Rare Work By The African Artist Clara Etso Ugbodaga-Ngu Comes To Bonhams

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London – No work by Clara Etso Ugbodaga-Ngu (1921-96), the legendary female Nigerian artist has ever appeared at auction. A recently discovered rare artwork is to be offered in the Modern & Contemporary African Art sale on 9 March at Bonhams New Bond StreetDancers, which depicts two figures intertwined in a complex architectural composition, is an exceptional example of Ugbodaga-Ngu’s unique blending of Nigerian motifs with a semi-abstract style. The geometric elements of the composition create a lively sense of movement that, along with the painting’s vivid palette, present an individual confidence and purpose in the moment following Nigerian independence. It is estimated at £20,000-30,000.

Clara Etso Ugbodaga-Ngu was born in Kano in 1921, and first taught art in mission schools before receiving a scholarship from the colonial administration to study art at Chelsea School of Art in London. Teaching with the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria (NCAST), she was the first Nigerian and female teacher in the department and taught the students who went on to form the Zaria Art Society, popularly described as the ‘Zaria rebels’, who rejected European modes of art production to develop a unique hybrid art-making practice. Described by Nigeria Magazine as ‘doyenne of the artists, a painter and sculptor’, Ugbodaga-Ngu taught many leading Nigerian contemporary artists before she herself went on to become a pioneer of Nigerian modernism, playing a substantial role in the structural advancement of the Nigerian art scene in the postcolonial period following independence in 1960. In 1958 Ugbodaga-Ngu held a solo exhibition at the Commonwealth Institute Art Gallery, London – the first art exhibition by a Nigerian female artist in the UK – and recent academic exploration into globalised historical perspectives has reaffirmed the political agency of her works and determined elevation of Nigerian modes.

Giles Peppiatt, Bonhams Director of Contemporary African Art, commented:

“This is an extraordinary discovery! Ugbodaga-Ngu’s paintings are so rare that I never expected to offer one in my career. Her influence on contemporary Nigerian art is an outstanding legacy for a woman who came up against the oppression of colonial power which sought to restrict Nigerian artistry, not to mention the overwhelming dominance of male artists in the field, meaning that her works were comparatively obscured during her lifetime. Her defiant elevation of the developing Nigerian style is especially so in Dancers, andwe anticipate much interest from those who appreciate the political and stylistic boldness of Ugbodaga-Ngu’s character as an artist.”

Jareh Das, writing for Bonhams Magazine, said: “Ugbodaga-Ngu made an indelible mark on the cultural landscape of her country […] As an individual whose career spanned the pre- and post-colonial periods in Nigeria, Ugbodaga-Ngu’s perspective was unique, and her work grapples with the paradoxes generated by contact with Western aesthetic ideas to express a vividly Nigerian form of visual experimentation.”

Other highlights of the sale include:

  • Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E (Nigerian, 1917-1994), Ogolo in Motion. Estimate: £200,000-300,000
  • Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu M.B.E (Nigerian, 1917-1994), My Mama at 80. Estimate: £200,000-300,000
  • Gerard Sekoto (South African, 1913-1993), Three figures with bicycle. Estimate: £100,000-150,000
  • Vladimir Griegorovich Tretchikoff (South African, 1913-2006), Resurrection. Estimate: £80,000-120,000
  • Yusuf Adebayo Cameron Grillo (Nigerian, 1934-2021), The Dancing Bride. Estimate: £80,000-120,000
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