The Arts

Uzo Egonu Nigerian

Not on view

Uzo Egonu emigrated to England from Nigeria in 1945 to study art, joining a diaspora of artists from British colonies who worked in England in the decades following World War II. Although he only returned to his home country briefly in 1977, he kept abreast of the political changes and cultural developments taking place in Nigeria. In the mid-1960s, following extensive travels in Europe, where he encountered the work of modernist artists and collections of African art in museums across the region, Egonu actively sought to bring together traditional African aesthetics, specifically the Igbo traditions of his boyhood and his studies of Nok sculptures, with a European style. Over the coming decade, Egonu refined an approach that negotiated his inherited cultural traditions with his avowed position as a modernist artist.

The Arts dates to this mature phase of the artist’s career and dynamically visualizes the comingling of these distinct aesthetic modes of expression at monumental scale. On the left, a proscenium curtain is partially drawn to reveal a dense composition where pattern fields connect interlocking groups of figures that are depicted from various perspectives and engaged in art and music making. These vignettes, delineated with the distinctive lines that predominate in Igbo murals and sculpture, transform the familiar compositional trope of the Allegories of Art (MMA 07.225.298, MMA 13.69.3, MMA 13.133.20) so often found in the tradition of European arts and design. In his 1970 essay "On Myself and My Work" Egonu wrote, "My aim was to utilize the decorative symbols, which I was used to as a child in Igbo-land, to express myself and to communicate my thoughts to others."[1]

The Arts was included in the landmark exhibition "The Other Story: Afro-Asian Artists in Post-War Britain" at the Hayward Gallery, London in 1989, where it was exhibited alongside the work of Anwar Jalal Shemza and Frank Bowling, among others.

[1] Uzo Egonu, "About Myself and My Work," published in "Exhibition of Prints: Etchings, Screen Prints, Lithographs by Uzo Egonu," Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria, 1985, p. 3.

The Arts, Uzo Egonu (Nigerian, born Onitsha 1931–1996 London, England), Oil on canvas

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