Bruce Onobrakpeya

National Museum of African Art celebrates Bruce Onobrakpeya in landmark exhibition

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art is set to unveil a major exhibition featuring the works of Bruce Onobrakpeya, one of the pioneers of postcolonial Nigerian modernism, per Titled “Bruce Onobrakpeya: The Mask and the Cross,” the exhibition will run from June 21 through January 21, 2025, showcasing 52 pieces created between 1966 and 1978. This period includes Onobrakpeya’s renowned “Fourteen Stations of the Cross” series, commissioned by the Catholic Church.

Guest curator Janine Gaëlle Dieudji highlights the exhibition’s cultural and spiritual significance. “This exhibition not only celebrates the esteemed career of Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya but also represents global Africa through the lens of spirituality,” she said.

The collection reflects Onobrakpeya’s fusion of Christian iconography with Nigerian folklore and West African traditions, presenting biblical stories in distinctly Nigerian settings. For example, his “Passion of Christ” series depicts Roman soldiers in British military uniforms and Jesus in traditional Nigerian attire, aiming to contextualise Christian narratives for a Nigerian audience.

The exhibition also features works by Onobrakpeya’s contemporaries, underscoring his lasting influence on Nigerian art. Artists like Rufus Ogundele and Adebisi Fabunmi blend Christian themes with African heritage, creating a hybrid visual language that resonates with Nigerian cultural identity.

•Veronica wipes Jesus’ face 1969/Bruce Onobrakpeya

John K. Lapiana, the museum’s interim director, underscored the exhibition’s alignment with the museum’s mission. “The works and themes in this exhibition reflect many of the ideas that the museum was founded on: exploring cross-cultural influences and perspectives, developing and articulating diverse cultural identities, and presenting the rich variety of African art.”

Originally shown at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta in 2023, this marks Onobrakpeya’s first major solo exhibition in the United States. The presentation at the National Museum of African Art is supported by Lilly Endowment Inc.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, celebrating its 60th anniversary, continues to uphold its legacy of promoting cross-cultural understanding and showcasing the richness of African art. For more information, visit the museum’s website or follow them on social media.


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