Bruce Onobrakpeya

The Last Supper


Not on display

Bruce Onobrakpeya born 1932
Resin, wood, metal and paint
Displayed: 1200 × 2515 × 25 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Africa Acquisitions Committee 2019


This wall-mounted, wooden-framed triptych by the Nigerian artist Bruce Onobrakpeya consists of three bas-relief carved plaster panels. The work is hinged along the outer vertical edges of the central panel. The outer left and right panels, as well as the upper and lower margins of the centrepiece, depict the biblical subject of the Via Crucis, also known as the Stations of the Cross. In fourteen discrete scenes related to the Crucifixion, Jesus Christ is shown from the moment he is condemned to death by Pontius Pilate through to his entombment. These fourteen scenes surround a larger scene, set in the middle of the triptych, that depicts the last meal Christ took with his disciples, commonly known as the Last Supper. Onobrakpeya has amplified the one-point perspective made famous by Leonardo da Vinci’s (1452–1519) Renaissance composition of 1498 (The Last Supper, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan), by orientating the table outward rather than lengthwise. The gathering converges on Christ as the focal point at the head of the table, with the opposite end – where the viewer stands – left vacant. The last meal that Jesus Christ shared with his disciples is recorded in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, known as the four canonical Gospels of the Bible.

Onobrakpeya’s version of The Last Supper was awarded the Lali Katat silver medal at the 5th Indian Triennale in New Delhi in 1982. Inspired by the designs Onobrakpeya had created in 1967 for his murals in St. Paul’s Church, Ebute Metta in Lagos, the fourteen scenes that surround the supper are based on a series of linocuts that the artist made in 1969 after his original paintings. A set of these linocuts are also in Tate’s collection (The Fourteen Stations of the Cross 1969, Tate P82221P82234). Typical of Onobrakpeya’s working practice, he has revisited this theme in several series of work, including a series of Last Supper plaster prints or ‘plastocasts’ in an edition of four. Two copies from this edition are with the artist in Niger Delta. One is in the Royal Collection of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI in Rabat; another is in regular liturgical use in a church in Lagos, Nigeria.

Nigeria’s foremost printmaker, Onobrakpeya is celebrated for his deep etchings as well as his plastocasts, of which The Last Supper is an example. His distinctive plastocast technique lies at the intersection of sculpture and printmaking and he has said of his practice:

I took advantage of the dynamics of printmaking and experimentation to manipulate the same motif or idea to produce different design effects. Tiny line engravings have been developed and transformed into low relief sculptures called plastocasts, in some cases, enlarged into bigger reliefs or paintings. In reverse, pieces which were finished as large pictures or prints have been re-examined in miniature gravures. This process of transformation, or if you like, a migration of a design from one artistic medium, size or combination, to another, is what I describe as ‘Nomadic’.
(Quoted in Temple Muse 2013, p.7.)

Further reading
Holland Cotter, ‘Bruce Onobrakpeya: Jewels of Nomadic Images’, in The New York Times, 16 November 2012.
Sandra Obiago, Bruce Onobrakpeya: Exhibition of Recent Prints, Paintings and Low-Relief Sculptures, exhibition catalogue, Temple Muse, Lagos 2013.
Dele Jegede (ed.), Onobrakpeya: Masks of Flaming Arrows, Milan 2014.

Zoe Whitley
April 2018

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