Home Architect Demas Nwoko receives Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement

Demas Nwoko receives Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement

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Organizers of the eighteenth Venice Architecture Biennale have awarded Nigerian-born architect, designer and artist Demas Nwoko the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. Nwoko was at the forefront of Nigeria’s modern art movement and is known for his highly modern architecture which draws inspiration from traditional African designs. He will be honored during a ceremony which will take place on May 20 at Ca’Giustinian, headquarters of the Biennale.

Born in the rural hamlet of Idumuje Ugboko, Nigeria in 1935, Nwoko was inspired in his youth by the local residences and palace of Obi (King) Nwoko II, his grandfather, who himself designed the structure. Nwoko studied art at the College of Art, Science and Technology in Zaria from 1957 to 1961. While there, he and fellow students Yusuf Grillo, Uche Okeke, Bruce Onobrakpeya, and Simon Okeke, among others, formed the Zaria Art Society . Known as the Zaria Rebels, its members advocated “natural synthesis”, as Uche Okeke called the fusion of European art with African themes. After a year spent studying theatrical architecture and fresco painting at the French Theater Center in Paris, Nwoko returned to Nigeria, where he became a lecturer at the new drama school at the University of Ibadan. Along with his former comrades at the Zaria Art Society, he helped established spaces such as the Mbari Writers and Artists Club, which encouraged progressive thinking in aesthetics, art and architecture, and which promoted the political independence.

In the late 1960s, Nwoko, who had no formal training in architecture, founded New Culture Studios in Ibadan and began his architectural work. He received his first commission, the construction of the Dominican Institute complex in Ibadan, in 1970. Among his other well-known structures is the Akenzua Cultural Center in Benin, which incorporates Greek and Japanese Kabuki designs. Later in the 1970s he created the now closed New cultural magazinewhich covered contemporary art and culture.

“One of the central themes of the Eighteenth International Architecture Exhibition is an approach to architecture as an ‘expanded’ field of activity, encompassing both the material and immaterial worlds; a space in which ideas are as important as artifacts, especially in the service of what is yet to come,” said Biennale curator Lesley Lokko. “With all the focus it places on the future, however, it seems only fitting that the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement should be awarded to someone whose material works span the last seventy years, but whose intangible heritage – approach, ideas, ethics – is still being assessed, understood and celebrated.


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