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Bruce Onobrakpeya: A Moment With Master Artist

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Bruce Onobrakpeya: A Moment With Master Artist


Bruce Onobrakpeya2Our date last Friday is fixed for Temple Muse on Victoria Island. Sandra Mbanefo, the curator for his new solo exhibition is at the door to welcome me. While the master himself is sitting with a few other writers and arts enthusiasts including his son, Ejiro, talking over cups of coffee.

“My name is Bruce Onobrakpeya as Sandra rightly introduced me,” he says as he introduces himself to everyone. It is actually spelled ‘Ono’ and not ‘Ona’ like most people would call me and spell my name. In college I was called ‘Onobrak’ so everyone can call me that.”

Onobrakpeya works are well known for their diversity. He is an artist who has worked with several mediums. He experiments and learns from other artists, including his students. These influences are evident in numerous ways, from the materials he chooses to use to the way he presents the work. Therefore, he has been classified as a printmaker, painter and sculptor.

Simply put, Onobrakpeya is one of Africa’s best known and most highly respected artists. He can be called a living legend who has made the renaissance in contemporary art in Nigeria possible. With a career spanning several decades and many notable exhibitions at the Tate Modern Gallery, London, National Museum of African Arts, Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C., and Malmö Konsthall, Sweden, to name a few, he is a well known and established name in art circles around the world.

It is therefore not a surprise that after so long a time, Onobrakpeya is staging another solo exhibition at Temple Muse from December 2nd to 14th, 2013. The exhibition is made up of outstanding works that reflect over 50 years of Onobrakpeya’s outstanding career. There are serigraphs from his famous “Sunshine period” of the 1960s-1970s, and paintings and etchings that feature images from his “Dance to Enchanting Songs” series. There are also small pendants that reflect images and symbols drawn from his “Esirogbo” and “migratory media” techniques. Of course there are numerous large and medium sized metal foil relief and deep etchings and plastocasts which he is famous for, and which draw deeply on the culture and language of Nigeria and his response to years of socio-political change.

“You are often blown away by his new works,” says Mbanefo. “Learning about Onobrakpeya’s works is learning about our culture. His works are steeped in what we are as a nation. He has created and developed new techniques he will be remembered for. This body of works are stories and experiences from his childhood which he has interpreted into different forms of art.”

One of the iconic pieces billed to be showcased at the exhibition is a painting Onobrakpeya says is inspired by late Amos Tutuola’s novel, ‘My Life in the Bush of Ghost’. It is inspired by a scene in the book which tells the story of a young teenager intoxicated by tobacco. The intoxication leads the teenager into a dance when he is trapped in a pot with his head jutting out. He begins to sing and his on attracted the villagers who begin to dance. “This depicts an aspect of our lives,” says the artist. “We are always brought together by something it could be a football victory. We all come out to celebrate regardless of our ethnicity.” The setting of the work is originally in the 1960s but the rendering is in 2011.

Onobrakpeya has successfully synthesised the vitality of Africa’s great tradition with the convention and styles of modernity. He has fused his training in western techniques and materials with his own heritage, cultural experience and an inventiveness that is undeniably African. Despite having lived four-score years, Onobrakpeya still paints. Ejiro says of his father:

“My father rarely sleeps,” answers Ejiro. “My father has consistently been at work. He has a story to tell about Africa and Nigeria. He is very restless and he likes working from one medium to another. His desire has always on the board.”

A must-see work at the exhibition is also a panel containing a series of six works. This work shows Onobrakpeya at his best with the Benin folklore tradition. The techiniques he tells me his inspired by the Benin plaques. Each panel carries a different meaning but they are put together for visual effects. They are about the real traditional way of life. one of them is about the traditional Urhobo folklore with people in the market place. It is generally believed that there are some people who have third eyes and can see what the ordinary eye cannot see. Hence in this particular work, there is a group of women who are believed to be sitting down selling palm oil but to the person with the third eye they are actually standing in the oil bathing in it.

No doubt, Onobrak’s His colourful, stylised and heavily textured images borrow freely from tribal folklore, Christian iconography and ancestral rites, inviting comparisons with the writer Ben Okri, a magic realist and also Fagunwa and Tutola, who shares Onobrakpeya’s feel for the supernatural.

“Bruce’s works come with rhyme, rhythm and sequence that you can relate to the 20th century,” observes Rasheed Gbadamosi, one of the avid collectors of Onobrakpeya. He tells his story better on canvass.”

Onobrakpeya’s work has a huge following in the country and abroad. About five years ago, his work was the highest selling art piece at the Arthouse Contemporary auction. His work made of a metal foil panel sold for N9.2 million (aprox. USD 60,000). His exhibition will start showing at the Temple Muse on December 2nd and is sponsored by Heritage Bank.

By: Funke Osae-Brown

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  1. Sunday May 9, 2014

    I love art. I love the contents of this site


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