The Pioneering Architecture of Nigerian Artist-Designer Demas Nwoko

Architecture, painting, sculpture and design – Demas Nwoko has been celebrated in every area of his creative endeavours. He is a pioneer of Nigeria’s modern art movement, and his architecture is innovative while drawing on traditional African construction, belying his lack of formal architecture training (he prefers the title ‘artist-designer’). He is particularly known for developing mitigations for the tropical climate, promoting principles of sustainability decades before it came to dominate mainstream thinking, and influencing a younger generation of architects.

The son of a traditional ruler, Nwoko was born in 1935 in Idumuje-Ugboko, a rural town in southern Nigeria, and he cultivated his talent in painting, drawing and carving at secondary school in Benin City, where he moved in 1951. Nwoko initially planned to study architecture at Nigeria’s College of Art, Science and Technology, based in Zaria, but on discovering that the course primarily focused on developing technical drawing skills rather than creative expression, he pivoted to fine arts. The curriculum did not include African art, even though traditional African art was already influencing fine arts in Europe, prompting Nwoko and fellow students, including Yusuf Grillo, Uche Okeke, Bruce Onobrakpeya and Simon Okeke, to create the Zaria Art Society. They promoted the idea of ‘natural synthesis’, combining their Western art education with African ideas. Later, the group became popularly known as the ‘Zaria Rebels’. ‘Some saw it as a rebellion against the way art was being taught, but I didn’t see it that way. We were only trying to complement. We weren’t at all rebellious,’ says Nwoko. ‘In fact, we were most friendly with our teachers.’


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