Works by Bruce Onobrakpeya offer a radiant welcome.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Nigeria’s ko Gallery is debuting at Abu Dhabi Art (Nov. 16 – 20), Manarat Al Saadiyat, presenting artists Bruce Onobrakpeya and Ngozi-Omeje Ezema. ko is participating in the Special Projects Section of the Fair: a curated segment for galleries dedicated to solo and dual artist presentations. Onobrakpeya (b. 1932, Nigeria) has been integral in developing the modern tradition of Nigerian art through a reinvigoration of indigenous iconographies.
Throughout his career spanning over fifty years, he has cemented himself as one of Nigeria’s most celebrated contemporary artists. As a member of the Zaria Arts Society at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science, and Technology in the 1960s, popularly known as the “Zaria Rebels,” Onobrakpeya combined his training in the Western-representational style with a focus on Nigeria’s artistic traditions.
Experimenting with diverse mediums including printmaking, painting, sculpture, and installation, his works reference history, myths, cosmology, and pattern. His unconventional processes have sparked new art techniques in printmaking and relief sculpture, notably in his work with additive plastography.
The presentation at Abu Dhabi Art includes limited edition prints of murals Onobrakpeya composed for the Arts and Crafts Pavilion at the Nigerian Independence Trade Fair in 1960. The works demonstrate his unflagging attention to the ways in which narrative, symbols and allegory activate the social, spiritual, and political life of a people. They also act as historic documents that capture the living repositories of beliefs and practices that comprise the archive of lost and increasingly endangered indigenous knowledge.
His career began during his studies at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science, and Technology in Zaria in the 1960s as a member of the Zaria Arts Society alongside other pioneering figures like Yusuf Grillo, Demas Nwoko, and Uche Okeke. He has participated in artist residencies and professorships both in Nigeria and abroad and has exhibited in major international arts institutions, including the Tate Modern (UK), the National Museum of African Art of the Smithsonian Institution (USA), and the Malmo Konsthall in Malmo (Sweden).
His honours include the British Council Award (1969), Pope Paul VI Gold Medal (1977), Fulbright-Hays Award (1979), Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Ibadan (1989), the Bendel Merit Award (1990), the Delta State Merit Award for excellence in Arts (1995), the 5th Triennial India Silver Medal (1982); the Asele Institute Certificate of Honour (1985); the Solidra Circle Award (1985) and Member of the Federal Republic, MFR, (2002). Ezema (b. 1979, Nigeria) is a ceramic artist who creates immersive installations with suspended fragments of terracotta.
Her work often forms the shape of animals and objects that take on metaphorical connotations and symbolic meanings. The form of the vessel and the leaf are prominent motifs in her sculptures, bringing into focus environments, concepts and materials in transition, altered continually by ecological processes as well as human action. Ezema uses transparent nylon thread to hang ceramic pieces that collectively hang together as a whole.
As suspended installations, they suggest the interplay between stillness and movement, fragmentation and collectivity. Taking her personal experiences as a point of departure, her work addresses issues relating to identity, family and the female body. She received her BA in Fine and Applied Arts from the University of Nigeria, Nssuka, and an MFA in ceramics from the same institution. She currently serves as a lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where she teaches ceramics.
Her first solo exhibition, Connecting Deep, was held at Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) Lagos in 2018. She also participated in the First International Biennale in Central China and Le Pinceau De L’Integration in Senegal during the Dakar Biennale in 2016. She was commissioned for a special project installation at Art X Lagos in 2016. In 2019, she won the High Excellence Award at the Cheongju International Craft Biennale in South Korea.
Her work has also been a part of exhibitions at the Dakar Biennial, the Biennale of Sculpture Ouagadougou, the Korea International Ceramics Biennale, and the 60th Contemporary Ceramic Biennale – Premio Faenza, Italy. ko is an art gallery based in Lagos, Nigeria, that is dedicated to promoting modern and contemporary art. It has a dual focus in championing Nigeria’s leading artists from the modern period and celebrating emerging and established contemporary artists across Africa and the Diaspora.
The gallery was launched by Kavita Chellaram, an art collector and founder of Arthouse Contemporary in Lagos. Chellaram has been a major force in developing the modern and contemporary art market in Nigeria and her exhibitions and projects over the years have contributed to the global recognition of numerous modern African masters. In 2015, she founded the Arthouse Foundation, a non-profit artist residency programme in Lagos which has organised over thirty artist residencies.
“Throughout my career,” she says, “I have had the honour of developing projects with numerous modern African masters, including Ben Enwonwu, Yusuf Grillo, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Demas Nwoko, Uche Okeke, Simon Okeke, Emmanuel Odita and Oseloka Osadebe, among many others. “After producing the retrospective exhibition, Zaria Art Society: Celebration of Legacies in 2019, I realised the need to form a gallery that would promote these important art masters.
I have also had the privilege of working with many of Nigeria’s most celebrated contemporary artists, including Peju Alatise, Nnenna Okore, Sokari Douglas Camp, George Osodi, Eva Obodo and Diseye Tantua. I have also been able to develop relationships with several emerging artists over the years through our artist residency programme.”
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