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This page is culled from CULTURAL AND CREATIVE ARTS, JSS3 by Femi Fat & may not be reproduced or republished without prior permission, © Femi Fat, July 9, 2023.

Contemporary Artists in Nigeria


By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  1. Define the concept of contemporary Nigerian arts and its significance.
  2. Recognize and appreciate the contributions of notable contemporary Nigerian artists.
  3. Analyze the impact of contemporary Nigerian artists on sustainable development in society.
  4. Identify and examine significant works produced by contemporary Nigerian artists.
  5. Explore avenues for generating income through contemporary arts in Nigeria.

Contemporary Nigerian artists represent the creative minds of our present generation. They play a crucial role in shaping and preserving the art scene through individual and collective efforts, producing innovative and timeless artworks.

These artists acquire their skills and knowledge through a variety of means, including formal education in art schools and participation in informal training workshops. They specialize in various disciplines such as Studio Art Pioneering, Art Education, Performing Art, and Craft Arts.

Now let’s dive deeper into the significance of contemporary Nigerian arts, the notable artists contributing to the field, the impact of their works on sustainable development, prominent artworks worth exploring, and the potential for generating income through contemporary arts.

AINA ONABOLU (Painter and Art Educator)

Aina Onabolu: A Pioneer Nigerian Artist and Art Educator

Aina Onabolu, born in 1882 in Ijebu-Ode, Nigeria, was an influential figure in Nigerian art history. He was not only a prominent artist but also an art teacher and painter. After completing his primary and secondary education, he embarked on a personal journey to challenge the prevailing Western notion that Africa lacked its artistic heritage. This endeavor began while he was working for the Nigerian government in the Marine and Customs department.

In 1900, Onabolu initiated his artistic practice, devoting himself to promoting African art. His dedication to the field led him to travel to England and Paris in 1920 to study art. In 1922, he earned a diploma in art, solidifying his knowledge and skills. Upon returning to Nigeria, Onabolu advocated for the inclusion of Fine Art in the school curriculum, successfully persuading the British colonial government to adopt this change. Furthermore, he volunteered to become the first art teacher, teaching at renowned institutions such as King’s College and C.M.S. Grammar School in Lagos.

Onabolu’s tireless efforts extended beyond his own teaching responsibilities. Recognizing the need for more qualified art teachers, he convinced the colonial government to employ expatriate art teachers, including Kenneth C. Murray and Dennis Duerden. By creating this platform for the spread of art education in Nigeria, Onabolu played a pivotal role in nurturing the country’s artistic talent and fostering a deeper appreciation for the arts.

While his contributions to art education are remarkable, Aina Onabolu was also an accomplished portrait painter. Some of his notable works include:

  • Painting of Adam and Eve
  • Portrait of the Right Rev. O. Oluwole
  • Portrait of Mrs. Spencer Savage
  • Portrait of Chief Shapara

In recognition of his immense impact on art education in Nigeria, Aina Onabolu was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1956. He lived a fulfilling life dedicated to art and passed away in 1963 at the age of 81, leaving behind a rich legacy that continues to inspire and shape the Nigerian art community.

BEN ENWONWU (Painter and Sculptor)

Ben Enwonwu: A Renowned Nigerian Sculptor and Painter

Ben Enwonwu, born in 1921 in Onitsha, Anambra State, was a celebrated Nigerian artist known for his exceptional skills in both sculpture and painting. He initially learned traditional carving techniques from his father, who was a skilled carver. Enwonwu honed his craft by creating carvings for masquerades and various traditional events, such as age-grade dances and hunter dances.

Continuing his artistic journey, Enwonwu attended Government College, Ibadan, and Umuahia, where he studied under the mentorship of Kenneth C. Murray. Under Murray’s guidance, Enwonwu was introduced to modern techniques in art, including drawing, painting, and design. Seeking further knowledge and inspiration, he traveled to the United Kingdom and the United States to pursue art studies. In 1948, he returned to Nigeria, equipped with newfound skills and experiences.

Enwonwu’s artistic prowess earned him numerous commissions for sculptures in public spaces across Nigeria. Some notable works include:

  • The statue of Sango at the Electric Power Headquarters in Marina, Lagos.
  • “Anyanwu” at the National Museum in Onikan, Lagos.
  • The Evangelist in the Onitsha Cathedral Mosaicist.
  • Bronze statue of Queen Elizabeth II at the old House of Representatives in Lagos.
  • The Risen Christ in the Protestant Chapel of the University of Ibadan.
  • The six wooden figures in front of the Daily Mirror Office on High Holborn, London.

In addition to his remarkable sculptural achievements, Ben Enwonwu was also an accomplished painter. His style seamlessly blends abstract and naturalistic elements, resulting in captivating and thought-provoking artworks.

Enwonwu’s artistic contributions were not limited to his own creations. He was a pivotal figure in advocating for the recognition and appreciation of African art globally. His efforts helped elevate the status of African art and artists on the international stage, breaking down barriers and fostering cultural exchange.

Ben Enwonwu’s artistic legacy continues to inspire generations of Nigerian artists and art enthusiasts. His dedication to both sculpture and painting, his fusion of traditional and modern techniques, and his profound impact on the art world have solidified his position as one of Nigeria’s most esteemed and influential artists.

JIMO AKOLO (Painter and Art Educator)

Jimo Akolo, born in 1935 in the town of Egbe, Kogi State, is an esteemed Nigerian artist who has made significant contributions to the art world. He began his educational journey in Egbe, where he received his primary education before enrolling at Government College, Keffi. It was during his time at the college that he had a transformative encounter with the renowned expatriate art teacher, Mr. Dennis Duerden, who greatly influenced his artistic development.

Driven by his passion for the arts, Akolo pursued a diploma at the former Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology in Zaria from 1957 to 1961. Notably, he holds the distinction of being the first prominent artist from the old northern states of Nigeria. His exceptional talent led to various commissions from the northern government, where he showcased his artistic prowess through captivating paintings.

Seeking to expand his horizons and deepen his artistic knowledge, Akolo embarked on a journey to the United States to pursue a higher degree in media resources. Armed with his advanced qualifications, he returned to Nigeria and was appointed as a lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, where he shared his expertise and passion for the arts with budding artists.

Akolo’s artistic journey has been marked by numerous exhibitions and prestigious awards, both at home and abroad. His works reflect his keen observation of Nigerian culture and traditions, capturing the essence of life through his skilled use of color, form, and composition. Notable pieces by Jimo Akolo include:

  • “Yoruba Dancer”
  • “Talking Drum”
  • “Hued Drummer”
  • “Fulani Herdsmen”

These artworks showcase his ability to convey the vibrancy and richness of Nigerian heritage, celebrating the diverse cultural tapestry of the nation.

In addition to his artistic achievements, Akolo is recognized for his contributions to art education and his dedication to nurturing the next generation of artists. His impact on the Nigerian art scene has been profound, shaping the trajectory of the discipline and inspiring aspiring artists to follow their creative passions.

Jimo Akolo’s visionary artistic expressions and his commitment to art education have cemented his position as a revered figure in Nigerian art history. His works continue to captivate audiences, leaving a lasting legacy that contributes to the cultural fabric of Nigeria and beyond.

ADEBAYO YUSUF GRILLO (Painter and Mosericist)

He was born in Lagos in 1934 and started out as a self-inspired young artist. After his secondary education, he desired to pursue a career in any form of art or painting hence he found himself working at the drawing office of Federal Survey in Lagos. He joined an art club organized by the British Council. He under studied the professional in the department and gained enough mastery to attend a higher institution.

In 1956, he enrolled at the Nigeria (College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria and graduated with a diploma in painting.

He also studied art education in Britain and awarded a diploma in 1961. Grub style is highly expressive; he paints everyday life of the people by depicting images in a simplified geometric shape. This he gracefully executes in murals and mosaics, he is a teacher of high repute as he has mentored many art students in the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos.

Some of his works include

  1.     Mother and Child
  2.     Two Yoruba women
  3.     Agidigbo
  4.     Road walker, The Evangelist.

BRUCE ONBRAKPEYA (Painter and Art Educator)

He was born in 1932 in Agbaha Otor near Ughelli of Delta State. His elementary education was in Benin and attended secondary school in Sapele. He started his training in art by attending the former Nigerian College of Arts, Science and technology, Zaria and was awarded a diploma in 1961; he later obtained an art teachers certificate. His terms and ideas :ii muted in. African culture, rhythms and folkiores. He log technique called plasto-cast which involves the use of melted plastics or cut out lino in relief form printing processes. His prints are unique as well as the lino-cut design itself. Apart from print works, he painted various mural in Lagos and Ibadan. His works have been exhibited severally in

Nigeria and overseas. Some of his works appear as book cover designs and as illustrations in notable books in Nigeria.

His famous works others include:

  1.     Ufeto
  2.     Ahwaire and Iiwitiii
  3.     Otorogba
  4.     Erhako etc.

AKINOLA LASEKAN (Painter and C|aertoonist)

He was born in 1916 in Owo, Ondo State and had his elementary education at St. Patrick Central School, Owo. He started practicing art on his own and later went to Lagos for better exposure and training. During this time, he entered for many art competitions and got awards. He worked as illustrator and graphic designer for the CMS Bookshop in Lagos. He later decided to travel abroad for a higher study, which took him to the Hammer Smith School of Art in United Kingdom in 1945. On his return, he became a professional painter, a cartoonist, a graphic and textile designer. He was versatile in designing and illustrations.

He was a Famous cartoonist for the West Pic Pilot Newspaper. He also picked up teaching jobs at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife) he was a classical realist and painted everyday life activity ‘the people using naturalistic painting in bright colours. He was elected a fellow of the royal society of An in London 1962.

His works include

  1.     Market Scene
  2.     A Yoruba boy
  3.     A Yoruba girl
  4.     A Nigerian constable under colonial rule.

WANGBOJE IREIN SOLOMON (Graphic Artist, Painter, Art Educator)

IreinWanghoje as popularly called was born in 1930 in a town called Avbiosi near Benin in Edo State. He attended Edo College, Benin City and his formal training in art began with the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria where he obtained a diploma in Fine Art. He furthered his studies by going to the United States to pursue his degree and higher degree in art. He consequently came back with a Master degree in graphic design and painting in 1963 and a doctorate degree in I ‘)6X. He was the founder and director of Ori-Olokun Art workshop at the University of Ife; he lectured at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria as well as the University of Benin. He was a prolific writer of well-illustrated art books and astute art educator. He was a member of Society of Nigeria lists and International Society for Education through art.

Some of the artworks he made before his death in 1997 includes

  1.     Romance of head load
  2.     Two women
  3.     Music maker
  4.     Desert journey etc.

KOLADE OSINOWO (Painter and Art Educator)

He was born in 1948 in Ikorodu, Lagos and had his primary and secondary education also in Lagos. He started exhibiting artistic talents as a youngster and further his career by attending the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria to study Fine Art. He graduated as a painter and perfected his styles and strokes. He taught art in King’s College, Lagos and also at the Yaba College of Technology. He has participated in various exhibition and his works are in great places both in Nigeria and overseas. He has contributed so much to the development of art in Nigeria.

His works amongst others include

  1.     Durbar
  2.     Agemo festivals etc.

LAMIDI FAKEYE (Traditional Carver)

He was born in 1925 in Ila-Orangun, Osun State amd had his primary education in the same town. Though he was born to a family of traditional wood carver, he did not attach any importance to the trade initially. However in 1948, he enrolled as an apprentice in a carving training centre organized by the Catholic Mission in Oye- Ekiti under a popular carver called Bamidele Areogun. For three years, he learnt modem style of carving and the peculiarities of traditional techniques. He later perfected his skill while working in Father ‘0’ Mahoney workshop in Ondo in 1955. To establish a great career, he moved to Ibadan to set up a carving workshop and he excelled tremendously. His works were sought after by religious Organization, the old western state government and private organization.

By 1962, he travelled w Paris on a French scholarship to study stone carving and cement sculpture. He also visited England and the United States before he returned in 1963. He was also appointed to teach Yoruba carving techniques in Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, USA in 1966.

He made a lot of door panels, sculptures with the hand in wood, furniture, gates, house post etc.


Ladi Kwali was born in 1924 in Kwali village of Niger State. She was a traditional potter who trained locally in her village where pottery was a famous craft. Fate brought her to an expatriate potter called Michael Cardew, who taught her better techniques in pottery. A pottery center was established in a place which is presently withinA buja. She took over the management of the center after Cardew and produced more works as well as giving training in modern pottery techniques. She was an excellent potter with great skills. She had represented the country in Europe and America showcasing her skill and African creativity. For her contribution to the growth of Nigerian traditional craft in modern times, she was honored with a doctorate degree by the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and also awarded with a national award of Officer of the Order of Niger (OON) in 1977.

She died in 1984 and the Abuja pottery centre was named after her.


ERHABOR EMOKPAE (Painter and Sculptor)

A painter and sculptor was born in 1934 in Benin city Edo State in 1934. He attended Benin Government School and Western Boys High School Benin. He started his carrier training in Yaba Technical Institute Lagos. He worked for a number of companies after graduation, such organization are Ministry of Information Enugu, Graphic Designer and Advertiser. He participated in one man and joint exhibition in Nigeria and abroad (West Germany, London, Brazil etc).

He was commissioned to decorate the National Theatre, Iganmu Lagos. lie executed a mural for the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island Lagos. Most of his works include: The portrait of Queen Amina of Zaria, portrait of Herbert Macau lay. Oduduwa, The Acrobat, lya Ibeji etc.

Before his death in 1984, he was honoured with a national award of OON.

UCHE OKEKE (Painter and Art Educator)

He was born in 1933 in Kafachan, Kaduna State, though he is an Ibo man from Akwa, Anambra State. He attended Primary School in Kafanchan and Onitsha, and secondary school in Orlu. He started his career in Kafanchan as a school artist. He was at the Nigerian College of Art, Science and Technology, Zaria between 1957-1961 and got diploma in Fine Art. For further training, he travelled to west Germany to study the techniques of mosaic and stained glass between 1962 and 1963. On his return he engaged himself in several works of art, he actively took part in several exhibitions in Nigeria and abroad, Most of his works connotes African mythologies and folktales, the Igbo folktales expressed in Ulism is common in his works. He was a complete Art practitioner “nd he had great interest in theatre, stage designs, costumes, poems etc. He was an illustrator of books one (i which in Chinua Achebe’s Things fall Apart’. lie taught in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka for several years and later became a professor in art faculty.

His works include: Almajiri, Beautiful Nza Unity, Maiden’s cry etc.

AFI EKONG (Painter)

She is another woman of note among the great artists of Nigeria. She attended Duke town school and Christ Church School in Calabar. Her great love for art made her to study fashion designing at the Technical College Oxford U.K. She also attended Saints Martins School of Art London and Central School of Art in Holiborn also in London.

She became a painter and did a little theoretical work on sculptures. She was an Art collector and a gallery owner. Her paintings are very bright and colourful, these include: Ekpe dancers, the meeting, the seeker etc.

TAIWO OLANIYI (Theater Artist and Painter)

Popularly known as Twins 77, he “as born in 1947 in Kabba Kebi 1ate. He is a gifted musician, dancer and poet. He got his professional training at the Mbari ‘Abayo Workshop for Artisan, Artist and Artiste in Osogbo. The organizers: Susan Wenger and Uli Bier encouraged the participants id inspired them greatly to make use of their talents in the most lucrative ways by exposing them to modern techniques of making artworks, Twins 77 turned out to be a successful multi-talented person, he could sing, dance, draw, paint, design cloths and organize several African shows and carnivals. His works are generally abstractive and imaginative. He has participated in several one man and joint exhibition in Nigeria and abroad.



He was born in Ikere Ekiti, Ekiti State in 1945 and started his carrier training at Yaba Tech, Lagos. He further went to A.B.U. Zaria where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree specializing in painting. He even won the prize of the best student in his set. He continued his education by going to Indiana University Bloomington U.S.A and returned with a decorated degree mart history.

He worked with Daily times as a cartoonist and illustrated a number of books. Though an art critic, he still participated in several one-man exhibitions and joint exhibitions. His works include: Orange seller, Sallah day, EKo re, Maroko, Ariya, Milkmaid, hunter and wife.

FELIX IDUBOR (Sculptor and Art Educator)

He was born in 1925 in Benin city, Edo State. After his elementary school, he joined the Benin Carvers Association and understudied their styles and techniques. He improved on his career training by traveling to United Kingdom to study at the Royal College of professional sculptor with a great knowledge of African and modern techniques. He was an art teacher at Edo College Benin City and sculpture instructor at Yaba Technical College. He opened an art training centre in Lagos and held many exhibitions in Nigeria and abroad.

Some of his works are carved head in marble, carved doors, carved chest presented to Queen Elizabeth, Mother Africa in front of National Theatre Iganmu, Lagos.

ABAYOMI BARBER (Sculptor, Painter and Art Educator)

He was born in 1934 in Ile-Ife, after primary and secondary education. He went to Lagos and attended Yaba Technical Institute Lagos and Central School of art and crafts London. He gathered experiences from Mancini and Tozer Limited. Oscar Nemon’s and St. James palace while in United Kingdom. He later became a naturalist and realist. Most of his scuiptureal piece shows naturalism. His works in painting and sculpture include: Bust of Oba Adesoji Aderemi, bust of General Muritala Mohammed, Sir Winston Churchil, Portrait ofAihaji Shehu Shagari etc.


He was born in Osogbo, Osun State in 1934, a naturally talented painter who started his career training in art by enrolling in the Mbari Mbayo art workshop in Osogbo. He developed a form of painting by combining bead arrangement on board with oil background. He did a series of work in etching. His mosaic works has been exhibited severally, some of which now adorn the walls of many private homes and public places. Some of his paintings include: Faces, Osanyi, Dyers, Zaria city, Market women, African family etc.



He was born in Idumuje Ugboko, Delta State in 1935. He went to primary and secondary school in Benin and was initially attracted to art by some wall decorations in his father’s palace. He was further encouraged by his art teacher in secondary school and practised a series of drawings and paintings. He moved to the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology; Zaria and graduated as a painter. In 1962 he traveled to Paris France and study Decor, Fresco painting and stenographic Art. Through his working experiences, he also gained some knowledge of architecture, industrial designs, stage design etc.

His works featured in the Nigerian Independence exhibition. Other exhibition are at Mbari Gallery in Ibadan. His works are also exhibited in France and Germany.

Demas was a theatre designer and technical theatre lecturer at University of Ibadan, he also has a private training centre. His works include Adam and Eve. The Philosopher boy, Mother and Child, the bathing women etc.

He was born in 1957 in Ikoic-Ekiti. Ekiti State, after his primary and post-primary education, he began his career training at University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art. He also proceeded to the University of Benin and got a master’s degree in print-making. He is a professional print-maker, aprofihic writer of books and joumals whose great knowledge of contemporary African art has made popular among art critics and art admires. He lectured at Adeyemi College of Education Ondo, Ondo State and was head of department, he was also dean of faculty, Technical Education, Federal College of Education (Technical) Akoka Yaba Lagos. He is an important member of art associations in Nigeria and he has participated in several group and solo exhibitions.

Deputy Provost Federal College of Education Akoka, Yaba and later became the Provost of Federal College of Education Osiele, Ogun State. He is a member of the Nigerian Society of Artist (SNA).

OGUNDELE RUFUS (Painter and Theater Artist)

He was born in Oshogbo in 1947. He was a naturally talented artist who began a professional career in art by attending the Oshogbo summer school between 1962- 1963. This session was conducted by Dennis Williams who discovered his great talent in painting. He was invited by Uli Beiser to take another session of training in graphics art, during this time, he developed a unique style of painting in shades of purple.

Apart from being a painter, Rufus also engaged in acting and drama directing. He was also involved in prints. His aray of knowledge gave him the opportunity to be appointed as the curator of Ori Olokun gallery in Ile Ife. His works have been exhibited in Nigeria, Ghana, London, Washington, Berlin and Amsterdam.

Some of these works include sacrifice to Ogun and prayer to Ogun

KUNLE JEREMIAN ADELEYE (Sculptor and Graphic Artist)

Kunle was born in 1960 at Ilaro between 1968 and 1983. He had his post secondary school academic career in Federal College of Education, Pankshin, Plateau State (1987 – 1990) and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

Adekunle Adeleye is a very versatile artist who is a sculptor and a graphic designer. He also does several craft works.

He is an active artist that has produced various functional art pieces for personalities in Nigeria. He has taken part in several group exhibitions in Nigeria. He was won many laurels including 2nd National School/Teachrs Art competition NCE category and Cyprain Ihejia prize for the best final year student in sculpture, ABU, Zaria, 1995.

Adekunle, who is and experienced teacher practices his art in Abeokuta. He had executed many art projects. His works includes: The Unpaid Head-Labour, Sculpture Garden Zaria, Gbedu Drummer, Vibration etc.


Contemporary Nigerian art started with Late Aina Onabolu, through whom art education was introduced to Nigerian Educational System. Several Artist had been trained within and outside Nigeria and their contribution to the development of the subject and profession in general cannot be ignored.

Each of these contemporary artist had been a source of inspiration to younger artist today. Their works and achievements stand out in public places within and outside Nigeria. Some of them had gained recognition through awards by the government and organisations worldwide.


  1. Who was Nigeria first traditional artist?
  2. Mention the first two schools where art was thought in Nigeria.
  3. Explain briefly the biography of these following artist:
  4.                     Aina Onabolu
  5.                   Ben Enwonwu

iii.                 Lamidi Fakeye

  1.                 Ladi Kwali
  2.                   Yusuf Grillo


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