BEN OSAWE (1931-2007)
signed and dated 'OSAWE 1974' (lower left)
ink on paper
3858 x 2078in. (98 x 53cm.)
Executed in 1974
Nimbus Gallery, Lagos.
Donated by a Private Collector to MOWAA, Nigeria.
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Lot Essay

‘Expression is the result of the action of the mind travelling indirectly through the brush or pencil. So direct and spontaneous is the connection between the concept in the artists mind and his hand that a drawing reveals more of his personality than a so-called finished work.’


Christie’s and the Museum of West African Art (MOWAA) in Nigeria are collaborating to raise funds for MOWAA and its initiatives to create a cultural ecosystem in Benin City, based on the art of the past, present and future. A number of artists have generously agreed to donate original works of art to the auction, including Yinka Shonibare, Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, Lakwena Maciver and Victor Ehikhamenor. Proceeds from the sale of the works will go towards MOWAA initiatives including the presentation of the Nigeria Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia, 2024—commissioned by the Governor of Edo State and also curated by Aindrea Emelife—and the 20-acre Creative Campus, including the Rainforest Gallery. Designed by the Dakar-based architecture firm Worofila, the Rainforest Gallery will be dedicated to showcasing Modern and Contemporary art, as well as historic exhibitions.

Born in Agbor, Nigeria in 1931, Ben Osawe reached the zenith of his career as a key member of the post-independence generation of Nigerian artists. Known for his figural and organic sculptures in bronze and hardwood, Osawe was introduced to art by his father who was a sculptor in the court of Oba Eweka II of the Benin Kingdom. His earliest memory was of modelling in mud on the banks of the Niger River as a small child. Osawe went on to develop a distinctive sculptural style. His lithe, delicate subjects bear angular features which carve shadows and highlights across their surfaces, exuding a sense of splendour and regal distinction. These sculptural principles extend to Osawe’s works on paper, which use bold lines amidst washes of light colour to create striking tonal contrasts. His graphic style reflected his education at the Camberwell School of Art in London, where he studied in his twenties. He returned to Nigeria in 1966 and settled in Lagos, before relocating to Benin City ten years later. Despite the influence of European modernism on his work—notably the formal techniques associated with Cubism—his subjects and motifs consistently celebrated his local environment: native birds, representations of African women, and traditional masks.

Osawe’s works have been exhibited globally since the 1960s, and he continued his creative activity until his death in 2007. Significantly, in 1965 he was selected to represent Nigeria as one of five Commonwealth artists in the Commonwealth Exhibition in Glasgow. His sculptures today reside in institutions including the National Gallery of Modern Art in Lagos, and in the cultural department of the Nigerian Ministry of Information. With their dynamism, power and gravitas, Osuwe’s works stand among the finest examples of Nigerian modernist art.

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