Bruce Onobrakpeya, his full name Bruce Obomeyoma Onobrakpeya, is a Nigerian printmaker, painter and sculptor born on 30th August 1932. He was the illustration artist for perhaps one of the most famous books in African literature, No longer at ease (1958) by Chinua Achebe. Bruce Onobrakpeya is amongst the most successful artists to have emerged in West Africa during the 20th century, with continuing and commanding influence on the generation of artists in Nigeria, who have come to maturity in the post colonial period.
Onobrakpeya was admitted to the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology in October 1957 where he was trained in the Western tradition of representational art. It is around this period that he began to experiment with forms in relation to Nigerian folklore, myths and legends. Much of his work uses stylistic elements and compositions derived from traditional African sculpture and decorative arts.
On 9 October 1958, The Zaria Arts Society, later called the Zaria Rebels was formed by a group of art students at the college led by Uche Okeke. The aim of this movement was to “decolonize” the visual arts as taught by expatriate Europeans. Onobrakpeya has said that the college gave him technical skills but the Zaria Arts Society, a discussion group, shaped his perspectives as a professional artist. The society gave him the confidence to seek a personal expressive idiom. He elongated his figures, ignored perspective and evoked the supernatural through ambiguous decorations.
Selected exhibitions Bruce Onobrakpeya
1959 First one-man exhibition, Ughelli, Delta State, Nigeria.
1960 Group show of contemporary Nigerian art in the Independence Exhibition, Lagos.
1962 Art From Africa, Phelps Stokes Fund, New York.
1965 Commonwealth Exhibition of Art, Cardiff and London.
1967 Biennale of Illustrations, Bratislava.
1967 Group show of nine Nigerian artists. Show toured London, Moscow and Warsaw.
1969 International Book Fair, Bologna
1970 St. Andrew’s School, Middletown, Delaware, Howard University, Washington, D.C.
1971 Commonwealth Art Gallery, London.
1972 Gallery, Watatu, Nairobi. Newark State College, Newark, New Jersey.
Art Society of the International Monetary Fund, Washington, D.C.
1973 Afro Centrum Gallery, Berlin.African Heritage Gallery, Nairobi.
February 1974 Contemporary African, National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C. Exhibition of contemporary developments in art of Africa. Exhibited alongside Ibrahim El Salahi, Skunder Boghossian, Twins Seven Seven, Valente Malangatana and others
1974 Contemporary African Festival, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, and Museum of Natural History, New York.
1975 Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, Washington, D.C. Sponsored by African-American Women’s Association.
1976 Gallery of Litterio Calapai, Glencoe, Illinois.
1977 The Best of Africa, Toronto. Saint Paul in Contemporary Art, Vatican Museum, Rome.
1978 Tenth one-man exhibition at the Goethe Institute, Lagos.
1979 One-man exhibition of prints in Amersfoort, the Netherlands. The show was arranged by Mrs. DeVries and sponsorship was by DHV of Lagos and Amersfoort. It was opened by Professor Ru Van Rossem of Tilburg University.
1980 One-man exhibition of prints (with emphasis on printing on metal foil) at the Best of Africa Gallery, Toronto, Canada.
1980 One-man exhibition in Glatt Centrum, Zurich, Switzerland. It was sponsored by CIBA-GEIGY and SGS.
1981–82 One-man exhibition of prints and paintings arranged by Galarie Glahe and opened by Nigerian Ambassador to Germany H.E. Mohammed Lawal Rafindadi, in Bonn, Germany.
1983 One-man exhibition of prints and painting titled Sabbatical Experiments 1978–1983, co-sponsored by Goethe Institute (German Cultural Institute) NIJ House, Victoria Island, Lagos, and the Society of Nigerian Artists (Lagos State Branch). The guest of honour at the opening was Susanne Wenger from Oshogbo.
1984 One-man exhibition titled Bruce Onobrakpeya: 25 Years of Creative Search, at the Foyer and Courtyard of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan.
1984 One-man show of plastograph, prints and plastocast relief paintings to mark the Netherlands/Belgium Week at Goethe Institute, Victoria Island, Lagos.
1988 Exhibition of Sahelian Masquerades, Italian Cultural Institute, Lagos
1989 The Sahelian Masquerade was shown in: Kew Garden London, Greenwich Citizen Gallery near London, and Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Washington State.
1990 Participation in group show African Contemporary Art – Changing Traditions, organised by studio Museum, Harlem, New York. Participated in the 44th Venice Biennale.
1990 Riegelsberger Gallery Mannheim, Germany. A show of recent art works sponsored by ABB (Asea Brown Boveri).
1990 Unity Through Arts, National Museum Onikan, Lagos sponsored by Guinness (Nigeria) Limited.
1991 Sahelian Masquerade, exhibition in National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Gibbes Museum of Art Charleston, South Carolina, USA, College of Charleston, South Carolina, USA, African American Gallery Charleston, South Carolinas, USA
1992 Bruce Onobrakpeya: A Retrospective. One of the events organised by Society of Nigerian Artists to mark the artist’s 60th birthday at the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos.
1993 The Spirit in Ascent accompanied with a 270-page monograph, a press conference and a symposium were sponsored by The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited and launched by Chief Philip Asiodu, Hon. Secretary of Petroleum and National Resources at the NIIA Victoria Island, Lagos. The Society of Nigerian Artists was a co-organizer of the events.
1994 Inaugural Group Show at the Pushkin Art and Antique Gallery Victoria Island, Lagos
1995 Seven Stories About Modern Art in Africa – Whitechapel Art Gallery, London. One of the events of Britain’s global showcase Africa ’95.
1996 Seven Stories About Modern Art in Africa – Malmo Konsthall, Malmo, Sweden. Ivorex Engravings including the Shrine II entered for the Seven Stories About Modern Art exhibited in London and Malmo.
1996 Onobrakpeya at Singletary Gallery & African Art Museum; Portsmouth, Virginia, USA. The exhibition opening was accompanied by the presentation of a paper by Onobrakpeya’s son titled “Footprints of the Tiger”
1998 Wise Art Gallery, Norfolk State University, USA
1998 “Ovuomaroro” at Elizabeth City State University, North Carolina, USA
1998 Christine Gerlach Show, German Community, Abuja, Nigeria.
1999 Exhibition of prints and paintings Alliance Francaise, Ikoyi, Lagos. Promoter of Nigerian Art-Goethe Institute, Victoria Island, Lagos. Christine Gerlach Show, German Community, Abuja, Nigeria.
1999 Amos Tutuola Show – Folklore-inspired art in honour of the novelist – Aina Onabolu House, National Gallery of Art, National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos.
2000 Exhibition of paintings, prints sculptures, installations etc. by Otu-Ewena Artists, Aina Onabolu, Building National Theatre Complex, Iganmu, Lagos.
2000 Onobrakpeya at the Armstrong/Slater Gallery, Virginia, USA
2001 Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis – Tate Modern Gallery London.
2001 Bruce Onobrakpeya at Singletary Gallery & African Art Museum; Portsmouth, Virginia, USA
2001 Two Identities: Printmakers Bruce Onobrakpeya and Mitzi Humphrey at Visual Arts Center, TCC at Olde Towne, Portsmouth, Virginia.
2002 Exhibition of paintings, sculpture, mixed-media prints, ceramics and installations by Otu-Ewena Artists International, Aina Onabolu, Building National Theatre Complex, Iganmu. Exhibition was in honour of Onobrakpeya at 70.
2002 Bruce Onobrakpeya: Window Into his Art: Retrospective Exhibition of selected works from various periods of his artistic career spanning 1957 to date, held at the National Gallery of Art, Aina Onabolu Building, National Theatre Complex, Iganmu, Lagos
2002 Exhibition: Rhythms of the Forge: A presentation of the fourth Harmattan Workshop Series (Agbarha Otor), at the French Cultural Center, Kingsway Road, Ikoyi, Lagos. The presentation comprised lectures demonstrations, seminar and exhibition of artworks selected from the Four Harmattan Workshops so far held i.e. 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2002.
2002 Exhibition: Jewels of the Crucible: This exhibition presented works produced at the 4th Harmattan Workshop, showcasing recent developments in jewellery bronze casting, wood carving and several other media. Works of the Otu Ewena Artists International were also shown at the Nimbus art Center, Maitama Sule Street, Ikoyi Lagos.
2002 Participated in Exhibition: Rhythms of Fulfilment organised by Akwa Ibom Chapter of the Society of Nigerian Artists. Exhibition was in honour of Onobrakpeya at 70 and was opened by Governor Victor Obong Attah of Akwa Ibom State and featured the works of over 30 artists.
2002 Ways of the Rivers: Arts and Environment of the Niger Delta: Showed Installation Akporode at UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. Exhibition expected to tour various cities in the US.
2003 Celebrate Exhibition: Abuja, Nigeria: As major contributor to the CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) Exhibition organised by lead artist Chinwe Chukwuogo-Roy MBE and John Sheeran.
2004 Onobrakpeya at Singletary Gallery & African Art Museum; Portsmouth, Virginia, USA
2004 The Harvest of the Harmattan Retreat. Exhibition organised in collaboration with the Pan African University, Lagos.
2004–06 Where Gods and Mortals Meet: Continuity and Renewal in Urhobo Art, New York, Columbia, S.C. and Washington D.C., USA
May 2004 Art and Democracy, a group exhibition mounted during 5th anniversary of Democracy in Nigeria; held at Nelrose Hotel, Asaba, Delta State.
2006 Jewels of Nomadic Images, held at Quintessence Gallery, Falomo, Ikoyi, Lagos.
2008 Auction / Exhibition organised by Arthouse Contemporary Limited, at Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos.
2008 October Rain. Society of Nigerian Artists (S.N.A) group exhibition – Held at the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos.
2008 Auction / Exhibition organised by Arthouse Contemporary Limited, at Civic Centre,Victoria Island, Lagos.
2008 Art Expo, organised by Art Gallery Association of Nigeria (AGAN) in conjunction with National Gallery of Art (NGA), held at the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos.
March 2010 Africa Now. Auction/ Exhibition at Bonhams, Manhattan, New York CityA.
2010 Retrospective exhibition of Bruce Onobrakpeya titled The Legacy at the Grillo Pavilion in Ikorodu, Lagos Nigeria.
2010, ‘Evolving Currents”, Art exhibition in celebration of 50 years of Nigerian visual arts in honour of 50 years of Independence. Exhibition was organised by Iroko Art, Abuja, Nigeria.
November 2011, “Beyond Imagination” An Exhibition of Artworks by Nigerian Masters. (Artists exhibited include Ben Enwonwu, Twins Seven Seven, Muraino Oyelami, Erhabor Emokpai, Bruce Onobrakpeya and others) at the Thought Pyramid Exhibition Center, Abuja, Nigeria.
Public collections holding his work
University of Lagos Library, Akoka, Lagos
Catholic Chapel, University of Ife, Ile-Ife
St. Paul’s Church, Ebute-Metta, Lagos
National Gallery of Modern Art, National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos
St. John the Evangelist Church, Shogunle, Ikeja
Museum of African and African-American Art and Antiquities, Buffalo, New York
Eda Lord Demarest Memorial African Art Collection, University of Redlands
University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Vatican Museum, Rome
National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C
Hvittrask Suomi – Finland (Eliel Saarinen’s Studio Home and Exhibition)
Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja
Leader of Victory Museum, Baghdad, Iraq
Presidential Villa, Aso Rock, Abuja, Nigeria
National Gallery, Nairobi, Kenya
Victoria and Albert Museum London.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The British Museum.
King Mohammed VI Collection Morocco.
Tate Modern, London.
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