Iconic 87 Art Workshop in honour of Onobrakpeya

he renowned master printmaker, painter, sculptor and poet, Professor Bruce Onobrakpeya, whose long and distinguished career has spanned over six decades

The renowned master printmaker, painter, sculptor and poet, Professor Bruce Onobrakpeya, whose long and distinguished career has spanned over six decades, will chair this year’s Life In My City Art Festival (LIMCAF), gala and award night holding in Enugu, on Saturday, November 16, 2019.

The foremost master of modern and contemporary art, Onobrakpeya, is a household name in the art industry in Nigeria and beyond. He was born on August 30, 1932. He is a printmaker, painter, and sculptor. He has been exhibiting his artworks for the past 60 years.

The work of art travels, from its origins to the moment it faces the audience and becomes classified as a product of either popular or high culture. Onobrakpeya is one of the artists whose works have travelled far and cannot be put in straightjacket taxonomy. They continue to astonish with protean audacity — His contemporary art has the unprecedented advantage of being synchronised with the social reality, escaping the formalism of traditional academics. His deep understanding and fusion of ancient and modern concepts and aesthetics that pay tribute to traditional religions, customs and the folklore of his heritage are noteworthy. While using a wide range of printmaking techniques including those he pioneered, he does not forget the basic source of his artistic spring: Traditional African society.
His passion to contribute to the growth of the art industry in Nigeria gave birth to the Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation (BOF), which organises the yearly Harmattan workshop in his hometown, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State.

The Harmattan workshop is a place where people go to learn about various areas of art. The centre, which is more or less a museum-cum-gallery, has become a tourist attraction to people from all around the world including, school pupils and children.

A notable member of the Zaria Art Society — the Zaria rebels — which is credited with revolutionising modern Nigerian art, his works have been exhibited and auctioned at important art institutions locally and internationally including the Tate Modern in London, the National Museum of African Art of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the Malmo Konsthall in Malmo, Sweden, Sotheby, Bonham, The National Gallery of Modern Art, Lagos, the Virtual Museum of Modern Nigerian Art among(s) others.

In a chat with the media, the Art Director of LIMCAF, Dr. Ayo Adewunmi, remarked that it was deeply symbolic and speaks volumes of the festival’s vision of an all-embracing effort to contribute significantly to the development of visual art in Nigeria that Onobrakpeya, “who is one of the earliest voices for the domestication of fundamental art forms in Nigeria and a world-renowned artist now in his late 80s would accept the position of chairman at the forthcoming festival of contemporary Nigerian art.”

Adewunmi noted this was so because, “the festival is essentially a competition for young Nigerian artists under 35 years of age in which the national jury panels now include past winners with the aim of building continuity while pushing for the highest possible standards of production and above all while also firing the imagination of the competing artists by enabling them to interact informally with older and high achieving veterans.”

He also noted, “it was a measure of the success the festival had achieved and the impact it was making nationwide that such highly acclaimed practitioners and scholars as Onobrakpeya, Nigeria National Order of Merit, 2017, and Professor Emeritus El Anatsui of the University of Nigeria and a member of the US Academy of Letters, both of whom are recipients of other innumerable national and international prestigious awards are associated with the festival.”
Professor Anatsui is the patron of the festival who sponsors the six top winners to Dark’Art, Senegal every other year.

The festival’s grand finale week this year begins tomorrow with the opening of the Grand Finale Exhibition by Professor Paul Modum, chairman of the Board of Alliance Francaise Enugu State. Other events include the Children’s Art Workshop and the Festival Lecture to be given by Professor Emeritus Ola Oloidi of the University of Nigeria on Friday, November 15. Onobrakpeya will preside over the climax event of the festival, which is the gala and award night on Saturday, November 16.

Only recently, Eyimiegha Seidougha Linus organised a workshop in honour of Onobrakpeya, a recipient of the 2006 Human Living Treasure Award by UNESCO and 2010 National Creativity award by the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Marking his 87th birthday through the iconic ‘87 art workshop’, there was also a moment of an interactive session with the kids.

Designed by him to keep Onobrakpeya’s legacy alive in the minds of these young ones, Linus said, “the programme was created as an avenue for children to interact with him, ask questions about his life, the creative process of his works, and his contributions towards the development of the Nigerian art industry.”

Prior to the question and answer section, videos and slides about him and the Harmattan workshop were displayed through a projector before the participants, numbering 25 from ages five to 17 years.

Talking about his works, Onobrakpeya said they “do not fall under any movement since his themes are drawn from the African traditions as they dominantly discuss the history, philosophy, and folklores of our people, especially the Urhobo culture.”
However, he referred to himself as a new African artist as he’s proud to say he’s an African artist. He told the children that he is a multi-media artist. Explaining further that the range of media in his works varies from printmaking to painting, from sculpture to installation.

Just like stories of moonlight, children sat down while he explained all the artworks by means of interesting stories. One of the animals in the stories that he was particular about is the leopard.

The leopard, in his account, has become a symbol of his brand as you can find it in the Ovuomaroro Gallery logo right from his days when he was at Zaria Art School.

Then in school, he recalled creating and arranging blocks for a motif, which he wanted to use for artworks and it turned out to become the leopard he saw as a young child when he went out with his mother.

Then, as a child, his mother took him out and he saw an animal that looked like what he later identified as leopard; at that age, he was not sure if it was a living animal or an artwork, but he grew up with the memory.

The fear of animal he saw then made him grip his mother, which today is symbolic to him holding fast to the leopard as a symbol of his brand.

According to him, “the leopard print was like a turning point in my struggles as an artist as the work made me famous in my career.”

Some of the works he discussed were, Emo Ekpen (Young Leopards) 1987; Erako Va Awhaira (The Dog and Tortoise) 1959; Emeravwe Lunar Myths, 1983; Tortoise and the Lizard, 1959; Leopard in the Cornfield, 1987.

The second part of the programme, which was the workshop segment, started immediately after the discussion session with Adetola Adenuga and Boluwatife Caleb Ayodele as key facilitators.
The participants were divided into four groups based on their age brackets. The range of activities includes drawing and painting with pencil, crayon and marker pen for ages 5 to 10, basic printmaking technique and drawing for ages 11to 13 and drawing for portrait of Onobrakpeya for ages 14 to 17.

Though the six years old Sulaimon Faruq, who was one of the most outstanding participants, took it as a challenge to draw the portrait of Onobrakpeya and he did really well to the surprise of everyone. He amazed onlookers with the dexterity of his draftsmanship at his age.

A total of 22 prints were created, seven portraits of Onobrakpeya and four still-live drawings and 14 other artworks.

The 13 years old Adefuye Yomade, who also participated in the programme, exhibited his unique talent through his paper sculptures. He came to the venue with over 50 paper-sculpted arts, of which his themes are dominant animals.

At the programme without the guidance of any facilitator, he created a standing human figure with a walking stick and two animals.

The project, which held at the Mushin studio of Onobrakpeya, was designed for children and teenagers to interact with and reinterpret the works of Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya.

The project coordinator, Linus, has a first-class portfolio in art project management. Several of his projects, just like this one, are designed to help young people interact and appreciate art from their locality.

This project had an exceptional value-added to its package because the participants had the privilege to interact with Onobrakpeya, no doubt, “they realized he was at some time, many years ago as young as they are through the stories he told about his works that relate so much with his childhood days,” said Linus.
According to Linus, the original idea was to have 87 children create 87 artworks to mark the birthday of the artist, however, due to challenges beyond what could be managed, “we were able to accommodate only 25 and we look forward to making this bigger next year.”

Said Linus: “However, the quality of works that were produced at the workshop is good enough for an exhibition.”

Most of these young people Linus said have been part of programmes he organised in the past. “I selected them from four different art projects and I’m helping them network with themselves from now.”

Not all of them, he reported will end up practicing art, “but with the level of information they are being exposed to, they will grow up valuing and appreciating art.”

The last session of the programme was the cutting of the birthday cake. This was done in segments based on the age brackets starting from five to seven, eight to 10, 11 to 13 years, and 14 to 17 years. Then facilitator, visitors, and parents also had the opportunity to take photographs with Papa Bruce.

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