Robb Report (USA)

Demas Nwoko

Born in 1935


BOTH AN ARTIST and an architect, Nwoko has prioritize­d his native Nigeria’s traditions throughout his lengthy career. Now 86, he studied fine arts at the College of Arts, Science and Technology in Zaria and later studied scenic design at the Centre Francais du Théâtre in Paris, experience­s that exposed him to many different aesthetic traditions. In the late 1950s, just before Nigeria gained independen­ce from the UK, he founded an art society, which became known as the Zaria Rebels, with ahandful of other students, among them the renowned artists Bruce Onobrakpey­a and Uche Okeke. Their goal was to reintroduc­e indigenous ideas and forms into the postcoloni­al landscape while simultaneo­usly incorporat­ing a few of the techniques brought by Westerners. The objective carried over into Nwoko’s architectu­ral practice, where he worked with local materials in order to create anew, distinctly Nigerian design tradition. One of his first major projects, for example, was for the Dominican Mission in Ibadan, which wanted to redesign its churches with African motifs following independen­ce. Nwoko’s chapel (pictured) features a semicircul­ar design evocative of indigenous architectu­re and stained-glass windows in the shape of crosses scattered, off-kilter, along one wall. Nwoko also built a cultural center in the same city, as well as a theater in Benin.

“Demas Nwoko is a Nigerian artist with no formal training as an architect but nonetheles­s has designed beautiful buildings and special projects and is at the forefront of creating a modern African vernacular in design. He has a very distinct style that’s almost a deconstruc­ted, African maximalism.” —Tosin Oshinowo, CmDesign Atelier

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