Chief Constance Afiong Ekong is the first female Nigerian artist to be academically trained abroad; the first to open a private gallery in Nigeria and the first female artist to hold a solo art exhibition in Nigeria.
Born to the royal family of Edidem Bassey Eyo Epharaim Adam III, the Obong of Calabar, Afiong started her primary education in 1936 at Duke Town School, Calabar, and continued at Christ Church School.
She got married to Abdul Azizi Atta, a district official in the colonial days, who was posted a lot in London, so, that influenced Affiong’s education at 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. She completed her studies in fine arts, applied arts and designs in England in 1957, and moved back to Nigeria.
A well-trained artist, equipped with the necessary theoretical background to her arts profession, Affiong held a solo exhibition at the Lagos Festival of Arts Exhibition Centre in 1958, making her the first Nigerian woman to do that.
In 1960, Affiong’s art was featured in an exhibition held at the United States Information Services office in Lagos as part of the independence celebration. She participated in many art exhibitions and even became the Art Manager to the National Council for Arts in Nigeria.
Through her weekly “Cultural Heritage” television programmes in the 1960s, she projected artists like Yusuf Grillo, Solomon Wangboje, Uche Okeke and Simon Okeke, Eraboh Emokpae, Lamidi Fakeye, Akeredolu, and others.
In 1965, Affiong opened The Bronze Gallery—the first and oldest private art gallery in Nigeria. The gallery has many branches in Lagos and is still in operation in Calabar.
Through her work, Affiong positively contributed to the development of modern Nigerian art and given intellectual support to the unheard creative voices of the women.
Affiong’s academic training helped to 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.
She contributed to the growth and development of modern Nigerian art, through her art exhibitions which drew the upper class of the Nigerian society. Her galleries also helped to promote art and artists, giving them visibility.
Affiong retired to her estate in Calabar, where she continued painting till her death in 2009 at 78 years old.