An Ebira Woman’s Portrait Fetches ₦370,495,000 at Auction
In a remarkable auction event at Sotheby’s in 2020, a painting by Nigerian master Ben Enwonwu sold for $250,000, which, when converted to Nigerian Naira, amounts to ₦370,495,000. The artwork, titled “Sefi,” carries an intriguing story believed to be linked to the Ebira people of central Kogi State.
Created in 1953, “Sefi” portrays a woman who was previously known simply as the “Nigerian princess.” However, upon closer examination by Sotheby’s specialists, intricate details emerged, leading them to speculate that the sitter could be Princess Judith Safinet ‘Sefi’ Atta. Notably, the sitter’s blouse is crafted from the Okene cloth produced by the Ebira women of Sefi’s hometown.
Hannah O’Leary, an expert at Sotheby’s, reached out to artist Obi Okigbo, the daughter of the princess, who confirmed her mother’s acquaintance with Enwonwu. Okigbo expressed her astonishment at the striking resemblance between herself and the sitter in the painting.
“Sefi” made its auction debut on March 25, 2020, as part of the Modern and Contemporary African Art auction, with an estimated value of $250,000 to $375,000. Prior to the auction, the portrait had been held in the family collection of a prominent West African academic and writer.
The discovery of the painting and its connection to Princess Sefi not only adds to the legacy of Ben Enwonwu but also unveils a poignant narrative about Sefi herself. She emerges as a significant figure in advocating for women’s education rights in Nigeria and beyond.
The portrait ultimately fetched ₦370,495,000 marking a momentous occasion in the art world and affirming the enduring value of Nigerian cultural heritage.