Located in the former home of Professor Ben Enwonwu, one of Nigeria’s most celebrated artists, Omenka Gallery also houses an extensive collection of the artist’s work. Keeping it in the family, the gallery was founded and run by Enwonwu’s son, Oliver, to fullfill his father’s legacy of promoting and appreciating contemporary African Art. Here he tells us what you need to know about the gallery’s contribution to the African art scene.
Q: Tell us the story of Omenka Gallery… How it began and what the motivation was?
A: I come from a family of artists. My grandfather Odigwe Emeka Enwonwu was a member of the prestigious Agbalanze Society of Onitsha and a traditional sculptor of repute who carved ceremonial stools, staffs of office and religious images. He was well known by the honorific Omenka, a name given to very gifted and creative individuals. Omenka died when my father Ben Enwonwu, celebrated as one of Africa’s pioneer modernist artists was about 4 years old. Nevertheless, they shared a close relationship, and the younger Enwonwu learned the rudiments of carving from him. In his honour, my father decided to establish a gallery named after him. Unfortunately, he was unable to achieve this before he died in February of 1994. In 2003, in fulfilment of his dream, I established the Omenka Gallery to increase the visibility and appreciation of contemporary African art.
Q: What would you say has been the gallery’s biggest contribution to the Nigerian and West African art scene?
A: Omenka is one of the first galleries in Nigeria and West Africa to ensure a sustainable presence for Nigerian and African artists within a broader global context. Since 2010, Omenka has participated in major international fairs like the The Armory Show, New York, Art Dubai, UAE, FNB Joburg Art Fair, Investec Cape Town Art Fair, Docks Art Fair, Lyon, LOOP, Barcelona, Cologne Paper Art, Art14, and 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, both in London. Additionally, Omenka encourages cross-fertilisation of ideas by collaborating with leading galleries across the world to bring the work of many international artists often for the first time.
Omenka has also contributed to the African art scene through a growing stable of exquisite catalogues with informed, scholarly texts to accompany its schedule of solo, group and large themed exhibitions, through which it stimulates critical thought and discourse centred on contemporary art development in Nigeria, as well as Africa and its diaspora. It’s quarterly Omenka, Africa’s premium art, business and luxury-lifestyle magazine aims to position Africa as the hub of an increasingly globalised world by stimulating interest in art from the continent as an asset class while cultivating taste and defining emerging trends in contemporary visual culture.
Q: In your opinion, who are some of Nigeria’s current artists to watch and why? Will any of them be showing at ICTAF 2019?
A: Nigeria has a plethora of rich talent working in a broad diversity of styles and media. Through their work, they document our rich history and celebrate the continent. They include artists like Ima Mfon, Williams Chetchet, Ebenezer Akinola, Abass Kelani, Nengi Omuku, Ndidi Emefiele, Taiye Idahor, Uche James-Iroha and Ayo Akinwande. Omenka Gallery is proud to present the work of like Ebenezer Akinola, Ima Mfon and Williams Chetchet at this year’s edition of the Investec Cape Town Art Fair.
Image Credit: Ima Mfon, Nigerian Identity series (2017), inkjet print, 100 x 100cm. Courtesy of the artist and Omenka Gallery