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‘Zaria Rebels’ return to celebrate legacies


One of the most iconic groups in Nigerian visual arts scene, the ‘Zaria Rebels’ are back on the exhibition circuit. Arthouse Contemporary regroups the artists in a show titled, Zaria Art Society: Celebration of Legacies, which opened on October 27 and will be on till November 15, 2019 at the Kia Showroom, Victoria Island, Lagos.

Yusuf Grillo, Demas Nwoko, Emmanuel Odita, Simon Okeke, Uche Okeke, Bruce Onobrakpeya and Oseloka Osadebe are the revered names whose careers took off at independence. Their works are showing in what is described as “a very special exhibition.”  

The Zaria Art Society was formed as a group of art students at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology (NCAST), Zaria, in 1958. Their form of artistic philosophy known as natural synthesis promoted Nigerian artistic identity against the westernised expression in art education. The artists’ radical expression earned them the ‘Zaria Rebel’ phrase.


Accompanying the show is a roundtable discussion, titled, Meet the Legends, holding on Saturday, November 2, 2019, at the event venue. The roundtable will bring together few of the artists that formed the group over six decades ago, including Yusuf Grillo, Demas Nwoko and Bruce Onobrakpeya.

The show organisers noted: “These artists rejected the Western-centric educational framework of the time, preferring to promote the idea of natural synthesis that prioritised indigenous artistic styles and narratives.”

The organisers said the artworks selected explore the philosophical ideas and creative dialogue they shared at school in Zaria that defined and chartered the path of modernism in contemporary Nigerian art.

The works selected for the show, it was said also presents in dialogue their distinct and individual multi-dimensional creative expression, which they individually forged in their different geographical locations across the country.

Curated by Professor Jerry Buhari of Fine and Applied Arts at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, the exhibition celebrates the artists as icons and legends of Africa’s cultural heritage.

With works ranging from painting to drawings, sculptures, designs and prints, the show also features archival materials that explore the history of the Zaria Art Society and their intellectual and philosophical pursuits. 
The roundtable discussion offers the rare opportunity to hear from these masters of modern art in Nigeria.

The accompanying publication for the exhibition includes scholarly essays and statements by Professor Osa Egonwa (Department of Fine and Applied Arts, Delta State University, Abraka); Professor Jacob Jari (Department of Fine Arts, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria); Rebecca Wolff (Department of Art History, University of California, USA); Kolade Oshinowo (former National President Society of Nigerian Artists) and others.

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