Demas Nwoko Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement Biennale Architettura 2023

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Demas Nwoko

Demas Nwoko is a Nigerian-born artist, protean designer, architect and master builder who was at the forefront of Nigeria’s Modern Art movement. As an artist, he strives to incorporate modern techniques in architecture and stage design to enunciate African subject matter in most of his works. In the 1960s, he was a member of the Mbari Club of Ibadan, a committee of burgeoning Nigerian and foreign artists.

Prince Demas Nwoko was born in 1935 in Idumuje Ugboko, Nigeria, in the Aniocha North Local Government area of Delta State to Obi (King) Nwoko II. Nwoko grew up in Idumuje Ugboko, inspired by the newly-constructed architectural residences in the town and the Palace edifice of the Obi, his grandfather, who designed the palace himself. Further extensions to the palace were commissioned by Nwoko’s father.

He studied at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology in Zaria (1957-1961), where he was a prominent founding member of the Zaria Art Society. This influential group of artists, popularly known as the ‘Zaria Rebels’, promoted natural synthesis: a concept of art coined by the artist Uche Okeke, which bridged their Western training by colonial educators with a focus on African themes and narratives. The Zaria Rebels contributed to the postcolonial modernist vanguard in Nigeria in the early 1960s, along with their peers in literature, theatre and music.

In 1961, Nwoko received a scholarship to study at the Centre Français du Théâtre in Paris, where he studied theatre architecture and scene design. After university, he returned to Nigeria to lecture at the newly formed School of Drama at the University of Ibadan. Reconnecting with his old member of the Zaria Art Society, Nwoko went on to establish spaces such as the Mbari Writers and Artists Club, developing a new art that blended African and Western modernist aesthetics, forms and processes to reflect the spirit of political independence. Nwoko’s first commission to build the complex for the Dominican Institute in Ibadan occurred in 1970, though he had already commenced his architecture work at the New Culture Studios in Ibadan, in the late 1960s.

He founded the New Culture Studios in Ibadan, which is presently run as a training centre for the performing arts and a design centre. Nwoko also founded (the now defunct) New Culture Magazine, in the 1970s, a publication that documented contemporary art and culture.



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