ATLANTA, Nov. 29, 2022 — At the High Museum of Art this spring, “Bruce Onobrakpeya: The Mask and the Cross” (April 7-July 30, 2023) marks the first solo exhibition at an American museum for the renowned sculptor and printmaker, who is recognized as one of the fathers of Nigerian modernism. The exhibition will focus on the artist’s creative phase from 1967 through 1978 and will feature more than 40 works that marry Nigerian tradition, folklore and cosmology with Catholic motifs and stories from the Bible, including an early edition of his series “Fourteen Stations of the Cross” from the High’s collection.
“Onobrakpeya is one of the most important artists in Nigeria and has played a central role in shaping contemporary art on the African continent,” said Rand Suffolk, Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director of the High. “As an institution with an exceptionally strong and growing collection of Nigerian art, and as one of the few American museums to hold his work, it’s fitting for us to celebrate his importance and continued influence with this exhibition.”
Onobrakpeya (born 1932) began his training as a painter at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science, and Technology at Zaria (affiliated with Goldsmiths, University of London) in 1957. In 1958, he became a founding member of the Zaria Art Society, which formed at the college to decolonize the visual arts and ultimately developed the “natural synthesis” aesthetic philosophy, which fused African artistic tradition with Western techniques to visually articulate a new national and cultural identity in early postcolonial Nigeria.
Onobrakpeya was introduced to printmaking in the early 1960s, after which he began to principally work and innovate in the medium. In 1967, Father Kevin Carroll, a Catholic priest working in Nigeria, commissioned Onobrakpeya to paint a mural of the 14 Stations of the Cross, scenes from the last earthly days of Jesus Christ. A year after completing the mural, Onobrakpeya made a print series of the scenes, in which he portrays these Biblical characters as Nigerian and reimagines the stories in Nigerian settings.
The project ushered in a new phase of Onobrakpeya’s career that continued into the late 1970s. In works from this period, he juxtaposes and blends Christian and Nigerian traditions, reinterpreting Biblical scenes through the lens of midcentury decolonization in Nigeria and adopting compositions from Western art. Grounded in the High’s own edition of the “Fourteen Stations of the Cross” prints (1968), “The Mask and the Cross” will showcase other works from this period and examples from later periods that feature themes of religious hybridity and multiplicity, subjects he has returned to throughout his 60-year career.
“Distinct in our strong collection of Nigerian material culture, the High is perfectly poised to engage and contextualize Nigerian creative production across a broad range of time and medium to more comprehensively present the nation’s visual history and, by extension, its social and political history,” said Lauren Tate Baeza, the High’s Fred and Rita Richman curator of African art. “As he is one of the most celebrated visual artists in Nigeria, we made the apt choice to begin these efforts with a monographic exhibition of Onobrakpeya’s prints and reliefs.”
The exhibition will be presented in the Special Exhibition Galleries on the Second Level of the High’s Stent Family Wing.
Exhibition Organization and Support
“Bruce Onobrakpeya: The Mask and the Cross” is organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. Major funding provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. This exhibition is made possible by Premier Exhibition Series Sponsor Delta Airlines, Inc.; Premier Exhibition Series Supporters ACT Foundation, Inc., Sarah and Jim Kennedy, Louise Sams and Jerome Grilhot, Harry Norman Realtors, and wish foundation; Benefactor Exhibition Series Supporters Robin and Hilton Howell; Ambassador Exhibition Series Supporters The Antinori Foundation, Corporate Environments, The Arthur R. and Ruth D. Lautz Charitable Foundation, and Elizabeth and Chris Willett; Contributing Exhibition Series Supporters Farideh and Al Azadi, Sandra and Dan Baldwin, Mr. and Mrs. Robin E. Delmer, Marcia and John Donnell, Mrs. Peggy Foreman, Helen C. Griffith, Mrs. Fay S. Howell/The Howell Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Baxter Jones, Joel Knox and Joan Marmo, Dr. Joe B. Massey, Margot and Danny McCaul, The Ron and Lisa Brill Family Charitable Trust, Wade A. Rakes II & Nicholas Miller, The Fred and Rita Richman Fund, USI Insurance Services, and Mrs. Harriet H. Warren. Generous support is also provided by Alfred and Adele Davis Exhibition Endowment Fund, Anne Cox Chambers Exhibition Fund, Barbara Stewart Exhibition Fund, Dorothy Smith Hopkins Exhibition Endowment Fund, Eleanor McDonald Storza Exhibition Endowment Fund, The Fay and Barrett Howell Exhibition Fund, Forward Arts Foundation Exhibition Endowment Fund, Helen S. Lanier Endowment Fund, John H. and Wilhelmina D. Harland Exhibition Endowment Fund, Katherine Murphy Riley Special Exhibition Endowment Fund, Margaretta Taylor Exhibition Fund, and RJR Nabisco Exhibition Endowment Fund.
About the High Museum of Art
Located in the heart of Atlanta, the High Museum of Art connects with audiences from across the Southeast and around the world through its distinguished collection, dynamic schedule of special exhibitions and engaging community-focused programs. Housed within facilities designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Richard Meier and Renzo Piano, the High features a collection of more than 18,000 works of art, including an extensive anthology of 19th- and 20th-century American fine and decorative arts; major holdings of photography and folk and self-taught work, especially that of artists from the American South; burgeoning collections of modern and contemporary art, including paintings, sculpture, new media and design; a growing collection of African art, with work dating from prehistory through the present; and significant holdings of European paintings and works on paper. The High is dedicated to reflecting the diversity of its communities and offering a variety of exhibitions and educational programs that engage visitors with the world of art, the lives of artists and the creative process. For more information about the High, visit www.high.org.
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