Tuesday 15 February 2022

Retrospective of Bruce Onobrakpeya’s 60-year career goes to San Diego State University

Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya

Idi Owena
(Urhobo term for “The Great Artist”) is the first comprehensive survey of Bruce Onobrakpeya’s artistry presenting 39 works that give a précis of the artist’s oeuvre spanning six decades of uninterrupted studio work. The San Diego State University in honor of Black History Month will host this exhibition at the University Art Gallery, opening February 18, 2022.

Taking into cognizance the doctrines of revisits, continuities, and experimentation that have constituted the central point of Onobrakpeya’s artistic pursuit, this exhibition 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. 

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 [also reads: style] 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 Bruce 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.

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 2:30 - 3:30 p.m which culminates into 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 Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka and Professor Onobrakpeya on “African Creativity and Performance” from 5:00 - 8:00 p.m.

This exhibition has been realised through a joint collaboration 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 is made possible by the SDSU Student Success Fees. Additional funding is provided by avid Nigerian art collector, Akin Oyebode.

The retrospective project is curated by Kennii Ekundayo, curator of modern and contemporary African art.

Bruce Paul Onobrakpeya mfr, nnom was born 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. 


  1. This is deserving of a creative icon

  2. Bruce Onobrakpeya , an art icon of our time .

  3. Bruce Onobrakpeya , an art icon of our time !