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#36 Lame Beggar
by Hezbon Owiti

1966. Oil on canvas.

"The career of Hezbon Owiti (...) is full of promise.", wrote Ulli Beier in 1968. Owiti was born in Central Nyanza / Kenya in 1946. He worked at the University of Ibadan, received a scholarship from the Fairfield Foundation, New York / USA in 1965 and was a resident of Sussex University / England in 1968. Owiti is an autodidact,
who taught  himself artistic work with watercolour, pencil and clay. Like many others, the young Owiti could not live from his art. When he worked in Nairobi as a caretaker at the Chemichemi Cultural Center, he was discovered by
Es'kia Mphalele. 
Mphalele was a South African writer living in Nigerian exile, who founded, together with Ulli Beier, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and others, the first Mbari Club in Ibadan. Mphalele obtained a  Fairfield scholarship for Owiti that enabled him to travel to Nigeria. During his time in Oshogbo he produced prints and oil paintings, including the 1966 dated Lame Beggar. The atmosphere of the workshops and the other artists inspired Owiti, so he made oil paintings in vivid colors similar to those of others participants. His first exhibition ran in 1965 in the legendary Mbari Mbayo Gallery in Lagos, Nigeria. 
The Lame Beggar is a high-format oil painting of the colors orange, red and blue. The yellowish frame surrounding the canvas seems as if he is slowly squeezing the beggar from head to toe. The man, who is supported on armpits, clothed with shorts and a torn shirt, has his head placed on the right shoulder and looks at the viewer with slightly hanging eyelids. His left leg is amputated under his knee. His right leg, as well as his right arm, indicate open, inflamed wounds. Although his remaining appearance is miserable, the man does not distort. His mouth is closed in neutral facial expression, which gives his expression a sense of practicality.

Sarah Böllinger

2017


Literature

Agthe, Johanna: Wegzeichen – Kunst aus Ostafrika 1974 – 89. Frankfurt am Main: Museum für Völkerkunde. 

Beier, Ulli: Contemporary Art in Africa. London: Mall Press, 1968. Kennedy, Jean: Between the Natural and Supernatural, in: New currents, ancient rivers: contemporary African artists in a generation of change. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992. S. 143 – 154.

Okeke-Agulu, Chika: Art and Decolonization in twentieth-century Nigeria. Durham: Duke Press.