Tutu, the African Mona Lisa?

Ben Enwonu_Tutu
‘Tutu’ by Ben Enwonu (Source: CNN, Bonhams)

Tutu is what people have recently termed the African Mona Lisa. It is the portrait of a Yoruba princess made by the renowned Nigerian painter Ben Enwonwu. The brainchild of Enwonu, who created it during the aftermath of Nigeria’s bloody civil war, “Tutu” is the painting of an Ile Ife princess Adetutu Ademiluyi (“Tutu”); it is said that he met her as he was driving . It had disappeared right after being painted in 1974, and resurfaced over 40 years later in a flat in London.  On March 1st 2018, it fetched $1.6M in auction and has been celebrated by Nigerians around the world. The London auction house initially predicted a price tag of between £200,000 and £300,000 ($275,000 to $413,000), less than a quarter of the final bid. It sold for $1.6 million (£1,205,000), and has been dubbed the “African Mona Lisa.” So good to know that the princess whose painting it is, is still alive in Nigeria today, so maybe Mona Lisa may not be the appropriate name after all.

Please check out The Ben Enwonwu Foundation, and these articles on CNN (Ben Enwonwu’s ‘Tutu’ painting sells for $1.6M), BBC (Ben Enwonwu’s Nigerian masterpiece ‘Tutu’ sold at auction), and The Guardian (‘African Mona Lisa’ fetches £1.2m at auction in London). The Nigerian Booker prize-winning novelist Ben Okri said last month that “He [Ben Enwonu] wasn’t just painting the girl, he was painting the whole tradition. It’s a symbol of hope and regeneration to Nigeria, it’s a symbol of the phoenix rising.”