Nigeria has had a lot of fallen heroes ever since she was colonized by the British Empire 58 years ago. These people made names for themselves as well as they helped build and shape the country into what it is today.
One of those who gained recognition was Constance Afiong Ekong, the first Nigerian woman to open a private art gallery and hold a solo art exhibition in Nigeria. Late Ekong was also the first female Nigerian artist to be academically trained abroad.
Born to the royal family of Edidem Bassey Eyo Epharaim Adam III, who are popularly known as the Obong of Calabar, Ekong began her primary education in 1936 at Duke Town School and continued at Christ Church School.
According to Woman.ng, late Ekong got married to a district official in the colonial days, Abdul Azizi Atta. His post reportedly influenced Ekong’s education at the Technical College in Oxford where she studied fashion designs and painting.
She also attended Saint Martin School of Fine Arts and Central School of Arts Holborn where she studied history of costumes. In 1957, she completed her studies in fine arts, applied arts and designs in England and moved back to Nigeria.
Ekong who was now a well-trained artist, equipped with the necessary theoretical background to her arts profession, decided to hold a solo exhibition at the Lagos Festival of Arts Exhibition Centre in 1958. This exhibition made her the first Nigerian woman to do that.
In 1960, her art was featured in an exhibition held at the United States Information Services office in Lagos as part of the independence celebration. Late Ekong was said to have participated in many art exhibitions and even became the art manager to the National Council for Arts in Nigeria.
Through her weekly ‘Cultural Heritage’ TV programmes in the 1960s, she projected talented artists such as Yusuf Grillo, Solomon Wangboje, Uche Okeke and Simon Okeke, Eraboh Emokpae, Lamidi Fakeye, Akeredolu, to mention a few.
Five years after, the deceased opened The Bronze Gallery, the first and oldest private art gallery in Nigeria. The gallery has many branches in Lagos and is still fully in operation in Calabar. She positively contributed to the development of modern Nigerian art and given intellectual support to the unheard creative voices of women.
Also her academic training helped dismiss the general belief that art was not an academic or intellectual profession but meant for those of below average intelligence or those merely with talents.
However, Late Constance Affiong Ekong retired to her estate in Calabar, where she continued painting till her death in 2009 at 78 years old.
She will never be forgotten in the history of Nigeria!
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