BY JAPHET ALAKAM
It was a day of another pass mark for the arts and the entire art community as art patrons, critics, diplomats, artists, scholars, students or what could be described as the creme la de creme of the art community gathered in the serene community of Ikorodu for the 3rd Yusuf Grillo Pavillion annual art fiesta organised by notable art patron and playwright, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi.
Ordinarily, the event would have been mistaken for a political gathering because of the array of individuals with intimidating credentials present and, also as it was held few days to the governorship and parliamentary elections in the States across the nation. But that was not to be. Rather, the occasion was a celebration of a man who has contributed immensely in shaping the architectural designs of the country and one of the greatest Zaria Rebels, Prof Demas Nwoko.
Nwoko, one of the popular ‘Zaria Rebels’, famous for championing the concept of ‘natural synthesis’, which advocated for the combining of contemporary Western art techniques with African ideas, art forms and themes became the third member of the Zaria movement to be celebrated as Prof. Yusuf Grillo and Dr Bruce Onabrakpeya had earlier been celebrated in 2009 and 2010 editions respectively .
Interestingly, the event which witnessed the presence of many dignitaries had in attendance four other members of the Zaria Rebels’. They include; renowned artists; Prof. Uche Okeke, Prof. Jimoh Okolo, Prof. Yusuf Grillo and Dr.Bruce Onobrakpeya. Also present were renowned poets, Prof. Wole Soyinka and Prof. J.P.Clark. Others were Abdulahi Muku, DG of National Gallery of Art, Prof. David Aradeon, Prof Dele Jegede, Ambassador Segun Olusola, Engr. Yemisi Shyllon, Dr Kunle Filani, Frank Okonta of AGAN and Oliver Enwonwu of SNA.
As the theme of the occasion depicts, the entire exercise centered around the life and works of a master who has explored his nativity in two natural disciplines. Demas Nwoko was born in the royal family of the Obi of Idumuje Ugboko ,and his birth privileges exposed him to artisans and newly constructed edifices around the town as well as his father’s (the Obi) palace.
Demas studied Fine Arts at the College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria from 1957-1961 where he was exposed to conventional Western techniques in art, though like most of the artists at the school their subject matter was predominantly African.
He later got a scholarship from the Congress of Cultural Freedom to study at the Centre Francis de Theate in Paris where he learned scenic design.
One of the special events for the day was a view of his works at the the Grillo Pavilion , the building, housing the private collections of Rasheed Gbadamosi where the sculptural works and paintings of Demas Nwoko were displayed. Some of the works which were done over 30 years ago, but still looking fresh depict the cultural contents of the artist.
Works on display include: Combatant1&11, Hunter in war Scene, Crisis, Enuani Dancers, Adam and Eve, Beggars on the Train, Bathing Women and others. While on the field were pictures of his revolutionary architectural designs. They include Oba Akenzua Cultural Centre Auditorium, Benin,Miss Pearce Chapel Issele Uku, The Dominican Chapel Ibadan and many others.
Other highlights of the event was a lecture by the longest serving trained architect in Nigeria, and author of the book on Demas titled, The Architecture of Demas Nwoko (2007) Prof. John Godwin. Godwin who revealed how he encountered Demas during the celebration of the new Culture Design Centre at Mokola, Ibadan in his lecture talked about the cultural contents in Nigeria’s architectural space. He described Demas as a designer and sculptor who believed that there was need to ‘improve’ on traditional forms and materials in order to advance those very traditions but did not allow traditional forms to dictate design. Stating that he took the African approach to alien intervention, while the likes of Richard and Beier argued from the fringes of European ‘liberalism’, which essentially had emerged from collective rejection of colonial mentality.
Prof. Godwin went further to explained the typology of Demas Noko’s’ work, the many works he did and summarized that “ to Demas, the crowning glory of a building is the roof because he detested the anonymity of the flat roof. In this, he followed tradition but always treats the roof as a feature which is more than just a cover for the weather.”
Continuing he added that “ Demas’ designs were created to have interior temperatures to be in contrast to the exterior temperatures at most times. His style is moulded to fit into the temporal needs of the African”
The event also featured an interactive session which provided some of the scholars an opportunity to speak on Demas, the Zaria school and why they have been on the lead for years.
The speakers also used the opportunity to commend the host, chief Rashed Gbadamosi for his dynamic efforts in creating such an environment that brought together such icons that one cannot easily bring together at a place.
For Dr Bruce Onabrakpeya,” it was great, I congratulate Demas for this, but I suggest that a forum like this could be created all over the country so that art can be deliberated.”
For Prof. Wole Soyinka who was thrilled with the works of Demas promised to bring Demas Nwoko to the next Black Heritage Festival in Lagos.
The President of Grillo Pavilion, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi who confessed that he was always thrilled anytime he finds himself among history makers, especially those who contributed to Nigeria’s history in artistic creativity said: “ I rejoice that poor me, who could hardly capture anything painting with brush, is now gathering history makers. And now find companionship in numerous art collectors and several art connoisseurs whose collective passion impel a creative art world.” The great art moment was also spiced with melodious renditions from the stable of the legendary highlife, King Tunji Oyelano.