As part of exhibitions to commemorate 60 years of the artistic career of Prof Bruce Onobrakpeya, no fewer than 36 of his rare prints are on display at Wheat Baker Hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos.
Curated by Sandra Mbanefo-Obiago of SMO Contemporary Art, the print exhibition titled: ‘Eni! You can always tell where the elephant has passed by’ opened on April 27 and will run till end of July.
The rare prints, which provide highlights of not only his life, works, but also as a historian who has chronicled the development of the nation from the colonial era to the post-independence era, expose his unique experimental artistry contributions in the development of the art community and also a source of inspiration to younger artists.
According him, the title of the print exhibition portrayed him as a leader who has paved the path for younger artists to walk on.
“Eni is an Urhobo word for elephant. It is one of the biggest animals in the forest and when it passes through the wet land, its foot creates a kind of pool that gathers water and all other smaller animals come to drink from it. That is the name I am called. For a leader, I believe he should be able to create a pool from which a lot of people will drink from,” he said.
The exhibition detailed a lot of aspects of his work, dating back to a piece from his very first show in 1959, “Hornbill”. The display also focuses on his works on culture of the Urhobo and other ethnic groups in Nigeria, Christianity, Chibok girls, the cultural roles of women in the society and how they affected the protest movements in the Niger Delta and other areas.
Born in 1932, Onobrakpeya is one of Nigeria’s most important artistic pioneers. He obtained a Diploma in Fine Art and a Teacher’s Certificate from the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology (now Ahmadu Bello University), Zaria, in 1962. He is a member of the famous Zaria Art Society. He reminisces his days in the art school when art was not appreciated.
“We were not regarded as real students as we were seen as though we have failed out. Even some of our parents were very reluctant to pay our fees, but we lived through it.
“When I started the school, I didn’t think art had any future that can sustain someone, but I went in because God was on my side. I always told people that if I had passed my Civil Service examination and I probably would have grown to be a permanent secretary, that wouldn’t have given me even half the joy I found in creating art works,” he noted.
Onobrakpeya has received many awards and has had his works exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1990, the Tate Modern in London, the National Museum of African Arts of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. C, the Malmo Konsthall in Malmo, Sweden and the National Gallery of Modern Art, Lagos, among others. He has also received the UNESCO living Human Treasures Award in 2006.
His artistic works cut across painting, sculpture and print.
Part of the commemorative exhibition also featured his installations and sculptures at Freedom Park, Lagos, which ended last Friday.
A third exhibition will hold at his Harmattan Workshop in Agbara-Otor in Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State in August.