One of Nigeria’s pioneer contemporary artists, Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya is celebrating six decades of artistry in a special commemorative solo exhibition titled, “Eni! You Can Always Tell Where the Elephant Has Passed.’’ The theme is folkloric, capturing the essence of the show which in itself is an account of a life of documented artistry. Curated by Sandra Mbanefo-Obiago, of SMO Contemporary Art, the show which began on April 27 at the Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi parades 36 rare prints, one of which dates back to 1959, when he had his first exhibition as a student at the Nigerian College of Arts Science and Technology, Zaria now known as the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He later obtained a Diploma in Fine Arts from the institution. The said prints in this exhibition form the highlights of the artist’s life and works while they chronicle Nigeria’s post-independence era.
Born in Delta State in 1932, Onobrakpeya was a member of the famous Zaria Art Society, a student group which sought to develop a new aesthetic language deeply rooted in African tradition and philosophy. Uche Okeke, Yusuf Grillo, Demas Nwoko, Oseloka Osadebe and other students were also part of this post-colonial independence movement. These legitimately ambitious young artists were later called the “Zaria Rebels” and quickly made their mark internationally with their strong visual philosophy.
“We were not rebelling against anything as such but thought that the idea of just using the western art technique without relating it to our culture wasn’t right,’’ remarked Onobrakpeya, who began to experiment with diverse media including painting, sculpture, prints, low relief foils, large scale installations and mixed media works created out of found objects.
Onobrakpeya is one of the most decorated visual artists in Nigeria. His works have been exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1990, the Tate Modern in London, the National Museum of African Art of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the Malmö Konsthall in Malmö, Sweden and the National Gallery of Modern Art, Lagos to name a few. He received the UNESCO Living Human Treasures Award in 2006.
“We are excited to be exhibiting Okpogho (The Hornbill), a print which dates back to Prof. Onobrakpeya’s first exhibition in Ughelli in 1959, alongside Chibok Girls, a recent print he created in 2017, as an homage to the kidnapped Nigerian school girls, as well as prints from his Niger Delta environmental protest series,” said the curator. “Prof Onobrakpeya is not just one of our finest artists, his works are also important historical documents which showcase Nigeria’s rich history and culture, alongside socio-political events of the past sixty years.
“We are extremely proud to host this internationally significant exhibition of Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya’s prints, “said Mosun Ogunbanjo, Director of the Wheatbaker. “It is important to us that both our international and local guests enjoy some of the best art Nigeria has to offer, as we confirm our commitment to using our platform to celebrate the best creativity of our master artists as well as emerging talent.”
The ENI exhibition is supported by Louis Guntrum Wines, and will run until the end of July, with a special reception and artist talk held during the month of June. Another important exhibition of Onobrakpeya’s installations and sculptures is currently being exhibited at Freedom Park in Lagos, with a third exhibition planned in Agbhara-Ottor in August, all to commemorate his prolific career.