcerather 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-characteristic Art. Let me agreeindeed it is likely that this

will happenyes 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
Barkers 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 Enwonwus
earlier criticism. In Barkers 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 Barkers 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
artby which he probably meant catalyzing the process with Africanist ideology or perhaps just studying African artwould inevitably lead to what he
called false characteristics. The Zaria Art Departments 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 Barkers 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 artistthat might well be trueas 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-


Chapter 3


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 Barkers 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 Barkers 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 Barkers 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-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-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-bead manufacture in Bida; and
indigo-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 Danfords bronze statue Emotan (1954) at Obas Market in Benin City (figure 3.5);
Enwonwus 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 Enwonwus 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.

(19281991). 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 departments 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-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 Obas Market,
Benin City, in 1954.
Keystone Pictures
USA / zumapress

Chapter 3


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 departments 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 Zarias 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 schools
certificate by the government.
Frith further built on Patrick Georges 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 programs viability and its relevance within and outside the college. Compounding the situation was the fact that ncasts art
graduatesits ambassadorslooked to secure careers in secondary education, teacher-training colleges, or the civil service, because independent
studio practice was widely considered precarious and undignifieda mere
hobby for the gainfully employed or the preoccupation of those unable to
secure decent jobs elsewhere. The Carr-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 (19121992)an important British member
of the figurative avant-garde better known for her professional and personal

The Ac ademy and the Avant- Garde

relationships with Alberto Giacometti, Pablo Picasso, Andr Derain, Francis

Bacon, Georges Bataille, Jacob Epstein, Simone de Beauvoir, and othersto
spend time working in the ncast painting studio.14 Frith also solicited the
intervention of the world-renowned biologist and author Sir Julian Huxley
(18871975); unlike Barker before him, Frith recognized the significance of a
recommendation from one of the most famous scientists of the day. Huxleys
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-on persistent criticism of the schools 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 Julians 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 Julians solicited endorsement, the Art Department trumpeted, as proof
of its programs 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


Chapter 3


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 Georges 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 departments 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 Enwonwus
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-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
Taylor and Hopes 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

The Ac ademy and the Avant- Garde


The Art Society

Given the widespread perception of fine arts inferiority as an academic pursuit and despite Enwonwus 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-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-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-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 studentsOkechukwu Odita
(b. 1936) and Oseloka Osadebe (b. 1935), secondary school mates of Nwokos,
and Ogbonnaya Nwagbara (19341985) 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

Chapter 3


well as the ancient art of Benin, Ife, and Igbo-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 Okekes 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 magazines 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 Zarias Western-oriented curriculum. The society members readiness to
share information and experiences unique to their own ethnicitiesor as in
the case of the Birom text by Okeke, from their places of residencetestified
to a nationalist impulse, an eagerness to claim the diverse ethnic cultures
and traditions as part of a collective national heritage. However, notwith-

The Ac ademy and the Avant- Garde

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 Societys initial strategic acts, besides appointing the
branch principals wife as patron, was writing to important nationalist politicians and the British Council, informing them of the societys 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 societys 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 Societys inauguration. Despite the groups ideological motivation, seeking support of
some school officials, nationalists, and imperial institutions testified to the
societys 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 Zarias 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 Zarias 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 Zarias 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-


Chapter 3


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 (Eskia 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 groups activities within the Art Department, the societys 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-to-be-
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-

The Ac ademy and the Avant- Garde

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.
Osulas 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 [Nigerias] 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 sakenot only for its functional valueswe
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 Okekes 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 countrys revolutionary movement was not lost on Okeke who, with his Art Society colleagues,
was influenced by and identified with the work of Nigerias political nationalists, as well as of pan-Africanists, including Nnamdi Azikiwe and W. E. B.
Du Bois. Third is his argument that modern African arts 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
Okeke formally proposed the idea of natural synthesis in his second an-


Chapter 3


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 artists 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-laden poetry to elaborate his idea of natural synthesis:
Okolobias sons shall learn to live
from fathers 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
subjects 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 progresssuch
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 Murrays 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,

The Ac ademy and the Avant- Garde

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-consciously modernist art, natural synthesis authorized an
instrumental approach to traditional African art completely different from
Murrays 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 Hegels 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-Paul Sartres 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 artists 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


Chapter 3


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 Congressdescribed by conservative French media as
a Cultural Bandung, after the 1955 Asian-African Conference of newly independent and anticolonial states in Bandung, Indonesiawas held at the
Sorbonne and supported by giants of the French left intelligentsia, including Sartre, Thodore Monod, Claude Lvi-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 Prsence 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 Prsence
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 Okekes formulation of natural synthesis and, more
generally, for the ideas and work of the Art Society in Zaria and beyond.
To be sure, Okekes suggestion that synthesis must be unforced and his
characterization of their synthesis as natural sidestep two major considerations. First, awareness and assertion of ones 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

The Ac ademy and the Avant- Garde

naturalness or authenticity of the imagined nation and therefore rhetorically

contrasted it with the supposedly artificial and alienating Western-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 Africans fraught relationship with both his ancestral past and colonial modernity and on the
other foregrounds the artists 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 Sartres thoughts on negritude poetry speak to the
very essence of Okekes 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[Nigerias]
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 Okekes 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 (18321912) made a strong case for Africas unique cultural history and experience in the face of the continents encounter with
Western civilization. African personality from then on became a key concept in pan-Africanist discourse and practice. Blydens argument is based on
the recognition of a contemporary perception of black people as Europes
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


Chapter 3


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-
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 Negros 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 peoples
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, Blydens conception of race, like those of Alexander Crummell
(18191898) and W. E. B. Du Bois, is based on nineteenth-century European racialist thought. He accepts rather than questions a discourse of race
bolstered by ersatz scientific and skewed moral argumentsthat was responsible for the oppression of black people.
In the postWorld War II period, Kwame Nkrumah (19091972), the first
president of Ghana and a leading pan-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 Skou Tour (19221984) 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-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 Africans 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, ngritude) 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 migrs 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 empirein reality a tiny percentage of the
black eliteFrench 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-affirmative movement.41 As Csaire argued,
negritude is both a psychic journey toward self-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 Ngritude 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


Chapter 3


we must have a concrete consciousness of what we arethat 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 (ngre) and [threw] it back in the teeth of a hostile world as
defiance and, at the same time, as assertion of [the Africans] 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 Csaire 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 negritudes Afro-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 Africans right to contribute to what Lopold
Sdar Senghor (19062001) called the civilization of the universal. But
there is a crucial difference between the artistic implications of negritude
and Uche Okekes natural synthesis.
Negritudes 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 Senghors 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 cole des Arts,
Dakar, in the early 1960s resulted in work, such as Papa Ibra Talls 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 Senghors for-

Chapter 3


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 stylesindeed, the focus on real and imagined African and black
cultural, religious themesthat 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
Enwonwus paintings and sculptures of African dancers and black female
Natural synthesis prescribed a different approach. It is as if the Art Society needed to subject negritude to conceptual filtration, to distill national
art consciousnesssimilar to Frantz Fanons idea of national culturefrom
the gauzy mass of negritudes racialist aesthetic. While I am not aware of any
direct knowledge on the part of Okeke and the Art Society of Fanons work, it
is remarkable that Fanons withering critique of negritude at the 1959 Rome
congress, reformulated in his landmark essay On National Culture, anticipated Okekes initial thoughts on natural synthesis later that year. For
Fanons memorable statementThis 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 alley46or his pithier
assertion that Every culture is first and foremost national47 strikes at the
heart of the Art Societys work. We might say that in focusing on specific arts
and cultural practices of Nigerias 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 negritudes major poets and the invocation of African sculptural and
masking traditions, for instance, in Senghors articulation of the movements
literary aesthetic, there were no artists in its original ranks. Art ngre was, so
to speak, all over the negritude rhetoric, but there were no Negro artists producing visual equivalents or complements to the groups literary output during the movements 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 Senghors effort to create visual negritude
at the cole des Arts, Dakarunder the leadership of Papa Ibra Tall in the
early 1960sthe 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 Okekes emphasis, in natural synthesis, on the exploration and adaptation of indigenous Nigerian art forms as bases for the Art Societys work
remember the lines in Okolobia, blending diverse culture types, / the cream
of native kind / adaptable alien typethe 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 Societys exemplary Zaria-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 Okekein 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-


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-central Igbo, the
figure is depicted as a fierce, mustached adult male with a titled-mans red
cap adorned with red, spiked branches. The dramatically rendered ocher skin
and facial featuresparticularly the dome-shaped, flaring nostrils, the burning, semicircular eyes, and the cantilevered eyelidsare set against the blue
and red torso and a green-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-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 paintingsincluding Madonna and Child (1961), Christ (1961; figure 3.9), and Jumaa (1961)confirms
their experimental status. These latter paintings, stridently graphic and severe,
are characterized by flat, hard-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-glass painting. Jumaa, a landscape composition
with five men clad in white, flowing robes in the fore- and mid-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-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 Mir 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 works 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 Okekes 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 momentthe realization of the possibilities of Igbo traditional mural and body art as sources for
his painting.50
There is another aspect of Okekes work from Zaria that no doubt complicates our view of his formal experiments. Back in the summer of 1958,
he visited the Jos Museums 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-and-ink
drawings, exemplified by Nza the Smart (1958; figure 3.12), composed from
a bewildering range of abstract motifs but depicting characters from popular


Figure 3.10 Uche Okeke, Jumaa, oil on board, 1961. Artists 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 birds 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 Picassos Guernica (1937), is mostly two-dimensional except for
the thick dark lines suggesting the articulation of its legs and head and the
hatched lines defining the beasts upper palate. The legs and webbed feet,
antlers, serrated teeth, and bulging eyes are flat and belie the artists 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-Haus, University of Bayreuth.
Uche Okeke.


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 9731. 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

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-


Chapter 3


clination might be to separate the works two strandsone dependent on

sheer manipulation of line, pattern, and space; the other on permutation of
color, texture, and formhis 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 Okekes simultaneous engagement with different representational orders, the juggling, as it were, of line- and color-
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-minded focus on one as-yet-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 NWOKOS 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 Okekes
Jumaa, Nwoko here mixes pathossuggested 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 Nwokos style.
By 1960 Nwokos palette and facture had come so close to Okekes that
some of each ones 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 trains interior in the first Beggars is subtly evident, in the sec-

Figure 3.13 Demas Nwoko,

Beggars in the Train, oil on
board, 1959. Artists collection.
Photo, the author. Demas

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. Artists 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 deaths 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 artists studies of European modernism. For al108

Figure 3.15
Demas Nwoko, Nigeria
in 1959, oil on board,
1960. Artists 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
Nwokos 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

Chapter 3


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 artists ability to appropriate, manage, and control techniques
of delivery learned from an encounter with modern European painting.
Nwokos 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, preAna Mmuo paintings of 1961.
If White Fraternity is indicative of Nwokos short-lived attention to the pictorial value of two-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. Artists collection. Photo, the
author. Demas Nwoko.

Chapter 3


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 Onobrakpeyas 1961 paintings, which are

strikingly similar to Nwokos, particularly in the representation of nonperspectival space and a palette of intense, often complementary colors. A self-
confessed admirer of Gauguins Tahiti paintings and of the work of Vincent
van Gogh, Onobrakpeya was attracted to Gauguins 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-known work) and on the other the
sun-drenched southern Nigerian forests where he sets his mythological compositions, there is a remarkable difference. Onobrakpeyas 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 Hunters Secret (1961), where a red-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 workin the process of reimmersing himself in his native culture through its oral traditions,
as well as simply recording them for posteritybut also as sources for his
artistic subjects. In this, his interest in folktales compares with Uche Okekes
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. Artists 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. Artists collection.
Photo, the author. Bruce Onobrakpeya.

Figure 3.20 Yusuf Grillo, Oloogun, oil

on board, 1960. Collection of Mr. and
Mrs. Faysal El-Khalil. Image courtesy
of ArtHouse Contemporary Ltd., Lagos.
Yusuf Grillo.

THE WORK OF THREE OTHER Art Society paintersYusuf Grillo, Okechukwu

Odita, and Oseloka Osadebefurther testifies to the influence of the early

European avant-garde. Grillos 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-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


Chapter 3


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
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. Modiglianis female figureswith their elongated necks, bell-
shaped shoulder frames, and angularly displaced facesattracted 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,
Grillos low-key, blue-biased palette was, in a way, his homage to and admiration for Picassos 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-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
painters 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 subjects 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 Grillos 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-members pictorial styles, despite the pervasive influence of the European avant-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 Osadebes Lunch at the Park (1961) and Oditas Sheep Grazing (1961)
(figures 3.24 and 3.25). Indeed, the artist-critic Okpu Eze described Oditas
work, presented in his 1962 exhibition, as academic and too uncomfortably close to Friths 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-period paintings as Harmattan Landscape with Figures
(c. 1960/61) and other landscape compositions (figure 3.27).56 While these
critical assessments of Oditas debt to his teacher are correct in the sense that
Oditas painting is reminiscent of Friths 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.


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

Figure 3.26 Clifford Frith,

Fulani Portrait, oil on canvas,
ca. 1960. Courtesy of the artist.
Clifford Frith.

torial realism, Ezes 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, Osadebes and Oditas 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 Oditas 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 Brcke painters
of early twentieth-century Germany.

Figure 3.27 Clifford Frith, Harmattan Landscape with Figures, oil on canvas, 19601961.
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 Akolothough the fourth member of the 1961
painting class, he refused to join the societytestify to the importance of the
European avant-garde in the evolving style of a group linked as much by ideological convictions as by similar artistic interests. In Akolos 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 Okekes 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 Okekes 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.

Chapter 3


spite these similarities, however, Akolos paint application is heavier, more

consistent, and in a very fundamental sense more painterly.
Akolos primary reason for not joining the Art Society was his conviction that the young artists 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 Barkers 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 Barkers 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 paintings self-referentiality and the idea that any art tainted by ideology amounted to nothing but kitsch.
Whatever the case, Akolos 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 alsohere he comes close to
Grilloas 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 Akolos 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 artists 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 Okekes 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 groups initial attraction to early European modernism
was consistent with its overall program, which, as Okekes statement on the
societys 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-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 sculptures gift to Parisian modernism.
Moreover, such a focus on modernisms debts to African sculpture could
have delivered to the Art Society the opportunity to critique colonialisms
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 Societys attraction to postimpressionism is, perhaps, that they identified with the historic and sweeping impact of the late nineteenth- and early
twentieth-century European avant-garde on the post-Renaissance tradition of
constructed naturalism; but they were not so keen on the radical abstraction
of Picasso-Braque cubism, the nonobjective aspects of surrealism and Dada,
or postWorld 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-
garde on Art Society (and Akolos) painting, does Okekes disagreement with


Chapter 3


those who live in Africa and ape European artists in his 1960 speech not
amount to a denial of the groups 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-pull, attract-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 books 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 Lopold
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 postWorld
War II period saw this as the ideal model of African postcolonial modernity
is evident, as noted earlier, from the deliberations and communiqus 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-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 Societys turn to the European
historical avant-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 Societys Zaria-period work and Onabolus, 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-point
perspective, the Art Society identified with the antitraditionalist work of the
European modernist avant-garde. Onabolus 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-point-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-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 Murrays pedagogy.
Despite the reasons suggested here for the Art Societys attraction to the
work of the precubist avant-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-garde. There are two ways to look at the issue. First, by
relating the Art Societys 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 countrys independent status.59 It is in this sense that Onabolus work, given the state of art
in Nigeria and the racial-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-


Chapter 3


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 Societys other project of depicting subject matter relating to their cultural experiences, as well as to the influence of Clifford
Friths and Patrick Georges British figurative modernism. The Art Societys
connection to European modern painting, as outlined here, has important
art-historical implications. Due to the societys claim to a critical mandate
informed by anticolonial national consciousness, criticism of its work has
tended to merge Zaria-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 groups 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 Societys Zaria work for the elements of the cream of native
kind insinuated by Okekes 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

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 Prsence 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-Mars (18761969) declared
that the participants were responding to the fervent appeal of Prsence Afri-

Chapter 4


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 (19222011), a Jewish German instructor of
English 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 Prsence Africaine. Within
one year, in collaboration with the German writer Janheinz Jahn (19181973),
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 Beiers 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-twentieth-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-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 Onabolus 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 journals
inaugural issue, observed that because a great deal of the best African writing published in French, Portuguese, or Spanish remained inaccessible to
English-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-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-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 journals name.
It is significant because it came from the title of Jean-Paul Sartres introductory essay for Senghors 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 Sartres essay, Beier and
Jahn identified it with the idea of a symbolic return to and revalidation of ancestral Africa implied in both Sartres articulation of negritude and Csaires
seminal creative work Cahier dun 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, Beiers desire to extend its work to African art was clear from the outset. During his tenure as coeditor (19571966),
the journal regularly featured portfolios, vignettes, essays, and reviews on
art; indeed, it was the only major, consistent voice for contemporary mid-
twentieth-century African and African diaspora art and artists on the continent. An examination of Beiers exemplary texts on art in Black Orpheus
reveals how far his critical interventions went in determining the journals
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-wife, Susanne


Chapter 4


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 English phonetics at the University College, Ibadan, Beier later transferred to the Extra-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-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, Beiers inaugural contemporary art-related Black Orpheus essay
focused on the work of Susanne Wenger (19152009), who had become a
priestess of the Osun cult in Osogbo, where they lived until Beier left Nigeria in 1966. To Beier, Wengers 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 herincluding Placide Tempels (19061977), Pierre
Verger (19021996), and Maya Deren (19171961)went to Africa (or Haiti
in Derens 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 Wengers work as a visual equivalent of literary
negritudein 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. Althoughas Beier illustrated with Wengers 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-Haus, University of Bayreuth collection. The Susan
Wenger Foundation, Zbing am Heiligenstein.

Chapter 4


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 Beiers claim for Wengers 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 redeemedcleansed of the dross she might have acquired during her time
among the Viennese avant-gardeby 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 Beiers 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
Beiers anxiety and distrust of formal education, reminiscent of the Austrian art educator Franz Cieks 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 Beiers 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 patientswhom he and Wenger encouraged to take up art at a local mental homewas 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-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 characteristicsevident, so he believed, in the work of Susanne Wenger and the
two mentally ill paintersdetermined for the most part his choice of artists
to feature in Black Orpheus. These two essays provide a useful view of Beiers
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 (19242002), 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-
based Progressive Artists Group (pag), recognized as Indias first modernist
avant-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 groups 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 Souzas work, Beier, upon
returning to Nigeria, published an essay and several of Souzas 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. Souzas 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 Souzas strict Catholic background
and Romanesque Spanish art had considerable influence on his work, as


Chapter 4


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 Beiers analysis.18 Earlier in his career, Souza had
protested the prevailing influence of second-rate realismwhat Beier called
Victorian imagery in Nigeriaby 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, Beiers claim
that it is an Early Christian, rather than a Hindu atmosphere that we sense
in his work20 ignores the fact that Souza combined both with a modernist aesthetic sensibility and with what one might call postcolonial and post-
Christian existential ennui, graphically indexed in his oeuvre.21 Despite these
observations, Beiers overall argument is that Souzas 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, Beiers suggestion of Indian modernism as a model for West Africa remarkably echoes the
widespread hope on the part of the regions nationalists that Indias political
independence in 1947 would inspire immediate sovereignty for African nations. (Even before that, the early twentieth-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-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. Nwokos work,
moreover, provided Beier the opportunity to restate once more the problem
of modern art and colonial education in Nigeria: the failure of Onabolus and
Murrays followers to identify with the formal experimentation of the European avant-garde, beholden as they were to the sedate anatomical correctness
and sentimental story telling of so-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.

Chapter 4


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 Nwokos work in Black Orpheus thus marks the
crucial moment of alliance and alignment of the work of the Art Society at
Zaria with Beiers critical muscle against the bipolar anchors of colonial modernism represented by Aina Onabolu and Kenneth Murray. This text also coincided with Beiers famous art review in Nigeria magazine, in which we see
the extent of Beiers belief in Nwokos 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
itselfboth unprecedented in their scope and impactmark the triumph of
Beiers 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
drivers seat among power players in the expanding Lagos art world.

Nigerian Art Exhibition, 1960

The Nigeria Exhibitiona sprawling national fair on a thirty-five-acre space on

Victoria Island in Lagos, directed by a Mr. R. H. C. Hammondwas a major
part of Nigerias 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

Transacting the Modern

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 committeecomposed
of Michael Crowder, Aina Onabolu, Nora Majekodunmi, Afi Ekong, and
othersfor the exhibition to be installed at the Kingsway Stores premises
in Lagos.26 Within the same month, after a visit to Zaria by Mrs. Majekodunmichair of the Lagos branch of the arts council at the suggestion of
Crowder, the editor of Nigeria magazine and staunch supporter of the Art
SocietyUche 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 councils 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 Societys natural synthesis in Nigerias 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 Majekodunmithe British wife of the Federal Minister of Health, Dr. Moses Adekoyejo Majekodunmi, arguably the most influential figure on the Lagos art
scenefor more or less taking over, without oversight, the pavilions design
and decoration.30 Even so, the higher-stakes feud between Enwonwu and the
expatriate members of the Lagos branchit came to a head in July and August, when Enwonwu mass-circulated a letter exhorting Nigerian artists and


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

craftsmen to withdraw from the exhibitionforced 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 Enwonwus
high-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

Transacting the Modern

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

OKEKES 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-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 childrenperhaps an acknowledgment of the fraught
nature of ethnic nationalism in Nigerian politicsthe image of a dominant
mother gathering her children together forcefully conveyed the need for the
countrys 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 Onobrakpeyas mural consisted of fourteen large panels on the
covered way that connected the art pavilion to the craftsmens 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 artists decorative program relied
on generous use of hard-edge geometric shapes, bold decorative patterns,
and schematically rendered forms, thus announcing Onobrakpeyas 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, Nwokos work
was rendered in flat colors, but his palette and pictorial programconsisting
of dominant brilliant reds and white, his figures and major color areas marked


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.

Transacting the Modern

out with heavy white or dark linesresulted 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 Enwonwus 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

The art exhibition drew forty-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-known Market Scene (National Gallery of Art, Lagos collection); J. D.
Akeredolu (19151984), 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-known graduate of Father Kevin Carrolls workshop at Oye-
Ekiti, exhibited six sculptures. Onabolu was surprisingly absent from the
Among Kenneth Murrays students, A. P. Umana (b. 1920), exhibited several paintings, as did Enwonwu, represented by older Murray-period work,
as well as more recent sculptures and paintings, including Head of Afi (ca.
1959), a bronze bust of the Lagos-based artist Afi Ekong (19302009; figure
4.7). Enwonwus putative rival on the Nigerian art scene, the sculptor Felix
Idubor (19281991), 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 Enwonwus Head of Afi
displays the artists mastery of academic portraiture, Idubors, 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-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-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


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 Enwonwus previously uncontested national influence. But in

spite of this Enwonwu-versusarts 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 Beiers 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
Beiers review, as he made clear from the outset, was a subjective perspec-

Transacting the Modern

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-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 shows 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
workhere the critic seems to invoke the colonial British stereotype of Muslim emirate candor, simply because the artist comes from a northern Yoruba
townthe cool, detached dignity of northern Nigeria; while stating that
Yusuf Grillo, the most technically advanced, has an inclination toward a
well-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-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-


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 Beiers 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 Murrays students was, or, in the hands of Onabolu and his followers, too
naturalistically Victorian.

Transacting the Modern


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 playwrightsmostly graduates of University College,
Ibadanhad 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-Lagos axis, the idea of a writers and artists club
was born.41
The club, which Achebe named after Igbo mbarithe sculpture, painting,
and architectural complex dedicated to Ala, the earth goddess and guardian
of creativity and justiceopened 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 Foundationthrough
its subsidiary, the Paris-based Congress for Cultural Freedom (ccf)the
club included a Lebanese restaurant, the West End Caf (the original occupant of the premises), and a courtyard where discussions, art exhibitions,
and open-air theatrical performances took place.42 The main feature of the
courtyard was Uche Okekes 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 Eskia Mphahlele), the South African writer and exile then living in Nigeria.43 Apart from the Ghanaian sculptor Vincent Kofi (19231974), 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-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

Chapter 4


to both the intellectual types and curious audiences and spectators from
the streets, the clubs programranging from sophisticated intellectual debates to popular events involving neighborhood participantsnot so much
resembled the legendary Parisian or Viennese avant-garde caf 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 additionthis is quite importantmbari 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 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

Transacting the Modern

when the club members participated in the production of theatrical work

such as Amos Tutuolas The Palm-Wine Drinkard (1952) or J. P. Clarks 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 marketa 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 poorindicated 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

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 gallerys 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-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-publicized joint show by
Uche Okeke and Demas Nwoko, opened on July 20, 1961, with the clubs
president, Ezekiel Mphahlele, and Dr. Onabamiro, the western regions 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.
Beiers 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


Chapter 4


Figure 4.9 Demas Nwoko and Uche Okeke at the opening of Mbari Ibadan inaugural art exhibition,
1961. In the center background, Uche Okekes 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 Beiers 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 clubs 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
Europeartists 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 19611963, the
finest time for the visual arts within Black Orpheus and the club, the gallery
hosted at least seventeen mostly one-person shows by Nigerian and international artists; several of them were also featured in Black Orpheus.

Transacting the Modern

Art from Makerere, the first of three shows in 1961 after Okeke and
Nwokos 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-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-person show
at Mbari or any art gallery in Nigeria. Salahis exhibition proved to be the
most important of the three, not least because of Beiers 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-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 colleaguesincluding Ahmed Shibrain,
who also showed at Mbari in 1963quite 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 (19231998) 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.
Salahis 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, Salahis 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. Salahis exhibition was also significant in that it expanded the normative geography of modern African art, which, perhaps reflecting a colonial-


Chapter 4


era paradigm, had separated into northern and so-called sub-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 Beiers
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 Salahis 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 artists work evolved from the unexciting academic portraits and
landscapes he painted while at the Slade School of Artforeign conventions Salahi later found meaninglessto a thrilling new work based on
his post-London experimentation with Arabic calligraphy. Beier thus argues,
as he had with the work of Okeke and Nwoko, that Salahis 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 Salahis work, particularly what his artistic choices
had to do with the reception of his work in Khartoum. Salahis training at the
Sladeat the time still led by Sir William Coldstreamexposed him to a
range of academic and modernist painting styles and resulted in work such
as Untitled (195457; 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 styleink
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, 19541957.
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-Haus, University of
Bayreuth. Ibrahim El Salahi.

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We now know that the local reception given the Slade-period work in Salahis 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-period work was meaningless to his audience, those with whom he earnestly needed to connect.
In reading Salahis work, Beier argues that the long-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, Salahis 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 Beiers assertion of Sudans 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 Beiers text demonstrates, to the perception of West
and central Africa, with their many traditions of figurative sculpture, as the
continents most artistically fertile zones.
In any case, Beier was fascinated by Salahis 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-Arabic graphic patterns and designs extracted from local
baskets, mats, and gourds, Salahis works resulted in a perfect and success-

Transacting the Modern


Figure 4.12 Ibrahim El Salahi, Untitled, ink on paper, 1961. Image courtesy Iwalewa-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-Arabic African cultures. Soon after Beiers
Salahi essay, Denis Williamss Black Orpheus review of Salahis 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 Salahis 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
Kofis 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 Kofis major sculptures
was quite popular, attracting considerable attention from the local community, particularly at Mbari-Mbayo in Osogbo, where the African American

Chapter 4


artist Jacob Lawrence (19172000) saw it during his first visit to Ibadan and
Osogbo in October 1962 (figure 4.14).
Writing about Kofis 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-shaped
hands raised above its head but without the cross. By fitting the crucified
figure into the narrow log form, eliminating Christs cross, he invented an
apocryphal crucifix. Rather than remind us of the biblical story of salvation,
Kofis 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, Kofis early sculptures, in Beiers 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
Beiers argument, strikingly similar to the earlier one about Salahi and the
supposed cultural aridity of the Sudan, is silent on two important aspects
of Kofis work. First, leaving aside the claim that Ghana was not home to a
so-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-
Mbayo, Osogbo, 1962.
Photo, Ulli Beier.
Estate of Ulli Beier.

Figure 4.14
Jacob Lawrence
with Vincent Kofis
Drummer, Mbari
Mbayo, Osogbo, 1962.
Photo, Ulli Beier.
Estate of Ulli Beier.

Chapter 4


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 Akuamma figures, suggesting that, unlike
Beier, he believed that Ghana had sculptural traditions from which its modern artists could learn.66 Third, Kofis 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
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 English
at the Ibadan Extra-Mural Studies program, Beiers evangelical style often
differed from the more dispassionate tone of the other Black Orpheus art
critics. Consider, for instance, Moores essay on Wilson Tibero published
alongside Beiers on Kofi. Tibero, 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
Maternit is highly stylizedher 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 Forats (The Convicts), an obvious borrowing from cubism,
Moore noted that the appropriations are subordinated to the humanism and
compassion of his art.69

Transacting the Modern

Unlike Beier, Moore avoids insinuating Tibero 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. Tiberos
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, Beiers 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 artists 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-Mbayo, the Mbari Club at Osogbo was
the brainchild of Duro Ladipo (19311978), 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-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-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 (Amncio dAlpoim Guedes; b. 1925) and
his colleague, the South African architect Julian Beinart.72 Beier also met the
Mozambican painter and poet Malangatana Valente Ngwenya (19362011),
then a twenty-five-year-old whose artistic talent Guedes recognized and encouraged. Although Beinart (and Guedes) came to Ibadan to direct the first
summer art workshopmodeled after similar programs that Beinart had


Chapter 4


already established in Loureno Marques (Maputo)an exhibition of Malangatanas work did not materialize until June 1962 at Ibadan, from where
it traveled to Osogbo.73 Beinarts article on Malangatana, amplifying the arguments Beier had already made for the artists work in the exhibition brochure, appeared in Black Orpheus almost simultaneously.
Beinart noted that most black artists in the western native townships in
the Loureno 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 naivet 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, Malangatanas work conjoins erotic fantasies, occult visions, and eschatological concerns.75 In Secret Voyage, one of
his earliest major paintings, a great long-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 Malangatanas 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 subjects multiple
religious, social, and political worlds (figure 4.16).
In his Black Orpheus article, Beinart reproduced several paragraphs from
Malangatanas unpublished autobiography that revealed his experiences as
the son of a migrant-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 artists interesting autobiography in the middle of
his text, Beinart confirms Beiers assertion that the artist is full of stories;
more importantly, the artists own text frames the paintings within a bio-

Figure 4.15 Malangatana Ngwenya, Untitled, oil on canvas, 1961. Image courtesy Iwalewa-Haus,
University of Bayreuth. Fundao Malangatana Valente Ngwenya.

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

Transacting the Modern

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 artists 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. Malangatanas work, put differently, was proof of Beiers 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-Rottluff (18841976). To see the exhibitions significance,
note that apart from a small Henry Moore show in Kaduna and Ibadan organized by the British Council in 1957, the Schmidt-Rottluff exhibition was the
only exhibition of the work of a major modern European artist in Nigeria. Its
successful realization testified both to Beiers 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
Sometime in 1961, Beier traveled to Frankfurt, Germany, for the opening
of Susanne Wengers show, organized by Janheinz Jahn, coeditor of Black
Orpheus, at Frau Hanna Becker vom Raths Kunstkabinett gallery. Seeing
Beckers considerable collection of German expressionist work, Beier asked
to borrow some Schmidt-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 Mbaris most expensive project and, in historical terms, among
its most significant.
The exhibition consisted of woodcut prints made between 1912a year


Chapter 4


before the dissolution of Die Brckeand 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 figures 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).
Beiers 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 Brcke and Schmidt-Rottluff s place within the group. Die Brcke (the
Bridge) was formed by four architecture students, Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel,
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, in Dresden in 1905. The
older members, including Emil Nolde, Edvard Munch, Cuno Amiet, and
others, joined later, yet the groups internal logic, according to Reinhold
Heller, demanded a new cohesion of individuals with a mutual identity in
the concept of youth.78 Nevertheless, Beiers analysis of Die Brcke 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-class aestheticism. They did not want to
paint pretty pictures, which could adorn the drawing rooms of well-to-do
It is hard to miss the point of Beiers argument, for its relevance to the
Nigerian situation is quite clear: The politics and aesthetic of Die Brcke 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-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-Kunst, Bonn.

Figure 4.18 Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Girl

before a Mirror (Mdchen 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.

Chapter 4


ern art-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 Brcke 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, Beiers claim, that of all the Die Brcke artists Schmidt-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-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-Rottluff and
Wenger, Beier seemed to say, then the Art Societys 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-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 Brcke,
both movements, he argues, jettisoned the debris of nineteenth-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 Brcke
searched for the ecstatic, the hieratic, as functions of reality crucially essential for the life of the imagination. In this quest, Schmidt-Rottluff, like other
members of Die Brcke, found it necessary to invent unambiguous plastic
and pictorial forms dissociated from customary cultural vocabularies. It is
for this reason, therefore, that the groups 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-Rottluffwhose work was exemplary of the European historical avant-gardes search for a new aesthetic
at a crucial point in Europes fast-evolving modern experienceas 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-

Transacting the Modern

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 Beiers and Williamss 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 (19011970), was featured in Black Orpheus. Beier first
encountered Lawrences 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 artists 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 Lawrences 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 mans 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 Lawrences 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 artists


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, 19401941. 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.

Transacting the Modern

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 Lawrences 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,
andcontrary to Cedric Dovers suggestion, in his book American Negro Art
(1960), that they required extended captionscommunicate visually the
essence of their subject matter by means of gesture.86
Jacob Lawrences 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-month second visit to Nigeria, the Lawrences stayed on the top floor of
Ulli Beiers 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 artists 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
Nigeriaindeed 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


Chapter 4


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 paperin combination with saturated reds, blues, yellows, and surplus surface patternsmake 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 Lawrences previous work led to a cold receptionwhen shown in 1965 at the Terry Dintenfass Gallery in New Yorkfrom 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 (19372003) exhibited at Mbari,
while Black Orpheus featured the sculptures of the Brazilian artist Agnaldo
dos Santos (19261962), 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 Williamss introductory essay in the Shibrain exhibition flyer (republished in the review section of Black Orpheus) frames the artists 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-Haus, University of Bayreuth. Ahmed Shibrain.

Transacting the Modern

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 Williamss and Beiers 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 Shibrains 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 Beiers and Williamss art criticism is determined to chaperone
the new African or black modernist work, Louise Achesons critical introductory essay to Skunder Boghossians work concentrates mostly on the artists
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 artists exploration of a new brand of surrealism
in the service of his Afro-Metaphysics.97 In this metaphysical cosmos, the
artists 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 Boghossians 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
Achesons 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


Figure 4.24 Skunder Boghossian, Jujus 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 Boghossians
early painting, as Solomon Deresa has rightly pointed out, was influenced
by Konso and Oromo funerary sculpture.99 Second, Achesons interpretation precludes the obvious influence of the painting and ornamental design
traditions of Ethiopian Christian art on Boghossians use of dense, circular,
or dotted marks to enrich parts of his canvasesa 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 negritudes
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-

Transacting the Modern

thologies of the Dogon peoples of West Africa and the metaphysical realism
of the Nigerian writer Amos Tutuolas 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 Mrio 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-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-style figures from the post-Olmec culture in Mexico. The unmistakably archaic quality of his figures, such as Nun (1950s1960s; 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 Santoss 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.


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 Beiers early collaborators at
Ibadan had dispersed or moved on. The journal survived under Beiers direction for ten years, before its quick decline after the twenty-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

Figure 4. 27 Agnaldo dos

Santos, Untitled, wood,
ca. 1950s. Photo, Joao
Liberato. Courtesy of the
Galeria Estao.

Figure 4.28 Naoko Matsubara,

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

Transacting the Modern

in 1967. More importantly, by the mid-1960s the journals 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-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 (19031975); and a group show of Ukiyo-e
woodcuts featuring the mysterious Tshsai Sharaku (active 17941795),
Kitagawa Utamaro (ca. 17531806), and others. Following Maxine Lowes exhibition of paintings and tapestries (August 1966), Ben Osawe (19312007),
a Nigerian sculptor recently returned from England after training at Camberwell School of Art and Crafts, London, presented his sculptures in December.
Notwithstanding these impressive activities, the dissipation of Ibadans
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-based Nigeria magazine, not in Ibadans Black Orpheus.


Chapter 5


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 Beiers criticism and cultural network shaped Ibadans 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 suitedas they and their supporters believedto Nigerias 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-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

Chapter 5


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 books 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-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-era Bauhaus schools and wished to establish a similar institution in Nigeria. As he imagined it, this Bauhaus-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-Culture, providing
artist-teachers, artisans, and students space for theoretical and practical experiments with old and new methods and materials.1 The trip to Germany

After Zaria


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-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-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-Zaria-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
Okekes style, the critic Dennis Duerden speculated that these forms might

Chapter 5


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 Okekes post-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 formslocal flora and fauna, celestial bodiesand man-made
objects. These range from what Obiora Udechukwu has called archetypal
shapessuch as the ntup (dot), akala (line), isinwaji (curvilinear triangles
and rectangles), and oloma or nwa (circles and crescents)to more complex
motifs derived from them, including agwlagw (the concentric coil associated with the sacred python, prevalent in Igbo metal gate designs) and mb
agu (the double triangle representing the leopards 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 Ulia clear liquid from certain plants that oxidizes into a dark
ink and fades after several daysmural 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 5.25.5).
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 Regiona set of three drawings with
borders reminiscent of the Uli drawings collected in the 1930s and now at
Oxford Universitys Pitt Rivers Museumand the Oja Suite, his first major
Uli-inspired series, named after the Abule-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-of-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-shaped line (figure 5.7). This line, broken below the nostrils, ends in
an agwlagw 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 agwlagw 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 ifwhen one imagines the drawing
processthe artists pen was dancing on the paper, leaving the drawing as
an index of that activity. This reading is apparently not entirely far-fetched:
Okeke has himself made a connection between dance and Uli, in that both
the artists hand and the dancers 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 Okekes 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-density zigzag marks,


Figure 5.6 Uche Okeke,

From the Forest, pen
and ink, 1962. Artists
collection. Photo, the
author. Uche Okeke.

Figure 5.7 Uche Okeke,

Head of a Girl, pen and ink,
1962. Artists collection.
Photo, the author. Uche

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

Chapter 5


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
kala isinwaji 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 kala isinwaji 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 (birds) 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 Okekes
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
subjects 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-that-
refuse-to-be-spirals and to tame the ink-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 Okekes 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

Yve-Alain Bois, specifically their semiological reading of Picassos cubism.

In Krausss critique of what she called art history as a history of the proper
name, she argues against the tendency by art historians to read Picassos
works as biographies; that is, explaining particular works by the artists 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 Saussures semiology, that the artists use of the musicological
clef sign in his collages represents not the guitar, an object, but an idea:
perspectival depth, in a picture-making mode that clearly spurned the use
of perspective.
For his part, Bois incorporated Charles Sanders Peirces semiotics in his
analysis of Picassos cubism. Significantly, Bois determined different semiological phases in the artists cubist period, but the one that interests us here

Chapter 5


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 artists 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 Okekes use of one icon, the agwlagw spiral, which in Uli
represents the coiled python but which acquires a polysemic potency in
Okekes drawings. While the spiral form serves a unifying purposeafter
all, it seems as though every line aims at ending up a spiral or a segment
of itits referents are not static; its meaning depends entirely on the other
lines, motifs, or spaces to which it relates.
Yet the polysemy insinuated by Okekes 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 Okekes 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.
Artists Collection. Photo, the
author. Uche Okeke.

tive space. This dialectic of positive-negative space, in addition to the lyrical

quality of the line, guarantees the poetic quality of Okekes drawings and
thus connects them to the visual and gestural poetry that is the hallmark of
traditional Uli art.
In Okekes 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 Giacomettis inventive
abrogation of the figure-ground distinction, compellingly argued by Krauss.10
However, whereas Giacomettis sculptural program radically altered sculptures normatively vertical orientation, realigning it to a horizontal plane and

Chapter 5


thereby merging it with the ground from which it always projected, Okekes
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.
Okekes 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-century
modernism. Unlike his Zaria paintings, in which he adapted figural qualities
of Igbo sculpture in a rather illustrative, albeit inventive, manner, his post-
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 Beiers 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 Okekes 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 artists work after 1962. Beiers statement flies in the face of the
decisive role Igbo Uli played in Okekes reconstitution of his formal style, an
experience crucial to understanding the artists 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-month course in scenography
and fresco painting. Where Okekes mural marked the beginning of a decisive break with his Zaria-period work, Nwokos 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 Okekes 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 originsthe Parable of
the Talents in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew (25:1430)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 Nwokos Zaria work
with his evolving 1960s painting and sculpture.
In France, Nwoko designed the stage set for Mozarts opera Die Entfhrung aus dem Serail during the Thtre Lyriques annual summer school at
Vichy. This was his second major stage design, after the one he did for Wole
Soyinkas A Dance of the Forest in October 1960. He also had a well-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-term
study of theater design in Japan, hastened the shift of Nwokos 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.
Nwokos 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 books 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.
Nwokos 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 Nwokos observation of Parisian life; one shows an elderly
couple in winter clothing clutching each others 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


Figure 5.13 Demas Nwoko, Adam and Eve, oil on canvas, 1962. Artists 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-Zaria painting.
In the other three paintings, Nwoko has transformed the male and female
figures in The Gift of Talentsthe two in white skirts, their backs turned to
the viewerinto 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

After Zaria

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-cotta sculpture inspired by ancient Nok figuressub-Saharas 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 Okekes 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 Okekes and other Art Society artists ideas about ethnicity
and artistic modernism in postindependence Nigeria. To appreciate the extent of Nwokos achievement with his terra-cotta sculptures, let us consider
briefly what ancient Nok art had to do with his work.
Classic-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,


Figure 5.16
Head, classical
style, Nok culture,
terra-cotta, ca.
400 bce200 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 talla considerable feat for artists using a supposedly rudimentary clay-firing process. This corpus is remarkable for its surprising artistic meritand for its age, particularly within the context of Nigerian archaeology and cultural historyyet Nwokos 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-cotta, the process
involved in its modeling, and the clay-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, 19621963. Artists Collection. Photo, the author.
Demas Nwoko.


Chapter 5


terra-cotta, he realized that the open-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-day terra-cotta sculpture workshop organized
by Mbari Ibadan and the Department of Extra-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 furnacea very old type of iron-smelting furnace still used in Nigeria as late as the nineteenth centuryby combining designs of the ancient
northern Nigerian kilns with the open firing method used by contemporary
Igbo potters. Nwokos kiln achieved the optimal firing temperatures needed
to fuse the mix of grainy white sand particles and clay he used for his sculptures. The kilns 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-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 Nwokos ingenious effort to re-create
an ancient firing technique and process for his terra-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 corpususually consisting of heads without torsos, figures without
heads, or fragments of bothNwokos mostly full-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-winning Brazilian sculptor Agnaldo dos Santos (cf. ch. 4).
Despite the compelling ancient appearance of Nwokos sculpturesthey
do not look like objects of recent manufacturehis terra-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-cotta,
1965. Artists Collection. Photo,
the author. Demas Nwoko.

with a long flowing gown, small wristbands, and a huge dome-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-
known figures, Senegalese Woman and the Asele Institutes 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 Nwokos experimental work, based on
Nok (and to some extent ancient Ife) terra-cottas, though coming slightly
later, compares with Uche Okekes Igbo Uli-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

After Zaria

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 Nwokos own work is significant for another reason:
it shifted the notion of native belongingness inherent in Okekes understanding of natural synthesis, as well as the constitution of artistic heritage, from
an ethnos to a nation-state basis. Moreover, Nwokos Nok-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-period
mandate that members research the art forms and traditions of their native culturesin other words foregrounding claims of ethnic authenticity as
nationalismwhich authorized Okekes Igbo Uli-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 ones ethnicity, whichif we are to believe anticolonial, nationalist politiciansis the locus of both political and
existential authenticity in the context of the modern multiethnic nation-
state. But there is no consensus in the Zaria group on the question of the role
of ethnicity in the national imaginary. For instance, Okekes pervasive focus
on Igbo arts and culturesas an artist, a folklorist, and a historiantestify
to Grillos way of thinking about nationalism, whereas Nwokos 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 postWorld War II period.16
Despite the pan-Nigerian and pan-Africanist outlook of early twentieth-
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 roada process described by James
Coleman as regionalization of nationalismpartly to fend off questions

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


Chapter 5


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 nations 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, Nwokos
nationalism does not amount to a denial of ones ethnicity. Instead, it is the
recognition of an orientation and allegiance to a wider social and political
space, the nation-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-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 Nwokos Nok series an important political statement masked, partly at least, by the force of its formal achievement.

Bruce Onobrakpeya, Folklore, and Experimental Printmaking

Bruce Onobrakpeyas 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-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

After Zaria


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

and techniques that suited his approach to image making. Moreover, Julian
Beinarts assertion during the workshops, that a vibrant modern art in any
country must seek inspiration from its folk art traditions, coincided with
Onobrakpeyas focus on Urhobo folklore and art as sources for his themes
and design forms. To him, Beinarts statement further vindicated the Art
Societys prescription of rigorous inquiry into indigenous art and craft as the
basis for new work.
Apart from the theoretical impetus that Onobrakpeya got from Beinarts
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
Rossems 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. Onobrakpeyas paintings increasingly took on the graphic
elements of his Zaria-period linocut and lino-engraving prints. This is evident in Man with Two Wives and Dancing Masquerader (both 1965) where, de-

Chapter 5


spite the occasional modeling and painterly passagesas in the mans face
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 printsflat color, reductive palette, bold structural
lines, decorative patterns, extreme stylizationappear 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-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-lino, because he built his images
from linoleum-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-lino piece published
in Nigeria magazine that year, he built a composite relief panel with linoleum
blocks, from which he printed illustrations for Cyprian Ekwensis 1962 short
story collection An African Nights 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 textureswith its own pictorial composition in
reversethe 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-century modernism.
Onobrakpeyas subsequent bronze-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

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

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 occurredthe artist
called it a hydrochloric acid accidentthat 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 Olokuna tall wooden sculpture covered with
copper coins, now in the collection of the National Council for Arts and Culture, Lagosintroduced 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


Figure 5.22
Bruce Onobrakpeya, Untitled,
bronze lino, ca. 1966.
Collection of National Council
of Arts and Culture, Abuja.
Photo, the author. Bruce
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-dimensionality (figure 5.24).
Onobrakpeyas 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

After Zaria


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
recombinationof themes, motifs, formsand 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-Zaria work.
Simon Okekes 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

Chapter 5


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 museums 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-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 Okekes 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-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 Okekes 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-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-dimensional quality. The
resulting strong chiaroscuro (sometimes a softer sfumato) effect speaks to a

After Zaria

keen sense of mass and volume acquired from his training as a sculptor and
his familiarity with European Renaissanceera pictorial techniques.
His sometimes strangely androgynous, oval-headed, long-limbed human
figuresdenizens of his imagined premodern, pagan societyseem 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-shaped forms. Because of these formal and thematic aspects of the
watercolors, Uche Okeke aptly described his artist-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 Okekes 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 Okekes rather naive and
clichd view of what he calls pagan society and modern urban cultureor
indeed the tactical shifts from the autobiographical to the anthropological
voicehis 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-Ukwu, Ife and
Benin23 or the assertion by Jean Kennedy that one is tempted to see in


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
Art Museum.
purchase, Mary
Trumbull Adams
Art Fund 2013
43. Estate of
Simon Okeke.

[Okekes] work influences from the famous bronzes at Igbo-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 groups ideological unity beyond Zaria. On the other
hand, Kennedys view of Simon Okekes work as bound to the ancient art
of his native Igbo-Ukwu reveals her uncritical acceptance of what had then
become a canonical, if unfounded, story of the Art Societys radical rejection of Western art in favor of Nigerian art traditions as the source of their
new work. The consequence of Kennedys roots-finding exercise is to make
us lose sight of the crucial fact that the artists 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


Chapter 5


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 Enwonwus), with which he explored themes relating to mid-
twentieth-century Igbo culture.
It is important to emphasize, on the evidence of Simon Okekes 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 Akolos significance as a painter,
his honorable mention at the Sixth So 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 England 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-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.
Akolos 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 paintingsincluding Fulani Horsemen (figure 5.28) and the famed mural at the
House of Assembly in Kadunaare schematic and decorative and often consist of flat shapes of color and graphic lines. The connection between Akolos
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-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, Akolos 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 Akolos London paintings was the displace-


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


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-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 artists
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), Akolos 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 paintings somber subject matter. Yet this man,
far from commanding the viewers 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
works 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 outsomething equally evident in another painting, Northern Horsemen (1965; figure 5.31)the gestures of action
painting or just practically emphasizing that the painters primary task is
making pictures rather than telling stories or championing cultural ideologies.
If Akolos work powerfully extends his Zaria-period critique of the Art
Society, it also reminds us once more that the problem of artistic-cultural
authenticity and freedom in the context of the decolonized nation was not
a simple matter. Undoubtedly, in their aspiration to develop postcolonial


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

Chapter 5


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,
Akolos modernism argues for the individual artists liberty to appropriate
and claim, on his own terms, any relevant modernist and Western traditions.
Akolos position on the question of postcolonial artistic language is moreover
remarkably similar to that of the Senegalese painter Iba Ndiaye (19282008),
who in rejecting Ibra Talls institutionalization of the negritude aesthetic at
the cole de Dakar in the early 1960s stoutly defended his commitment to
the formalist concerns of the postWorld War II school of Paris. It also reminds us of the Ethiopian abstract painter Gebre Kristos Desta (19321981),
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. Im 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

Artists Societies and Debates on Art

DESPITE IBADANS 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 Nigerias 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.

Chapter 6


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 Omogbais 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-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 Beiers
critical networks, an art world that came to shape late twentieth-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-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 amsacs 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-critic Okpu Eze noted in his review of Kofis 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-era Nigerian Festival of the Arts, the councils board consisted of eminent Nigerians
and expatriates in the arts. The attorney and nationalist Kolawole Balogun
was its founding chairman, and Tunji Adeniyi-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


Figure 6.1 Ben Enwonwu, Sango,

bronze, 1964. Nigerian Ports
Authority, Marina, Lagos. Photo,
the author. The Ben Enwonwu

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, Enwonwus 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-dominated and all-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 Enwonwus 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 So Paulo
Bienal. It also established Gallery Labac (an acronym for Lagos branch of
the arts council), the citys first commercial gallery, directed by Afi Ekong
(19302009), the most visible female artist on the Lagos scene and a well-
known television personality.
A scion of the royal house of the Obong of Calabar and daughter-in-law of
the Atta of Igbirra, Ekong studied fashion in England at Oxford City Technical School (now Oxford Brookes University), as well as art and the history of
fashion at Saint Martins 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-
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). Ekongs 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 Magazines 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-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 worksmostly traditional jewelry and souvenir-type wood
sculpturesfrom around the country. One might think that the lack of emphasis on contemporary art in the gallerys operations was symptomatic of a


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-era Festival of the Arts (from

which the council evolved): the official focus on indigenous crafts, festivals,
and traditional performances as modern Nigerias exemplary cultural products. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Gallery Labacs boutique atmosphere, its indiscriminate presentation of craft and art for sale, met with the
resentment of Lagos-based artists who expected it to provide a new, respectable alternative to the Exhibition Centre.12
Besides the question of the quality of the gallerys operations, another
source of tension and, on occasion, outright confrontation within the ncaac
board was the push by the artist-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
groups two major initiatives was a first-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 branchwould have been a Lagos-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 magazines 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 Lagoss 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 countrys 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
governments 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-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


Chapter 6


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.
Enwonwus memo, written just months after his conflict with the Lagos
branch over the 1960 Nigerian Art exhibition to celebrate the nations 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
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
councils expatriates and Nigerian members of the well-rehearsed grounds
for Enwonwus 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
councils important art-related programs to Nigerian-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-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 councils 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-
known art patronsthe 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 councilfsah also included some Lagos-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-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 Lagoss 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 groups 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 arts 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 dtre signaled the end of utopian visions inaugurated by national

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-


Chapter 6


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 groups 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
Academyalready proposed to the arts council by Enwonwuas 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-Ngu, Jimo Akolo, Erhabor Emokpae, T. A. Fasuyi, J. Nkobi, and
M. A. Ajayi. Onabolu and Enwonwu were elected president and vice presidentdirector, respectively. Fasuyi was appointed secretary, and Uche Okeke
was named publicity secretary. Despite widespread interest shown by the
academys 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-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
Enwonwus 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 academyEnwonwu and Okekeits 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 Enwonwus
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-garde, with their irreconcilable
ideas about the role of modern art in postindependent Nigeria. But whatever the reasons for the collapse of Enwonwus 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-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-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
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.

By mid-1964, the secretarys report to the society, justifiably upbeat and

celebratory, outlined the progress made in the groups first six months. Its
membership had increased to forty-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 (19051970), 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 Ekongs 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 societys 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,


Chapter 6


they reintroduced the idea of professionalizing the council by restructuring it in ways far more radical than those Enwonwu proposed in his 1960
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 councils work.
As outlined by the committee charged with implementing the report on the
institutebased on memoranda by Afi Ekong and other artist-members of
the councilthe 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 councils 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-Ngu, who led the short-lived and little-known Association of Nigerian Artists, were critical of the proposed institutes 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, despiteor perhaps because ofsnas 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-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 councils 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 snas
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 Beiers network, the fsah, and the arts council.

Artists and Their Critics

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

Contesting the Modern

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 societys 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 ordernot in
the riotous, apparently laissez-faire attitude of the young Lagos artists and
their supportersEnwonwu 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-
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 nationalistscoded into the rhetoric of pan-Africanism
and negritudethat 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 (19251961), 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 Enwonwus 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
Nigerias young artists. These funny artists, Enwonwu argued, are


Chapter 6


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-Paul Sartre.21
He further observed that these copy-cat and scatter-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 Enwonwus 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 Mazruis response to Christopher Okigbo (19301967), 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 communitiesa task impossible to achieve with
their alienated literary style.25 On the heels of Mazruis 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-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

Contesting the Modern

specious and contorted cadences of sprung rhythm, the heavy use of alliterations and assonances within a line, and the clichd 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 Azikiwes West
African Pilot by Akinola Lasekan, Uche Okekes former art-by-correspondence
teacher, who at that time taught at the University of Nigeria, Nsukkas art department. Enwonwu stressed Lasekans 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-
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
Enwonwus 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 Enwonwus 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.


Chapter 6


Second, Enwonwus suggestion that no European could judge or offer a

critical opinion of the work of African artists recalls the barefaced essentialism of Sir William Rothensteins nationalist critique of Parisian abstraction
in the 1930s.29 His construction, 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, Enwonwus argument runs, the modern artists 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)
experiencein which the African encounter with Europe (and its aesthetic
traditions) plays a vital roleinsisting 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 Ngritude panel of the African Unities and Pan-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 Africas 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 Lopold Sdar Senghors negritude
aesthetics, itself informed by Lucien Lvy-Bruhls 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 Enwonwus 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 LagosUlli
Beier, Michael Crowder, and even Dennis Duerdenhad 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

Contesting the Modern

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
The paradox of Enwonwus argument about the role of expatriate critics
in the rise of abstraction is that Beierthe most influential European critic
working in Nigeria at the timehad no sympathy for abstract art, and none
of the young artists he vigorously supported worked primarily in an abstract
mode. Erhabor Emokpaewho, more than any other Nigerian artist of the
period, occasionally produced abstract paintingswas not among Beiers
favorite artists; he was instead a protg of Afi Ekong, who introduced him
to the Lagos art scene. Enwonwus 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-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 Enwonwus and Akinola Lasekans career
paths and artistic styles, their common criticism of abstraction had to have
been motivated by other considerations. Enwonwus 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 Lasekans
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 Enwonwus 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


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

Contesting the Modern

(19341984) and Okpu Eze (19341995). More than any others in the Lagos
scene, Emokpae and Eze fit Enwonwus 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-based media
conglomerate Lintas.
Michael Crowder describes Emokpaes early paintings as naturalistic,
lush, and tend[ing] towards the idealisation of the female somewhat like
[Ivan] Tretchikoff, the self-taught and vastly popular South African painter
whose work is similar to that of the American realist painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell.34 But Emokpaes 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 Emokpaes 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-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-garde painter Kazimir Malevich (figure 6.6). Yet
Emokpaes 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


Figure 6.5 Erhabor Emokpae,

My American Friend, oil
on board, ca. 1957. Photo,
Arthouse Contemporary Ltd.,
Lagos. Estate of Erhabor

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 Lagosincluding Enwonwu, who might have had this picture in mind
when he wrote his Drum article. Although few of Emokpaes other paintings had such minimal imagery, except for the surprisingly colorful Dialogue (1962), his fascination with pictorial symbolism, spirituality, and the


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.

Chapter 6


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 Emokpaes intentional borrowings
from the formal aspects or rhetoric of European surrealism. Nevertheless,
on a few occasions he painted compositionally surrealist picturessurreal
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-hand crossbars, while green leaves
along the top edge of the painting above a red half-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 religions will-to-cannibalism. The graphic simplicity of the
painting, its shocking allusion to a pagan ritual, and Emokpaes vociferous
criticism of Christian doctrines made it arguably the most discussed artwork
of the decade.36
Emokpaes work was also controversial for its ambitious scale and asking
price. Although Jimo Akolo produced some large-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-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, Clmentine Deliss.
Estate of Erhabor Emokpae.

Contesting the Modern

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 Zakis
text, the fact that two of their paintings illustrated it suggests that their work
was implicated in the critique. Emokpaes Tears of God (1964), much larger
than Ezes, is a three- by eight-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
Emokpaes 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-adjusted buying power), was
further proof of inordinate youthful ambition on Emokpaes part (and other
young so-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 (19212007) 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 Emokpaes 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 Enwonwus response that concerns us as


Chapter 6


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 Europes advanced one, where the price depended on such reasonable benchmarks as the
artists 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 artistparticularly those he considered inexperienced, lazy dilettantes
who had found a safe house in abstractionto 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 Emokpaes 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-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-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 Emokpaes 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 artists depiction of unreal and mythological subjects by means
of stylized figural and abstract forms. But as Ekwensi astutely observed, Ezes
paintings result from the effort to capture attitudes, movements, rhythm,
dynamism, fleeting moments, unstable designs.41 Even if the constituent

Contesting the Modern

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 Emokpaes hard-edge symbolism and from the figurative impulse in Jimo Akolos work (see ch. 5, figures 5.285.31), the belief in art
as underlying the expression of individual autonomy is paramount in Ezes
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 Omogbais arrival on the Lagos scene added a new,
resoundingly feminist dimension to the discourse of modern art in Nigeria.
Omogbais 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 artists 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 emotion42
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 resulta 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 Omogbais paintings attracted Ulli Beiers 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 abstractionwithout first demonstrating mastery of
mimetic representationthreatened to reduce her work to the aristocratic


Figure 6.9 Colette Omogbai, Accident, ca.

1963. Reproduced from Black Orpheus 14
(February 1964): 63. Colette Omogbai.

opacity of abstraction.43 Omogbais painting, Lawals criticism suggests, was

double trouble; for apart from jettisoning good old narrative realism, it destabilized stereotypes of womens 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 mans love for the sweet and senti254

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

Chapter 6


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-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-three-year-old Zaria graduate,
responded indirectly but nonetheless forcefully to critics of expressive, nonrealistic, visually disturbing workwork generally and erroneously lumped
under the rubric of abstraction. Her stance against pretty, mimetic, or narrative imagery, her insistence on the individual artists 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-
1960s. Omogbais 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,

Contesting the Modern

Nigeria magazine, a much older general-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 Beiers 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
19621966). Thus we could argue that if Black Orpheus inaugurated the discourse of postcolonial modernism, Nigeriaafter its makeover as the cultural
magazine of postcolonial Nigeriaprovided the space for its elaboration.
Until Crowders 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-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-to-the-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 magazines position as the leading platform for contemporary art in Nigeria. Looking at the list of post-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 controlperhaps even decolonizationof the discourse on their own art and literature.48


Chapter 6


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. Enwonwus 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 drivers 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
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-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
Nigerias literary and artistic modernism was an emphatic statement about
the dramatic transformation that had occurred within the short period of
political sovereignty, Nzekwus departure belied the crisis that had engulfed
the new nation, following the first military coup of January 1966 and the subsequent civil war of 19671970.50 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

Chapter 7


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

Chapter 7


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 Nigerias 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
governments 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 196770.2
Nigerias postcolonial predicament had wide-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 governments 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 7.17.3).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 regions contemporary arts and culture.
As it turned out, the expectation that Mbari Enugu would spur the development of the regions 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, Okekes
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 remarkable transformation of the work of modernism in eastern Nigeria
is strikingly reminiscent of the drastic paradigm change in Euro-American
avant-garde art inauguratedas the art historian Benjamin Buchloh has arguedby the Russian constructivists in the early years of the Russian Revolution.4


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 Obes 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.

C risis in the Postcolony

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-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 mans
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 ideologys 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-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 Okigbos collection Path of Thunder. I do so not just to acknowledge this poets remarkable lyric power but


Chapter 7


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 Okigbos 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 Okigbos 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 Okigbos 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 Soyinkas 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-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 Okigbos and Wole
Soyinkas mid-1960s poetry and Uche Okekes and Demas Nwokos 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-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
emblematized by the Mbari Clubfrom 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 Nigerias independence.
As we saw in chapter 5, Uche Okekes most important work in the first
years after Zaria was his Uli-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 Okekes new paintings. Given the furor that Erhabor
Emokpaes large-scale works caused in Lagos and Jimo Akolos equally large
paintings caused in London, Okekes new works might have reflected his
ambition for grand pictorial statements that would further secure his posi-


Figure 7.4 Uche Okeke, Crucifixion, gouache on paper, 1962. Artists 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 Okekes 1965 oil paintings, such as Nativity and
Adam and Eve (figures 7.6 and 7.7), he returned to these recurrent Christian themesthe moment of expulsion of the primordial couple from Eden
and the beginning of the Christian redemption storythe 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 Okekes metaphysical paintings
(figure 7.8). Already in 1963, while still in Germany, he had been contem-


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. Artists 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 unbornbonds normally severed at birthremain 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, Okonkwos daughter Ezinma in Achebes 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. Artists collection. Photo, the author. Uche Okeke.

Figure 7.8 Uche Okeke, Oyoyo, oil on board, 1965. Artists 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
viewerstanding 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 seemshere I rely
on the salience of the theory of intentional fallacygiven 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-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-to-die figure
implicated in multiple cycles of hope and despair resonates with the last
sequence of Elegy for Alto, Okigbos 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 writerswho mine its
implied concept of reincarnation and its antagonism of existential orders
to project different socio-political agendas at different times in the history
of their countries.18 In Ben Okris 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 Soyinkas abiku in the tension
between collectivity or the tradition of the family (representing the body politic) and individualism or the self-determination of the abiku, Okekes ogbanje
is the nation itself that must decide either to return to the sensate world of


Chapter 7


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 Okekes Oyoyo by turning her back to face her family
and the worldly desires, passions, and troubles that come with that decision.
Thus, where Okekes is a dark vision of Nigeria of the 1960s teetering on
the precipice, Okris ex-post-facto perspective on that period at least allowed
the ogbanje/abiku/nation a chance to embark on an arduous journey of self-
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-1960s, Okekes paintings Conflict (After Achebe) and Aba
Revolt (Womens 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 Achebes 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-to-be-destroyed church (figure 7.9). The confrontation
ostensibly began when the Christian zealot, Enoch, unmasked one of the
Egwugwu. Enochs 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 Okekes 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 Umuofias 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

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-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:

Chapter 7


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 Okekes Conflict was based on a work of fiction, Aba Revolt (Womens
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 Womens 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-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 Okekes 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 Mgbolodala, 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 Womens 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 Womens War of 1929 as a heroic, even if ultimately unsuccessful, last-ditch refusal by Igbo womenrecalling the Egwugwu-led confrontation by the Umuofia peopleto 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-shaped left arm of the
womens 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. Okekes intention, it seems quite obvious,

Figure 7.10 Uche Okeke, Aba Revolt (Womens War), oil on board, 1965. Artists collection. Photo, the author.
Uche Okeke.

Chapter 7


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 womens 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 Womens
War of 1929 but which is well known in many African cultures as a sublime
biopolitical weapon: the naked womans 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 communitys well-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 womans 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, Okekes painting links the Womens 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-type masquerade, traditionally owned
by warrior-grade men in the north-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 spectatorsas
memorably presented in Herbert M. Coles documentary video Beauty and
the Beastembody 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-age men in a theatrical context.28 But let us emphasize that the aggressive power projected by the Mgbedike-type masks in this
painting is equally a theatrical surrogate for the crucial work of the age-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 communitys confidence in its warrior grades

C risis in the Postcolony

long after it has lost its sovereignty to the modern nation-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 tenorachieved through the bulky figuration, the intimidating
gesture of raised arms, and the surge of closely packed figures toward the picture planeof Aba Revolt (Womens War).
In conflating the curse of nakedness associated with the biopolitics of
womens 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-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 artists 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 Okekes
paintings in 1965 played out in Nwokos 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-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 Nwokos 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 citys
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 humanitys tragic imperfections, which had brought
on the catastrophic crisis into which the Nigerian nation was plunged.

27 7

Chapter 7


Although Nwokos work covered a wide range of subjects, his crisis paintings of 1967his last significant pictures before he turned his full attention
to architecture and furniture designare 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 noncombatantswomen and childrenbetween 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 Nwokos 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-stricken, half-naked, wide-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 breastsreminiscent of Okekes warring womenwith 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-en-scne
of stereotypical victimhoodfrightened, nonethnically 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. Artists 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-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 Nwokos 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 armys 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 Soyinkas 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


Figure 7.12 Demas Nwoko, Hunter in a War Scene, oil on board, 1967. Artists collection. Photo, the
author. Demas Nwoko.

Lone questiondo 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 nations unity depended on the federal armys 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-
cotta figure Soldier (Soja).32 While these works may have been a response to
an encounter with the particular soldier in Nwokos anecdotal account, the

Figure 7.13
Demas Nwoko,
Combatant I, oil on
board, 1967. Artists
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, Nwokos images come
across as portraits of primal power indexed by the combatants tools of war.
In both paintings the soldier is in full combat gearhelmet, automatic rifle,
shoulder-strapped bullet belt, and forest-green uniformbut 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 Nwokos 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-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 Nwokos works. Moreover, by archaizing the soldiers military paraphernaliathe sophisticated modern firearm suggested
in the Combatant paintings is reduced to a crude, clublike weapon, and the
bullet belt is transformed into an elaborate necklaceNwoko returns us, if
tenuously, to his Nok-inspired formal style. Soldier and the other 1968 terra-
cotta sculptures reveal the extent to which Nwoko had moved from what
now seems like classically restrained formalism in the 1965 terra-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 dancers serpentine pose reveals a new confidence in Nwokos ability to work clay into technically challenging, dynamic
forms. This dramatic formalism, absent in the earlier terra-cotta, is equally
present in the Dancing Couple (Owambe), which shows two figures with neckless heads, ornate nostrils, and huge grill-like teeth locked in a sensuous,
crushing embrace (figure 7.18). The wide, rectangular body of the male and
the contrasting reduction of the females 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 Nwokos work since
the late 1950s with his now sublimated Nok sculptural style. And thisin
addition to its particular connection to the transformative political crises of
the late 1960sis precisely what makes Soldier a watershed piece of comparable significance to Nwokos 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 postcoup dtat Nigerian politics, Soldier memorialized (perhaps even figured) Nwokos 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. Artists collection. Photo, the author.
Demas Nwoko.


Figure 7.16 Demas Nwoko,

Soldier (Soja), side view,
terra-cotta, 1968. Artists
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 Nwokos and Nigerias postcolonial modernism. If, as
chapter 3 contended, the visual rhetoric of Nigeria in 1959 is deeply inflected
by the young artists encounter with the work of the early twentieth-century
European avant-garde, Soldier emerges from a stylistic detourcatalyzed by
the theory of natural synthesisthat 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-cotta, 1968. Artists collection. Photo,
Demas Nwoko. Demas Nwoko.


Figure 7.17 Demas Nwoko, Enuani

Dancers, terra-cotta, 1968. Artists
collection. Photo, the author.
Demas Nwoko.


As this, the final chapter makes plain, Uche Okeke and Demas Nwokos 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-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 writershere Hubert Ogundes Bread and Bullet (1949) and
Yoruba Ronu (1964)33 and Wole Soyinkas Dance of the Forests come to mind


Figure 7.18 Demas Nwoko, Dancing Couple (Owambe), terra-cotta, 1968. Artists collection. Photo, the author.
Demas Nwoko.

Chapter 7


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-1960s paintings and sculptures, with greater vigor, the right to decide the language and tone of their
own critical self-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-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 Okekes and Nwokos 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 communitys 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 charactersthat 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 bookfrom 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 otherscould 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
modernisms 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-twentieth century, nationalism and decolonization as ideas and practices in Nigeria andas we now knowother parts of Africa and beyond,
were primal catalysts of a short-lived yet historically significant, complex,
tangled, multilayered, and fraught artistic modernism.



1. For similar arguments, see Kapur, When Was Modernism, and Harney, In Senghors Shadow.
2. See, e.g., Vogel, Africa Explores.
3. See Okeke, The Quest, 4175, and Ottenberg, New Traditions and The Nsukka
4. See Godwin and Hopwood, Architecture of Demas Nwoko; Okoye, Nigerian Architecture, 2942.
5. See Enwezor and Okeke-Agulu, Contemporary African Art.
6. See Beier, Contemporary Art in Africa; Mount, African Art; and Kennedy, New
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, 114116.
14. Nkrumah, Autobiography, 5263.
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-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


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
18. Shutte, Philosophy for Africa, 47.
19. See Achebe, Arrow of God, 234,
20. Drewal, Memory and Agency, 242243.
21. Jeyifo, Perspectives on Wole Soyinka, 117.
22. See Appiah, Postcolonial and the Postmodern, 62.
23. Italics added. See Young, Postcolonialism, 57.
24. Moore-Gilbert, Postcolonial Modernism, 551.
25. See my Politics of Form, 6786.

Chapter 1: Colonialism and the Educ ated Afric ans

1. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk, 243244.
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-trained Africans for the massive consumption of alcohol responsible for the illicit liquor
trade. For her part, the nineteenth-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-
trained Africans posed to the colonial system and its regime of racial and social
hierarchy. For more, see Lyons, Evolutionary Ideas and Educational Policy,
7. Lyons, The Educable African, 17.
8. Lyons, The Educable African, 17.
9. Lyons, The Educable African, 17.
10. Lugards 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 inferiorinferior in kind not in degreeto the white races. Quoted in
Porter, Critics of Empire, 151152. Porter discusses Mary Kingsleys 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 Lugards 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 Saad 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, 3746.
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, 8991.
21. Webster, The African Churches, 255.
22. Whitehall is a colloquial reference to the seat of the British government.
23. Lugard, Dual Mandate, 8081.
24. Afigbos The Warrant Chiefs is an excellent account of the impact of the so-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 Womens 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-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, 123.
31. Lugard, Dual Mandate, 433. My emphasis.
32. Lugard, Dual Mandate, 435.
33. Lugard, Dual Mandate, 452.
34. Lugard, Dual Mandate, 439.


Notes to Chapter 2


35. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk, 4243.

36. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk, 6574.
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-Stokes position on the subject. See Lyons, To Wash an Aethiop
White, 150151.
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 Robertsons 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, xxiiixxvi; Skinner, African Americans, 181214; Shepperson, Notes on Negro American Influences, 299312.
41. Azikiwes 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 (19091987)another important
nationalist and lawyerfounded the Igbo State Union and Egbe Omo Oduduwa,
respectively the pan-Igbo and pan-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 England, 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, 5260.
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-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. Onabolus students and admirers called him Nigerias Joshua Reynolds and
Mr. Perspective.
11. Kapur, When Was Modernism, 145178.
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 English sense, see Murray to Arthur
Mayhew, October 11, 1932. Kenneth Murray Archive, National Museum Library,
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-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, 497499.
21. Barton, Purpose and Admiration.
22. Coomaraswamy, The Dance of iva, 21
23. Delange and Fry, Introduction, 7.
24. Murray, Exhibition of Wood-Carvings, 1215.
25. Rothenstein, Whither Painting?, 1115.
26. Ogbechie, Ben Enwonwu, 44. Similarly, Ola Oloidi (in Art and Nationalism,
194, n. 9) states: Murrays admirable teaching ideology went hand-in-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
Murrays contribution to Nigerias 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, 210227. The last section (225227) 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, 150160. Stevens also helped compile the


Notes to Chapter 3


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 regions 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, ixxi.
33. Hiller, Editors Foreword, in The Myth of Primitivism, 1.
34. Olu Oguibes assessment of Murrays work, in the context of modern Nigerian
art, is an exception. See Oguibe, Appropriation as Nationalism, 243259.
35. MacRow, Art Club, 250257.
36. Osula, Nigerian Art, 244251.
37. Osula, Nigerian Art, 245247.
38. Osula, Nigerian Art, 249.
39. Danford, a sculptor, created the Emotan statue at the Obas Market in Benin City.
The figure, rendered in the classic academic mode, portrays the legendary Benin
40. Danford, Nigerian Art, 155.
41. Duerden, Is There a Nigerian Style of Painting?, 5159.
42. Duerden, Is There a Nigerian Style of Painting?, 59.
43. Taiwo, How Colonialism Preempted Modernity, 8.

Chapter 3: The Academy and the Avant- Garde

1. Information about this exhibition is contained in a two-page typescript unpublished catalogue, The Nigerian College of Technology Art Exhibition, in ncast files,
Department of Fine Arts, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (henceforth dfa-
Nigerian College of Technology Art Exhibition.
3. Professor Gerrard (18991998) apparently moderated the June 1959 examinations, though the negotiation for affiliation was still inconclusive. See college
principals Handing over Notes: Dr. C. A. HartJune 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-abuz. Ben Enwonwus birth date has long been a matter of controversy. Whereas most records
indicate 1921, the art historian Sylvester Ogbechie proposed July 14, 1917, as Enwonwus actual birth date. However, a biographical note written by Enwonwu in
1938 at Kenneth Murrays request, possibly the artists earliest autobiography
appropriately titled Account of My Lifestates that he was born on July 4,
5. In his paper at the Negro Artists and Writers Congress in Paris, Ben Enwonwu
also criticized the colonial governments art commissions to European artists,
such as Danfords Emotan statue in Benin City. See Enwonwu, Problems of the
African Artist, 434435.

Notes to Chapter 3

6. Registrar to the assistant principal, Zaria branch, May 2, 1958. ncast files, dfa-
7. Acting permanent secretary, Ministry of Education to the registrar, May 25,
1958. ncast files, dfa-abuz.
8. See Matchets 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-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 Okekes diary entries and information de Monchaux provided me (via e-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, 270289.
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 Friths good friend Alan Rawsthorne. Frith provided this information to me
via e-mail on February 2, 2011. For further information on Lambert (aka Isabel
Rawsthorne), see Jacobi, Cats Cradle, 293314.
15. Sir Julian Huxleys reply to Clifford Frith, January 25, 1962. ncast files, dfa-
16. Letter and recommendation from Clifford Frith to the principal, N. S. Alexander,
February 14, 1962. ncast files, dfa-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-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 Akolos 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 groups circle. On the other hand, Simon Okeke,
like Uche Okeke, came from the Awka district, in the eastern region.

21. Odita and Osadebe were in the same art class with Nwoko under the legendary


Notes to Chapter 3


teacher Roland Ndefo (19241999) at Merchants of Light School, Oba. In the fall
of 1960, Ikpomwosa Omagie (life dates unknown) joined the society, making
her the groups 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. Friths
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-Rosette, Black Paris, 65.
35. Sartre, Black Orpheus, 21.
36. Okeke, Art in Development, 2.
37. For extracts from Blydens speech, see Legum, Pan-Africanism, 263265.
38. Legum, Pan-Africanism, 263265.
39. Legum, Pan-Africanism, 265.
40. See Okafor, Development of Universities in Nigeria, 17.
41. See Csaire, Discourse on Colonialism, 98.
42. Csaire, Discourse on Colonialism, 9192.
43. Allen, Introduction, 308.
44. Csaire, Discourse on Colonialism, 90.
45. See Harney, The cole 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-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-
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-known figurative work.
57. Jimo Akolo, taped interview with the author, Zaria, August 10, 2002.
58. See Socit africaine de culture, Report of the Commission of the Arts, 456.
59. See Crowder, Nigerias 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-Rosette, Black Paris, 53.
2. See Jahn, World Congress of Black Writers, 39.
3. See, e.g., Yesufu, Black Orpheus, 2451; Benson, Black Orpheus.
4. The journals advisory committee included the negritude heavyweights Aim
Csaire (19132008), Lopold Sdar Senghor (19062001), Paul Vesey (Samuel
Washington Allen, b. 1917), J. A. Ramsaran (life dates unknown), and later,
Lon-Gontran Damas (19121978). Its second issue included a section on negritude, focusing on poems by Damas, Jacques Roumain (19071944), Guy Tirolien (19171988), and Roussan Camille (19121961), in addition to an article
on Csaires poetry by Jahn.
5. See Editorial, Black Orpheus 1 (1957): 4.
6. See Jules-Rosette, Black Paris, 61.
7. See Senghor, ed., La nouvelle posie ngre.
8. For Beiers 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


Notes to Chapter 4


Nigeria was an article on Yoruba wall painting, Wandmalereien der Yoruba,

published in Das Kunstwerk 5 (1954/55): 3740.
10. Akanji, Wenger, 2931. 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 Beiers 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. Beiers use of the name
Obotunde Ijimere has been questioned by scholars. See Owomoyela, Obotunde
Ijimere, 49.
11. Akanji, Wenger, 30.
12. For Dubuffets 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, 1621, 4952.
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
Souzas work, admitted, according to Mullins, that he was lost for words to explain the artists work (25).
20. Aragbabalu, Souza, 21.
21. Souzas darkly cynical paintings and drawings of Christian subject matter have
been linked to his strict Catholic upbringing, his bitterness about the Goan
churchs hypocrisy and racism in his adult years, and finally his turn to atheism
and communism. See Kurtha, Francis Newton Souza, 3941.
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, 1011.
24. Beier, Demas Nwoko, 11.
25. The exhibition, mounted in a thirty-five-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 Nigerias 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-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 pavilions covered way and the craftsmens
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
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-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 Nwokos mural, see Beier, Contemporary
Nigerian Art, 31.
34. Throughout his career, Enwonwus formal style vacillated between realismas
in most of his landscape paintings and portraitsand a figural stylization evident in many of his dance series and in large-scale compositions, such as his
Beauty and the Beast, 1961.
35. Idubor ran a well-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, 3031.
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 Beiers proposal to stage Wole Soyinkas
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 Nigerias supposed cultural elite, most of them expatriate officers in the colonial administration, confirmed Beiers growing suspicion that the emergence and sustenance of new and experimental Nigerian expressive arts must happen outside
state-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


Notes to Chapter 4


in 1967, were cia-sponsored organizations. The congress in particular had several well-known international artists and writers as its front men. Funding from
the congress primarily came through Mbaris first president, Ezekiel Mphahlele,
who after leaving Nigeria became the African representative at the congresss
Paris office. For further details about the funding of Black Orpheus and Mbari,
see Benson, Black Orpheus, 3339. 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
46. Cole, Art as a Verb, 3441, 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 Beiers 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-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 19561961
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 Beiers 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-
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, 4850.
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, 1415.
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 Salahis 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 Picassos 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-Mural Studies had organized a
modest exhibition of Kofis 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, Tibero, 62. In 1966 Tibero 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 Lopold Sdar 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, Tibero, 62.
70. In The Return of Shango, Beier discusses the beginnings of Ladipos Popular Bar,
on Station Road, Osogbo, which became the site for Mbari-Mbayo. The phrase
mbari-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-Mbayo also was an ingenious domestication of the Igbo
word and idea mbari. See Beier, Return of Shango, 1415.
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
72. Beinart has been a professor of architecture at mit since 1974.
73. See Beiers 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.


Notes to Chapter 4


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, Brcke, 8.
79. See the brochure for the Schmidt-
Rottluff exhibition of woodcuts by Karl
Schmidt-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, Brcke, 4.
81. Williams, Schmidt-Rottluff, 17.
82. Beier took Langston Hughes on a tour of Osogbo, where they visited the Sango
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; Beiers emphasis.
87. Nesbett and DuBois, Over the Line, 182.
88. Nesbett and DuBois, Over the Line, 46.
89. See Hills, Jacob Lawrences Paintings, 182183.
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 Lawrences. In early 1961 Beier requested assistance from the Harmon Foundation, New York, in organizing an exhibition of
William Johnsons 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. Beiers attempts to locate
and exhibit the sculptor (later poet and novelist) Barbara Chase-Riboud (b. 1939)
and the painter and designer Irene Clark (19271984) at Mbari failed; his enduring wish to introduce more black American artists to Nigeria ultimately fell
short. See Beiers correspondence with the Harmon Foundations Evelyn Brown
in box no. 102, African Artists, Harmon Foundation Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
93. Williams, ShibrainMbari, Ibadan, 45.
94. Williams, ShibrainMbari, Ibadan, 45.

Notes to Chapter 5

95. Williams, ShibrainMbari, Ibadan, 45.

96. Williams, A Sudanese Calligraphy, 1920.
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, 8085.
100. The South African painter Gerard Sekoto and his Brazilian friend Wilson Tibero
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. Okekes diary entry, October 28, 1961.
2. Duerden, Mbari Ibadans 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-lobed kola nut), but when it has only
three points (three-lobed), the motif is called okala isinwaojithat is, half isinwaoji; oloma is orange and onwa is moon; agwolagwo is an onomatopoeic term
for spiral. A variant of this motif, odu eke (pythons tail), has the outer end of the
spiral stretched to a short line. For further studies on Igbo Uli, see Udechukwu,
gwgwa Aja Iyiazi, 5560; Okeke, Igbo Drawing and Painting, 106115;
Cole and Aniakor, Igbo Arts; Willis, Uli Painting, 6267, 104; Willis, Lexicon
of Igbo Uli Motifs, 91120.
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-Garde,
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-Garde, 4385.
11. Beier, Contemporary Art in Africa, 46.
12. For a report on Nwokos activities in France, see Beier, Nigerian Stage Designer, 77. According to El Salahi, the owner of Galerie Lambert, a progressive
gallery located in Saint-Louis en lIle, was Mr. Romarovich, a Pole. The gallery
adjoined a bookshop specializing in Polish literature, which was also run by


Notes to Chapter 6


Romarovich. Ulli Beier was apparently the contact person between the gallery
and the artists; he had helped to arrange for two shows of El Salahis work at the
same gallery in 1963 and 1967. Ibrahim El Salahi, conversation with the author,
Oxford, England, 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, 413.
15. Omoighe, Interview with Yusuf Grillo, 64.
16. See Schwarz, Nigeria, 52.
17. Coleman, Backgrounds to Nigerian Nationalism, 319331.
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 Nights Entertainment.
20. Mount, African Art, 135.
21. Okeke, Peep into the Vistas II, 9.
22. Excerpt from Simon Okekes 1959 artist statement, published in Okeke, Art in
Development, 2122.
23. Okeke, Peep into the Vistas II, 11.
24. Kennedy, New Currents, Ancient Rivers, 46.
25. Akolo is a Muslim from the Yoruba-speaking town of Kabba, in northern Nigeria.
26. See a review of Akolos 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 Nigerias most renowned artists, including Ben Enwonwu, Aina Onabolu, and Felix Idubor had studios in Lagos, as had several Zaria graduatese.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-organized conference on pan-Africanism in Lagos in 1960, John A.
Davis noted that amsacs goal was to rechannel the motivating force of pan-
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, vvii.
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-designed gallery space in the city.

Notes to Chapter 6

7. Mission statement, as quoted in an editors note in response to a readers 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. Enwonwus criticism of the gallerys 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
societys 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.


Notes to Chapter 6


19. The Academy of Art was to be located in Lagos. The institutes primary functions
were the establishment of study commissions, research fellowships, summer
schools, lecture tours, and bursaries for international travel.
20. Enwonwus 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 essays 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! 112.
26. Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa, and Madubuike, Toward the Decolonization, 173. The
phrase Hopkins Disease as used by the critics, describes the influence of the
nineteenth-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, 3132.
29. Rothenstein, Whither Painting?, 10771080, 1115.
30. Enwonwu Comments, 349352.
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 powerto 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, Enwonwus
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, Enwonwus major problem was his lack of
consistency: Well, Picasso went through innumerable phases, but each phase
represented a new period of exploration. Bens 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: Dont look at thatthis 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 ministers 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 [Beiers emphasis]. See Ulli Beier, letter
to the author, October 9, 2003. For Crowders critique of Enwonwus work, see
Crowder, Nigerias Artists Emerge, 30.
33. See Jegede, Essential Emokpae, 199.
34. Crowder, Nigerias Artists Emerge, 36.
35. Emokpaes 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 Emokpaes 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 Emokpaes 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. Carthys 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 6 12.
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 Omogbais exhibition of paintings at the
Mbari Ibadan (August 3, 1963), in the Ulli and Georgina Beier Archive, Sydney,
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-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 Nzekwus 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, 5764; part 2, 133140.
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, 103107.
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),


Notes to Chapter 7


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 Emekaled Enugu Musical Society; Gabriel Okaras Writers Club; and
the British Councils Art Club, directed by Uche Okeke.
4. See Buchloh, From Faktura to Factography, 83119.
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 Okigbos poetry is essentially more prophetic than Soyinkas,
esp. given that Soyinkas 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 Okris 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 Ezinmas bond with the world of the ogbanje. See also J. P. Clark[-
Bekederemo] and Wole Soyinkas 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 Lords table.
16. The ambiguously drawn figure of the ogbanje suggests that it could also be a
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 (womens revolt, or womens
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, 5985, 287290.
24. Van Allen, Aba Riots, 5985, 287290.
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 Womens War of 1929. See Falola and Paddock, Womens 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-Ugboko, a western Igbo town in
the then midwest region.
30. This book is not concerned with Nwokos 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 (19161990) was a pioneer practitioner in the so-called modern folk operatic theater. His Bread and Bullet (1949) was a strident critique of
the colonial governments 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.



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Page numbers in italics refer to illustrations.

Aba Revolt (Womens War) (Uche Okeke, oil
on board, 1965; fig. 7.10), 272, 274, 275,
Aba Womens 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; postWorld War II
abstract, 127
abstract expressionist(s), 129, 130, 169
Abule-Oja, suburb of Lagos, 185, 189
Acadmie 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, 17576
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, 19798,
199, 200
adaptation theory, adaption, adaptationism,
adaptationist: of black essentialist aspects
of Lopold Sdar Senghors negritude
aesthetics, 242; of European fauvist and
symbolist formal styles, 113; following a
model of acculturation for African societies, 6062; ideas of British indirect rule
educational policies, 18; ideas of Kenneth
Murray, 132; of indigenous Nigerian art
forms, 99; Lugardian model of, 6364
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-Jones, Dr. O., 233, 300n26
Adeniyi-Jones, Tunji, medical practitioner,
adire, textile design, Yoruba, 168, 208, 210,
215, 299n9
Advisory Committee on Native Education,



Afigbo, A. E. (The Warrant Chiefs, 1972),

African Culture and Ngritude, panel of
African Unities and Pan-Africanism
Conference (organized by amsac at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, in
June 1960), 242
African diaspora, 2, 12, 128, 132, 133, 160,
An African Nights Entertainment (Cyprian
Ekwensi, short story collection, 1962),
African personality: as anticolonial ideology, 11; contributes to cultural nationalism and pan-Africanism, 16, 99; defined,
291n15; Edward Blyden and his idea of,
128; and negritude, 9396; Nkrumah revived idea of, 9; political imperatives of,
93; rhetoric of, 4
African Unities and Pan-Africanism Conference, 242
AfriCOBRA painters, Chicago, 98
Afrocentric aesthetic, 95
Afro-Metaphysics in Boghossians work,
Afro-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,
agwlagw 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. (19151984), 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, 22026;
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-garde on, 127; and Kingsway Stores
show, 141; London paintings of, 22026;
mentioned, 297n20; one of Nigerias and
Africas most influential artists, 5; paint
application of, 126; participates in Mbari
Ibadan and Mbari-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, 22225, 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,
amsac. See American Society of African
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, 18586
Anatsui, El (born 1944), 4, 5
Anderson, Benedict: and Aina Onabolu,
47; and colonial pilgrimage, 910; 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-
Africanists, 133; and Prsence Africaine,
Anguish (Colette Omogbai, ca. 1963; fig.
6.10), 255
Aniakor, Chike, 194, 276


Annang (people), 311n25

anticolonial, anticolonialism, anti
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-based paper, West African Pilot, 35;
national consciousness, 130; nationalists,
16; politics of the turn-of-the-century Lagosian and West African educated elite,
37; self-affirmative theories, practices, and
visions, 7; subjectivity, 3; 2007 and 1955
Asian-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), isinwaji (curvilinear triangles and
rectangles), and oloma or nwa (circles
and crescents), 186
Arrow of God (Chinua Achebes novel), 10
Art House Ltd., Lagos, 46
Art in Development: A Nigerian Perspective
(1982), 105
Art ngre, and negritude, 98
Art Resource, New York, 139, 167, 170, 173,
Art Society, founded by students, 261,
297n20, 298n22, 304n90; and Aina
Onabolu, 42; art and theory of natural synthesis proposed by, 4142; art for
national culture championed by, 253;
art of, 99127; artists of, 183; asked to
submit work for Kingsway Stores show,
141; attraction to other painting genres,
12730; attraction to postimpressionist,
245; championed, 169; disbanded, 236,
298n24; and establishment of Society of
Nigerian Artists, 19; explores possibility

of national association of artists, 23637;

and fauvist painting, 127; formation of,
1, 2, 71; and history of, 8588; and idea
of freedom symbolized by political independence, 226; ideas about ethnicity and
artistic modernism in postindependence
Nigeria, 2017; indebted to tactical root
finding of pan-Africanism and negritude,
132; in independence period, 3; inspired
by cultural nationalism, 259, 260; Jimo
Akolos work and, 224, 226; motivating
ideas of, 72; nationalistic rhetoric and
modernist aesthetic of, 168; and natural
synthesis, 8893, 99, 127, 141, 215, 219,
220, 252; and ngritude, 96, 9899, 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, 1718, 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,
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-rate, 8; and Emokpaes 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 Akuamma 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




Atkinson, Robin (born 1930) Lagos-based

British architect, 231
Atta, Prince Abdul Aziz, 245
Atta of Igbirra, father of Prince Abdul Aziz
Atta, 231
avant-garde(s), 4; and Aina Onabolu,
39; Art Academy and, 71, 236; Euro-
American, 261; European, 47, 63, 101,
115, 116, 124, 127, 128, 129, 138, 168, 285;
Indias 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-century, 12;
Uche Okeke, Demas Nwoko, and their
cohorts constitute, 14; Viennese, 136, 150
Awolowo, Obafemi (19091987), opposition party leader, Nigeria, 264, 294n42,
Azikiwe, Nnamdi (19041996), leader of
Nigerian Youth Movement, 16, 89, 207;
autobiography, My Odyssey, 294n41; background of, 3536; 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,
Bandung Conference of 1955, 131, 154
Barker, Roy, co-founder with V. M. Barker,
of art department at ncast, 72, 83; and
National Art, 778; 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 (19222011), 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, 13334, 13638, 140, 148, 149, 177,
art criticism in, 257, reviews in, 15354,
15658, 160; championed work of some
Art Society members, 169; and Colette
Omogbais paintings, 252, 253; and development and transaction of postcolonial
modern art and art criticism, 183; and Die
Brcke, 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, 15152, 162; and Mbari-Mbayo,
161, 302n48, 302n50, 303n70; and Nigeria magazine exhibition, 14648; and
1961 continental tour, 153; and Okpu Eze,
252; organized shows at Mbari, Ibadan,
of Schmidt-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 Soyinkas play A Dance


of the Forests, 301n41; pseudonyms of, 137,

300n10; summer art workshops organized by, 18; and Susanne Wenger, husband of, 13334, 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, 15152,
16061, 162, 165, 166, 168, 169, 171, 175,
Beinart, Julian, South African architect
and colleague of Pancho Guedes, 303n72;
article in Black Orpheus, 16162, 165;
friend of Ulli Beier, 257; led Mbari Ibadan
and Mbari-Mbayo, Osogbo, summer workshops, 2089
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 Obas Market in, 81,
296n39, 296n5
Berger, John, 300n19
Biafra, 279
Biafran: cultural workshops, 309n50; secession from Nigeria, 274; War (19671970),
4, 27980, 30910n2
Biafran Directorate of Propaganda, Arts
Section, 261
Bida, glass-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
Williamss review of the Karl Schmidt-

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 Williamss 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 Beinarts essay on Valente
Malangatana, 162; and Labac magazine,
233; and late-1960s postcolonial Nigerian art and poetry, 19; and modern art,
13334, 13638, 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-twentieth-century African
and black artistic and literary modernism, 23; and Ulli Beier, 17, 132, 13334,
13638, 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
Soyinkas Abiku poems in, 310n14
Black Writers and Artists Congresses:
(1956), 258; (1959), 128
Bleyl, Fritz, 166
Blyden, Edward Wilmot (18321912), educator and writer: author of The Idea of
an African Personality, 9394; concept
of African Personality, 128; early black
nationalist, 2; intellectual tradition of, 35;
member of Lagoss educated elite, 69;
proposed West African University, 31, 36




Boghossian, Skunder (19372003), Ethiopian artist: exhibited at Mbari, 172; influenced by negritude, 176; and Wilson Tibero, 305n100; work of, Louise Acheson
essay on, 17576; works by, 176, 178; and
Ulli Beier, 177
Bois, Yve-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 Councils Art Club, directed by
Uche Okeke, 310n3
British indirect rule, 7, 18. See also indirect
bronze-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 dun retour au pays natal (1939), by
Aim Csaire, 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 (19121961), 299n4
Canclini, Nestor Garcia, 12
Carr, Henry, Lagosian lawyer, 27
Carroll, Father Kevin, workshop at Oye-
Ekiti, 145
Carr-Saunders Commission, 82
Casely-Hayford, J. E., 36
Catterson-Smith, Robert (18531938),
British Arts and Crafts movement, 5556
Central School of Art and Design in London, 231
Csaire, Aim (19132008): and negritude,
9596, 299n4; and Cahier dun 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), 27980
Ciek, Franz (18651946), Austrian art
educator, 5556, 136
Clark, Irene (19271984), 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, 910
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,
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 (18771947):
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


Cravo, Mrio (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
governments 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 (18191898), 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 Tibero and Les Forats (The Convicts), 160
dEichthal, Gustav, French ethnologist, 25
Damas, Lon-Gontran (19121978), 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-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, 6567;
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,

decolonization: African, 95, in first half of

twentieth century, 7; age of, 92; Aim
Csaire 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
Nkrumahs 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, Clmentine, 250
Department of Extra-Mural Studies at the
University College, Ibadan, 204, 303n60
Derain, Andr, 83
Deren, Maya (19171961), 134
Desta, Gebre Kristos (19321981), Ethiopian
abstract painter, 226
Dialogue (Erhabor Emokpae, oil on board,
1962, fig. 6.7), 246, 249
diaspora, African, 2, 12, 17, 94, 128, 13233,
160, 239
Die Brcke (the Bridge), 121, 166, 168
Die Brcke (the Bridge) painters, Germany,
121; dissolution of, 166; formed by, 166,
168; members of, 166; Schmidt-Rottluff
directly influenced by African sculpture,
Die Entfhrung aus dem Serail, Mozarts
opera, 197
Dike, Dr. K. O., principal, University College, Ibadan, 169
Diop, Alioune (19101980), Senegalese
teacher and entrepreneur and publisher of
Prsence Africaine, 131, 306n5
Diouf, Ibou, 98
dos Santos, Agnaldo (19261962), 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




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. (18681963): and African personality, 16; and black emancipation pan-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-century European
racialist thought, 94; exerted tremendous
influence on twentieth-century African nationalists, 33; influence on educated class
of Africans, 35; irritating racial equality of,
3536; 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 Lugards influential book, 31,
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),
cole 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-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 (19302009), 307n15; appointed
to selection committee for 1960 Kingsway Stores exhibition, 141; bronze bust of
(19302009; fig. 4.7), 145, 146; director,
Gallery Labac, Lagos, 231, 307n11; Erhabor Emokpae, her protg, 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 (19212007), 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 Nights
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


El-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-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 (19341984), Nigerian sculptor and graphic designer, 5, 19,
307n15; appeared on Afi Ekongs 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-edge
symbolism, 253; member of Federal
Society for the Arts and Humanities, 235,
of National Arts Council, 233; not one of
Ulli Beiers favorite artists, 243; and price
charged for his paintings, 252; son of a
Bini chief, 245; target of Ben Enwonwus
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-cotta,
1968; fig. 7.17), 283, 286
Enugu Musical Society, Lawrence Emeka
led, 310n3
Enwonwu, Ben (also called Benedict Chukadibia, 19171994), 307n15, 308n20;
abstraction, rejection of, 240, 241, 243,
25152; birth date of, 296n4; bourgeois
lifestyle of, 166; called for new aesthetics
of African art, 239; claims made in Drum
essay, analyzed, 24143, 246, 252, 258;

criticism of the gallerys [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, 23940; 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, 14142,
23031, 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 presidentdirector of,
236, initiative for collapsed, 23637; and
Ministry of Commerce and Industry,
301n27; national influence of, challenged,
146; Nigerias most famous artist, 75, 85;
Nigerian modernist, 263; and 1960 Independence Exhibition, 23031, 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, 7576; and rival Felix Idubor,
78, 145; and Roy Barker, 77; and Society
of Nigerian Artists, 23839; 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, 14142; works of, 58,
78, 145, 146, 147, 229, 244, 254, 301n34,
308n31, of African dancers and black
female nudes, 98; and younger artists,




Enwonwus bronze bust, Head of Afi (Afi

Ekong, 19302009), 145; (fig. 4.7), 146
Enwonwus bronze statue of Queen Elizabeth II in Lagos, commissioned by Foreign Office (1957), 78, 308n31
Enwonwus Sango sculpture for the Nigerian Electric Commission, Lagos (fig. 6.1),
229, 230
Enwonwus wood sculpture ensemble, Risen
Christ (19531954) 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-
Hayford, 36
Euromodernist style, 127
European Art Empire, 298n25
Euston Road School pictures, 119, 121,
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 Akolos 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-mural program at University College,
Ibadan, 132
Eze, Okpu (19341995), 306n6; artist-
critic, 119, 121, 229; called a surrealist,
25253; dismissed illustrative, pretty, or
narratively coherent work, 256; Erhabor
Emokpaes work similar to, 252; irreverent
painter, 19, young, brash, 245; and Okechukwu Odita, 119, 121; and Vincent Kofi,
229; and work of, 253, large-scale, 248;
and Yusufu Zaki, 251
Ezeulu, priest, 1011
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 (19282009), Nigerian
sculptor, 145, 147
The Famished Road (Ben Okri, novel, 1991),
27172, 310n13
Fanon, Frantz (19251961), social philosopher: and critique of negritude, 98; idea
of national culture, 98, 239
Farfield Foundation: cia-sponsored organization, 301n42; subsidiary, Paris-based
Congress for Cultural Freedom, 149
Fasuyi, T. A. (Timothy Adebanjo), 82, 236,
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-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 communiqus issued at, 128; described by conservative French media as Cultural Bandung, 92; and Lopold Sdar Senghor,
303n68; organized by Alioune Diop,
13132; 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,
Four Sheep (Jacob Lawrence, tempera and
gouache on paper, 1964; fig. 4.22), 172,
Franafrique, 9
francophone: black writers and intellectuals in Paris, 95; journal Prsence Africaine,
92, 132
Franz Meyer Studios, Munich, 192


Frith, Clifford, painter and former teacher

at Camberwell School of Art and the
Goldsmiths College, 8283, 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
Fundao Malangatana Valente Ngwenya,
163, 164
Galeria Estao, Sao Paulo, Brazil, 179
Galeria Galatea, Buenos Aires, Argentina,
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 gallerys 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-Rottluff, woodcut on cream
wove paper, 1914; fig. 4.18), 166, 167

Goldsmiths College, London, 82, 87, 89,

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-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, 11516, 116, 117,
118, 119, 148; Zaria graduate, 306n1
Guedes, Pancho (Amncio dAlpoim
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, 19601961; 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,
Hassan, Salah M., 155
Hathiramani, Mr. G., collection of, 119




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),
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,
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
Houphout-Boigny, Flix (19051993,
president and prime minister, Ivory
Coast), 9
Hughes, Langston, 169, 304n82, 306n5
Hunt-Cooke, A., acting chief federal advisor on education, 72
Hunter in a War Scene (Demas Nwoko, oil
on board, 1967; fig. 7.12), 27879, 280
Husband, W. A., ncast registrar, 75
Husband and Wife (Oseloka Osadebe, oil on
board, 1964; fig. 3.30), 121, 124
Huxley, Sir Julian (18871975), world-
renowned biologist and author, 83
Ibadan Extra-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 (19281991), and Afi Ekong,
231; apprenticed to a Bini master carver,
145; Ben Enwonwus great rival, 78; at inauguration of Nigerian Art Academy, 236;
and prices for his work, 251; ran a well-
known studio, 301n35, 306n1; work evocative of early Benin court style, 145
Ife, 207; ancient art of, 86, terra-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, 14950;
and postcolonial modernism, 28889;
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-twentieth-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-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,


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-Igbo cultural association, 294n42
Igbo Uli (body drawing and mural painting), 185; female artists of, 186; inspiration for Uche Okekes Oja Series, 14,
18, examples of, 19091; motifs of, 187,
188, 189, 305n3; West African traditional
graphic form, 5; works of, 18486, 189,
19293, 194, 196, 205, 207, 208
Igbo-Ukwu: ancient art of, 85, 219; bronzes
at, 219; myth of, 215; and Simon Okeke,
Ijimere, Obotunde (pseudonym of Ulli
Beier), 300n10
Imoukhuede, Mabel, Nigerian writer,
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, 2526; 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-Stokes Fund, 34; and the
United States, 33, 35
Into the Abstract Jungle, essay, Ben Enwonwu, 231
Ionian Sports event, Ondo (1957), 85

isinwaji, Uli motif abstracted from space at

the head of four-lobed kola nut (cola acuminate), 305n3
Iwalewa-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 (19181973): 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. (19011970), 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
Jujus 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 (18941978), president and
prime minister of Kenya, 9
Keta Girl (Kenneth Murray, graphite on
paper, 1942; fig. 2.5), 52, 53
Khartoum Technical Institute, 153




Khoury, Franko, 104

Kings College and Christ Church Cathedral
School, Lagos, 295n12
Kingsley, Mary, imperialist, 25, 63, 292n6,
Kingsway Stores show, 141, 245
Kirchner, Ernst Ludwig, 121, 166
Kisch, Martin, 24
Klee, Paul, 101
Kneeling Woman (Karl Schmidt-Rottluff,
woodcut on cream wove paper, 1914; fig.
4.17), 166, 167
Kofi, Vincent Akweti (19231974), 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 (19311978), Yoruba actor and
playwright, 161, 302n48, 303n70
Ladipos 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,
Lambert, Constant, 297n14
Lambert, Isabel (also called Isabel Rawsthorne, 19121992), figurative avant-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),
11213, 114
Larkin, June, 167
Lasekan, Akinola (19161972): 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 Azikiwes
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, 25354
Lawrence, Gwendolyn Knight, 171
Lawrence, Jacob (19172000) 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, 17172; The Migration
of the Negro series (194041), 169, 170;
saw Vincent Kofis show at Mbari-Mbayo
in Osogbo, 158; shows for works by, 169,
229; and Ulli Beier, 169, 171; works of,
169, 170, 171, 172, 173
Lvi-Strauss, Claude, 92
Levy, Mrs. David M., 170
Lvy-Bruhl, Lucien, 242
Lewis, William, of Liberia, 229
Liberato, Joao, 179
Lopashich, Dr., 300n26
Loram, C. T., white South African, 34
Loureno 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, 2627,
3132, 43, 54, and Memoranda on Edu-


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, 5960,
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,
2526; teaching British history in Nigerian schools, 32; type of native he feared,
35; wanted to preserve indigenous political systems, 2930
Lunch at the Park (Oseloka Osadebe, oil on
board, 1961; fig. 3.24), 119, 120
Macaulay, Herbert (18641946): declaration regarding Aina Onabolus art, 45;
early black nationalist, 2, 2829
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, 23031, 301n30; member
of Lagos social elite, 235; and Nigerian
College of Arts, Science and Technology,
141; waning influence in Lagoss and
Nigerias political and social institutions
of, 233
Makerere College, Kampala, Uganda, 61
Malangatana, Valente (Malangatana Valente
Ngwenya, 19352011), 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, 16162;
and postcolonial subject, 162; work of,
162; and Ulli Beier, 162, 165
Malevich, Kazimir, Russian avant-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, 14951; exhibitions and workshops at, 17; forum of mid-
twentieth-century African and black artistic and literary modernism, 23; 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 Enwonwus
coffee bar milieu, 241; elitist space,
161; exhibitions at, 132, 161, 257, Colette
Omogbais, 253, 309n42, Jacob Lawrences, 169, 171, Jimo Akolos, 220,
most ambitious: Karl Schmidt-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-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-Mbayo, the Mbari Club at Osogbo:
brainchild of Duro Ladipo (19311978),
161; and Bruce Onobrakpeya, 208; established, 302n48; Ladipos Popular Bar
site of, 303n70; nickname of Mbari Club
at Osogbo, 161; scenes at, 159, 209; and
Vincent Kofis shows, 157
Mbembe, Achille, 26
McEwen, Frank, convened First International Congress of African Culture, 216




Meeting (Afi Ekong, oil on canvas, 1960; fig.

6.2), 232
Mehta, Tyeb, progressive Indian modernist,
298n29, 300n22
Melancholy (Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, 1914),
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, 19401941; fig. 4.19), 170
Millard, Patrick, British landscape painter,
Mir, 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-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-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 Indias first avant-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 cole des Arts, Dakar,

97; Nigerian, 126, 132, 133, 138, 140, 141,

201, 258, 25960, 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, 13638, 140,
153, 154, 158, 160, 161, 166, 168, and Jacob
Lawrence, 171; and Vincent Kofi, 158;
Western, 78, 90, 137; and Wilson Tibero,
16061. 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,
Moore, Gerald, English instructor, Ibadan,
extra-mural studies program, 16061, 257
Moore, Henry, 75, 158, 165
Moore-Gilbert, Bart, 13
Mother (Karl Schmidt-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 Eskia
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


Murray, Kenneth C. (19031972): adaptationist ideas of, 132; and Aina Onabolu,
16, 4043, 47, 51, 52, 54, 62, 64, 6869,
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
modernisms nonspiritual basis, 55; educational (pedagogical) ideas of, 5960,
6162, 65, 73, 129; encounter with Franz
Cieks ideas, 5556; 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-garde, 138;
and Francesca M. Wilson, 55; and Frederick Lugard, 5960, 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, 4142; 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, 6162; misunderstanding
of his art education in scholarly literature,
5455; 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, 6364; 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, 6263; 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.,
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 Onabolus art, 47; anticolonial, 14; and Art
Society, 168, 260; and Ben Enwonwu,77;
and Benedict Andersons study of, 9;
Chatterjees Indian, 10; colonial subjectivity, 8; continental, 37; crises in body
politic by mid-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-twentieth-century radical, 8; elite,
45, educated, 51, political, 50; ethnic, authenticity, 207, in Nigerian politics, 143,
strong, 208; Igbo, 274; impulse, an eager-




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-
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 Rothensteins
critique of Parisian abstraction, 242;
struggles of early-twentieth-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 Nigerias political, 89. See also protonationalists
Native Administration Works Department,
natural synthesis, 8893, 12730; and Art
Society, 5, 17, 18, 41, 88, 89, 99, 127, 128,
129, 130, 141, 18384, 215, 220, 252; and
Demas Nwoko, 215, his Soldier, 285; and
Kenneth Murray, 41, 9091; prescribed
a different approach, 98; selective use of
artistic resources and forms from Nigerian/African and European traditions, 1;
and Simon Okekes work, 215, own interpretation of theory of, 217; and Uche
Okeke, articulated by, 45, 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 (19241999), 298n21

Ndiaye, Iba (19282008), Senegalese
painter, 226
negritude, 2, 242; Aim Csaire and,
9596, 133, 299n4; arguments of, 17; and
Art Society, 96, 9899, 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-Paul Sartre,
91, 93, 96, 133; Lopold Sdar 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 Wengers
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,
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 Omogbais historic manifesto in,
228, 254, 256; organized Simon Okekes
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


Beier, 134, art review of Demas Nwokos

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), 14048,
228; and Ben Enwonwu, 234; works at,
14344, 210
Nigerian Arts Council, Lagos branch, 19
Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology (ncast; called Zaria), Zaria, 1,
16, 297n6, 299n56; African personality,
9395, and negritude, 958; Art Department at, 7273, 7578, 825; artists at,
14142, 148, 153, postcollege from, 227,
228, young artists at, 19, 147; Art Society
at, 42, 8588, art of, 99101, 103, and
Bruce Onobrakpeya, 11213, and Demas
Nwoko, 10612, 151, formed at, 2, history
of, 17, Igbo Uli, 18486, 189, 19293,
19496, 265, postcollege, 184, 19698,
2002, 2035, 2078, 220, 236, 277, students at, other, 11516, and Uche Okeke,
6, 18, 65, 99106, 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, 7172; and Jimo Akolo,
postcollege work of, 221, 224; and natural synthesis, 8893, 12630; new work
from, 242; and Nora Majekodunmi, 141;
and Simon Okeke, postcollege work of,
21517, 21920; 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,
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 (19091972), leading
pan-Africanist: and African personality,
128; and consciencism, 291n15; first president of Ghana, 94; and honorific Osagyefo, 9; and pan-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-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,
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 (19341985), 85, 261
Nwakanma, Obi, literary scholar, 264
Nwanyi Mgbolodala, legendary Igbo Amazon, 274
Nwoko, Demas (born 1935), 297n20,
297n21, 307n15; adopted a vivid expressionistic style, 106; became de facto lead-




Nwoko, Demas (continued)

ing voices of new generation of artists,
143; believed in Nigerian national imaginary, 277; and Biafran War, 279, and
artwork of, 28085, and soldier, 280
81, 283, 285; and Christopher Okigbos
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, 27881, 283, 285; and crisis paintings of 1967, 278; and Denis Williams,
204; designed the stage set for Mozarts
opera Die Entfhrung 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, 23031, 301n30; friends of, 85; at
Galerie Lambert, Paris, 197; graduated
from Nigerian College of Arts, Science
and Technology, Zaria, 83, 88, 149, postcollege, 184, 19698, 200202, 2035,
2078, 220, 277, work at, 10612, 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-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-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-around entry in art in
Western Regional Festival of Arts, 85
Nwoko, Demas, works by: 10612, 107, 108,
109, 110, 111, 143, 144, 196, 197, 19798,
199, 200, 200205, 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


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-garde
on, 115; and Okpu Eze, 119, 121; and Oseloka Osadebe, 297n21; works of, 119, 120,
121, 123
odu eke (pythons 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 (womens revolt, or
womens war), 311n23
Ogui Players, founded by John Ekwere,
Oguibe, Olu, 64, 296n34
Ogunde, Hubert, Bread and Bullet (1954)
and Yoruba Ronu (1964), 286, 307n8,
Ojike, Mbonu, 294n43
Ojora, Mr. Kunle, 233
Okafor, Dubem, literary scholar, 264
okala isinwaji, motif abstracted from space
at the head of three-lobed kola nut (Uli),
Okara, Gabriel (born 1921), Nigerian poet
and novelist, Writers Club, 261, 309n50,
Okeke, Simon Obiekezie (19371969), 79,
21517, 21920, 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-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, 21517, 21920; and Nok culture,
217; one of Nigerias 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-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, 23031, 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 Councils Art Club,
310n3; and disagreement with Africans
copying European artists, 12728; dis
illusioned about prospects of new nation,
19; drew ire of Michael Crowder and Nora
Majekodunmi, 141, 230; El Anatsui, intel-




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-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, 45, 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, 99106, 124, 151,
Igbo Uli, 18486, 189, 19293, 19496,
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-Africanism, 9899; 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-influenced
drawing and painting, 205; and Ulli Beier,
140, 147, 196; went on ten-day study tour
of southern Nigeria, 78
Okeke, Uche, drawings: Birds in Flight, 195;
experimental, 18, 105; The Fabled Brute,
103; figure-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-inspired drawings on paper, 265, 273
Okeke, Uche, examples of, 19091; use of
agwlagw spiral, 194; works of, 99106,
100, 102, 103, 104, 105, 110, 124, 143, 184
86, 189, 19293, 195, 196, 205, 207, 208,
266, 268, 270, 271, 272, 273, 274, 275,
Okeke, Uche, paintings: Aba Revolt
(Womens War), 272, 274, 275, 277; Conflict
(After Achebe), 272, 273; Crucifixion, 266
Okigbo, Christopher (19301967), 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,
26364, 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),
27172, 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


Oloogun (Yusuf Grillo, oil on board, 1960;

fig. 3.20), 115
Olusola, Segun, Nigerian writer, 302n43,
Omagie, Ikpomwosa (dates unknown),
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
Lawals criticism, 25354; 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 (18821963), 294n6; and
A. O. Osula, 6465; 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,
5051, 54, 62, 64, 295n12; attended meeting to discuss formation of Nigerian Art
Academy, 236, elected president, 236; and
avant-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, 6869; and discourses on modern Nigerian art he initiated in 1920,
238; and Herbert Macaulays declaration
regarding his art, 45; and Kenneth C.
Murray, 16, 4043, 47, 51, 52, 54, 62, 64,
6869, 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-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 Nigerias
Joshua Reynolds and Mr. Perspective,
295n10; studio of, 73, 306n1; trained in
London and in Paris (at Acadmie 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, 5051, 54, 62, 64, as a part
of the radical work of emergent anticolonialism, 40, discussion of, 45, 47, 4951,
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-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
evident in the work of, 217; graduated in
1961, 88; helped organize art section of




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-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, 11213; one
of Nigerias and Africas 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, 20810, 212,
21415; 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,
20810, 212, 21415; works of, 11213,
113, 114, 211, 212, 213, 214, 215, covered way
mural, 143, 144, 301n28, 301n30, forest scenes recur in, 112; and workshops,
Onwuchekwa, Jemie, literary critic, 240
Opa Oranyan, iron-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-garde, 116, 119; works of, 119, 120,
121, 124, 297n21
Osague, Francis (b. 1941), 301n35
Osagyefo, honorific for Kwame Nkrumah
(19091972), 9

Osawe, Ben (19312007), Nigerian sculptor, 181

Osifo, Osagie, Nigerian sculptor, 147,
Osogbo, Yoruba town northeast of Ibadan,
161, 171; gallery of, 257; Mbari-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, 6465; 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, 6566
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-Ekiti workshop, Father Kevin Carrolls
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-Wine Drinkard (Amos Tutuola,
1952), 151, 177
pan-Africanism/pan-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


Nnamdi Azikiwe, 16, 35, 89, 207; outlook

of early-twentieth-century politicians,
207; and Renascent Africa (Nnamdi Azikiwe), 36; tactical root finding of, 132;
and Uche Okeke, 9899; of W. E. B. Du
Bois, 16, 35, 37, 89, force behind establishment of, 3334
pan-Nigerian, 47, 207
pan-Yoruba cultural associations, 294n42
Patel, Jeram, progressive Indian modernist,
Path of Thunder (Christopher Okigbos
poetry collection), 14, 26364, 271
Pechstein, Max, 166, 168
Peirce, Charles Sanders, 193
Penrose, Roland, cofounder of Institute of
Contemporary Arts, London, 216
Phelps-Stokes Fund Commission, 34, 43,
Philosopher (Demas Nwoko, terra-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-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-garde, 63; radical abstraction
of Picasso-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 Appiahs 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




postindependence (continued)
cultural practice, 263, and society, 84,
237, students, 84, Western government,
311n33; period, 289; Senegal, 93; years,
interregional rivalry in, 83
post-Renaissance, 64, 127
Pot (Bruce Onobrakpeya, bronze-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
Prsence Africaine, influential francophone
journal, 92, 13132
Price-Mars, Jean (18761969), Haitian
writer, 131
Prince of Wales College, Achimota, in the
Gold Coast (Ghana), 62
Princeton University Art Museum, 219
Progressive Artists Group (pag), Mumbai-
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),
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
Renascent Africa (Nnamdi Azikiwe, 1937),
36, 294n43
The Return of Shango (Ulli Beier, 1995),
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 (19071944), 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 Martins 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-Paul: existentialism of, 240;
giant of French left intelligentsia, 92; and
negritude, 91, poetry, 93, 96, 133
Schapire, Dr. Rosa, Estate of, 167
Schmidt-Rottluff, Karl (18841976), German expressionist artist: exhibition
at Mbari Ibadan, 165; member of Die
Brcke, 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, 16566, 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, Lopold Sdar (19062001),


president and prime minister of Senegal: on Black Orpheus advisory committee,

299n4; committed to Franafrique, 9;
invited Gerard Sekoto and Wilson Tibero 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, Tshsai (active 17941795), 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 (19031975), 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, 23839; discussion of, 23538;
established in 1964, 19, 181, 237, 258;
Yusuf Grillo, president of, 304n90
sociocryonics, concept proposed by Olufemi Taiwo, 23

socio-political history of Nigeria, 271

Soldier (Soja), terra-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,
Soliman, Mounira, literary scholar, 271
Souza, Francis Newton (19242002), expatriate Indian artist, 298n29; Catholic background of, 137, and treatment of
Christian subjects, 300n21; cofounded
Mumbai-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, 27980, and abiku, 271, 310n14;
Ulli Beier, 301n41, consults with, regarding formation of an artists and writers
club, 148; work grappled consequences of
Euro-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,
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-Rottluff, 1914), 166
Surrealism, 127; access of African artists
to thwarted, 136; and Colette Omogbai,
252; and Denis Williams, 175; and Erhabor Emokpaes intentional borrowings
from European, 248; and Julian Beinart,




Surrealism (continued)
162, 175; and Okpu Eze, 252; and Skunder
Boghossians work, and his new brand
of surrealism in service of his Afro-
Metaphysics, 175; and Ulli Beier, 136,
252; and Valente Malangatanas work, 162
The Susan Wenger Foundation, Zbing am
Heiligenstein, 135
Symbolism, 186; graphic, of Arabic texts,
154; hard-edge, 253; mystical, Salahis,
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-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, mens residence hall, University of Ibadan, 196, 197; mural at, 201
Tempels, Placide (19061977), 134
terra-cotta: and Demas Nwoko, 201, 2034,
works in terra-cotta by, 205, 206, 207, 283,
284, 285, 286, 287; Nok sculpture, 201,
2034, 205; works, 203, 205, 206, 284, 285,
286, 287; workshop organized by Mbari
Ibadan and Department of Extra-Mural
Studies of University of Ibadan, 204
Terry Dintenfass Gallery, New York, 172
Thtre Lyrique, annual summer school at
Vichy, 197
Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe, 1958), 14,
268, 27274
The Three Kings (Karl Schmidt-Rottluff,
1917), 166
Thunder Can Break, first poem in
Christopher Okigbos collection, Path of
Thunder, 263
Tibero, Wilson, black Brazilian artist:
Gerald Moores essay on in Black Orpheus,
16061; and Skunder Boghossian,
305n100; visited Senegal with friend Gerard Sekoto, 303n68

Timi of Ede, the, 302n49

Tirolien, Guy (19171988), 299n4
Titled Woman (Demas Nwoko, terra-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
Tour, Ahmed Skou (19221984) of Mali,
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-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-Ngu, Clara, 236, 238
Ugoji, Jerome O., 54
Uli artists, Igbo, Eastern Nigeria, 186
Uli body artists, 194; art, 196
Uli forms: ntup (dot), akala (line), isinwaji
(curvilinear triangles and rectangles), and
oloma or nwa (circles and crescents),
agwlagw, the concentric coil associated
with the sacred python, and mb agu,
double triangle representing the leopards
claw, 186, 305n3
Ulli and Georgina Beier Archive, Migila
House, Sydney, Australia, mentioned,
303n73, 304n79, 304n84, 304n91,
305n98, 309n42


Umana, A. P. (born 1920), 54, 145

United African Company, 85
University College Library, Ibadan, 302n49
University College London Art Museum,
University College London, 75, 123
University College, Legon, 157
University of Bayreuth, Iwalewa-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,
19541957; 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. 17531806), 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 (18481906): 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 (19021996), 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,
von Posadowsky, Count, German ambassador to Nigeria, visiting Zaria, 1961, 184
von Sydow, Eckart (18851942), 60, 63,
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),
Washington, Booker T. (18561915), African American educator: apparent acceptance of blacks status as inferior, 34, 34;
death of, 294n37; and Dr. J. E. K Aggrey
of Ghana, 34; ideas of influential with
twentieth-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 (19152009), Austrian-
born artist who became a Yoruba priestess, Adunni-Olorisa: founding member
of the Viennese Art Club, 13334; interest
in art of the mentally ill, 135, 136; priestess of Osun cult in Osogbo, 134; wife
of Ulli Beier, 13334, 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,




West, Western (when referring to European,

non-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; Akolos modernism, 226; architectural design and principles, 5; Art Society did not reject art of,
88; Art Societys 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-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-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 Nwokos art,
198; Western modernity, 11, 12; Western
museum collections, studied by S. Okeke,
219; Western techniques of realism, illusionism, 41, 69, and Onabolus work, 44,
45, 47, 50; Western-style art schools in
Africa, 23; Western-style education, 24,
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 (19231998): 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-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
Womens War of 1929, 274, 276, 311n26.
See also Aba Womens 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


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,

Yoruba Sango cult, 300n10

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