Easter weekend with Bruce Onobrakpeya, Nigeria’s living treasure


On Saturday 20th April we had the immense pleasure and privilege to attend the opening of “Beauty and the Machine”, an amazing art exhibition by Bruce Onobrakpeya, a dynamic 86-year old Nigerian artist. His show, celebrating 60 years of exhibitions, is made out of discarded and recycled materials that have become art in the process.

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Bruce Onobrakpeya is a Nigerian Living National Treasure, a multi-award winning artist whose work has travelled wide and far, including to the Tate Modern in London, the National Museum of African Art of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and the Malmö Konsthall in Malmö, Sweden.

In the last sixty years, his art has evolved between painting, printing and sculpting, in search of a universal language of art. Bruce Onobrakpeya is amongst the most successful artists to have emerged in West Africa during the 20th century, with continuing and commanding influence on the generation of artists in Nigeria, who have come to maturity in the post colonial period.


The artworks presented at Freedom Park are all very recent and instilled with a distinct flair for life, sense of humour and deep respect for the cultures of the world, coming together in a pool of core values. Some of sculptures are abstract while others depict insects and musical instruments. As Professor Onobrakpeya told us: “This is the New African Art – beyond contemporary art”.

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The exhibition was formally opened by Morounranti Ashabi, the Cultural Ambassador of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II. She brought a message of love and hope to the artist and all those gathered at Freedom Park.

“Since 1966, as an experimental artist, Onobrakpeya has discovered, innovated and perfected several techniques both in printmaking and relief sculpture that are uniquely Nigerian. Generally, printmaking is a fine art process of producing pictures from a plate which the artist has previously created. Onobrakpeya has increased these techniques tremendously.

He even developed his own writing style “Ibiebe”. It features his invented script of ideographic geometric and curvilinear glyphs. The designs reflect the artist’s knowledge of his Urhobo heritage, rich in symbols and the proverbs they elicit, as well as his appreciation of Chinese, Japanese, Ghanaian and Nigerian calligraphy. Onobrakpeya invented and refined this script called Ibiebe from 1978 to 1986, when he revisited in his art, ideas linked with traditional religion, customs and history. Ibiebe glyphs aim at encapsulating universal concepts of timeless values. The artist clearly delights in the script’s forms and visual qualities as well as its power to communicate. These ibiebe ideograms which are often abstract, also lend themselves to calligraphic, painterly and sculptural presentation.”[i]img_20190420_1840296644543580521363432.jpgimg-20190420-wa00856244040477786566564.jpgimg-20190420-wa00793897635214839723251.jpgimg-20190420-wa00864761134562050665588.jpgimg_20190420_1834313871187791408848449.jpgIMG_2447 (2)img_20190420_232854_3424027081206871709156.jpg

Bolaji Alonge recalls that as a young art student he heard about Professor Onobrakpeya for the first time, who was already a revered artist then. Meeting him at the occasion of this memorable opening made this Easter weekend even more special.

[i] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Onobrakpeya

-Story By Sandra Alonge

-All photos except e flier, by Bolaji Alonge