The artist, designer and architect Demas Nwoko is awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Architecture Biennale.
Demas Nwoko. Courtesy of the Venice Architecture Biennale.
Demas Nwoko is awarded with the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia entitled ‘The Laboratory of the Future‘ (Giardini and Arsenale, 20th May – 26th November, 2023).
The decision was approved by La Biennale’s Board of Directors chaired by Roberto Cicutto, upon recommendation of the Curator of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition, Lesley Lokko, who explained their decision with the following words: “One of the central themes of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition is an approach to architecture as an ‘expanded’ field of endeavours, encompassing both the material and immaterial worlds; a space in which ideas are as important as artefacts, particularly in the service of what is yet to come. With all of its emphasis on the future, however, it seems entirely fitting that the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement should be awarded to someone whose material works span the past 70 years, but whose immaterial legacy – approach, ideas, ethos – is still in the process of being evaluated, understood and celebrated.”
Demas Nwoko is a Nigerian born artist, protean designer, architect and master builder who was at the forefront of Nigeria’s Modern Art movement. As an artist, he strives to incorporate modern techniques in architecture and stage design to enunciate African subject matter in most of his works. In the 1960s, he was a member of the Mbari Club of Ibadan, a committee of burgeoning Nigerian and foreign artists. Prince Demas Nwoko was born in 1935 in Idumuje Ugboko, Nigeria, in Aniocha North Local Government area of Delta State to Obi (King) Nwoko II. Nwoko grew up in Idumuje Ugboko, inspired by the newly-constructed architectural residences in the town and the Palace edifice of the Obi, his grandfather, who designed the palace himself. Further extensions to the palace were commissioned by Nwoko’s father.
He studied at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology in Zaria (1957-1961), where he was a prominent founding member of the Zaria Art Society. This influential group of artists, popularly known as the ‘Zaria Rebels’, promoted natural synthesis: a concept of art coined by the artist Uche Okeke, which bridged their Western training by colonial educators with a focus on African themes and narratives. The Zaria Rebels contributed to the postcolonial modernist vanguard in Nigeria in the early 1960s, along with their peers in literature, theatre and music.
In 1961, Nwoko received a scholarship to study at the Centre Français du Théâtre in Paris, where he studied theatre architecture and scene design. After university, he returned to Nigeria to lecture at the newly formed School of Drama at the University of Ibadan. Reconnecting with his old member of the Zaria Art Society, Nwoko went on to establish spaces such as the Mbari Writers and Artists Club, developing a new art that blended African and Western modernist aesthetics, forms and processes to reflect the spirit of political independence. Nwoko’s first commission to build the complex for the Dominican Institute in Ibadan occurred in 1970, though he had already commenced his architecture work at the New Culture Studios in Ibadan, in the late 1960s.
He founded the New Culture Studios in Ibadan, which is presently run as a training centre for the performing arts and a design center. Nwoko also founded (the now defunct) New Culture Magazine, in the 1970s, a publication that documented contemporary art and culture.
The awards ceremony and inauguration of the 18th Exhibition will be held on Saturday 20th May, 2023 at Ca’ Giustinian, headquarters of La Biennale di Venezia. For more information, please visit La Biennale di Venezia.