Sculptor and printmaker Bruce Onobrakpeya is considered one of the fathers of Nigerian modernism, known for being a founding member of the Zaria Art Society, a renowned art collective that developed the “natural synthesis” aesthetic that came to define early postcolonial Nigerian art.

The High Museum of Art will present the first American solo exhibition for the artist in the exhibit, Bruce Onobrakpeya: The Mask and the Cross, which runs April 7 through July 30.

With work that features Onobrakpeya’s creative phase from 1967 through 1978, the exhibit will journey through the artists’ period when he was creating numerous works marrying Nigerian tradition, folklore, and cosmology with Catholic motifs and stories from the Bible. For instance, he had a series of commissioned work for the Catholic Church titled “Fourteen Stations of the Cross,” which depicts events leading up to the crucifixion of  Jesus Christ. In these, Onobrakpeya portrays Biblical characters as Nigerian and reimagines Biblical scenes in Nigerian settings.

“Onobrakpeya is one of the most important artists in Nigeria and has played a central role in shaping contemporary art on the African continent,” said Rand Suffolk, Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director of the High. “As an institution with an exceptionally strong and growing collection of Nigerian art, and as one of the few American museums to hold his work, it’s fitting for us to celebrate his importance and continued influence with this exhibition.”

The Mask and the Cross will also showcase other works from this period, as well as examples from later periods, as themes of religious hybridity and multiplicity continue to appear throughout the artist’s 60-year career.

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