So sweet, so light-Such pleasure brings pain
Brown to white cling, bringing imperfections to light,
Again we lunge for it-so dark, so sweet
To our hearts’ delight,
Brown on white so sweet, brings light to our eyes,
Yet shapes us as though misaligned,
Separate from the white rows,
Below and above, yet in line.
So sweet, yet with so much sadness wrapped, full of holes.
The smile is so true,
Not blood pumping-something in the heart alights,
Butterfly on blooming flower.

Flowers in Bloom


“It is only by selection, by elimination, and by emphasis that we get at the real meaning of things,”
Georgia O’Keeffe, American painter. 
‘Are you happy as a Nigerian about the political scene?’ Nkechi comes at me scathingly, as if to dare me to say otherwise- that I am happy. Through all the dreariness, the darkness, like one drowning, clutching at a straw, the pursuit of happiness here seems a daunting personal struggle. My mind immediately drifts to Michael Jackson’s final concert rehearsal video This Is It, to the sketch for Earth Song. A little girl appears, playing with butterflies in a beautiful green forest that soon starts to die out to Man’s exploitative, destructive actions. Nature’s light gives way to the stark, progressive dawn of Man overpowering the landscape, killing it. The girl, who had earlier drifted into a deep dream of peace, is jolted awake by the crescendo of rambling destruction around her- the bush burning and menacingly approaching bulldozer, and she flees for dear life. On her escape route she pursues a fleeing butterfly, and soon stumbles over the rubble as her eyes stray off the path. Falling to the ground, she finds a solitary, miraculously green plant in the decay. The little girl feverishly uproots that plant, as though it is the only hope for the forest’s future rebirth. That girl may well be Nkechi Abii (nee Duru), the willowy tall lady who will be showing artworks in an exhibition titled Fragrant Kaleidoscope, on the 10th of June, at Didi Museum, Akin Adesola Street, Victoria Island, Lagos. She holds out more than greens In the early eighties, at the other end of the street from ours in Owerri, their house was surrounded by a forest of flowers, potted plants and trees. Nkechi’s family were close friends-my sisters occasionally visited their home. I would take a cursory look while riding my chopper past their ‘green’ house. We lived in Aladinma, then a newly built federal housing estate in Owerri, at the edge of a forest. We usually ran through that forest, searching for icheku (a local seedy velvet-black berry with a succulent orange flesh) and utu (a wild sour berry). We also searched for birds’ nests and delighted in play-acting like we were actors in a Rambo or Indiana Jones movie, running wild and free. Life was simpler then, without worries. 
She graduated from Nsukka 6 years before me, so Professor Uche Okeke was still lecturing. Professors Chike Aniakor, Obiora Udechukwu and El Anatsui, Ola Oloidi, Chuka Amaefuna also taught her. She must have heard the other mantra at Nsukka’s Uli School, hidden under an overriding and more populist legacy. The hidden mantra, the ‘yang’ to Nsukka’s modern interpretation of Uli, was the Theory of Natural Synthesis, that allowed for a universal search and unearthing of individual cultural/artistic aesthetics among the students. This search became silently bound in the gene of the fledgling art school. Students were encouraged also to investigate further, far from their familiar, native artistic and cultural traditions. European classical music, poems, and essays on creativity and the creative process formed the potpourri. For Nkechi Abii it was familiar turf-she grew up listening to her dad’s classical music LPs. 
The 1984 Nsukka graduate of Fine and Applied Arts held a series of exhibitions during her year of National Youth service and won the Presidential Prize as Best Corper for 1985. Yet when the ovation was loudest, she withdrew into a more pedestrian life. Those demanding joys of life beckoned-Love and Marriage, then Child-bearing and Raising Children, all at the expense of resting her hitherto restless palette and brushes. The young artist needed to mature, to unfurl her creative wings and soar. It would take another 14 years before she exhibited again, starting tentatively with a bit of her testament-her-story of a bit of what had kept her away from the art scene all those years. Like the opening of a cervix, in the 2013 joint exhibition Genes Apart-Two Generations, One Canvas, with her first son and artist Nduka, Nkechi Abii came roaring back. The palette came out raw and fauvist- a medley of recollected and hitherto repressed emotions. 
 Roses show how flowers are not all smell and fragrance, and the hibiscus flower is known to have medicinal powers. A lot can be said about the power of flowers as food, aesthetic statements and for their medicinal, magical powers. In this month’s edition of the Italian edition of Vogue magazine (L’Uomo Vogue), there is a fantastic picture of a male model wearing a dark blazer over a flower-patterned pair of trousers. The colors on the flowers were muted to monochrome-the combination had a classic, weathered look. With her experience in fashion (she took a 2 years’ course at the Paris Academy School of Fashion, in London), Nkechi Abii has definitely seen lots of flowers in fabrics. Flowers have added an ornamental, sensual poesy to artworks. Van Gogh’s famous painting of Irises (1889) and Crows over the Wheatfield (1890) bring deep, psychotic weight that turned opened up how the flower as subject matter was used traditionally. There had been the pastel-colored, rosy landscapes of the Impressionists, the gestural, childlike paintings of Henri Rousseau, the work of the Surrealists all giving voice to the floral, little delights, the Romanticists and Pre-Raphaelites, etc. Closer home, Uche Okeke’s Flowers of the primeval forest (1982) and other works from that period show the master using flora to communicate a conflagration of ideas-from folklore to war tales. There are similarities in his drawings of flora with the ‘tapestries’ of El Anatsui, who has relocated and represented the primeval forests on an ambitious scale. Nnenna Okore continues in the same vein, weaving and planting her own forests. Obiora Udechukwu, on the other hand, mixes Euro-classical music with native lore and traditional elements from Uli. Uzo Egonu painted the Four Seasons in 1983, relocating the idea already represented in Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s music of the same name, and in his Nutcracker Suite. A lot of Marcia Kure’s work and presentation of forms look like portrait renderings, much like how Nkechi Abii represents her solo flowers-portraits of women wearing textile print headgear and individual flowers standing alone on bleak backgrounds. The works of Joseph Eze rely heavily on the floral, vegetal. He is a man truly loving nature. I have related all these creatives’ stories because they share common ground with Nkechi Abii. They all stem from one harvesting ground.  
Clearly, Nkechi Abii’s flowers are no sunflowers of happiness. Some of them look like they could use some light. The petals have an inner vibrancy. The flowers seem painted inside her studio. There is no directional lighting. The artist has chosen a different way-to bring the sun within her; to relocate the kaleidoscope of recollected experience, fragrances and joy of flowers waving in the wind, albeit behind closed doors. She owns her work totally, authoritatively giving the subject matter a reinterpretation and life that is personal, objective. She and her siblings grew up playing around flowers. There, they have shared laughs, maybe tears too. If there be roses, expect thorns. 
These experiences grow in importance, and, as the artist has put, “Happiness is the key to this exhibition.” This rush of memories locked in her psyche is a return to the years of youth and innocence. The artist is aware people have associated a darkness to her paintings, a whiff of melancholy. So she deliberately turns from all the negativity and hard circumstances of living here to present a happy show, for there is much to be grateful for. 
 The exhibition Petals of Steel (2014) preempts her present state of mind. That show alluded symbolically to flowers, but drew pungent image from human (female) gestures. In Fragrant Kaleidoscopes, she speaks directly without inhibitions, and the flower this time is presented as subject and subject matter. Flowers filled her childhood landscape. Family members either have planted gardens or potted plants in their living spaces. When she set out on the exciting journey of actualizing the exhibition of painted flowers, it was a return to a place in her heart where all her family would feel at home. Yet, there is an underlying, taunting melancholy in the air. The titles of artworks play on words. Contrasting ideas are phrased together, in rhythmic mimesis- Weedy White Ways; Sleepless in Eko; Marigold Plane; Yellow Sweetheart, etc. Yellow Sweetheart, in particular, somehow reminds of Van Gogh’s love of the color.   
The artistic training at Nsukka really showed the unity of the performing and fine arts. Students were encouraged to develop their work through research-by reading associated meanings and subtexts in every other field. This wholesome knowledge is key for the artist who wishes to communicate, to be heard in the noise that is today. She enjoys the texture of thick paint on her fingers, the sculpted look of her work. The works careen on the bridge between painting and sculpture, like a true Nsukka experimental painting student knows to work. Again and again, the artist is bound to break boundaries, to ignore categorization of her work. Some of the works don’t fall into the ‘familiar, ‘traditional’ style of painting. There are set pieces-diptychs and triptychs, randomly placed. Sometimes it is a sculptural piece; or mixed with textile print; or just flat complimentary colors. The artist ought not to bother about fitting in, framing the work. Some of the work can stand alone, away from a wall. The signature work for the show is Eriela m gi, a relief work of the spectacular climber gloriosa plant (flame lily), lifting away from two dimensionality to other dimensions. In presenting the new works, even as in her past (in the show Petals of Steel where she has works that only remain bound by the finishing frame on them) one senses a slight uneasiness, as though she feels a strain, a nudging to conform to the traditional, painterly rectangular planes.  
The other question that will arise in the heart of the audience is to ask if Happy Paintings have emerged for wishing them to being. Far from the traditional, pastel colors of the spectrum, we see hard, non-contrasty mixes that are earthy and full-blooded. Happiness, for the artist, is mature, contemplative, reasoned acceptance and grand-standing. Nkechi Abii knows that the painting must come to life in the heart, and she helps the viewer on the journey; modelling in car filler, in large blobs of color applied without care for smooth transitions. There is no subtlety. The work is emphatically in-your-face, taking pride of place.  
It is auspicious that the show opens at Mr. Jibunoh’s Didi Museum, resplendent with its potted plants and flowers. It is a horticulturist’s haven. The gallery owner has made a name for himself internationally for crusading for environmental matters. Let’s say the show has found home. There is a kinship.  
Nkechi Abii’s plum palette reflects her familiarity with textile prints. Her studio is arranged thus-a fashion house with bespoke clothes at the corner; sofas with her artist son and his friends doing speed-painting, playing video games and watching a movie; and a high worktable that serves as a flat easel for laying liquid acrylics on canvas or board. An easel stands in the corner with one of her paintings mounted. In this space, the woman spins and lays out colors. The workspace is filled with memorabilia. Like a musician taking the stage in a command performance, the artist is very ‘present’ while she constructs new landscapes. It is her world. 
The works on view at Fragrant Kaleidoscopes may be divided into three parts-portraits, duets and landscapes. The portraits are solo pieces that render the subject matter as near to life, and sometimes magnified a thousand times over. The boldness of such squinting that yields details of parts of a plant hitherto unnoticed by the wayfaring observer comes is a joyful surprise. One is moved to touch. The duets or subjects in one work, for example the acrylic painting Bee-titude, of a hibiscus flower and bee that flies out of the canvas( literally) is lush and drags the viewer in for the familiarity of such a scene. Documenting and translating, the artist watches the little miracles unravel. The landscapes or bouquet of flowers are composites. Particularly of note is a long painting with iridescent colors with a palette reminiscent of an Odilon Redon landscape. The cadmium red of the roses and yellow lights don’t mix. Two of the roses stand out in relief, growing from the painting. When she took a break from the art scene, Nkechi Abii seems to have travelled to Gauguin’s island, only to return with pictures of vibrant textured landscapes of flowers. The color space freely borrows and exchanges, revealing new interpretations and fusions.  
There will be tears and thorns, and the occasional bloodletting for people playing in rose bushes. There are times when the titles of works seem misleading, as though skimmed over in the huge repertoire of paintings. No title, at least in this show, should stoop so low. Nkechi Abii has worked, and received a hard sieving of impurities from an in-house critic-Nduka, her son for whom she has the highest regards as an artist. Her younger sister Uloma manages the exhibitions. With a flair for poetry, Uloma discusses the appropriateness or otherwise of chosen titles of works. Such supportive family help Nkechi Abii to continue. She is excited, bubbling with energy after many years of silence. She has things to say-bitter or sweet, embellished with a smile.  
One sees the way the painter allows color to stand alone on flat planes. The spaces break the rules of proportion as she emphasizes, leading her audience to a private, shared space. Seeing women as flowers with petals of steel is putting it rather mildly. Nsukka has seen a plethora of such women. Chinwe Uwatse and Ndidi Dike are contemporaries. Chinwe Uwatse’s watercolors exude delicate, yet strong and assured lines that veil the floral, sinuous flow of her works. Ndidi Dike’s panels are of the same progeny- full of ambitious delicacy and playful virtuosity. There are other ‘fragrant’ notes. Marcia Kure’s works still chase the fluid beauty lines of traditional Uli painters. She creates tight neo-surrealist imagery in colorful, textured montages with sheer white backgrounds that scream as loud. One thing the Nsukka artists have in common is an understanding and emphasis on using Space, rallying positive and negative spaces in random breathtaking nuances. The plane is of utmost importance. Sukanthy Visagaperumal, Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo, Lilian Pilaku, and Nnenna Okore are familiar names who continue to works as artists. They are such flowers with petals of steel, releasing fragrances that hit on different notes, working in media as varied as seeds, beads, sackcloth, writing free verse poetry, creating mixed media portraits, all holding the fort in the small ranks of practicing female artists, who, as Nature calls, (as in Nkechi Abii’s case) may hibernate into periods of silence as they give meaning to their lives in ways only women can. Fragrant Kaleidoscope is the story of a woman reborn. 
Anthony Nsofor writes from Lagos.

Democracy\Dictatorship-Differences and Similarities for the Populace

A dictator is one man whose word is deed. In democracies, a ruler can acquire the same power if the system is corrupt. It ends up being about numbers-how corrupt are the supposed checks and balances to be swayed by the highest bidder, in this case, the man with the greatest power, who is often the ruler, call him president or prime minister. In a democracy, more people are culpable for corrupt practices, crimes of injustice, etc.
What makes it not to matter anymore what kind of government we have is this-corruption levels. I am still thinking hard about unjust government practises that have been reversed after individuals win in court. Do those that rule not make mistakes, err in judgment? Are their policies sacrosanct, beatific? In governance, numbers count, election or no; how many people are carried along for the greatest good will matter the most. Is it really about how many years In Democracy, or about how many years Of Democracy? Only a few thousand of the one sixty million enjoy the full benefits. Who is fooling who?

Posted from WordPress for BlackBerry.

A Sad Love Story

Couple apart

IMG_3322-EditLove stories are quite poignant, especially sad stories. Six days ago, Sam Smith won four awards at the 57th annual Grammy Awards. In his acceptance speech, he thanked his ex for causing him so much heartache. Remember Jesus Christ, and so on? Sad love stories rock, still. They are apt to tell, particularly on Valentine’s Day, February 14th.Getty images

Maybe there are the exceptional fairytale endings that fall into place finally in the most unusual way. There was my dear friend Nkem (aka Sese). We had a wonderful friendship as boarding house mates at Federal Government College, Okigwe. We lived in the same dormitory. We were fourteen years-old, learning the ropes of love, discovering the amazing world of the opposite sex. He was in love at the time, but it wasn’t with me, with my younger sister. At the time, many of my friends were, too. See, I was the lucky guy with good looking sisters that got favors for that. In retrospect, I am not sure if I had many real friends, or just friends who had the hots for my sisters.Art

Love is a complex word spanning many dictionaries in definition. Nkem and I would share the closing hours of the day at his corner. He would prepare ‘solution’ (cold water beverages) and Oxford cabin biscuits spread with Blue Band margarine for me to eat. In return, I told him about my escapades with babes. That was how much he loved my ‘love’ stories, and I prided myself for them. After my first break-up, I had decided that love was all about striking while the iron was still hot-sex as soon as possible to cement the ‘love’! I had my reasons for becoming that way, way back then. That would be another story, for another Valentine’s Day.pablo-picasso- Marie-Thérèse Walter

On vacation, Sese and I lived in Owerri, about 20 minutes apart. So we often met to compare notes. I was the occasional love-doctor for him, the more experienced one. Many years later, as undergraduates (he was in Imo State University while I was in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka), we would reunite during holiday periods and talk about love. I had met and fallen in love with Kem in Nsukka, he with some girl in IMSU. One Valentine’s day, he commissioned me to make a portrait of both of them for his rented student’s apartment off-campus. I made an oil painting of him as a traditionally clad drummer playing for her, a dancer wearing native attire. It was made in blues. He loved it. He kept it in his bathroom. I don’t recall his reason for keeping it there. Our common friends whispered about Nkem’s obsession with this girl. I wasn’t sure if the girl was his girlfriend, or he was still asking her out. He was quite lavish with her. One holiday later, my friend Sese was dead. There were muted whispers that he committed suicide over the girl that didn’t love him. They said he was found dead in his bathroom, after drinking a solution of shaving powder. The girl of his dreams changed schools immediately after. She couldn’t survive the negative publicity at IMSU, living as the girl-who-a-guy-died-for (that would make a great title for a painting).

Sad love stories make for compelling telling, and keeps inspiring generations of artists and singers. We all have them, so we all love the retelling. It’s a love/hate relationship-the recollecting of the heady loves gone sour. We keep them in a space in our hearts, close to our most joyful moments, where tears mingle with smiles. It’s not a thin line between love and hate, its only time. Memories grow long. This is to all the girls that I have loved, so that you can see where I have been. Know what I have become. I don’t want to be hurt by love. I love you all, learning to love myself. The story continues. Till next Valentine’s Day.

Zanzibar: Writing on Walls


The manager of Zanzibar Lounge, in Ikenegbu, Owerri had seen some of the work I had done for Full Moon Hotel, Owerri. Full Moon Hotel prides itself in its timeless, archaic classical ambience. The manager trusted that I am ‘artistic’ enough to ‘do something’ for the walls of the lounge. I was delighted at the thought: to be allowed the freedom to express myself in the top floor lounge above a busy street. As far as the eyes could reach, one could see the houses and trees in neighboring towns. The ceiling of the lounge pointed upwards to the sky. I was delighted.img_6634

Zanzibar Lounge and restaurant is one of Owerri’s well-kept secret, and for some obvious reasons too. It is situated in a seedy part of town, with neighboring residential houses sharing walls, and a parking lot that opens to the road. That road exits into the expansive, open highway of Wetheral road that leads out of town. Those that climb up the fleet of stairs to the restaurant are surprised by the ambience of cloudy greys mixed with oranges, and of course, the suggestive lounge that opens out to a stunning view of Owerri. That was were I would ‘write’.

I had to paint on the walls. The work had to help guide viewers to think lofty thoughts, to savor the pleasures of life beyond the daily chaos. That seemed to be the idea behind the space, with its high ceilings pointing upwards to the skies. In recent thinking, the works of Victor Ekpuk and Victor Ehikamenor come to mind. One was executed on a wall in the US, while the other filled a room at this year’s Dak’Art, in Senegal. Victor Ekpuk references the sign writings of the Southern people of Nigeria in his work (Nsibidi), while Victor Ehikamenor has delved into his subconscious to ‘write’ pure forms that fill his blue-lit ‘Prayer Room’. Victor Ekpuk’s wall painting of note, Meditation on Memory can be seen at the Wifredo Lam Center, US. It is interesting to note that both artists’ works revolve around the theme of contemplation/ soul-searching/ spirituality. I intend to investigate the intricacy and richness of language/communication/and symbolism.

Having recently seen the works of the cave men in an exhibition at The Origin Center, in South Africa, my mind still thrilled at the way Sign, Symbol, and the Signifier merge into one communicative ‘abstract’. This became a startling impression and inspiration.

As an adolescent in secondary school, I kept a scrapbook filled with popular brand symbols, logos and catchphrases. Each page was shorthand. Aha, that is the word. In the recesses of my mind were memories of Lynn, my nanny. She attended a Commercial school in the mornings and came back with stories and books on shorthand. I recall a book called Pitman’s Shorthand. Lynn was receiving training that would make her employable as a secretary to take dictations, etc. Those were the days prior the invention of the electric typewriter. Those were the days when I got ‘born-again’, and spoke in ‘tongues’ for the first time. The books of bible story by Jehovah’s Witness painted a good picture of writing in ‘tongues’ in the story of Daniel interpreting the writing on the wall that warned of the destruction of the kingdom. Mene, mene… a finger from heaven wrote on the walls. (The Bible, Daniel, Chapter 5)img_6658

In university, my fascination with the theories of Carl Jung knew no bounds. I felt ideas could be locked in automatic writings and ‘dream’ symbols. Interpreting the works of the surrealists was a delight. Again, I was in a school renowned for its reinterpretation of ancient Igbo sign writing. Uli to me was the opening of doors to personalized communication that connected kindred spirits. It was a suggestion- one went ahead to create a natural synthesis using one’s traditional background as a springboard for conveying and interpreting contemporary experience.

After all the ‘experience’ of cultic sign writing (Uli, Ekpe, Adinkra) that came with the training at Nsukka, I appreciated the way language can become a tool for communication. In a religious sense, sign writing can be like the word-pictures of the Book of Revelation in the bible, written to be interpreted by ‘initiates’ (sic- Let him who has understanding know…) Sacred knowledge was thus shared among the persecuted Christians as stories ‘in plain sight’. Thus, in 2003, in South Africa, a foreign land away from everyone and everything I was used to, I gained the ‘power’ of a personal language. I wrote long stories that flowed out like some form of shorthand based on how fast my frenzied hand could write out the ‘form’ of the sound of the word! Pure genius!

Once upon a time in Onitsha, the famed market-city of South Eastern Nigeria, there were walls leading to the Niger Bridge. They were walls of shops, and fences. A mad man made these walls his canvas, using white paint to write bold text of phrases, using different fonts and varied capitalization. The wordplay was amusing. Students in universities wrote thesis on these graffiti. Everyone wondered at the source, inspiration and creator. The phrases and disjointed text reminded me of Fela and socio-political criticism.

Zanzibar Lounge gave me the walls to ‘write’ again. I played on text, ‘recollected’ hieroglyphics, and the formal beauty of text from unfamiliar foreign languages. It became a babel wall of languages. These experiences all became more recognizable as part of my contemporary reality. Shorthand writing has disappeared to be replaced by the acronyms of SMS in our Internet age. Concise, fast speech must convey meaning. There is no time to be wasted now. So, I suggest you visit the lounge in Ikenegbu sometime soon. There is a message or two for you on the walls. Only the viewer has the codes in his psyche to unlock the ‘meaning’ of the symbols of contemporary living. Language has several interpretations. There are visual, and implied meaning, text, related text and context. It’s the duty of communication to convey the soaring of the human spirit.

Ogene Nkirika: Mad Joy at a Harvest


IMG_5965There is a young mad woman in my village that loves to dance at the sound of good music. From her countenance you can see that she is clearly filled with joy at the sound. As she danced among the thronging of revelers, what kept going through my head was, ‘what does she really think is happening here-‘So we have as many mad people as myself in this village, and they have been pretending all this while!’ Outsiders may get shocked at the carnival of madness called Ogene Nkirika-three days of music, dancing and dressing up in outrageous costumes, all part of the New Yam celebration in Oguta, Imo State. Mother Earth seemed to unleash all the passion and joy of a great harvest in those three days.IMG_5975IMG_6001IMG_6029IMG_6211

As the day approached, I was filled with anticipation and excitement, again, in lieu of the horrid recession and hunger in Nigeria. I wondered if people would return home to the festival, as in times past. Was there still money for transportation and beer; were people willing to laugh for three days like there is no tomorrow (and commit all the other sins that come with consumption, to boot?) I have long stopped being a moralist, since ‘none is perfect’. I wanted to record the rising of the human spirit through daunting times. The locals will become innovative; they will create wit, drama, and humor out of daily living. That’s the spirit of Ogene Nkirika.

The village of Oguta lies on both sides by the Blue Lake. The residential area is on one side, while the farmlands are on the other. So, visitors don’t see bushes and farmlands between houses, as appears in most of the other villages around. They see only the well-planned road network and neatly placed houses.

The villagers go to the farmlands across the lake to plant yam, cocoa, cassava, vegetables, etc. They sometimes live on these farm settlements for long stretches, only visiting the residential areas sparingly. By a strange twist, many other Ogutans may never visit the farmlands all their lives! The same goes for the farmers.

Around August of every year, the farmers return to the residential area with their harvest to mark the end of the cycle of farming. Ogene Nkirika is the period when all Oguta converges to share stories of happenings in the town, to live out their experiences. Buhari or no, I was delighted to find that this year would not be any different. Individuals dramatized their narrative, dressed up as drag queens, danced around. One thing to note is that the principal actors in the parades is all male. Old, young, middle-aged men play the part, as some dress like women too.

I saw the boy carrying his pet dog named after the president; the ‘girl’ that had lost her virginity and was going through the crowds with a kerosene lantern searching for it; the ‘girl’ gone crazy taking selfies; the ‘snake-carrying girl (alluding to Mami-wata, the Lake goddess), wearing sunshades and dreadlocks, going up and down Amaeshi road, looking like Phyno, holding on to a crowd of pushing children with gifts of sweets and balloons thrown into the air at intervals! There were different groups of dancers, some advertising a announcing a new Nollywood flick; a middle-age ‘bride’ escorted through town by uniformed ‘bridesmaids’, smiling and welcoming felicitations from passersby; the key story of the new religion in town told by a procession of whip-wielding soldiers torturing the people’s messiah through the streets as he staggers with his cross; the ‘wizened old’ man who moves around with so much effort!

Some of the performers just wore panties and ran through the crowds spilling powder or blue (for washing white clothes) on their friends who had come to participate as mere spectators; there was the Oguta secondary school ‘girl’; the hairy-faced nurse with her ears plugged in a stethoscope; the ‘old’ man with a rickety bicycle and bag who had been thrown out of his house, and so on and so forth.

Commercial photographers were on hand to snap the girls who had dressed to kill for the crowds. There were other men who made videos of the actors. Many people don’t know that the renowned Nollywood star Clem Ohameze is an indigene of Oguta. He came with a camera crew to record the festivities, and did short interviews with the performers. He also had his cameraman go from Amorocha (the shores of the lake) to Umudei village recording entire space. He will upload the movie clips of this year’s Ogene Nkirika on his online station- ClemOhamezetv on YouTube!

I documented from my point of view. Of course, nothing beats the ‘real’ experience of being ‘there’. Besides Nigeria’s second largest lake situated in Oguta, the rich culture of the settlers stands out in contrast with that of nearby villages. Oguta as a viable income earner with huge tourism potentials can never be understated. A source said that the poorly kept golf course is the largest in West Africa.

About 60% of the oil wells in Imo State are on Oguta’s farmlands, yet sadly, the village rarely enjoys electricity. I documented the protests a few weeks back. In terms of urban planning, only a handful of Igbo villages (Abiriba, Ohafia, Onitsha) can be compared to the small village by the banks of the blue lake. The locals have started to work at making the place great again, if the government will continue to ignore it in a sinister plot that seems to undermine all the development that Oguta has seen.

At some point, Osisioma age-grade, Oguta, joined hands to execute developmental projects like putting up signposts of streets. James is the son of the late Guy (pronounced ‘Gor-ye), longtime proprietor of Guy Spot, a popular local beer parlor and restaurant. The restaurant has stayed opened for over forty years, and is run by ND and Uzoma, siblings of James. James has ventured out to set up his own bush bar by the lake, building and hoping to attract visitors who come for picnics or just to swim.

There is the five-star hotel under construction by Ernest Nwapa, a former executive secretary of the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board. The high-rise hotel will have 8 floors, a boat club, swimming pool, golf course and children’s amusement park, among other things. The December carnivals organized and financed by prominent indigenes, with the maverick entertainer and musician Charley Boy and the award-winning international music star Dr. Alban is there to make your Christmas an unforgettable way to end the year.

Speaking of things to come, mark the date for Ogene Oma (the good Ogene), coming up on the 11th– 14th of September, about two weeks from now. The whole town joins in, with age grades and friends dressing up in their best native attire. People will be dancing on the streets and making merry. That is how we play in Oguta. The fun-loving people of the land have a saying- O di m ka chi ejina (I wish night will not come) the party must go on. I am witness.


Nsukka School, 50 years after

(A post by Professor Chuu Krydz Ikwuemesi, Head of Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka) Participate and join us in making this homecoming a success:

NSUKKA SCHOOL, after 50 years

A Celebration of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, 

University of Nigeria, Nsukka
Date: November 17-19, 2016

Venue: Niger Hall, CEC, University of Nigeria, Nsukka
The Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka was 50 years in 2010. Established by Ben Enwonwu  at the behest of Nnamdi Azikiwe, former President of Nigeria and founder of the University of Nigeria, the Art Department at Nsukka, otherwise known as the Nsukka School, has begot many of Nigeria’s art greats and maestros, with a good number of them very active in the national and international art arena. 
The Department of Fine and Applied Arts, initially called the Enwonwu College of Art, was established in 1961 as one of the earliest departments of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka by the University’s founding father, Rt. Honourable Nnamdi Azikiwe. The pioneer teachers of the Department instituted the Western academy approach of naturalism, which promoted pictorial observational realism. This brand of Western academic pedagogy was, however, effectively terminated when the expatriate art teachers left because of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970). After the civil war, students and faculty members reassembled and resolved that the art programme of the Department had to be reconstructed to meet the demand of a new Nigerian society. From this period, a new culture of exploration and experimentation with local environment in art teaching and learning dominated art activities of the school. Staff and students searched deeply into the nature and purpose of art and design in their communities as well as applying the proceeds of these intellectual and artistic endeavours to social and technological development.
Through its home-bred curriculum, the Department became the first to officially decolonise its programmes in a manner that was befitting of its position as the first degree-awarding fine arts school in Nigeria. Led by Uche Okeke, Chike Aniakor, Vincent Amaefuna and others in the post-war 1970s, this was achieved by the creative appropriation of the Igbo uli body and wall decoration into new modes of artistic expression. Since then, uli art has become synonymous with the Nsukka art school and has attracted a wide range of interests and studies, including major symposia, exhibitions and publications by such international cultural institutions as the Smithsonian. 
The Department of Fine ad Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka has taken many firsts. It was the first art department in the country to introduce written projects in Fine and Applied Arts. Its 1966 graduate of painting Babatunde Lawal was the first Nigerian to bag a Ph.D. in Art History. The Department was also the first to award the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in Nigeria. Interestingly, the first MFA candidate, Obiora Udechukwu, an outstanding BA graduate of painting in the Department, later rose to the position of a professor of painting and drawing in the Department. The Department was also the first to graduate a Ph.D. student (now Emeritus Professor Ola Oloidi) in the history of modern Nigerian art.
The post-civil war Nsukka Art Department has attracted some of the best art students and teachers, a number of whom have grown to become great names in world art. Professor El Anatsui, foremost African sculptor, is a key example. The Department has since established an artistic legacy that has continued to attract the best brains. Its products have been celebrated as award-winning poets, international art historians, art critics and curators. In visual arts practice, graduate artists of the Department have creditably sustained the artistic excellence for which the Nsukka Art department is known.
From the brief history highlighted above, the Department has contributed in good measure to the brand name of the University of Nigeria. In fact, the Nsukka Art Department is best known internationally for the quality of art and literature that have emerged from its rolling hills and inspiring valleys. Through the illuminating lights of art, the Department has continued to spotlight Nsukka in particular and Nigeria in general in the world art map. Uli, for example, has entered the art thesaurus through the creative legacies of the Art Department at Nsukka. 


The mention of “school” here is very important and needs to be explained a bit for clearer perspectives. Very often the word is used, in Nigerian parlance, to refer to art training centres and departments in Nigerian universities and polytechnics. This is a rather bastardized usage if school is rationally to refer to a group of artists or creative people sharing commonalities in ideology, style and vision. If this notion is upheld, then “Nsukka School” stands out as a classic exemplar in its experimentation with uli, not only for its own sake, but in conjunction with the wider concept of “natural synthesis” which I personally interpret as a variant of “glocalization” (the creative and instrumental fusion of self and other in the quest for new challenges at the frontier). This is the centralizing philosophy on which the Nsukka magic has depended.
Owing to the immense contribution of the Nsukka School to the development of art in Nigeria, and its well-known international accolades, it has been the subject of numerous studies. As Professor Emerita Sydney Kasfir recently put it in a seminar at the University of Nigeria, the art department at the university, from where the school emanated, has achieved international renown. Monographs have also been produced on some of its liveliest products; some its most interesting personages have been the subject of international events and publications. Some of these events and publications have been championed by intimate outsiders. 
Having attained fifty years in 2010, with five more years added in 2015, Nsukka School merits celebration. Such a celebration should be two-fold. It should simultaneously offer occasion for self-congratulation on one hand, and an opportunity for self-appraisal on the other. Is an occasion to look at the cherish the past, appreciate the present and gesture at the future with renewed enthusiasm. Not only that. The celebration provides a basis for a special conversation, a conversation between generations in the Nsukka School, especially in view of the Igbo saying that a moon waxes and gives way to another (Onwa tie, o chaalu ib’ ye). Thus the centralising question that arises in the proposed celebration is, after fifty years of a sustained victory dance, what next for the school and its numerous jewels? This question and other issues will be addresses in through the various components of the jubilee, if jubilee is to be seen, in the words of Jonathan Sacks (2000), as that point where we are able to begin again.
Programme of Events
November 17, 2016


Opening of Exhibition
Curators: Dr Chukwuemeka Okpara, Dr Eva Obodo, Dr Chijioke Onuora
November 18


Roundtable Conference

Tour/Assessment of Studios and Facilities in the Department

Class meetings

Group sightseeing on campus
November 19


Golden Dinner/Fundraising

• Launching of Departmental Journal, The ArtField (hard and online editions)

• Fashion Runway by faculty and students of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts

• Presentation of Books on prominent staff of the Department
The Commemorative Publication

NSUKKA SCHOOL, after 50 years

Edited by Chuu Krydz Ikwuemesi, Ozioma Onuzulike, George Odoh
The proposed publication of about 250 pages in colour and black and white will commemorate and document the celebration for posterity. Besides essays to be solicited from selected writers, it shall contain works exhibited at the occasion. The essays will cover four broad areas: History, Philosophy, Personages and Interviews. The book will aim to foreground the contributions of the school to art and knowledge production in Nigeria and beyond. The book-catalogue will have the following sections:


Part I: History 

This introductory part of the book will embody several chapters dealing with the founding moments of the school and its trajectory through historical time in the course of the last 50 years.


Part II: Philosophy 

Essays in this section of the book will engage the philosophy of the school from the time it was set up by Ben Enwonwu in 1960, through the electrifying period of Uche Okeke and company down to the present time. 
Part III: Personages               

The third part of the book shall contain critical portraits of selected important artists of the Nsukka School.


Part IV

The fourth and final part of the book will contain interviews with relevant artists and critics on important issues in the history, development, and significance of the Nsukka School and art in Nigeria
Part V

Part five of the book-catalogue will contain colour and black and white reproductions of the works exhibited at the occasion.
For further details contact Dr George Odoh, 08035526236

African Ceramics at the Crossroads (?): An Interdisciplinary Conference in Honour of Michael OBrien


This is a notice and call for papers from Ozioma Onuzulike, MFA, Ph.D.Conference Liaison:

The Ceramics Researchers Association of Nigeria (CeRAN), in collaboration with the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Energy Centre, UNN and Project Development Institute (PRODA), Enugu, Nigeria announces its 13th annual conference and exhibition

Theme: Modernising African Ceramics Since the 1900s: Agencies, Agents and Outcomes

Venue: Energy Centre, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria Date: 25-28 October, 2016

It has been severally observed that pottery in Africa ran into a variety of difficulties following the introduction of new methods of production and other social transformations associated with the colonial encounter. The Igbo of south-eastern Nigeria appear to have captured it better in one of its maxims: Onye ite abụghị onye ahịa, literally meaning “the potter is not in business”.

Looking back to the terrain of modern African ceramics since the 1900s, this conference examines the following key questions: What have constituted the agencies of modernisation in African ceramics over the past millennium and what have been the implications? Who have been the key agents of the modernising process? What have been the innovations and challenges associated with African ceramics modernity? Ceramics researchers, potters, curators, writers and scholars of art history, art education, economics, geology, anthropology, archaeology, engineering, and related disciplines are invited to submit paper proposals addressing these or related questions, including issues surrounding the following sub-themes:

  • Contemporary traditional potters in Africa and the challenges of modernity
  • Landmarks in modern African pottery
  • Ceramics and the decolonisation of curriculum in African educational institutions: Previous issues and current directions.
  • The making of modern potters and potteries in Africa: Histories, processes and products.
  • Pottery painting in African metropolises: Creative innovation or emblems of production problems?
  • Domestication of modern ceramics tools and production technology in Africa: Challenges and breakthroughs
  • Ceramics industries in Africa: Yesterday, today and tomorrow
  • Ceramics raw materials utilization and development
  • Geology, Archaeology, Engineering and African ceramics since the 1900s
  • Ceramics and greenhouse technology
  • Ceramics education and educators in Africa since the 1900s
  • Potters, potteries and their practices in a developing economy
  • Commercialisation of African pottery in a globalised world

This conference is a tribute to the many agents of the struggle for a viable ceramics production on the continent, especially Michael OBrien, the British potter and influential teacher who succeeded Michael Cardew at the Abuja Pottery Training Centre in 1965 and who has relentlessly worked for the well being of many important potters and potteries in Nigeria since the 1970s. Insightful papers on the life and work of OBrien and other such pioneers are also welcome.

Due Date for paper abstracts: 31st August 2016

Length: 200 words or less

Additional information: Institutional or other affiliations, email and phone contacts

Submissions: Send as attached email document in MS-Word to Dr. Ozioma Onuzulike (Conference Liaison) at and May Ngozi Okafor (LOC Secretary) at

Exhibition: The conference will feature an exhibition of works by individuals and organizations working in the ceramics field that reflect aspects of the conference theme. Interested participants should email two or more images of proposed works in JPEG along with a list of works and brief biodata in MS Word. Due date is 31st August 2016. Selected works should arrive latest October 24, 2016 at 12 noon.

Schedule of Events: Arrival: October 24; Opening: October 25; Departure: October 28. (A detailed schedule of events will be emailed to participants in due course).

NB:Pls open attached PDF document for other details-CFP_CeRAN African Ceramics Conference 2016. We look forward to welcoming you at Nsukka!


Mathijs Lieshout: Conquering Voids


FB_IMG_1468832997334Man has that strong compulsion to build, to bring something new to fruition. Man here refers to Mathijs Lieshout, a Dutch artist presently residing in South Africa. He moved there when his wife Marieke got a job there.

Mathijs worked in a room with Meghan Judge, a South African artist. There were many artists working in different media and styles in the huge studio space on the third floor of Anstey’s Building, 59 Joubert Street. Mathijs struck me as a very busy man, with sheets of tracing paper and partially coloured papers filled with dark, straight lines scattered all round the smaller cubicle. Looking closely, the drawings reminded one of architectural sketches.

Mathijs Lieshout was more interested in the process of building, than with building with a function in mind. He would go into a finished building, and literally occupy the void within with his structure/work. As a student, his works for the university’s coursework went counter to what his professors were used to. And as with many institutions of formal learning where new knowledge struggles, he flunked his fourth year courses. Not to be deterred, he moved to the Painting section where the head of the department seemed intrigued by his ideas.

In that period, while his classmates were interested in making paintings in the traditional sense-as something that can be collected and shared amongst individuals, he turned his studio into an art gallery of sorts and invited his classmates to display their work! In a sense, his student work was more interested in recreating the process and relocation of artworks, than with the making of art. The result-he studied Painting without creating one painting for review! Yes, he still graduated formally as an artist. Talk about artists getting artistic license! Education became what it should really preach- a flexible use of established criteria to analyze new data, without stifling it with outmoded ideologies.

Since then, the happy fellow has moved on in life, building process-based structures that look like gigantic nests in spaces- a shopping mall, an open forest, etc. The performance of building fixates his mind, like a theatre performance solely preoccupied with putting up a good show, irreverent to the morale. The message is in the process of building.

A year ago, when he arrived in South Africa, he tried working in Pretoria but felt the vibe of the city was not inspiring enough. He kept on returning to Johannesburg, walking around the spaces. He finally settled there, and soon started making sketches for an upcoming project at the Johannesburg City Library.

The huge library is housed in a 1930’s Italianate building designed by John Perry. The collection grew from the initial contributions of a group of prominent South Africans in 1889 to have over 1.5million books in its shelves. For the artist, it has an extremely rich cache of art books, and is called the Michaelis Art Collection. The library also had a small studio for artists attached to its façade. Mathijs Lieshout had found his space! He started working with the young artists there- Bongi Nxasana, Mongezi Ncombo, Lungi, Thumi, David etc. There are more names, as some of these artists come and go freely. Its all well. First names would suffice, for now. The artists have total freedom over the work they produce. They take responsibility. That is the flexible relationship that Mathijs prefers when working with students.

After a while, he and his friend George Togara decided to open an art gallery to help promote and sell the works of these young artists. They found the ideal space for their budget. The gallery is called Togara and Lieshout, on Arts On Main, Maboneng. They are open only on Sundays with the rest of the market, but he hopes to stay open on other days in the near future.

In the interim, Mathijs got approval from the library to build two structures in the spaces between the 1930 building and the renovations of 2012. The initial drawings are on display to the public. It shows a structure made of light, treated wood, joined in shafts rand rising from the ground floor to spiral across the elevators. One can imagine it- a maze of ochre wood waving in the air, breaking the overhead light of bulbs into sharp shards of broken light. The imagined space conjures an idea of sound being distorted by the interference. The artist takes advantage of the space that the architect has left off.

Mathijs Lieshout’s work, by its mere creation, counters the notion of building with reason, or functionality. This references some of the structures built in certain ancient civilizations whose function or purpose are yet to be fully understood. We can only speculate. So does Mathijs, questioning the space, engaging the voids. That is important enough.








Thousand Cattle, Two Hills


Many times in the past I have painted cattle in different ways. At a time, I used them as a symbol of how providence and good fortune comes from a higher being, or luck. That was in a work I called Cattle on a Thousand Hills, a paraphrase from the bible where God talks about owning and being the provider of wealth.

There is another significant artwork titled ‘The City Eats Grass’, an artwork that talks of rural/urban migration of sorts that harms the economic landscape. The rural areas that used to be productive spaces become empty as people migrate to the urban spaces in search of greener pastures. The urban spaces are so devoid of greenery, and thus imply a lack and foreboding of hunger and loss of agricultural activities that will support lives.

Pastoral tales are as old as the act of human survival. In prehistoric times, primitive man painted bulls and scenes of the hunt, and capture. Picasso, who comes from a culture that has the bull featuring in a local pastime, made a lot of artwork with the bull as subject or matter. He pushed the idea by connecting the bull to other representations in other cultures, to other myths. In Nigeria, the Fulani cattle herdsman was a popular subject at the birth of western styled painting.

In the nineties, as a student union activist fighting the corrupt leadership of the time, Olu Oguibe made the drawing The Beast Had The Face of Someone I Know, alluding to apocalyptic references in the bible, connecting the satire to General Ibrahim Babangida who ruled Nigeria at the time. Instead, the bull’s head had the pasted face of the gap-toothed military dictator.

Recently, the upsurge in Fulani herdsmen attacking and maiming members of their host communities to suppress them has shifted the attention of the nation. Now, the leadership is sponsoring a Grazing Bill in the National Assembly to allow reserves of grasslands all over Nigeria. The hypocrisy of it is in the fact that the sitting president is a professed owner of some of these cattle. He also is employer of his fellow Fulani who have been creating terror and murdering villagers from North to South. The national outrage is that these terrorists are not being called to order. It seems that the leadership is biased in its treatment of this menace of herdsmen.

All came together after a visit to the Walter Battiss exhibitions that ran concurrently at Wits Arts Museum, and at the Origin Center of the University of Witwatersrand. The line drawings took me back to my own origins, in Nsukka, the Uli School.

Cattle have come up again in my work. They are being painted to show their movement, the trail of blood they leave behind. They move as though they are suddenly become sacred, owning the ‘so-called silent spaces’ of Nigeria. The cattle suddenly threaten the existence of the 5 percent who feel unrepresented at the centre of power. The beast gains preeminence even in this dearth of farming and other agrarian activities that will support our development and elevate the scarcity of homegrown foods. In protest, I had stopped eating cow meat. Now, I paint ‘moving cattle’ in protest of the importance they are being given over human lives and existence. The numbers will grow, from ‘Cow 1’ to maybe a thousand. In defiance, cattle have become subject matter. Maybe the nation will notice, that men matter more. Farmlands matter, too. Nigeria shouldn’t have sacred cows. It is as simple as that.