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SMO Contemporary Art presents ‘Politics of Representation’, an exhibition of paintings celebrating the award-winning artist and art advocate Oliver Enwonwu at the Alliance Française Gallery from 20 September to 10 October 2021.

Ebony, (from the Black and Proud series), 2020. Oil on canvas, 62.5 x 62.5cm. Courtesy of the artist & SMO Contemporary.Ebony from the Black and Proud series, 2020. Oil on canvas, 62.5 x 62.5cm. Courtesy of the artist & SMO Contemporary Art.

Through Enwonwu’s strong figurative style, ‘Politics of Representation’ interrogates the complex layers of history connecting the African continent with the West. His powerful portraiture celebrates the cultural, political, and socio-economic achievements of Africans and how these have affected the identity of the global black race. The exhibition contains works from Enwonwu’s ‘Black Victoria’, ‘Signares’, ‘Belle of Senegal’, and ‘Wanderers’ series, which explore the effects of migration, eventually “dissolving boundaries and our notions of time and space.”

“His works are odes to beauty, excellence and regality, reminding one of visual poetry in the style of a classical Shakespearean sonnet,” commented Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, the exhibition curator and Founder and Artistic Director of SMO Contemporary Art. “His brush strokes express stoic grace, poise and formality, at a time when figurative art in celebration of the Black body have formed a critical backbone of the global movements around Black identity, such as the recent Black Lives Matter generational cry of affirmation and power.”

From the Wanderer series, 2020, oil on canvas, 61 x 50.5cmFrom the Wanderer series, 2020. Oil on canvas, 61 x 50.5cm. Courtesy of the artist & SMO Contemporary Art.

“In adapting sixteenth century old Masters’ modes of representation and techniques, I explore how for example, the mixed heritage French-African women of the Island of Gorée in Senegal negotiated their identities during the 18th and 19th centuries“, explained Enwonwu, an artist and historian who is better known as an art advocate and the President of the Society of Nigerian Artists, the professional body for all practising visual artists in Nigeria. “I celebrate the African woman in form and rhythm through jewelry, adornment, and apparel, drawing on historic narratives of black female defiance against cultural and political imperialism.”

Some of the works in the exhibition are a homage to his late father’s masquerade series, highlighting the spirituality and rhythmic movement of the dance of the masquerade, a performance that transcends time and space to rest on a sensory level of liberation.

“In Oliver Enwonwu’s solo exhibition, one encounters a unique archive of portrait paintings inspired by queries of absence of African personages in the artistic milieus of 16th – 19th century Western art history,” stated Samuel Egwu Okoro, Art History Professor in the Department of Fine Art and Design at University of Port Harcourt.

Spirit in Flight, 2021. Oil on canvas, 147.2 x 145cm. Courtesy of the artist & SMO Contemporary.Spirit in Flight, 2021. Oil on canvas, 147.2 x 145cm. Courtesy of the artist & SMO Contemporary Art.

“Oliver finds ways to imbue his imaginary sitters with a sense of identity, allowing their distinctive features, clothing and compelling posture to give the otherwise unknown character a clear sensibility. Oliver’s vivid portraits, depicted in stylish, colourful attire, imbue his subjects with a strong sense of regality, autonomy and self-assertiveness,” commented Hannah O’Leary, Director/Head of Modern & Contemporary African Art, Sotheby’s.

Enwonwu holds a Master’s degree in visual arts with distinction from the University of Lagos, Nigeria and is currently working towards his PhD in African Art History at the University of Benin. He comes from a long line of remarkable artists, such as his grandfather, a reputable traditional sculptor, and his father Ben Enwonwu, widely known and celebrated as Africa’s most celebrated pioneer modernist. He has participated in over fifteen exhibitions, spoken about the global art market at global conferences, and has been featured in international media including the BBC, Arise TV, The Daily Times and Vanguard.

‘Politics of Representation’ is supported by Alliance Francaise and Louis Guntrum wines, and is open to the public from 20 September to 10 October 2021.

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