Friday, May 23, 2014


Title of Book: Onobrakpeya: Masks of the Flaming Arrows
Editor: Dele Jegede               
Publisher: 5 Continents Editions, Milan
Number of Pages: 400 

The above book is made up of 5 main parts: the preliminaries, texts, personal notes, testimonies and curriculum vitae. The preliminaries contain the table of contents, foreword, preface, acknowledgements and artist's notes. The texts contain 11 articles sourced mostly from art scholars, while personal notes cover Bruce Onobrakpeya's comments on his art works. There are also testimonies from notable people and print media within and outside Africa. The curriculum vitae accommodate the life and professional experiences of Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya.
I will here address all the above one by one, starting with the foreword.
The foreword, written by the President of Nigeria, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, expresses his joy in writing a foreword to a book that appropriately covers Bruce Onobrakpeya's entire experimental and innovative art and his glutinous contribution not only to modern art development but also to nation building. The President recommends the book to all art practitioners and those interested in modern Nigerian art. In the acknowledgements, Dele Jegede necessarily appreciates the efforts of all those who have contributed to the book. He has a very brief nostalgic reflection on Onobrakpeya's art development and mentions how the essays in this book emerged; before addressing the contextual compartmentalization of the book. Having examined the preliminary part of the book, it is necessary to frontally and very atmospherically review all the essays, as objectively as possible.
Dele Jegede’s "Ruminations on Onobrakpeya Bruce Onobrakpeya: The Legacy", an introduction, refuses to indulge in any art historical rehearsals that are already commonly domesticated literatures on Bruce Onobrakpeya. He, therefore, focuses on the soul and not the body of the artist's career. He begins with patronage which he sees as the authoritative determinant of an artist's success, creative prosperity, artistic continuity and cultural preservation. He frowns on some actions that are septic to art patronage in Nigeria and, also, reveals some anti-depressing antidotes that have been provided by some artistically possessed people, like Rasheed Gbadamosi. He believes that, as already symbolized by Bruce Onobrakpeya, art patronage can bring professional jubilation, aggressive experimentation and unclogged creative development in Nigeria. Jegede addresses the Zaria story, but as promised, in a way that does not help fertilize the historical boredom that has put the Zaria discussion under stress.
He silently, but pinchingly, berates the rather scratching art historical attitude that de-energizes the manifestly ideological or philosophical, political, nationalistic as well as culturistic positions of the Zaria Art Society; of which, very imlpyingly, Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya was a dynamically visible part.  Jegede points out how the radical art commune of Zaria gave Bruce the initial anointed weapons to challenge, like other Zarianists, the imperialistic effusions of his period, thereby clearing his path to creative and ideological radicalism. Jegede's "Onobrakpeya's Ascendency" is not only a cherishing metaphor for the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, it also reveals those things that have given Bruce Onobrakpeya a golden and superior scepter of art image in Nigeria. These are sympathetic and engaging humility, undaunted ability to recognize early, in the spirit of Zarianism, his innate, and traditionally cultured creative potential that snubbed Occidental art mode.
Jegede explains how Onobrakpeya, being a fanatically committed artist, has modernized the culture of art professionalization or devotion to studio practice; thereby giving pride and dignity to art and artists. He also acknowledges Onobrakpeya's Urhobo subject matters and his greatly historical and artistic triumph over religious ignorance during the visual art controversy between him and the Catholic Church. Jegede also sees Ibadan as the Mecca and Jerusalem where Bruce Onobrakpeya received the search light for his unassailable creative development. In conclusion, he confirms Onobrakpeya's creative dominance, unmatched experimentation, mythical creativity, foresight, among others that make the artist an innovator, documentator, ideologist, critic and preserver of culture.
David Okpako' s "Accessing Culture Through Art: Bruce Onobrakpeya in Urhobo Myths" corroborates the fact that Onobrakpeya is a man of many creative parts. He discusses his artistic indigenization with utmost loyalty to his Urhobo culture which gives Onobrakpeya's art venerative or mythical subject matters. Okpako gives some of the artist's works detailed iconographic interpretations, while he also exposes the anthropological ingredients of his art works generally.
"Bruce Onobrakpeya's Art: An Analytical Approach to the Configuration of Form" by Frank Ugiomoh distils Onobrakpeya's convulsive obsession for new ideas and, therefore, new forms. After some synthetic and affiliative historical references and overview review of Dr. Onobrakpeya's works, Ugiomoh takes a well guided trip to analyse or exteriorise the artist's multi-lingual, if not encyclopedic, formal language. Ugiomoh does not, however, forget to occasionally reveal the politically unpretentious conceptual intentions of some works.Definitely, Ugiomoh's formal analysis has exposed the grace and honour that are the loud attributes of Onobrakpeya' s art. He concludes that, the art works of Bruce are, generally, an encyclopedia of uniquely reformed styles that cut across visual history.
Olakunle Filani' s "The Visual Translation of Urhobo Myths, Legends, and Philosophies in Bruce Onobrakpeya Prints" briefly vaporizes Onobrakpeya's art for wider historical knowledge. He addresses the factors that initially induced his interest in his Urhobo culture. Filani piercingly scans those visual elements that make Onobrakpeya's works, including prints, uniquely Onobrakpeyaic; stylistically, culturally, historically and philosophically. John- Tokpabere Agberia's contribution, "Shifting Space, Reordering Art: The Harmattan Workshops of Bruce Onobrakpeya as Interventionist in Modern Nigerian Art", starts with the examination of the historical foundation of art workshops in Nigeria. It examines how artists, generally, are not geographically sedentary in their professionality; which is why Bruce Onobrakpeya's Harrnattan has not less than 5 creative and intellectually telling and universalistic objectives.
He focuses a powerful searchlight on Onobrakpeya's momentous, foreordaining and richly instrumental art career. He gives him a high distinction for his Aghara-Otor Harmattan Workshops not only for its salient externalization of Urhobo culture but also, very essentially, for its unsurpassed creative moralizing professional mentoring and professionalizing contributions to modern African art.

This takes us to Pat Oyelola's "The Earth as Anchor to the Spirit in Ascent", a short but sharp essay that puts a diadem on Bruce Onobrakpeya for his celebration of the commoners in his Urhobo community, and, therefore, other Nigerian groups. Oyelola selects few genre works of the artist for conceptual and aesthetic anatomy; to show how Onobrakpeya has realistically and perceptually glorified and preserved the usually disrespected, ignored and slighted experiences of the common people in the society.
Gani Oduntokun's posthumous essay, "Bruce Onobrakpeya: The Metamorphosis of a Printer", introduces Onobrakpeya as a creative phenomenon in modern African art. With highly simplified critical eloquence, he analyses Onobrakpeya's works within well segmented periodization, particularly from the 1950s to the 1980s. He sees Bruce as an artist with unrestrained shooting creative possibilities which made him reside comfortably with dignity and shine radiantly within any artistic conventionality of his period.
"Bruce Onobrakpeya: The Rewards of Creative Exploits" by Osa Egonwa groups Onobrakpeya's themes into what can be seen, generally, as the genre and the cultural. Among other comments, Egonwa discusses the artist's obsession for
experimentation and his ability to adventure in unlimited visual modes; while
ya also had his own recognizable stylistic order. After showing the
s-cultural articulation of his work, Egonwa examines his technique and
creative activism shown in Onobrakpeya's prints, painting and installations. He
also graphically discusses the philosophical, thematic, or generally, iconographic
substances that make the artist's works ideologically cultural
Another essay by Frank Ugiomoh and Basil Nnamdi, "Hanging the Ogoni
, is a symbolization, historicization and outright reference to Onobrakpeya's
, "The Martyrdom of the Ogoni Nine". As should be expected, it is a fervid
and very testamentary acknowledgement of the hopelessness of the helpless in an
unpredictable society; the society that is well serviced with artificial tableaus of
supersonic injustices. The article shows how the melody and ecstasy of a church or
song can suddenly change to a dirge for the wailing innocence. It
discusses the rather bellicose relationship between the usually agitated, insensitive
leadership and the necessarily uncompromising artists and artistes. The article is, in
fact, a philosophical celebration of Bruce Onobrakpeya, who, in spite of his
material security, social and professional comfort and success, still makes himself
a politically ideological artist, exhibiting a real humanistically defiant, radical
arianist ideology. Above all, the essay is metaphoric of Bruce Onobrakpeya as an
artist-defender of the culturally and socio-culturally oppressed, not only in
Urhoboland, in Nigeria but also in Africa.
An interview of Humphrey Bakaren with Bruce Onobrakpeya is presented
under th
e title, "Baghdad 2.0: Arabian Nights Experience". The interview is a
rewarding exposal of Onobrakpeya's sponsored cross-cultural visits, particularly to
aq as the guest of Sadam Hussein, the President and to some notable Iraqi artists.
This was after the Government of Nigeria had presented two of his purchased
works as· gifts for the governments of Iran and Iraq; to be part of the sacramental
es of cultural agreement between Nigeria and these nations. The interview has
s, among other professionally elevating blazonry, shown Onobrakpeya as an art
statesman, cultural ambassador and the first Nigerian artist to be so encouraged by
e Nigerian government and be so honoured, or given stately attention, 111 a
y Arabian geography.
"Sketches: Onobrakpeya's World" by Dele Jegede is an accurate distilling compendium of Bruce Onobrakpeya. Here, Dele traces Onobrakpeya's life from birth through childhood to primary and secondary education before focusing on his academic and other experiences as a student of the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria (NCAST). Jegede refuses to belabour the activities of the Zaria Art Society, but examines the activities of the art graduates of the NCAST, particularly that of Onobrakpeya. He runs through the artist's creative insurrections and their attendant stylistic apotheosis from the Zaria days to his professional zenith. With very tokenistic reference to nudity in Onobrakpeya's works, the paper concludes, with Onobrakpeya's conviction, that modern Nigerian art has developed, despite some expectations that are not forthcoming from some art practitioners and the government.
Another section of the book, "Onobrakpeya: Notes on My Work", consists of about 12 thematic subject series. Here, Bruce Onobrakpeya has shown himself not only as an artist but also as a mature and well nurtured academician. This is why he has been able to eloquently display his intellectual substance through strongly cast, iconographical, formalistic and poetic explanations, if not interpretations, of his profuse integral art illustrations that are very intimidating in number, strongly assuaging in standard, uncommon in technique and greatly magnetizing in appeal. What follows, "Onobrakpeya's Notes" is "Testimonies" which carries what some eminent or people, including President Goodluck Jonathan, scholars and the print media think about Bruce Onobrakpeya. The presented voluminous curriculum of the artist terminates the content of the book.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, having talked, like a professional talkative, about what others have said about Bruce Onobrakpeya's person and professional career in this book, it is now my stage show to present, very candidly, what I think about the book, "Onobrakpeya: Masks of the Flaming Arrows", edited by Dele Jegede, with very graphic focus on the following morphology of the book: shape, design, preliminaries, text, editorials, illustrations and overall relevance. While now promising not to be an international parrot but a born-again normal talker, I will begin my review with the shape of this book. The book, as one can see, has an ambitiously monumental size within its solid rectangulated hard cover and impressively looking binding. The design of the book shows highly simplified aesthetic visual facility with its calm calligraphy and ornamental, golden front cover which images one of Bruce Onobrakpeya's works within jubilative and dramatic browns. The non-flashy, unexotic but gentle and peaceful brown colouration has helped to bring natural visual attraction to the book.
As regards the preliminary contributions as already outlined, one cannot but
conclude that thi
s book is not from an ordinary man. This is saying that no
"ordinary" book, therefore no ordinary man or professional, can attract the caliber
of people who have
given their rather hieratic cleansing, support or approval for
e publication of the book. I am talking about the President of Nigeria, Goodluck
Ebele Jonathan who, wrote the foreword
, Emeritus Professor Joe Alagoa, a
historian of global repute and Innocent Chukwuma, the Ford Foundation
sentative for West Africa in Lagos. Who, then can say that this is not an
already celebrated book on an enigmatic celebrated man, who about six decades
ago was considered, along with his Zaria art mates, one in a futureless profession
alled art? On this note, I will have no alternative than to thank Bruce
ya for using his artistic elixir to make this episodic situation happen.
However, it is now time to address the texts which I have already atmospherically
presented above.
A book on Onobrakpeya cannot be contextually complete or historically
impious without accommodating his early life and educational background, his
initial creative development, his art professionalism and professionalization, his
cultural and artistic ideology, the developmental stages of his meteoric professional
development and his creative radicality. One would also like to see the
authoritative and engrossing influence of his much loved Urhobo culture, what he
has given to art and culture through his print-making, particularly his discoveries.
We would also wish to read about those things that have made Onobrakpeya an electrifying embodiment of art professionality in Africa; his unlimited and, even,
continuous professional mentorship; his humility, kindness and fulfilling creative,
moral and material generosity; his power of poetry, verbal eloquence and unique
atory, his naturally humanistic estate; Onobrakpeya's professional itinerancy; his
extraordinary documentary energy; his thematic metaphysics and his mythical and
mystical colouration. I have not left out how the convulsive love of Nigeria's
cultural heritage, particularly that of his Urhobo people, initially developed in him
the research inquisitiveness that took him, Uche Okeke and Demas Nwoko to
many cultural centres in Nigeria. Who are the real patrons of Onobrakpeya, and
what new formalistic and ideological changes have we seen since the launching of
first ambitious book, "Bruce Onobrakpeya: The Spirit in Ascent" in 1993? One
can also not forget his extramundane creative versatility. In fact, what are those
attributes that endear him very rewardingly to his students, colleagues, patrons,
politicians, among others
? One cannot forget his enigmatically enthralling
international image. In fact, what one would also expect this book to examine are
those experiences that make Bruce Onobrakpeya a metaphor for the words, "most"
"foremost", in his art specialty and in modern Nigerian art tradition.
If one considers all the above themes realistically, symbolically, perceptually, interpretatively or generally intellectually one will have no choice than to conclude that this book reasonably accommodates all the above observations, particularly, also, considering Onobrakpeya's "notes" and Jegede's "sketches".
Though in the book, one contribution, naturally, maybe more intellectually
penetrating or more eloquently presented than the other, they are all academically
sulating, and they also acknowledge the title of the book, "Onobrakpeya: Masks of the Flaming Arrows". I believe that this book, as regards its overall content, can be seen as an indelible signature on Onobrakpeya's unpretentious story as a man
and as an artist
. This is not saying the book has narrated all Onobrakpeya's story.
His story cannot be complete without the contributions of Uche Okeke, his early
documented notes on Onobrakpeya, Demas Nwoko and, even, Jimoh Akolo, for
However, editorially, the editor has given the book a scholarly touch, though
there are insignificant
, atomic contextual distractions common to nearly all
, works of this nature, including those published internationally even on a
grander scale than this; and for which the editor cannot be held responsible. There
are no punctuational problems, while the essays, if considered generally, jubilate
within their scholastic incisiveness. Also collectively, the articles have been
written in flowing unambiguous well structured language. I cannot quarrel with the
style of documentation here, since very unfortunately, nearly all the Nigerian art
institutions have been wrongly, or slavishly, inured, by the National University
Commission (NUC), to unhistorical scientific documentation. The editor should be
acknowledged for a sound editorial work in this book.
Without doubt, Onobrakpeya's art works in this book have necessarily made
the contextual messages of the book more aesthetically, emotionally or
humanistically more propertied. Apart from their refreshingly jubilant, expressive
and attractive colours, these illustrations, both prints and paintings, are a visual
academy of design, echoed through multi-dimensional figurations, elevating
verticality, profuse ornamentation and various pictorially collaborative organic
forms that are also multi-directional but harmonious in commune. In these compositional characters of the book, or their inexhaustible stylistic projections,
can be seen pictorial characterizations in their utmost awesomeness. I believe that
the illustrati
ve materials in the book are enough to formulate a new design order, not only for students of African culture but also for the artists in search of cultural liberation and ideology. Apart from the formalistic attributes of Onobrakpeya's works here, their conceptual energies show Onobrakpeya as an advocate of humanism; which is why his instrumentally ideological works, including his installations, are homages not only to creativity but also to humanity.
No doubt, this is a highly educative book that should be possessed and read
by students of art, sociology, anthropology, religion, political science, African
Studies, mass communication and all those who need the developmental
inspirations. In addition, various art galleries, all collectors, artists, libraries and
bookshops within and outside Nigeria are advised to have this book in their
collections. This is not only a book on this MAN OF HONOUR, Dr
. Bruce
Onobrakpeya, the art sage and national monument, it is also a book on all artists,
people of culture and cultured people as well as the promising future of the
Nigerian State. It is a book on and of life. It is here strongly recommended very
passionately and accordingly.
Professor Ola Oloidi
Professor of Art History & Art Criticism
University of Nigeria Nsukka, Nigeria.