By Nii B. Andrews.
Marianne Inness, a Nigerian actress was a very close friend of Ben Enwonwu; they were neighbors during the 1960s in Camden.
The political and literary magazine, Présence Africaine’ was founded in 1947, as a vital forum for discourses on de-colonisation, the potential for political union, and the need for ‘Black consciousness’.
Enwonwu was requested by Leopold Senghor to provide a visual representation of the concept of Negritude for the magazine.
It is likely that Enwonwu executed the request after 1971 when he had returned to Nigeria and was professor of Fine Arts at the University of Ife.
The genre chosen by Enwonwu was a portrait with a background of a forest. On weekends, he would frequently drive around the surrounding area, making sketches of the landscape and local villages.
One of his paintings depicting the Ife landscape is shown below.
The portrait was that of his dear friend and Camden neighbor, Marianne.
She is presented in a striking, confident pose and wearing a multicolored hand woven textile that references the Kente cloth.
She utilises the same cloth as a headband; has large hooped earrings, possibly a cowrie shell necklace and stunning naturalistic makeup.
The Black Consciousness/ Black Power movement in the US had adopted the same clothing aesthetic.
‘Marianne Inness: Présence Africaine’ is the full title of the painting.
It is being offered at Bonhams’ Modern & Contemporary African Art sale in London – and by live link in Lagos – on Thursday 3 October with a presale estimate of USD 180 000 – 250,000.
The subject of the portrait, Marianne Inness disappeared from public records when she moved away from Camden.
Neil Coventry, Bonhams Nigeria representative says that her whereabouts are still a mystery: “It would be wonderful if someone recognised her, and we could reconnect her with the portrait after all these years.”