This essay focuses on the work of the Art Society—a group formed by art students at the Nigerian College of Art, Science, and Technology, Zaria (1957–61)—and suggests that the work of its key members in the 1960s was the first significant manifestation of postcolonial modernism in Nigeria. Postcolonial modernism, the essay argues, refers to a set of formal and critical attitudes adopted by African and black artists at the dawn of political independence as a countermeasure against the threat of loss of self in the maelstrom unleashed by Western cultural imperialism and its aftermath. In defining their relationship with European and African artistic heritages, the Art Society and other postcolonial artists emphasized the importance of local and indigenous artistic resources in the making of their decidedly modernist work. The essay details the convening of the postcolonial literary and artistic avant-garde at the Mbari Artists and Writers Club, Ibadan, Nigeria, in the early 1960s and claims that their modernism was directly linked to the practice and rhetoric of political and cultural decolonization and sovereignty. Further, the essay argues that in recognizing and advocating the equal validity of the plastic and conceptual potential of indigenous African, non-Western, and European artistic traditions in the construction of the modern, the Art Society and its contemporaries testified to modernism's transnational and multicultural foundations. It suggests that the exploration of the historical implications of the encounter with multiple, sometimes contradictory logics of politics, art, and culture involves what the author describes as compound consciousness—the willful incorporation and critical resolution of the alienation and fragmented subjectivity produced by the colonial experience.

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