In 1957, Onobrakpeya was granted a Federal Government Scholarship to attend the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, now the Ahmadu Bello University, where he studied fine arts and arts education. While a student, the Zaria Arts Society, later called the Zaria Rebels, was formed with the aim to “decolonize” the visual arts as taught by Europeans. Onobrakpeya states that while college taught him technical skills, the Zaria Arts Society taught him confidence in his ability to form a personal style.
Throughout the 1960s Onobrakpeya participated in artist workshops and apprenticed with sculptor Ben Enwonwu. In 1964 he became a founding member of the Society of Nigerian Artists. From the 1970s until the 1990s, Onobrakpeya was an artist-in-residence and professor at numerous institutions in the United States, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.
Much of Onobrakpeya’s work comprises stylistic elements and compositions rooted in traditional African sculpture and decorative arts. Onobrakpeya has no definitive style but instead specific periods of work that differ in content and media. His works range from lino cut prints, bronze, paintings, drawings and installations. The themes found in his works include folklore, Zarian landscape, Christianity, the Benin Kingdom, environmental degradation, politics, tradition, philosophy and social unrest. A testament to his skill and creativity as an artist, Onobrakpeya innovated several unique printmaking and relief sculpture techniques such as bronzed lino relief, plastocast relief, plastograph, additive plastograph, metal foil deep etching, metal foil relief print and ivorex. Furthermore, Onobrakpeya innovated and uses Ibiebe, a writing style that features invented script of ideographic geometric and curvilinear glyphs.
Onobrakpeya has taught and exhibited in the United States, Italy, Zimbabwe, the United Kingdom, Kenya and Germany. In 1999 he founded the Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation which organizes the annual Harmattan Workshop Series in Agbarha-Otor, encourages creative interaction among artists and scholars and aims to increase public awareness of African art. His work is held by various collections and he is the recipient of many honors.Onobrakpeya lives and works in Nigeria.
As an experimental artist he was lucky to have had an early breakthrough, through the innovation of plastography in 1967. He is also a founding member of the Zaria Art School. His exhibitions have contributed to a large body of literature which not only placed him as a contemporary and modern artist, but also created an artistic continuum for Nigerian art after Nok, Benin, Ife and Igbo Ukwu legacies. He has exhibited at the Vatican, the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian institution in Washington D.C., U.S.A, and London Museum to mention a few places
As an installation artist, he has pioneered, developed and emphasized installations as an art form, since the early 1990s. His inspiration has been drawn largely from the example of traditional African shrines. Another inspiration for his installation art is the availability of numerous discarded objects, particularly those from used computers and the automobile industry. A good example of his installation is a work titled Akporode which was shown in 2002, at U.C.L.A. Fowler Museum. This piece is now on permanent display at the Onobrak Museum in Agbarha-Otor, Delta State.
We at BOF Salute and Celebrate our avatar Bruce Onobrakpeya for bringing an elevated consciousness of our immeasurable valuable asset of Culture. As he is being honored on the 22nd of July 2017, with an honorary Doctor of Arts Award from the Delta State University, Abraka, Delta State, Nigeria, we wish him continued and enlightened Guidance as he journeys.