Let’s Pray: Dale’s take on Onobrakpeya’s The Lord is my Shepherd

Bruce Onobrakpeya and David H. Dale are two leading contemporary Nigerian artists. Onobrakpeya, arguably Nigeria’s most influential living artist, is a master printmaker who invented several techniques of print making, including the revolutionary deep-etching technique. Similarly, Dale has displayed remarkable expertise in print making, and building on Onobrakpeya’s deep-etching, he developed the colour embedded deep-etching technique—a process of splitting the various colour segmentations in a deep-etching composition. These two have a connection that goes way back to Dale’s school days. Onobrakpeya was an early influence in Dale’s life—as Ben Enwonwu was in Onobrakpeya’s. Onobrakpeya was Dale’s art teacher at St. Gregory College, Obalende, Lagos, and Dale later attended Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria as Onobrakpeya had done a decade before. Today, David Dale is known as one of Nigeria’s most versatile artists. He has worked successfully in 23 different media, including stained-glass painting, mosaic designing, etching, charcoal and watercolour painting, and metal sculpting.

Inevitably, the two draw on the same sources for their art: folklore, myths and legends. And it is not surprising to see a piece by Dale that is inspired by an earlier Onobrakpeya. In this case, Dale’s Let’s Pray, done about a decade after Onobrakpeya’s The Lord is My Shepherd, portrays Dale’s version of the subject treated in The Lord is My Shepherd.

Onobrakpeya's artwork
The Lord is My Shepherd, Bruce Onobrakpeya, 1974

The business of praying and preaching at the beach fascinated Bruce Onobrakpeya. For hours, he would watch the mostly white-garbed worshippers act out their roles by the edge of the water, whilst admiring their connection to their environment. In The Lord is my Shepherd, Onobrakpeya depicts a group of singing worshippers. We glimpse the congregation’s religious favor, their camaraderie and their connection with the energetic leader, who is placed close to the followers so he seems just one of them.

David Dale, on the other hand, flips the script. In Let’s Pray, Dale renders a leader who is removed from the congregation. The emphasis is on the leader; he dominates the scene. He seems to be presented as an ideal to the congregation who are looking up to him, literally and figuratively. The impression of camaraderie among the worshippers, perceived in Onobrakpeya’s piece, is missing as they are focused on the leader. Instead, there is an air of expectation and disquiet. I can’t help but wonder if Dale holds a cynical view of such gatherings.

David Dale's Artwork
Let’s Pray, David Dale, 1985

Both, Let’s Pray and The Lord is my Shepherd, have featured at the ArtHouse Contemporary Limited ‘Modern & Contemporary Art’ Auctions.


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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