Artist in conversation with Wole Soyinka
‘IDI Owena’ (Urhobo term for “The Great Artist”) exhibition is the first comprehensive survey of Bruce Onobrakpeya’s artistry that presents 39 works that give a précis of the artist’s oeuvre spanning six decades of uninterrupted studio work. The San Diego State University at San Diego, in honour of Black History Month, will host the Onobrakpeya exhibition at the University Art Gallery. It opens on February 18, 2022 and will be curated by Nigeria’s young but fast-rising modern and contemporary African art curator, Kennii Ekundayo.
Taking into cognizance the doctrines of revisits, continuities, and experimentation that have constituted the central point of Onobrakpeya’s artistic pursuit, ‘Idi Owena’, which follows a loose chronological order from the 1950s to the present, serves both aesthetic and educational functions for the viewer. It is a visual documentation of Onobrakpeya’s eclecticism, development, and achievements as a trained painter, an icon of printmaking, an inventor, and an experimental artist per excellence.
According a statement from the organisers, ”A distinguishable feature of Onobrakpeya’s career has been his meticulous and unwavering tenacity to document his work and life over the last 60 years, an action which has yielded bountifully to not just this artist but to curators, historians, researchers, and other such specialists who are today able to navigate with ease, the complex maze that describes the entirety of Bruce Onobrakpeya’s artistry. It has further contributed to this retrospective, taking a detour from what has become a popular tradition for retrospective exhibition projects whereoften the exhibits are sourced from varied collections and not just the artist’s repertoire. Nodding to this artist’s will, it is noteworthy to mention that every exhibit on display has come from his archives.
”’Idi Owena’ is a walk-through of the entire stretch of Onobrakpeya’s creative process; it is a true story of a dedicated artist who sees art in every aspect of his life and living and is constantly in search of means to present his view. It introduces the viewer to the four pillars that uphold the entirety of Onobrakpeya’s career and which include the artwork, that is a result of his creative adventures; the publication, that is evidence of his avid documentation of self as well as efforts by scholars and art professionals to document him; the pedagogy, wherein lies traces of his activities as a lifelong educator and; the Agbarha-Otor Harmattan Workshop, an institution established by the artist as an act of service to artists in Nigeria and around the world, and also a means of developing the environment using art.”
‘Idi Owena’, accordong to the organisers, is also futuristic, as it is in tandem with Onobrakpeya’s vision for the future that his works preface in terms of their experimentation that is always expanding new frontiers in their modern and contemporary visual dialogue.
The statement continues, ”The foundation of Onobrakpeya’s artistic practice is in his experimental drive that sees the fusion of ideas to get the old and the new to project the future. As such, this retrospective takes into account how he has revolutionised contemporary art practice in the country, exploring also the mechanics of his artistry that sees subjects and styles from the past (modern) and the present (contemporary) in constant dialectical dialogue.”
While the exhibition opens to the public from February 17 to March 18, 2022, a public reception and walkthrough of the exhibition with Onobrakpeya and curator Kennii Ekundayo is set for Wednesday, March 2, 2022 from 2:30pm – 3:30pm which culminates in an evening of live music performance by British-Nigerian award-winning singer Aduke, staged readings of select works of Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, and an open discussion between Soyinka and Onobrakpeya on “African Creativity and Performance” from 5:00pm – 8:00pm.
‘Idi Owena’ is a collaborative show by the School of Theatre, Television, and Film, the School of Art and Design, and the Department of Africana Studies of the San Diego State University. The exhibition and related events are made possible by the SDSU Student Success Fees. Additional funding is provided by avid Nigerian art collector, Akin Oyebode.
Bruce Paul Onobrakpeya (MFR, NNOM) was born on August 30, 1932 in Agbarha-Otor in the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria.
He is an accomplished painter, illustrator, printmaker, sculptor and educator. He has exhibited at the Tate Modern in London, the National Museum of African Art of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC and the Malmö Konsthall in Malmö, Sweden. He had a Honorable Mention at the 44th Venice Biennale, 2006 Human Living Treasure Award by UNESCO and 2010 National Creativity award by the Federal Government of Nigeria. He lives and works in Lagos, Nigeria.