Demas Nwoko Nigeria, b. 1935


Demas Nwoko is a painter, sculptor, architect and designer, who is a leading pioneer of Nigeria’s modern art movement.

As a member of the influential artist group “The Zaria Art Society” in the 1950s, known as the “Zaria Rebels”, Demas Nwoko bridged his Western art training with a focus on African narratives and forms. He was an active member of the Mbari Club of Ibadan in the 1960s, which brought together a diverse group of modernist artists and writers.

As an artist, Demas Nwoko’s paintings and sculptures are inspired by indigenous art practices and traditions, as well as contemporary politics and culture. As an architect, he formed a unique modernist interpretation of localized building practices and materials. His work in stage design was influential in developing contemporary African theatre with experimental production styles. Nwoko has also created numerous murals and public commissions throughout his distinguished career, in addition to his practice in furniture design.


Demas Nwoko was born in 1935 in Idumuje Ugboko, as the son of the Obi. He studied at the College of Arts, Science and Technology in Zaria from 1957-1961, and was a member of the influential group of artists that formed the Zaria Art Society.

Popularly known as the Zaria Rebels, these artists promoted a concept of art known as “natural synthesis”, which combined their Western art education by colonial professors with African themes and subject matter.

After university, Nwoko pursued private studies in creative architecture in Ibadan, with a focus on the traditional architecture of Africa, the Arab world and the Far East. He won his first national architecture competition in 1960, to design and build the National Arts and Craft Pavilion during the Nigerian Independence celebration in Lagos.

In 1962, Nwoko received a scholarship to study at the Centre Français du Théâtre in Paris, where he studied theatre architecture and scene design. He returned to Nigeria and served as a lecturer at the University of Ibadan, where he was a pioneer staff of the School of Drama. In Ibadan, Nowko designed for staged theater productions, teaching between 1963-1978. He won a Rockefeller travel grant in 1964 to study the Theatre of Africa, Asia, China, Japan, Canada and the United States of America.

As an architect, notable commissions including the Dominican Mission Chapel and the Cultural Centre in Ibadan, and the Benin Theatre. 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 New Culture Magazine, a publication that documented contemporary art and culture.