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Chronology

Benedict Enwonwu MBE, NNOM

1917

July 14: Birth of Benedict Chukadibia Enwonwu.  Enwonwu was born a twin into the noble family of Umueze-Aroli in Onitsha, Nigeria. His father, Odigwe Emeka Enwonwu was also a technician and worked with the Royal Niger Company. A member of the Onitsha Council of Chiefs, he was a reputable traditional sculptor who produced staffs of office, stools, decorated doors and religious images. His mother, Chinyelugo Iyom Nweze was a successful cloth merchant.

1921

Upon his father's death in 1921, Enwonwu inherited his tools, going on to perfect the art of carving in the style of indigenous Igbo sculpture, begun earlier with his father, who first nurtured his precocious talent.

19261934

1926―1928: Attends St. Joseph's Elementary School, Onitsha
1928―1929: Attends St. Theresa's Elementary School, Umuahia
1929―1930: Attends St. Mary's Primary School, Port Harcourt
1930 ―1931: Attends Holy Trinity Primary School and St. Mary's Primary School, both in Onitsha

1934

Attends St. Patrick's School, Ibusa and later Government College, Ibadan under Kenneth C. Murray, education officer in charge of art education in the colonial civil service and later director of antiquities.

Leaves with Kenneth Murray for Government College, Umuahia where he spends the next five years.

1937

Kenneth Murray exhibits the works of his students at Zwemmer Gallery, London from  July 6 – August 7. Among his students is Ben Enwonwu, recognised as the most gifted and technically proficient. The exhibition is a great success.

1938

Enwonwu's works were shown at the Glasgow Empire exhibition.

1939

Awarded prize money and a bronze medal for his work now in the art collection of the International Business Machines Corporation in San Francisco.

Teaches art at Government College, Umuahia and missionary schools in the Calabar Province including College of the Holy Child Jesus, Ifuhot in Ikot-Ekpene.

19411944

Teaches at Edo College, Benin City.

He takes up apprenticeship with the guild of Benin bronze casters. This period has a profound influence on his practice.

1943

Holds exhibition of paintings and wood carvings from December 31, 1943 to January 15, 1944.

1944

Meets Mr H. L. Harford, director of Shell Company of West Africa. Harford is instrumental to Enwonwu's joint scholarship from Shell and the British Council to study art in the United Kingdom.

1944

Enrolls for remedial classes at Goldsmiths College, London and later Slade School of Art, University College, London.

1945

The Slade is evacuated to Ruskin College, Oxford University.

1946

Participates in the International Exhibition of Modern Art, Musee d' Art Moderne' Paris, on the invitation of Sir Julian Huxley, director-general of UNESCO.

1947

Enwonwu graduates with a Slade Diploma in fine art and first class honours in sculpture.

Enwonwu holds the first in a series of exhibitions at Berkeley Galleries, London which firmly establishes him internationally as a modern African artist. The exhibition was opened by Lord Listowell.

Enrolls at the University College, London for postgraduate studies in anthropology.

1948

Graduates and is made a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.

Elected into the Royal Society of British Artists. Made a member of Hampstead Arts and Artists International.

1949

Enwonwu holds show at the Exhibition Centre, Lagos in December.

He begins famous series, 'Africa Dances' and paintings of agbogho mmuo, the Onitsha masquerade pantheon.

1950

April: Enwonwu holds exhibition at Berkeley Galleries, London.

Holds a series of shows in New York, Boston and in Washington DC at Howard University as part of a teaching and touring exhibition.

July 13―Aug 14, Enwonwu holds major exhibition at Gallery Apollinaire in Milan.

He joins Presence African Cultural Organization and remains a member till 1966.

1954

Enwonwu is made a Member of the most distinguished Order of the British Empire. He is the youngest holder of that honour in the Commonwealth.

Commissioned to produce a sculpture for the University of Ibadan's new Chapel of Resurrection. The finished sculpture, The Risen Christ, is carved from a single block of iroko and is arguably Enwonwu's finest sculpture in wood.

1955

Enwonwu is commissioned by the Nigeria Federal Government to produce a sculpture that would symbolise the spirit of a new Nigerian nation for the new National Museum at Lagos. The resulting sculpture, Anyanwu is one of his most successful and visible works.

1956

Holds a series of exhibitions organised by Howard University in consultation with the Harmon Foundation.

April: Fisk University Nashville, Tennesse

May: New York Public Library

June: Shomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

1957

In preparation for the visit of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth ll to Nigeria, Enwonwu is commissioned to sculpt her bronze portrait. He was the first African to receive such an honour. The sittings began at Buckingham Palace and the resulting full-length sculpture was shown at the Royal Society of British Artists’ (RBA) exhibition that year.

Receives the Bennett Prize awarded by the Royal Society of British Artists every three years to encourage arts, manufacturing and commerce in the British Commonwealth.

1958

Awarded a Commonwealth Certificate for contributions to art by the Royal Institute of Art, Commerce and Agriculture in London.

1959

Appointed a supervisor in the Information Service Department office in Nigeria, a position he held till 1968.

1961

Receives a major commission by any African artist in England. The commission is for seven figures in wood for the Daily Mirror.

A copy of Anyanwu was presented by the Federal Government to the United Nations in 1961 in promotion of world peace.

1964

Executes famous public sculpture of Sango, the Yoruba god of lightning and thunder for the National Electricity Board headquarters (now Power Holding Company of Nigeria ) in Lagos.

1966

Made a Fellow, University of Lagos from 1966―1968.

Leads the Nigerian contingent to the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal.

1968

Resigned as art supervisor and appointed that same year as cultural advisor to the Federal Nigerian Government, a position he held till 1971.

1969

Awarded an honourary doctorate degree by the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

1971

Appointed first professor of fine art in Nigeria, by the University of Ile-Ife ( now Obafemi Awolowo University).

Became a visiting artist to the Institute of African Studies at Howard University, Washington DC.

1971

Awarded one of the highest honours in Senegal; Officer of the National Order of the Republic.

1973

Paints famous portrait of Tutu an Ile-Ife princess.

1975

Retires as professor of art at the University of IIe-Ife.

1976

Enwonwu is inducted into the prestigious Agbalanze society of Onitsha, and is formally confered with the same title―Odigwe that his father adopted several decades earlier. The ritual of this Ozo induction ceremony is a profound spiritual experience for the artist.

1977

Enwonwu is appointed art consultant in the International Secretariat, Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture.

1978

Enwonwu completes work on the The Drummer for The Nigerian Telecommunications headquarters (NITEL) in Lagos.

1980

Enwonwu is awarded the Nigerian National Order of Merit for contributions to art.

1980

Made a Fellow of the Asele Institute in Imo.

1985

October 5―11: Major retrospective exhibition organised by the Royal Society of British Artists at the Mall Galleries, London.

1987

Ike Francis, Enwonwu's elder brother dies and he becomes the ritual and titular head (okpala) of the Enwonwu patrilineage. His primary roles to perform the necessary rituals to sustain a connection between the lineage and the ancestors.

Enwonwu restages the 1985 retrospective for his Nigerian audience at the home of the British High Commissioner to Nigeria ,Sir Martin Ewans in Lagos.

1990

Last major retrospective exhibition held in Lagos at the National Museum.

1994

Feb 5, Enwonwu dies in his sleep at his Ikoyi, Lagos home.