Nwoko, Demas (1935--) By Sijuwade, Amber Croyle; Christopher Shaw, P.E.
Across the spectrum of fine art and design, Demas Nwanna Nwoko has made his mark as a central contributor to a neo-traditionalist philosophy at the foundation of Nigerian modern art. Nwoko began his formal studies at the Nigerian College of Art, Science and Technology, Zaria, in 1957 and soon joined fellow art students Uche Okeke and Bruce Onobrakpeya in founding the Zaria Arts Society (Zaria Rebels) in 1958. Forming an intellectual framework dubbed “natural synthesis”, the Rebels cultivated a deep knowledge of indigenous artistic forms, defining a culturally independent artistic practice that would accompany Nigeria’s impending independence from British colonialism. To this end, Nwoko’s earliest paintings, including Ogboni Chief (1960) and Praise Singer (1960) highlight the subjects of everyday Nigerian life. His sculptural works, like Adam and Eve (1965), draw studied inspiration from the Nok terracotta heads of 300 BC. The same philosophical approach remains central to Nwoko’s architectural work, for which he is most widely known. The first of his building projects, The New Culture Studio and Residence (1967–) provides both an aesthetic example of Nigerian-centered design and an ideological home from which his theatrical works and New Culture Magazine (1978–1979) were produced. His most renowned site, the Dominican Institute, Ibadan (1970–1975), exemplifies innovation in the use of modern building methods grounded in indigenous expression.