Africa — beautiful and creatively gifted – is the origin of the world’s most revered artifacts. Sadly a large number of these relics are the prized collections of European museums and households.
It is no secret that most of these artifacts were obtained via unscrupulous means. Nonetheless it is a big relief that some historical works thought to be lost forever have begun resurfacing, however, in the hands of westerners.
Tutu, a painting by the late Nigerian modern art maestro, Ben Enwonwu, believed to be have been lost for good was found in north London, in February 2018.
The painting which is one of three versions of the portrait of Adetutu Ademiluyi — a grand-daughter of a Yoruba traditional ruler — was exhibited at the just concluded ArtX Lagos fair, for the first time since it went missing forty years ago.
And, according to the organizers of the fair, Tutu was loaned to Access Bank simply for the three-day event.
Tutu is a symbol of Nigeria’s unity following the 1967-70 Biafran War that rocked the foundation of our nation’s birth, hence its importance to our history.
After its discovery in February, the painting was auctioned for 1.2 million pounds ($1.57 million) to an anonymous buyer, making it the most expensive art piece by a modern Nigeria artist.
“‘Tutu’ is referred to as the African ‘Mona Lisa’ by virtue of this disappearance and re-emergence, and it is the first work of a modern Nigerian artist to sell for over a million pounds.”
— Tokini Peterside, ArtXLagos founder.
Out of the three versions of the portraits made by Enwonwu, only two have known whereabouts — Tutu, and another in a private collection in Lagos.
Giles Peppiatt, an expert in modern and contemporary African art at the London auction house Bonhams, and the man who identified Tutu, is currently tracking down the third painting in Washington D.C.