The 2023 Biennale Architettura Awards were held on Saturday, May 20, 2023, at Ca’ Giustinian, the home of La Biennale di Venezia. The Venice Architecture Biennale, considered by many to be the most prestigious architecture festival in the world, recently honoured Nigerian-born Professor Demas Nwoko. Professor Nwoko, one of Nigeria’s citizen diplomats, is a renowned multidisciplinary creative, a sculptor, painter, architect, writer, and designer.
Professor Nwoko’s nomination came in a special way when Lesley Lokko, the curator of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition, recommended that the decision be made, and the Board of Directors of La Biennale, which is presided over by Roberto Cicutto, gave its approval.
In a statement made by Lokko, which was obtained from La Biennale di Venezia, he said among other things, “When pushed, he refers to himself as an “artist-designer”, which speaks both to the polyglot nature of his talents and oeuvres and to the rather narrow interpretation of the word ‘architect’ that has arguably kept his name out of the annals.”
“The son of a traditional Obi (ruler), he was born in 1935 in Idumuje-Ugboko, southern Nigeria. His early forays into painting, drawing, and carving at secondary school in Benin City pushed him to apply for a place to study architecture at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science, and Technology in Zaria. However, his discovery that the course focused more on technical drawing skills than the creative imagination prompted him to change tack, applying instead to study fine art. He was a founder member of the Zaria Art Society, a group that included Yusuf Grillo, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Uche Okeke, and Simon Okeke, also known as the “Zaria Rebels,” who were interested in a blend of modernity and African aesthetics as an authentic language to reflect the spirit of political independence growing in the 1940s and 1950s.”
He expressed his elation at Professor Nwoko’s recognition while encouraging visitors to take time to see his works on display.
“It gives me enormous pride and pleasure to award the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement to Demas Nwoko, an architect of both the 20th and 21st centuries, and to encourage all visitors to the 18th International Architecture Exhibition to visit the small but perfectly formed and articulated display of his work in the Stirling Pavilion in the Giardini, alongside the Book Pavilion Project of The Laboratory of the Future,” he said.
Professor Nwoko was inspired by the aesthetics of buildings in the town and the palace building that his grandpa, the Obi, who also designed the palace, built while he was still alive. He watched as his father hired architects to add more space to the palace and architectural art to the building. He did not only believe that he can become like the men his father had contracted, he knew it was what he would like to become.
In recognition of his outstanding works earlier in life, he was awarded a scholarship in 1961 to study at the Centre Français du Théâtre in Paris. He was admitted to study theatrical architecture and scene design. After graduating from college, he went back to Nigeria to teach at the University of Ibadan’s newly established School of Drama.
Professor Nwoko will be remembered for a long time for his contribution to a multidisciplinary approach to creativity and his deliberate effort to aid the development of the creative industry in Africa.