Built on art

Demas Nwoko, the emblem of the versatile architect
by Marisa Santin

Nigerian artist, designer, writer, set designer, critic, and architect Demas Nwoko, born in 1935, embodies the term “pratictioner” perfectly, a definition that Lesley Lokko introduces at this year’s Biennale to describe the participants in her Laboratory of the Future.

“He is 80 something now – says Lokko – and he’s from a very particular period of Western African history. But for me, he is the original Renaissance architect.”
In a continent where architecture is often seen as a matter of modernization and westernization, Demas Nwoko’s works have become a model of sustainable development that has inspired a new generation of African architects and designers.

Dominican Institute Chapel, 1975, Ibadan Nigeria, © Joseph Conteh

Regarding her choice to award Demas Nwoko with the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, Lokko said: I was reminded of something that my father used to say to me: “You always stand on the back of somebody else”. So for me it was a combination of two things. On the one hand hearing my father’s voice and on the other hand seeing this body of work that moved between painting and drawing and making and building and religion and culture and protest in really interesting ways.”