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The Pioneers (Pre-Independence)

The development of art in Nigeria can be linked to the colonial influence of the Western expatriates /missionaries on their colonized subjects, however, it must be stressed that the West did not introduce art to Nigeria; art existed in Nigeria before the dawn of the Europeans.

Still, much of Contemporary Nigerian art has its roots in techniques and forms taught by the colonials. Pre-colonial art in Nigeria was considered by some as paganism and the minds of the new subjects were disabused from this form of natural, rich and indigenous expressions.

Contemporary Nigerian art arguably seeded from Aina Onabolu approximately about a century ago. Onabolu started out as a self-taught artist, who later enrolled for formal art training in England. He favored realism to enlighten his colonial teachers and alter the general idea that Africans were incapable of the art of figure drawing /painting.

Through a fated combination of his perception and training, coupled with those of Kenneth Murray’s -an expatriate art teacher who encouraged indigenous expression of art forms and styles- and many others who organized formal and informal workshops at that time, a rounded curriculum was inadvertently achieved in Nigeria, spawning the genius of the likes of Enwonwu, Lasekan, Osawe, etc. who all acted as models to others artists who followed.


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