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Folu Oyefeso

Exploring Demas Nwoko’s work - The Dominican Chapel, Ibadan

I was going to be in Ibadan for a few days and I thought it would be great to make progress on my Demas Nwoko list. This time it would be the Dominican Chapel in Samonda, Ibadan. The house I grew up in was not too far off and as I drove, I wondered how this landmark had been right under my nose for so long.

The sun had begun to break through the clouds from the early morning rain, so everything looked great - almost like it had all been washed for me. I made my way to the reception area, passing expertly tended lawns and shrubs and was soon joined by Father Frances Chiadi. He would be my guide into the facility and an insight into what it meant to members of the Dominican priory.

The Dominican chapel, designed and built by Demas Nwoko
The Dominican Chapel

The order of the Dominicans stems from the work done by Spanish priest Dominic de Guzman, a 12th century scholar whose work also influenced the names of the countries Dominican Republic and Dominica. The chapel was commissioned in 1970, 10 years after Nigeria gained her independence from the British. The initial design was rejected because it did not capture a true African ideal and so Demas Nwoko took control of the project thereafter.

Main dome of the Dominican chapel
Inside the chapel

We walked into in the main dome and it becomes immediately clear that you are stepping into a different kind of chapel, something a lot more intentional. The amount of detail work is unparalleled and every element you see has been designed specifically for space, functionality or both. Imagine mind, body and soul coming together, but in a building. The structure is modeled after a traditional Yoruba hut, and illustrates major cultural elements like the exterior gathering spaces and column carvings.

Nwoko's talent for combining functionality with elegance in design is a theme you immediately notice during your visits. The buttock shaped seating furniture, the pigmented walls that never need repainting and the center piece designed to illuminate the entire chapel are but a few of the clever bits that make up the structure.

Bust of Mary with stained glass windows
Stained glass windows and bust of Mary

There is quite a bit of symbolism involved as well, especially the references to the 12 disciples of Christ. There are 12 pillars in the chapel, the 12 spires behind the central crucifix and the 12 stained glass flower shaped patterns behind the statue of Mary.

The chapel was designed to have a singular source of light. This would come from a skylight that first bathes the central crucifix before illuminating the rest of the chapel, but now additional lighting has been added.

Crucifix of Christ with light source from above
Crucifix of Christ with light source from above

Interestingly, all of the building material was sourced on site, a literal chapel from the soil. Firm in his belief in sustainability and minimizing waste, the traditional sand casted burglary bars, the patterned cobblestones and the pillars, were all produced on the site. Father Francis explained the reason behind the eco-balanced design. It's basically a structure in line with principles of life cycles. It is used as a framework for sustaining basic life supporting systems.

Burglary proof and cobblestone floors
Burglary proof and cobblestone floors

For instance, the pond that surrounds the chapel is sourced from collected rain water that flows from the roofs multiple spouts. In the pond, catfish are grown and they in turn keep mosquito populations in check by feeding on them. He further explained how they themselves are part of this system and the numerous roles they play in maintaining balance.

Exterior of the chapel showing the pond
Exterior of the chapel showing the pond

Although, the pond was built around the building to maintain it's design concept, it is by no means a finished work. Much like the journey towards God and perfection, it is always continuous.

In Father Francis' words, the Dominican Chapel is truly a place of encounter. A place to encounter God and discover ourselves in a profound way.

If you want to visit the chapel, you can give him a call on +234 803 564 0113. It's a religious site so please be on your best behavior.

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