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Maker: Ben Enwonwu
1917-1994, Nigeria
Storm over Biafra
Date: 1972
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: Framed: 78.6 × 154.3 × 5.2 cm (30 15/16 × 60 3/4 × 2 1/16 in.)
Credit Line: Museum purchase
Geography: Nigeria
Object Number: 2000-11-1
Search Terms:
Object is not currently on exhibit

The first half of the twentieth century gave rise to widespread experimentation with new media by Africa’s artists. Many of Nigeria’s artists, for example, explored new techniques, including oil painting and printmaking. As elsewhere on the continent, some of these artists received training at local and international art schools, while others were taught in community workshops offered by expatriate artists. Modern African artwork addressed a range of subject matter, from political concerns of the day to depictions of a rapidly transforming landscape due to social and environmental changes. In his epic oil painting, Ben Enwonwu, considered a pioneer of modernism in Nigeria, tackled the challenging topic of civil war and its devastating consequences. Ben Enwonwu is a legendary Nigerian painter and sculptor known for fusing African traditions with his formal training in Western art. This landscape is a departure for him, both in its subject matter and dark mood. The stormy skies and scattered cattle bones refer to the widespread death and destruction that occurred during Biafra's war of secession from Nigeria in the late 1960s. Originally from the Biafra region, Enwonwu here expressed his personal sense of loss over his ravaged homeland.

A large horizontal canvas primarily in blue and green oils, with touches of orange and pink. Cattle bones, tall grasses and birds populate the foreground of the seeringly realistic scene.

Kenneth Wood, London, ca. 1972 to 2000

Microhistories of an Ex-Centric Modernism, Kunstsammlung Nordrherin-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, Germany, November 10-March 10, 2019

Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., April 22, 2013-February 23, 2014; Fowler Museum at UCLA, University of California, Los Angeles, April 19-September 14, 2014; Bowdoin College Museum of Art, October 15, 2015-March 9, 2016

African Mosaic: Celebrating a Decade of Collecting, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 19, 2010-November 13, 2013 (deinstalled February 13, 2013)

Lecznar, Matthew. 2018. "Weathering the Storm: Ben Enwonwu's Biafrascapes and the Crisis in the Nigerian Postcolony." Tate Papers, no. 30, illustrated

Milbourne, Karen E. 2013. Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa. New York: The Monacelli Press; Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 157, no. 128.

Ogbechie, Sylvester Okwunodu. 2008. Ben Enwonwu: The Making of an African Modernist. Rochester: University of Rochester Press, pp. 175-176, no. 5.10.

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