Art Teacher to the Pioneers, Clara Etso Ugbodaga-Ngu

Clara Etso Ugbodaga-Ngu (1921-1996), painter, sculptor, textile artist and art educator, was renowned for being the first Nigerian art lecturer at the Nigerian College of Art, Science and Technology, Zaria in the 1950s—at the time Bruce Onobrakpeya, Yusuf Grillo, Uche Okeke, Demas Nwoko et al., were students. Ngu, like Aina Onabolu, started teaching in mission schools before going to study art in England. Also, her artworks, especially her terracotta sculptures, secured her a place among the pioneers of Nigerian art. The National Gallery of Art, Lagos has her terracotta sculpture, Ona, and painting, The Turning Point, in its permanent collection.

Unfortunately, not much attention has been given to Ngu in art literature. There is therefore a dearth of information on her. Here is a stab at a biographical timeline for this pioneer artist and art educator.

Beggars, Clara Etso Ugbodaga-Ngu, 1963


Birth of Clara Etso Ugbodaga in Kano State.

1945 – 1950

Ngu teaches art in mission schools.


Ngu gets a scholarship to study at Chelsea School of Art, London, where she obtains a National Diploma in Design (NDD).


She receives an art teacher’s diploma from the Institute of Education, University of London. And thereafter returns to Nigeria

Ngu becomes the first Nigerian lecturer at the Department of Fine Arts, Nigerian College of Art, Science and Technology, Zaria, and was there till 1959.


Ngu holds her first solo exhibition at the Commonwealth Institute Art Gallery, London.

And she opens an art studio in Nigeria.

Man and Bird, Clara Etso Ugbodaga-Ngu, 1963


She joins the art department at the University of Ibadan, Ibadan, and lectures there till 1962.


Her works feature in a group exhibition at the Independence Exhibition, at the British Council, Lagos.

Ngu marries Professor Victor Anomah Ngu, the Cameroonian surgeon, whom she had met in England in mid-1950s


She holds a solo exhibition at the Radcliffe Graduate Center, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.


She gets a part-time research fellowship at University of Ife, Ile-Ife.


She is part of the group exhibition titled ‘Contemporary Nigerian Art’ at the Commonwealth Institute Art Gallery, London.

Market Women, Clara Etso Ugbodaga-Ngu, 1963


Ngu is state adviser for FESTAC.


Her art features at FESTAC ’77 in Lagos.


25 September – 1 October, she features at the ‘National Art Exhibition’ National Theatre, Lagos.

25 November – 7 December, she features at the ‘Exhibition of Nigerian Contemporary Art’ in Dakar, Senegal.


She becomes a Fellow at the Asele Institute, Nimo.


Clara Etso Ugbodaga-Ngu dies in August and is buried in Cameroon.



Images: courtesy of the National Archives

Adekemi is a lawyer and writer with a passion for the arts, particularly African art history. She is dedicated to discovering and documenting the most excellent artworks of our time. Follow her on Twitter at adekemitweets.
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