Bruce Onobrakpeya : Biography, Career, Achievements and More

Bruce Onobrakpeya

Bruce Obomeyoma Onobrakpeya (born 30 August 1932) is a Nigerian printmaker, painter, and sculptor. He has exhibited at the Tate Modern in London, the National Museum of African Art of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and the Malmö Konsthall in Malmö, Sweden. The National Gallery of Modern Art, Lagos has an exhibit of colorful abstract canvases by Onobrakpeya and his works can be found at the Virtual Museum of Modern Nigerian Art, although no exhibitions were showing as of October 2017. Onobrakpeya is not only the grandfather of modern Nigerian art but is also widely regarded as The Pride of all Nigerians.

Bruce Onobrakpeya

Bruce Onobrakpeya was born in Agbarha-Otor in Delta State, son of an Urhobo carver. He was raised as a Christian but also learned the traditional beliefs. His family moved to Benin City, Edo State when he was a child. He attended Western Boys High School, where he was taught art by Edward Ivehivboje, among other subjects. He also attended drawing classes at the British Council Art Club in Benin City. Onobrakpeya was inspired by the watercolor paintings of Emmanuel Erabor. After leaving high school, Onobrakpeya was hired as an art teacher at the Western Boys High School (1953–56). In 1956 he left for Ondo, where he taught at the Ondo Boys High School for a year.

In October 1957 Onobrakpeya was admitted to the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, now the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Funded by a Federal Government Scholarship, he was trained in the Western tradition of representational art. At the same time, he began to experiment with forms in relation to Nigerian folklore, myths, and legends. Much of his work uses stylistic elements and compositions derived from traditional African sculpture and decorative arts.

The Zaria Arts Society, later called the Zaria Rebels, was formed on 9 October 1958 by a group of art students at the college led by Uche Okeke with the aim of “decolonizing” the visual arts as taught by expatriate Europeans. Onobrakpeya has said that the college gave him technical skills but the Zaria Arts Society, a discussion group, shaped his perspectives as a professional artist. The society gave him the confidence to seek a personal expressive idiom. He elongated his figures, ignored perspective and evoked the supernatural through ambiguous decorations.


  • 1957–62 Diploma in Fine Arts (Dipl. FA), Art Teachers Certificate ATC Nigeria College of Art and Science and Technology, Zaria.
  • 1963 Arts Teacher, St Gregory’s College, Obalende, Lagos, Nigeria
  • 1975 Artist-in-Residence, Haystack Mountain School of Art and Craft, Maine US A.
  • 1979 Associate Professor, Elizabeth City state University, North Carolina US A.
  • 1984 Artist-in-Residence, Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, Nigeria
  • 1989 Artist-in-Residence, Tacoma Public school, Tacoma Washington State USA
  • 1991 Artist-in-Residence, BAT Visual arts Studio, National Gallery of Zimbabwe
  • 1991 Artist-in-Residence, 1991 MOJA, an African American Arts Festival, Charleston, South Carolina, USA
  • 1998 Founded the Annual Harmattan Workshop Series in Agbarha-Otor, Delta State, Nigeria


  • Honorable Mention at the 44th Venice Biennale
  • 2006 Human Living Treasure Award by UNESCO
  • 2010 National Creativity award by Federal Government of Nigeria.


“Bruce Onobrakpeya is amongst the most successful artists to have emerged in West Africa during the 20th century, with continuing and commanding influence on the generation of artists in Nigeria, who have come to maturity in the post-colonial period.”

  • Honorary D. Litt.[13] from the University of Ibadan in 1989.
  • Honourable mention at the Venice Biennale.[14]
  • Fellowship of the Society of Nigerian Artists on 6 June 2000.
  • Pope John Paul II award for painting the life of Saint Paul,
  • Fellowship of Asele Institute award,
  • Sadam Hussein award,
  • Solidra Circle award, and Fulbright Exchange Scholar award.[7]
  • Onobrakpeya is the recipient of the Living Human Treasure Award (2006) given by UNESCO,
  • Second winner of Nigeria’s prestigious Nigerian Creativity Award by the Federal Government of Nigeria on 14
  • September 2010. Its first winner was Chinua Achebe.
  • Honourary Degree of Doctor of Arts (Hon. D. A) from the Delta State University, 2017
  • Recepiant of highest Nigerian Academic Honour (NNOM) Nigerian National Order of Merit, 2017


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