African Architects Honoured At the Venice Biennale
Nigerian artist-designer Demas Nwoko has won the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement 2023 at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia He is one of many Africans in focus this year.
As an architect, painter, sculptor and designer, Demas Nwoko is considered a pioneer of Nigeria’s modern art movement.
His architecture, while still drawing on traditional African construction, has all been innovative and has largely bypassed his non-formal training.
Nwoko himself describes himself as an “artist-designer”.
The Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement of the #BiennaleArchitettura2023 goes to Baba #DemasNwoko. @LokkoLesley: “He is everything all at once: an architect, sculptor, designer, writer, set designer, critic, historian. When pushed, he refers to himself as an ‘artist-designer’.” pic.twitter.com/6LEh97aBVX— La Biennale di Venezia (@la_Biennale) May 20, 2023
Son of a king, born in 1935 in southern Nigeria, he found his first inspirations in the palace designed by his grandfather.
Since the 1970s, his work has been charachterised by a syncretic approach between architectural styles – the practice of combining different beliefs and various schools of thought – combining Igbo architecture from Nigeria with Japanese construction techniques.
He is now known for constructions suited to tropical climates, relying on principles of sustainability decades before it reached mainstream thinking.
The decision,was taken at the recommendation of the exhibition curator, Lesley Lokko, and was approved by La Biennale’s Board of Directors chaired by Roberto Cicutto.
For the better part of a century, Demas Nwoko has told original stories of space and form through the lens of African culture and experience. His life has forged a new culture for the architectural approach in Nigeria and the continent at large.#demasnwoko#newculturestudio pic.twitter.com/HhrbY5diZw— Stephen Ajadi (@StephenAjadi) May 22, 2023
Lokko said: “One of the central themes of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition is an approach to architecture as an ‘expanded’ field of endeavour, encompassing both the material and immaterial worlds…
“Baba [Nigerian honorific title] Demas Nwoko is everything all at once: an architect, sculptor, designer, writer, set designer, critic, and historian.”
She added that when pushed to dscribe his work, Nwoko refers to himself as an “artist-designer”, which speaks both to the polyglot nature of his talents and works, and to the rather narrow interpretation of the word ‘architect’ that has arguably kept his name out of the annals.
This edition of the Venice Architecture Biennale largely focuses on Africa as it is for the first ever curated by an African woman.
The Ghanaian-Scottish architect and university lecturer, Lesley Lokko, is also a bestselling novelist
She organised the show’s central exhibition, inviting 55 practices from around the world to participate, many from Africa and the African diaspora.
La Biennale runs until November 26, 2023, for which Lokko has designed a workshop of ideas, themed “Laboratory of the Future.”
Architects from all over the world will congregate at this year’s La Biennale, in 63 national pavilions in the old brick halls of the Arsenale, the former shipyard and naval base of the former Republic of Venice.