Bruce Onobrakpeya



Bruce Onobrakpeya



Birth Date



Agbarha Otor, Delta State, Nigeria

Biographical Text

Bruce Obomeyoma Onobrakpeya was born in 1932 in Delta State, Nigeria. He has been described as a ‘living legend’ who was ‘responsible for the renaissance in contemporary art in Nigeria’.

His early studies were in Benin, a Nigerian city famous for its art traditions. He gained a Diploma of Fine Arts in Zaria, and for many years was director of the art department at a college in Lagos. While a student, the Zaria Arts Society, later called the Zaria Rebels, was formed with the aim to ‘decolonise’ 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.

During this time he executed several large murals and was commissioned to illustrate books by prominent West African authors. This work sparked his interest in graphic art. In 1964 he attended Oshogbo workshops in etching and was greatly influenced by the artists he met. The same year he became a founding member of the Society of Nigerian Artists.

Working as painter, printmaker, and sculptor, Onobrakpeya’s artwork shows stylistic elements rooted in traditional African sculpture and decorative arts, fused with modern style and Western techniques. The themes found in his works include tribal folklore, Christian iconography, the Benin Kingdom, and contemporary issues such as environmental degradation, politics, and social unrest.

From the 1970s until the 1990s, Onobrakpeya was an artist-in-residence and professor at numerous institutions in the United States, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. He has had numerous solo shows and participated in many group shows in Europe and America, including London’s Tate Modern, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art and the IMF in Washington DC.

In 1999 he founded the Bruce Onobrakpeya Foundation which encourages creative interaction among artists and scholars and aims to increase public awareness of African art. His work is held extensively in various collections and he is the recipient of many awards including Honorable Mention at the 44th Venice Biennale, 2006 Human Living Treasure Award by UNESCO and 2010 National Creativity award by Federal Government of Nigeria.

The Oshogbo Art School:

The West African city of Oshogbo, Nigeria, has been the traditional centre for the ancient Yoruba spirituality, language, and culture and, since the 1960s, the birthplace for much contemporary Nigerian art.

Following the country’s independence from the British empire in 1960, and the unrest of several military coups, a growth in cultural activity developed into a movement of modern art that would build on and continue the indigenous art traditions. Yoruba religion and customs, which had lost some prominence after centuries of both Christian and Muslim missions, was a great influence. Literary scholar Ulli Beier, his wife Georgina, and Suzanne Wenger were instrumental in stimulating and encouraging this rise in visual arts during their residencies in Nigeria.

The idea behind their Oshogbo art experiment was to bring together young, creative people without formal art training and encourage them to paint from their cultural heritage, but not merely to produce traditional art. Their activity ranged from painting and sculpture to music and theatre. The experiment was such a success that today Oshogbo is recognized as a major arts centre of Nigeria attracting international attention with its Oshogbo Art School, arts festivals, and an ever-growing group of artists.



“Bruce Onobrakpeya,” Tyler Collection of Romanian and Modern Art: University of Tasmania, accessed December 4, 2022,