Printmaker Bruce Onobrakpeya guest artist

February 5th, 2001 by Adam

Betsy Cheney


February 2, 2001

One of most established artists in Nigeria

The Plymouth State College art department will host guest artist Bruce Onobrakpeya Thursday and Friday, February 15 and 16. Dr. Onobrakpeya is an internationally-recognized Nigerian painter and master printmaker who is consulting on an exhibition of Urhobo art that will be held at the Museum for African Art in New York in early 2003. One of Africa’s finest artists, Onobrakpeya will be featured as a critical contributor to that exhibition. His trip to the United States has been made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

At Plymouth State College, Onobrakpeya will tour the art department, present lectures in several classes, and hold a master class. Public sessions with Dr. Onobrakpeya will include:
Thursday, Feb. 15, 12:30-1:45 p.m. Informal gallery lecture: impromptu remarks on the new exhibition, “Jamaican art: In the fullness of time,” at the Karl Drerup Art Gallery in the Draper and Maynard Building on Main Street.
Thursday, Feb. 15, 4:30-6 p.m. Lecture and reception. “An African artist talks on his life and work.” Heritage Commons, Hall Residence Hall on Highland Street.
Friday, Feb. 16, 12:30-2 p.m. Open Studio, art department print studio, Draper and Maynard Building. Opportunity for Dr. Onobrakpeya to view and comment on the work of both students and community artists.

According to Dr. Perkins Foss, PSC lecturer and curator of the New York exhibition, “Bruce is a consummate teacher and scholar, as well as a splendid, articulate lecturer. An Urhobo by birth, and one of Africa’s foremost artists, he has produced work that extends Urhobo mythology beyond ethnic borders into a contemporary pan-Nigerian context.”
Bruce Onobrakpeya was born in 1932 in Agbarha-Otor, presently in Nigeria’s Bendel State. His first exposure to art came through his father, a competent sculptor who in his leisure time carved wooden figures of traditional religious deities. He was commissioned by fellow classmates to engrave their names on silk cotton tree thorns and rubber to be used as stamps. In high school, Onobrakpeya’s art revealed itself in other areas as well, and in 1957 he began study at the Nigerian College of Technology [presently Ahamdu Bello University].

The surroundings and experiences of Onobrakpeya’s childhood left an impression that is revealed in his work. The dense vegetation and fertile soil of his hometown is often represented in his prints. Like so many of his generation, Onobrakpeya was raised a Christian but familiarized with the “old faith” through oral traditions of myth and legend. The peaceful coexistence of these distinct traditions in his own life is reflected in many of his prints that depict biblical as well as traditional themes etched in exactly the same style. His various life experiences enabled him to develop an appreciation of diverse cultures, without discarding his own.

Onobrakpeya is known not only for provocative imagery, but for innovative technique as well. His body of work can be grouped into several broad categories including representations of mundane activities; cataloguing of social activities and scenes inspired by religious and mythological ideas, and abstract experiments. He also draws inspiration from the Bible and his Christian faith. Several of Onobrakpeya’s murals and illustrations have been commissioned by religious institutions throughout the world.
One source says, “No-one embodies the universalism of art more than Bruce Onobrakpeya. Since his first one-man exhibition in 1959 in Ughelli in the Niger Delta, he has grown to become an unofficial cultural ambassador for Nigeria. He has exhibited in the United States, Italy, Zimbabwe, Germany, Britain, Kenya and many other countries. He has also received many international awards, including a gold medal from the Pope in 1977. Yet despite this, Onobrakpeya’s roots remain strong. He would consider himself an Urhobo of the Niger Delta before being an artist. His work bears witness to this, celebrating as it does Nigerian folklore and its many myths and legends. And whatever the chosen medium, he succeeds magnificently in his stated aim of enhancing the image of the emerging African personality.”

[Ed Note (do not publish): for information on Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya’s visit to Plymouth State College contact Dr. Perkins Foss at (603) 643-3972; or e-mail