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Demas Nwoko: Celebrating a multi-dimensional artist

Nigeria’s foremost artists, Demas Nwoko.
Nigeria’s foremost artists, Demas Nwoko.

Painter, sculptor and architect are some of the adjectives which qualify one of Nigeria’s foremost artists, Demas Nwoko. His works dating to the 1950s were on display recently along with a book presentation on him. It was an opportunity to pry into the creative world of the man many have only heard about.

I’ve learned the best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person.” Andy Rooney

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These words could be considered most apt for what many experienced recently, when the widely acclaimed artist, Demas Nwoko, was honoured by the National Gallery of Art (NGA), in Abuja.

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The event offered a glimpse into the works of Nwoko, one of Nigeria’s foremost artists and architects.

The art luminary, is renowned for his ability to successfully blend the intricacies of Fine Art in mediums including painting and sculpture as well as the technicalities of architecture and building. He has also seamlessly navigated the complexities of stage design, graceful dance movements, the essentials of music and the contending emotions in acting and directing.

On display, were works including ‘Nigeria’ (1959), ‘Papa’s Prof’ (1967), ‘Explosion Crisis,’ ‘Adam and Eve’ series, and photographs of some of his sculptural pieces like ‘Soldier go soldier come.’

The exhibition, which brought together artists, art lovers, critics, students including those mentored by the octogenarian, also featured a book presentation on the artist, titled, ‘Demas Nwoko: Pre-eminent artist, outstanding architect.’

The book is a historic documentation of Nwoko from birth, growing up and education to professional life.

As an architect, Nwoko has many commissions including the Oba Akenzua Cultural Centre building in Benin City and the Dominican Chapel, Ibadan. He is also known for building furniture.

Royal Father of the day and book presenter, His Majesty Igwe Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe, CFR, the Obi of Onitsha, said, being an art lover myself, he was familiar with Nwoko’s works.

Guests at the event
Guests at the event

Achebe who was represented by Chief Chuka Oboli, the Uboh Negbasele of Onitsha kingdom, added that, “They are exciting as one can always see the extra effort, he puts in each work no matter the media to ensure they blend with nature and showcase Africa’s rich culture. As a custodian of the culture of our people, that makes me really proud of him.”

Commending the new NGA leadership, at the event, for the initiative and its show of commitment towards promoting Fine Art in the country, Deaconess Grace Gekpe, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, described Nwoko, as a multi-dimensional, multi-talented and multi-disciplinary artist of the highest order.

“He has been able to cross the line from Fine Art, where in the last six decades he has executed enduring works in painting and sculptures to hard core Architecture with imposing structures that arouse admiration across the country,” she said.

Gekpe, who was represented by the Ministry’s Director of Cultural Industries and Heritage, Mr. Ralph Wilcox, added that, the recognition accorded him by the NGA, is befitting and exemplary.

The NGA’s Acting Director-General, Dr. Simon Ikpakronyi said the NGA has deliberately documented the activities of members of the Zaria Art School, because of the crucial role they played and still play in advancing fine art scholarship and practice in Nigeria.

He said, “Nwoko has bestridden the art scene in Nigeria like a colossus for six decades and counting. It is interesting the way he was able to fuse the creative elements of Fine art and the technicalities of Architecture with relative ease.

“In a world where specialization is the order of the day with people sticking to their specialties, he dares to be different. He is as good a painter as he is an exceptional stage designer, architect and builder. He also left lasting imprints as playwright, dancer, director, actor and furniture making.”

Most of his works are expressive with deliberate exaggerations by the artist to the point of being lifelike.

Nwoko does not believe artists should talk about their works, this appears the best way his works can literarily talk to viewers.

Space is an element the artist considers very important as he executes most of his stage deigns in 3D to ensure actors have enough room to play with as they interpret their roles from scene to scene. For him, the search for the essence of African aesthetics contitues.

Nwoko attended the famed Nigeria College of Arts, Science & Technology (NCAST), Zaria, now Ahmadu Bello University. He was not just a prominent member of the Zaria Art Society but championed the cause for its formation. The members later referred to and famously known as the “Zaria Rebels.”

They include Prof. Uche Okeke (late), Prof. Yusuf Grillo and Bruce Onobrakpeya. Others are Emmanuel Okechukwu Odita, Simon Okeke, Oseloka Osadebe, F. I. N. Ekeada, William Olaosebikan, Ogbonnaya Nwagbara and Ifueko Omagie, the only woman among them.

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