For the Honourary Degree of Doctor of Letters
I present Bruce Onobrakpeya, outstanding artist, master printmaker and book illustrator, innovator of art forms and
Inventor of printing techniques, teacher and father of many
generations of Nigerian artists, humanist and fabulist, with a distinctive, poetic approach to creativity, the pride of all Nigerians.
Bruce Onobrakpeya was born 57 years ago, on August 30,1932 precisely, at Agbarha-Otor a village near Ughelli in present day Bendel State of Nigeria. In 1958, after his secondary education, he won a Federal GovernmentScholarship to study Fine Art at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology (now the Ahmadu Bello University) in Zaria. The following year, he won the third
prize in the Gottschalk textile competition and finally obtained his Diploma in Fine Art in 1961. That same year he attended the first summer school jointly organised by the Department of Extra-Mural Studies of our greatuniversity here in Ibadan, and the Mbari Artists’ and Writers’ Club in Adamasingba. The following year, through the special arrangements existing then between London and Zaria, Onobrakpeya obtained the ATC in Art Education of the Institute of Education of the University ofLondon. Two years later, in June 1964, he also participated in the Artists ‘Workshop directed by the
American Jacob Lawrence, and organized by the American
Society for Arts and Crafts, (AMSAC) Lagos.
And finally, to complete what he calls his “professional education”. _ Onobrakpeya participated in the workshopdirected by Professor Ru Van Rossem, and organized by the Institute of Africa Studies of then University of Ife, (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in Ile-Ife. This
workshop, which was on printmaking was to have a profound effect on the future direction of his work, andhelp turn him into what several artists all over the world acknowledge without hesitation nowadays, as one of the masters in contemporary printmaking.
Mr Chancellor, we know of course that those we honour here on this occasions are outstanding men fromvarious fields of life. But even greater than this, BruceOnobrakpeya is, to put it simply, a genius of our time. And if, this fact is not commonly known or acknowledged
it is because, unlike his contemporaries whose contributions are in the more visible areas of socio-economic and political activity, Onobrakpeya’s achievements are in the lofty realm of the imagination. We may call Onobrakpeya a moulder of the mind, in at leasttwo capacities – first as a teacher of the young, and then
secondly, as an artist of tremendous, evocative power.
Since 1953, when he was appointed the art teacher at the old Western Boys’ High School in Benin City till 1957 when he moved on to Ondo Boys’ High School, and then1963 when he went to St. Gregory’s College in Obalende, Lagos, Onobrakpeya has been involved in teaching and nurturing successive generations of art students, some of whom have themselves grown to become famous names in the field. All this. time, he had also had time to move back
and forth as a professional in demand between our continent and others, serving as guest instructor or artist-in-residence for various periods, and visiting several museums. In 1975, he served as guest instructor at Haystack Mountain School of Art and Craft, Maine,
U.S.A., in 1979 as Artist-in-Residence Department of Fine Art, Elizabeth City State University, North Carolina, U.S.A.; and in 1984 as artist-in-residence at our own Institute of African Studies.
He has held innumerable sole exhibitions, and also participated in group shows with other artists in towns and cities across the length and breadth of Nigeria and in cities abroad that included Nairobi, London, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Bologna, West Berlin, Warsaw, Moscow, Amsterdam, Zurich, New Delhi, New York, Washington
D.C., Illinois, Toronto, Ottawa, Havana, Bratislavia, and
Valparaiso.So versatile and so prodigious is his talent that, more
than any artist, he is the most often called upon to illustrate, and enrich the works of contemporary writers and has been the favourite illustrator for children’s book of literature. Thus, one finds his signature in the works of authors like Cyprian Ekwensi, Chinua Achebe, Adeboye Babalola, Kola Onadipe, T.N.O. Quacoopone, Rosemary Uwemedimo, Barbara Haeger and Wole Soyinka! May
your tribe increase, Onobrakpeya.!
But the most striking achievements of this artist are in his spectacular prints, most of which have become connoisseur’s items. In the tradition of the master artists of yore, such as we find in the recovered relics of Igbo-Ukwu, Onobrakpeya’s works show refinement, painstaking attention to detail, and the breathtaking spell of a fabulist. In these canvases, Onobrakpeya shows that he is a poet
with a most ancient sap flowing in his veins. His delicate contours and outlines invoke the natural forms of rivers and roots, the colours of water and sky and rainbow, all blended and distilled into a fable of struggle as well as of celebration; of mystery and fantasy as much as of common, daily experience.
Not surprisingly therefore, these works have garnered several prizes – among them, British Council Award
Pope Paul VI Gold Medal (1977)
Fulbright-Hays Award (1979).
5th Triennale-India Silver Medal (1982).
Asele Institute Certificate of Honour (1985) and
Solidra Circle Award (1985)
He is also listed in the world Encyclopedia of Black
The Spectrum Encyclopedia of Africa.
The Oxford African Encyclopedia for Schools.
The International Who’s Who in Art-and Antiques, and
The New Czechoslovakia Encyclopedia.
Onobrakpeya’s works, much written about by scholars, have also become the most fitting and prestigious gifts for visiting heads of state. They are the ones commissioned for grand events and by high-placed institutions. This year, for Instance, at the silver jubilee ceremonies of the African Developments Bank, held in Abuja, they purchased as many as 8 works of Onobrakpeya for presentation to
various African Heads of Government!
His works can be found today among public collections in Universities, Churches and Gallenes in Nigeria, as well as other prestigious places like VaticanMuseum, Rome, NationalMuseum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.; and the
collection of Her Majesty the Queen of England.
Bruce is an applied chemist in his own right, as a printmaker and an inventor of printmaking techniques. Through hard-work and much experimentation, he invented a number of famous printmaking methods and techniques which include the “Hydrocloric Acid Accident” method, the “Bronzed Lino Cut’, “Plastocast” and “Relief Rubbing”techniques.
Bruce has also been asked to serve on various bodies and is currently a member of The Nigerian Copyright Council and an executive member of the Society of Nigerian Artists.
Mr. Chancellor Sir, it is this man of such singular achievements, who has not only refurnished our cultural heritage, but has also added his own works to strengthen the contemporary corpus, and hence forged the necessary links between the roots of our past and the living springs of our present life, and created a unique style which has
brought respect and admiration to our country all over the world- this genius, whom I request you, by the authority of the senate and council and on behalf of men everywhere who believe in talent and vision, to admit this day to the degree of Doctor of Letters Honoris Causa.
Professor F.I. Okogun
Public Orator, University of Ibadan
17th November 1989