Friday 9 September 2011

Demas Nwoko

Celebrating Nwoko, master of native content
By Tajudeen Sowole
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 00:00
Third in the series of the annual exhibition and lecture organized by Grillo Pavilion, Ikorodu, Lagos, the 2011 edition tagged Prince Demas Nwoko: Painter Sculptor Architect Designer brings to fore the legacy of a master who has explored his nativity in the two natural disciplines, despite the seeming disconnect between local content designs and African cultural values.
The ' Zaria Rebels'Uche Okeke (L) Demas Nwoko, Jimoh Akolo, Bruce Onobakpeya and Yusuf Grillo

ONE of the areas of neglects, which always bother observers of Nigerian art and design space, is the issue of gross absence of native content in public building and landscape.  Although the lecture and the interactive sessions – in line with the tradition of the annual gathering – mainly focused on the celebration of Nwoko, the exhibition, however, offered a great depth into the artist’s excavation of nativity, a mastery which links art, culture and architecture.
In honour of one of the living masters, Yusuf Grillo, the gathering, founded by art patron and playwright Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi debuted in 2009. The Grillo Pavilion, which is home to the private collection of Gbadamosi has since then become a dedicated space for the celebration of excellence in visual art.
Nwoko, like Grillo belongs to the group of Nigeria’s most celebrated artists known as the Zarian Rebels. In 2010, another of the Zarian Rebel, Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya was the celebrant at an event, which had Prof Dele Jegede delivered a lecture tagged Onobrakpeya: The Legacy.
Interestingly, five members of the Zaria Art Society – former the students of College of Arts, Science and Technology, (now Ahmadu Bello University) Zaria – were present at the third edition last Saturday. Also, renowned poets such as Prof Wole Soyinka and J.P. Clark were among the guests at the interactive session.
Nwoko’s sculptural works and paintings mounted inside the Grillo Pavilion building, though done several years back (some as old as over 30 years) showed a consistent impressionist in painting, who replicates same in sculpture, but combines mastery with tenuous naivety.
One of Demas Nwoko's architectural master picecs, The Oba Akenzua Cultural Centre, Benin
On the lawn of the complex, some of the pictorial images of his architectural works on display include such edifices as the Oba Akenzua Cultural Centre, Benin Edo State, the Dominican Chapel, Ibadan and New Culture Studio, Ibadan.
The cultural content is inherent in the artist’s perspective of culture: a visual expressivity that does not undermine the global influence, which seems to be collapsing cultural barriers. He argued that within this context, “Africa has drifted along for too long.” In fact, he stressed that “we are dwarfed and are now an embarrassment to the world.”
The lecture, by Prof John Godwin, tagged Celebrating Demas Nwoko also touched the issue of cultural content in Nigeria’s architecture space. Godwin, who is the author of a book titled The Architecture of Demas Nwoko, traced the issue to the observation, by late Ulli Beier, on the post-independence Nigerian architecture. Godwin said Beier, in a 1960 book, Art and Architecture of Nigeria, “finishes his essay by asking whether Nigerian architects will produce a truly Nigerian style?” Five decades after, Godwin had an opportunity to respond to Beier’s question: “No, they have not.” He blamed what he described as “the rigid” method of teaching architecture in higher institution for this lack of native or cultural content.
Godwin, in summary, described the art of Nwoko’s architecture thus: “To Demas, the crowning glory of a building is the roof; he detests the anonymity of the flat roof and in this he follows tradition but always treats it as a feature, which is more than just a cover from the weather.”  And quite instructive, Godwin also noted that Nigerian architects are far less known across the world compared to the country’s “visual artists who are well known internationally.”
Prof Clark and Prof Wole Soyinka during the event
And the way out, Nwoko suggested is to attain self-dignity, which is possible by clothing “our exposed body with the garb of our God given cultural identity to settle down as one, recognizable people of the world.”
In a country such as Nigeria where urban redevelopment is a sweeping across the board, leading to demolition of buildings, Nwoko’s architectures which are largely located in rural areas appears insulated from a people’s lack of preservation of heritage. During the interactive session, another architect and art enthusiast, Prof David Aradeon noted that the best works of Nwoko are in the rural areas.
Nwoko suggested that to rediscover the core native value of the people, which existed before contact with the outside world, the creative professionals must realize that “the aesthetics and philosophy of our indigenous culture are familiar grounds and therefore confident platforms to work from.” He stressed that culture dictates our true relevant needs in life, which are evolved patterns of living over time. After satisfying our basic needs for comfortable living, every other consumption is an exotic icing on the cake of life.”
Gbadamosi noted that Nwoko, despite his age, has not given up “the dream, which marks him out before and during his Zaria days are unquenchable.”
For the curator of the event, Mike Omoighe, Nwoko, he notes, “shares the view of allowing works of art to interact with the audience for whom they have been created.”

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