He asked some deep questions.

I enjoy talking. I enjoy the stimuli of intelligent conversation. And I hope to see underlying questions in retrospective. I talk some more when asked a question. I learn from talking. I learn from sharing. Let me share this fantastic interview with Omenka Online, the magazine for the Ben Enwonwu Foundation. Oliver Enwonwu, the son holds the grounds very well. He is also the President of the Society of Nigérian Artists.

Here is the link to my interview- https://www.omenkaonline.com/tony-nsofor-on-language-the-subconscious-and-the-mundane/

Conference announcement: Art Historical Association of Nigeria

From July 18-21, 2018, the Art Historical Association of Nigeria (AHAN), in conjunction with the Department of Fine And Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka is organising a conference on art history in Nigeria.

Theme:“The harvest is plenty, but the labourers are few”: Art Historians in Nigeria and the Challenges of Historiography

Date: July 18-21, 2018

Venue: Department of Fine and Applied
Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka
.

CFP

By the second decade after the civil war in
Nigeria, the pioneer art historians in Nigeria had emerged; namely, Babatunde Lawal,
Ola Oloidi, Chike Aniakor and Dele Jegede. For a modern art tradition dating
back to about 1900, that was a late development. In spite of the boom of modern
Nigerian art in the 1990s and beyond, the gap between studio practice and the
business of historiography is far from shrinking. Not even the Ph.D. spree occasioned
by NUC‘s order, that university teaching staff, including visual arts faculty,
should obtain Ph.D. (in anything), has helped the situation of art history in
Nigeria. While a significant number of art historians has emerged in the last
decade, armed with masters or doctoral degrees, only few are committed to the
business of art historiography. The implications of this reality are easily
palpable in the art departments in our universities and other tertiary
institutions; as well as in the field of practice where art historians should
construct the stories that oil the wheel of art. This situation remains very
worrisome, in view of the traditional role of art history and the enormity and robustness
of Nigerian art; much of which begs for investigation and documentation by
professional art historians. In response to this situation, this conference
invites papers from art historians on any of the subthemes below or on any
other issues that are relevant to the development of art history in Nigeria:

a. Nigerian
Art and the Challenges of Professional Art Historiography

b. Jack
of All Trade/Master of None: Artists as Artists and Historians

c. Art
History in Nigeria: Towards Proper Research Methodology

d. Successes
and Failures of Engaging the Verbal-visual Challenges in the Nigerian Art Field

e. Problems
of Art History in Nigeria: the National Universities Commission (NUC) Benchmark
as Anti-Art

f.
Colonisation, Art History and the Need for
Decolonisation

g. TheNigerian Art Historian and the Politics of Postcoloniality

h. Art
History, Art Criticism and the Space In-between

i.
Curricular Problems in Art History Training
in Nigeria

j.
Art History in Nigeria and the Global Standards

k. Repositioning
Art History in Nigeria for the Challenges of the Future

Prospective
participants are to submit an abstract of not more than 250 words before April
30, 2018. Abstracts should indicate the full title, name, and institutional
affiliation of the author(s) as well as keywords. Send abstracts and enquiries
to odohgeorgechuka@gmail.com or ahan.nig@gmail.com Conference registration
fee is N15,000, payable not later than two weeks before the conference.

NOTE

AHAN convenes this
conference in honour of its retiring founding president, Emeritus Professor Ola
Oloidi and the other pioneers of art history in Nigeria, Prof. Babatunde Lawal,
Prof. Chike Aniakor, Prof Emmanuel Odita and Prof. Dele Jegede. These icons will be
honoured at the conference in Nsukka.

Elections will beconducted to usher in a new executive.

conducted to usher in a new executive.

KeynoteSpeakers:

Speakers:

Professor Babatunde Lawal; Prof. Chike Aniakor

ANNOUNCER:

Chuu Krydz Ikwuemesi, MFA, PhD

,

Painter, Art Critic, Ethno-Aesthetician, Writer and Culture Entrepreneur

;

Associate Professor of Fine Art, University of Nigeria, Nsukka;
International Secretary, The Pan-African Circle of Artists;
Emeritus President, The Art Republic;
Editor: Letter from Afrika, The Art Republik;
Ag. Director, Anambra Book and Creativity Festival;
Coordinator: Death Studies Association of Nigeria;
Japan Foundation Fellow, Hokkaido (2009;
ACLS-AHP Doctoral Fellow (2012);
Leventis Fellow, SOAS (2017)

Abstract colors, More liberties

Detail of a work in progress, mixed media painting, 2017. 

In this blog, I have written extensively about my work, the creative process, and the figurative. It has become more important to dwell on the abstractions that seem to be taking centre-stage all around us.

Uli has shown us a way of looking at space, engaging it in a way that conveys meaning. Lines and shapes loaded with meaning are juxtaposed with negative bleak spaces that totally shriek in their silence.

Turning it around, the artist considers the power of that non-representational element as subject matter, relocation into deep meditation of color fields. Traditional notions of color no longer apply, nor restrain. Thus, color has gained an independence in its total abstraction- color is the new white noise in artistic communication.

The intention to emphasize local identity is lost on the new international that crosses borders at will. Appropriating passing fancies, one must acknowledge them as relevant memories; hallmarks from journeys, with a cognizance for seeing that in front lies an unfamiliar path that may demand new conversations/interactions. Or else, the artist becomes the bogeyman.

The body of work creates new imagery- exploring an eclectic embodiment- a morpheme of spatial representation. Visual elements are turned on their head- harmony, space, contrast, and balance. Everything is introverted to ‘work’ on the mind where it really counts. External superficialities are done away with in a signature economic style- the work is the reason. The reason is the work.

Reality is a dent on the conscience of the creative, holding ransom all notions and actions towards progress. Concurrently, one must hold on to fantasy- to the subconscious world of dreams as a vision for navigating the psychedelic, hybrid subcultures of today’s world. All accepted standards may fail in the circumstances; boundaries and borders melt away (standing only as a physical presence at the most). Time and Space suddenly embrace to become one experience.

Color is language, identity and representational subject serving all intents of the artist. Color can only be interpreted on a personal level, irreverent to all else. Herein lays the bane of the tribal art grouping- this melting point that allows no measures/ standards to retrain the use or absence of interpretative color.

Having learned drawing, we unlearn drawing. Drawing pretends to unravel the spatial feel of things, working as a witness to a ‘presence’. In turn around, drawing is the real presence. These are tangible existential ideas- generally cultures acknowledge an ‘other’ life separate from this one. Man then begins to ask his place- is this or that the ‘real’ life? To and fro, the tussle becomes the very matter of contention between Realism and Abstraction, the signifier and the amplifier.  

Our visual senses mediate in between engaging and nurturing the mind. Truth is- we know nothing. Let all knowledge begin from there to interrogate meaning.

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
Introduction
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

10:00am
Lectures
2:00pm

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

10:00am

Roundtable Conference
1:00pm

Tour/Assessment of Studios and Facilities in the Department
2:00pm

Reception
Class meetings

Group sightseeing on campus
November 19

4:00-7:00pm

Golden Dinner/Fundraising
Highlights

• 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 ozioma.onuzulike@unn.edu.ng and May Ngozi Okafor (LOC Secretary) at may.okafor@unn.edu.ng.

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!

 

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.

 

 

A Period in Art

There is no such thing as a time for making art, or for defining the growth of an artistic idea. Even defining the period for executing a piece of art is pretentious. We make a general, grand allusion to what we ‘think’ or incubating period. Art is unbound, unfettered. The idea comes by in a flicker, and many times flutters away like a big flirt.

Of utmost importance may be the visual experience of the work. It is usually safer to put a comma, to sign the piece of art even before its done. Really, Art is never done. It is handed over, and again, reinterpreted.IMG_1750

Living in the Future

_MG_3828Yesterday I was delighted to host 36 secondary school students and their teacher who came on a scheduled excursion to my Oguta studio. They were in a dilemma choosing their future professions, and their school did not have a guidance counselor to help them.

When I was in secondary school at Okigwe, we had a guidance counselor that virtually no one consulted. Most students passed through the school believing that the guidance counselor was there to advise undisciplined students, or something extraordinary that wasn’t meant for us. So there I was that afternoon, at the balcony of my house defending why I became an artist.

This is why I love teaching- as one interacts with the students, it soon seems like a personal reaffirmation of commitment to one’s chosen career path. Speaking with these young students felt like looking back, then delving deep into the future.

Professor Uche Okeke created the foundation for what we know today as the Nsukka School. He died last month after a long and productive life. I was shocked by a recent conversation with a former alumnus of mine who didn’t know who Uche Okeke was! Granted that he never taught my set directly, but I thought the general art history classes must have said something about him. Sadly, I recall that the obsolete curriculum of secondary schools only taught students of such painters as Aina Onabolu, and all the old western masters. Nigeria’s recent masters do not have a place in the antiquated colonial-era inspired history lessons.

A case has been made against the issue of non-inclusiveness of the old African masters who were contemporaries of other western artists in the books narrating the history of Art. Books that claim to relate the history of Art, by default, seem to ignore the fact of artists who lived and worked professionally in the same times as their masters.

African art critics, curators and historians in the past two decades have decried the biased art history stories in books written by western writers.

Maybe one of the most instructive, and essential books on Nigeria’s Art history is the acclaimed Post-Modern Colonialism, by Chika Okeke-Agulu. The book tells the story of the contributions of its artists to the development and growth of the Nigerian nation. Of course the book goes far beyond this. Speaking to the students who came on an excursion to my studio yesterday, I realized that the book is a must-read for students of Nigerian, nay, African art. (I broaden the scope of importance since Africa generally has a shared colonial experience).

Maybe it will be asking too much of the author of the book, but I realized that an abridged edition written for secondary school students would indeed be of great benefit. One also hopes that the tertiary institutions will include it in their curriculum and libraries. Of course, there will be arguments for and against the contents of the book. But the point remains that there should be more scholarly work about African art history.

When I taught at Whitesands School in 2009, I realized that the entire curriculum of the Nigerian educational system needed a major overhaul. Our history lessons are obsolete, warped with a bias, and told ‘from the outside’, in a way irrelevant to our local values and aspirations as a people. For decades, African history has been told by strangers. The stories are more like a stranger’s narration of a foreign culture. History is being made everyday. We must write our stories. No one can tell it better than the people directly involved. Hopefully, recent scholarship will rise to the task of documenting, and translating the stories. That way, we take our place in posterity. Then maybe, most likely, we will not be forgotten so soon. The future is in our hands to see and live in.

I expressed my gratitude to the secondary school pupils for the visit, and then I took a group photograph with them. The picture is important for me. I saw the future there. I wanted to cherish the moment over and over again. I hope the students learnt the things that I reiterated- whatever career path you take, work hard at it like an artist, with an eye for details, creating new solutions to old problems, staying innovative. I think Art should be taught as a general course to new entrants into the university. Art refines the human, totally.

 

Telling Lines

Giant WavesSmall air, burning wood; and charcoal is formed. In July 2014, an exhibition of drawings made of charcoal opened in Enugu State, Nigeria. The exhibition titled Akala Unyi is the solo show by Chijioke Onuora, an alumnus of the University of Nigeria Nsukka who has been quiet on the art scene for about a decade. He first specialized in sculpture and presently takes drawing classes in the school popularly referred to as the Nsukka School with its associations with the pioneering efforts of Professor Uche Okeke’s experimentation with Uli, a native drawing style.THEY CAME NOT IN A SINGLE FILE
If lines made a School of Art, then Nsukka is it. Line and space have remained the predominant elements of art since inception of the school. From the vegetal, whirlwind strokes of Uche Okeke, through the lyrical, sinuous and passionate lines of Chike Aniakor, the ordered sectioning of Obiora Udechukwu; to the raging, antagonistic vigour found in the younger crop of artists who emerged from Nsukka-Chika Okeke-Agulu, Olu Oguibe, and further down to George Odoh, Uche Edochie( the writer includes the few artists from the School whose works are familiar, of course there have been other great draughtsmen in Nsukka), Nsukka and the Uli School has remained a strong force for the lyrical line. Of note is Seth Anku, the late Ghanian sculptor,lecturer who worked in Nsukka till his death a few years ago. Chijioke Onuora worked under him and assisted Seth Anku in executing fountain sculptures. Seth Anku’s mastery of the charcoal medium is arguably unparalleled amongst the artists from Nsukka. Chijioke Onuora has, in interviews in the past, acknowledged him as mentor and inspiration, who taught him how to handle the charcoal medium. Those unfamiliar with the training at Nsukka wrongfully mistake the bulk of the conceptual work produced from that art tradition as being a sign of some escapist ineptitude in drawing. We were vigorously trained as draughtsmen. A closer reading of the works of Nsukka artists will show a strong understanding in the use of form, space, line and space. Ignoring drawing would be tantamount to removing the skeleton from anatomy lessons. I insist that even the most inefficient, albeit famous artists (as draughtsmen) have shown, through their works, an intuitive sense of space located inside of lines and form. In the end, lines rule.Nkilinka Okoloto Afrika Gboo gboo
Excuse me, Art is play. Chijioke Onuora’s drawings observe the three dimensionality of things, and records whirls of atmospheric contours to evoke things. The works in the exhibition thrive between the caricatured, the satirical, and traditional Igbo lore. He draws from nature, and retranslates it with turgid force into soft, translucent form. His is an informed, humanist, sympathetic vision that deifies and edifies, while uplifting the audience. He is that strong force that is spelled genius, and yet, like the humble reed, knows when to bow. There is no obstruction in assessing the meaning or content of his work. Watching him work is an education in drawing. One does not see the beginning of the process as following some planned direction. One only witnesses to the monumental, finished work. The creative process thus remains mysterious. Chijioke Onuora’s exhibition titled Akala Unyi is a landmark achievement in the annals of Nsukka’s art-history, one to be documented and retold for years.
Dr Chijioke Onuora was made a lecturer in 1994. He was my lecturer for most of the drawing classes. This was at the same time when we had Professor Chike Aniakor giving painting classes, and gushing over the beauty of the lyrical line. In those charged years of our budding, the students blossomed under some of the most creative spirits ever to pass through Nsukka-there was El Anatsui, Obiora Udechukwu, Chike Aniakor, Chika Okeke-Agulu and so on. The air was full of fire and smoke from wars with the campus authorities, and of students’ unionism against the unpopular military regime of the time. The campus was closed briefly for one of those students’ riots that were happening, and echoed in other campuses across Nigeria at the time. Through the intermittent halts or closure and openings, we got an education, somehow. We also had an inkling of the kind of society and government we would be walking into-an uneasy place. The school certificate will do little in opening doors.
Tuff Studio on Catherine Rest House road was a walking distance from Zik’s Halls Flats, then residence of first year students of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. There was also House of Hunger, Olu Oguibe’s (later inherited by Chika Okeke-Agulu) studio. Gbugbemi Amas lived with his family further down the road. He was a contemporary of Chijioke Onuora’s. Amas made it a point of duty to occasionally visit the undergraduate school and tear down our illusions about the benefits of the learning we were receiving at the time. He was a wildcard, Amas was. There were other radical elements in Nsukka too, who had a more direct influence on the Fine and Applied Arts students. Chika Okeke-Agulu was appointed lecturer at Nsukka at about the same time with Chijioke Onuora. In those days, his classes seemed to be designed to either break or boost us students. He well understood that these were the best years of a young artist’s life, before reality sets in. We may as well be stopped on our tracks now, than go out with foggy dreams about Art and Society. Apart from the exciting stimulations from such brilliant minds, undergraduate students faced the plight of mismanaging the funds received from their parents/sponsors.
Chijioke Onuora sort of fits into the mix, offering the balm or soft landing we needed. His Tuff Studio was the place for the student who wanted to work without unwanted interference and could not afford to pay for renting studio space outside the campus. It was also the place to find traumatised students mourning from the brunt coming from the space called Nsukka in the nineties. Then, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe lived at his residence beside Zik’s Flats, and still played table-tennis even in his old age with his young friend Dr Ben Okwuosa.
Nsukka lived up to its billing as a high-class environment for raising leaders and innovators in their professional fields. Tuff Studio created the soft landing. Chijioke Onuora kept a room in front. The theme music for the studio was reggae, and old jazz. Louis Armstrong was an unforgettable favourite. I am one of the few students who moved between Tuff and House of Hunger studios, whose masters seemed at pole ends in terms of world view, etc., albeit that they were contemporaries.
Consistently, and at various group exhibitions, Chijioke Onuora has shown charcoal drawings. His understanding of the medium, its nuances from soft to hard, brutal to silent halts is inspirational. The negative spaces (places or silent planes were the artist leaves bare) create a powerful balance to the composition. Again and again, this happens in charcoal drawings. Charcoal drawings discard of the pleasantry of slow, smooth transitions. It is the medium that transmits Chijioke Onuora’s bubbly spirit, deeply hidden under mildness and humour. Art will always make the human spirit soar.
The act of working in the medium is in itself intimate, innocuous and immediate. Charcoal has a way of soiling, crumbling and blending that causes a mild furor with the artist using it. There can be told tales of many fireside exchanges, of waiting at mother’s kitchen for the meal to be cooked; of staring hungrily as the orange flames lick the wood black. The scene could be continued after eating a tasty meal, and being given the task of dispersing the fire, quenching the flames so that the residue wood can be used on another day. The burnt wood forms a hard charcoal, and is malleable enough to leave marks on almost any surface it meets. Of course, Chijioke Onuora adds his personal story of introduction to the medium, way back in early innocence.
Having majored in Sculpture when all the tradition and training was dominantly about forming wood carvers, Onuorah understands the medium well. He has chipped, splintered, and burned enough wood. It is easier for the wood carver to pick up charcoal sticks from the hearth to make sketches. His Ph.D dissertation was about pyrography (the wood burning technique made famous in Nsukka by El Anatsui).
Nsukka has seen decades of enjoying Osky’s (as he is fondly called) classes in Drawing. He has used the medium to challenge undergraduate students in seeing, translating and transmitting idea. He has organized and held several drawing exhibitions with students. For him, the lyrical lines of charcoal never seize to mesmerize, to cajole. Chijioke Onuorah’s masterly strokes render realistic forms as beautifully as when he marks the surface of white paper with symbols from uli and nsibidi. Built like a wrestler with the heart of a teddy bear, the man is the artist’s friend, an artist as muse.
Akala Unyi, this major solo exhibition at the once-gloriously named Coal city comes at a time when Nigeria revisits the coal industry. A publication in The Guardian newspaper (14th September, 2014) discusses the consumption plan for coal in Nigeria. Whatever the story is about coal, the Coal City (as Enugu is popularly known) came abuzz in celebrating a more economical use of the substance. The well-attended show came with the publication of an exhibition catalogue profuse with writings by friends and acquaintances of the artist who present various angles-from character portraits, stories, to essays on Drawing. All this is well, and in celebration of a man who has done it more consistently and with so much passion. Chijioke Onuora has etched a name in gold at the mention of drawing in Nsukka. Drawing comes at the cradle, but will always form the underlying base for most artistic expressions. It is a forever-living art form, and can powerfully evoke and accommodate the translation of ideas. There is the fear of durability-how long will the work drawn in charcoal last? The bottom-line is that the artwork has an independent life span, independent of physical elemental paradigms of time. If it is remembered only as memory, it still thrives. The importance of the artwork will ultimately remain the fact of its formation, first and foremost.
Time was when charcoal drawing or sketching was of utmost importance to all sculptors, nay, to all artists. In understanding the work, one should get familiar with its formative stages. Lines don’t lie.Okwu a gwu!

RE:AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND BEATITUDES, my art exhibition

This is an autobiography of the works I have done, the stories, the places I have been and the events transmitted through poems, paintings, drawings, sound and photographs-narrating the blessedness of the interesting times one lives in. In Autobiography and Beatitudes, personal history and the blessedness of living, I have drawn from a broad-based and expansive period of work that, hopefully, at the dusk of my youth, draws the portrait of a Nigerian artist. The exhibition wouldn’t have been possible without the help of great friends, people have I met-parents, teachers, art enthusiasts, spiritual director, and role-models. They are my core SWAT group for staying sane and solvent in this madness. Maybe I had art in my genes. I had an artist uncle called Idika who lived in the US. His works were in my grandfather’s parlour and in our home in Owerri. Aunt Imelda, his younger sister was said to be an excellent draughtsman also. There was my mom, the teacher and fashion designer. Her integrated science note books revealed her good draughtsmanship. Insects were drawn with fluid strokes and neatly too. This made a great impression. Dad opened the magical world of books and dreaming. He bought my first dictionary when I was in primary three. He would return from his travels with two cartons-one of books and chocolates. Before I got to secondary school, I was introduced to the African Writers Series. I soon started reading through his library.Image

My earliest memories of a peculiar artistic intuition were those days in Owerri looking into the skies and seeing clouds that formed the impressionable scenes from Charlton Heston’s portrayal of Moses in the hit movie, The Ten Commandments. I would look into those bulbous skies and draw what I saw in the dust in front of our brick house.

The other teachers that taught me all impacted strongly by their actions-dissuading me from certain paths, inspiring, encouraging, nurturing. I was helped greatly by my spiritual director at a time when I desperately needed a role model. Father Boniface formed my mind and taught me to look backwards and see blessings of God that have come my way, to see all actions as parts of a great plan for good. That is the theme, my story. Autobiographies must necessarily begin from the beginning, the origins of being and self-realization.Image

There were the pencil drawings of my mother I made from the black and white photographs in our parlour, and the high praise from both classmates and teachers in primary school. A certain doctor friend named John Ojukwu, who I met in Enugu, while recuperating from a life-threatening accident at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital also helped. He brought me those art activity books that had dots that one could put together to form a picture, and black and white drawings that left one the opportunity to paint in the right colours, guided by words. Those books also had scaled drawings that one could replicate on a larger scale in the opposite page. I was twelve years old, at the time. Some of these ideas have stuck and remained relevant to my practise as an artist.

Of my set at Federal Government College Okigwe, Ugochukwu Uwadi and I were the only students who studied Fine Arts in Senior Secondary class.  We had excelled through the rudiments of Art in junior school, moulding “Madonna and Child” clay works; and creating painting compositions of lions and zebras in savannahs; drawing the burnt ruins of a parked water-tanker (which the students of the secondary school burnt in an anti-government demonstration inspired by students from nearby Abia State University, marching against the regime of President Babangida). Before I left Okigwe, I became Art Club president and tried to foster more appreciation for the Arts through narrations of Art History, and drawing classes organised for my fellow students. As I taught them, I believed more firmly the things I said. In art class though, my work process was very irregular and full of bursts of energy and ebbs. Mr Fadeyi, the art teacher, got frustrated at some point and told me that I would never make it as a professional artist. I am still working. An obvious career option was Law, to become like my Commissioner for Justice father, who had groomed me to enjoy reading literature, stories and poetry. When the time came, I told him that I would study Art first, and read Law as a second degree.

University of Nigeria, Nsukka has the ideal serenity for painting landscapes and rustic life. I met some brilliant art educationists. Professor Obiora Udechukwu had been my dad’s contemporary in Nsukka. His art classes encouraged awareness in building the creative process. With this mind-set, we as students were exposed to stimuli. We were forced to interpret titles drawn from poems and classical music (“Mother Idoto”, and “Rhapsody in Blues”); and held discussions of essays on art written by famous English writers, etc. In my third year, I worked in his Odenigwe studio as an assistant and had the privilege to learn and see his works. The art historian and painter, Professor Chike Aniakor’s enthusiasm and lyricism were highly infectious, and we enjoyed his studio critiques. There was the Art historian Professor Ola Oloidi whose character was a delight to all the students and the slightly withdrawn Professor El Anatsui, who once gave me an unforgettable demonstration of how balance should be applied in a sculpture. I made friends with Chika Okeke-Agulu and Krydz Ikwuemesi. They were Master’s degree students who later became my lecturers at Nsukka. Ikwuemesi explained to me how irregular strokes around the head give liveliness to portraits. Chijioke Onuora, the drawing teacher was the students’ darling. His “Tuff Studio” at Onuiyi was open to any student who needed a place to work in, outside the students’ studio in the department. Okeke-Agulu’s studio, “House of Hunger”, was a few blocks away, and I was one of the few students allowed to visit. He lent me books on art criticism and encouraged me to write essays for the newspapers. He also gave new meaning to the word ‘ambition’. Okeke-Agulu wanted us students to create voraciously, to also think big, to be ambitious.

Alongside Anaele Iroh aka ADIS, and Sukanthy Visaggaperumal, and Stanley Aneto, we organised a daring exhibition at the Margaret Ekpo refectory on campus. We handmade and printed the red-cover page of the catalogue for the exhibition titled Why the Caged Bird Sings. That exhibition was seen by many students at Nsukka, who would either come to eat at the refectory, or just to the Freedom Square. I recall one such student, Patrick Okigbo who stayed to hear my lengthy explanation of State of the Nation, (1996) an 8 x 4 feet oil painting of writhing nude bodies, horses, and a soldier. Decades after graduation, we would meet again in an exhibition at Omenka Gallery (Lagos) were he collected my acrylic painting titled Today is Red, Red, Red (2007).

Another exhibition, 6 New Painters from Nsukka (1996) at the British Council, Enugu, featuring my works alongside those of five classmates Okechukwu Ogamanya, Obinna Amoke, Sukanthy Visaggaperumal, Stanley Aneto, Onyema Ezeudu, and organised by Obiora Udechukwu and Chika Okeke-Agulu would be our signature announcement to the world. We were singled out of the forty-nine students in final year class when we took a stand in support of the strikes organised by the lecturers and students against the government.  Then came the dispersal- people fled the nation into self-exile; others were hounded by government forces; while others were forcefully retired from lecturing jobs. Those were the days of letter-bombs, and assasinations, corruption of the academy, and the hanging of Ken Saro Wiwa. Of course, my interactions with some of the students then, particularly in the Fine Arts department (some who were in higher classes) with Blaise Gundu Gbaden, Marcia Kure, Chimezie Chuta, Sukanthy Visaggaperumal; my familiarity with the works and legends of Sly Ogbechie and Olu Oguibe who had graduated years before; and my encounter with Gbugbemi Amas ran a sculpture studio in Nsukka, and would come to talk to the students about the inappropriateness of the school’s curriculum-all contributed to and impacted my life as an artist. I travel a lot, and have been blessed by many meetings and relationships. These meetings have moulded the creative spirit to move in new directions and to acquire new energies.

The length of days, particularly well spent days, makes the story long. Upon graduation, I opened a studio in Owerri with the help of my uncle Tony who gave me an expansive duplex office space gratis. This allowed me to start off life professionally with an audacity and experimental creativity that has continued. The depressive military era had caused a lot of young graduates to travel abroad, and Adis came with stories of Lagos and about relocation. I listened. I squatted with Julie my sister for years in Lagos, making some of the “spirits” (as mother would call my paintings) that she faced to the wall in rejection. I visited the popular galleries then- Signature, Nimbus and Mydrim, and had some luck selling a few works to Signature Galleries. I also sold some to Oladeinde Odimayo, and Narcissus Gallery, Ikeja. Somehow, most of the works I have sold were to private buyers and collectors, some of whom I believed did not understand my work but acquired it because it was different. I must have survived those days with the support from friends and family members, and the occasional collector who will buy many works at once.

Painting did not become a bread and butter-making occupation for me at any given time, as I never forgot El Anatsui’s advice that one should not be an artist to make money. I had chosen to paint, to communicate inner urges, to interact with my space, and I had the support system that allowed for this liberty. I had also done other things besides (working as an art writer for the Art Desk of the defunct Comet Newspapers; at Angela Onyeador’s the African Foundation for the Arts; and more recently at the Whitesands School, an all-boys day secondary school in Lekki) Parents and teachers play a key role in the formation of the child. This idea became clearer to me when I worked briefly as an art teacher at the Whitesands School. I benefited greatly in that school by a Principal who encouraged innovative learning methods.

 My inclusion in the group exhibition With a Human Face (2006) organised by Jess Castellote for the Lagos Business School was the beginning of a beneficial relationship. The institution has some of my works on display in their halls, notable of which is the massive three-piece oil painting titled ‘There were ten virgins when the bridegroom came’ (2006). The Pan African University also hosted my solo exhibition at their Victoria Island campus.

While convalescing at Igbobi, I registered as a member of the Society of Nigerian Artists in the period of Olu Ajayi’s presidency. Never attending the Society’s meetings, I also rarely attended exhibition openings were people mope and block one’s view. For inspiration, I lived a robust night life, hanging out at the clubs in Ikeja with Area Boys and visiting Fela’s Shrine. I became sympathetic with the call-girls and shady characters who wore masks to hide their ugly lifestyles. I saw a new aesthetic appear, based entirely on assessment of the different sides of the story of men and women. Physical beauty became but a fleeting glance at the soul. The subject of my portraits, became contrived beings that I built up like a carpenter, latching on to “unconscious accidents” in colour application and management, discarding (almost entirely) a sense of perspective or proportion.

The acrylic medium has a spontaneity suited to my workflow. Using mediums like retarders and pieces of newspaper and fabric, I join patterns and patches like a tailor, and then create distances of Time to assess the authenticity of the idea. If the idea is present for long on my canvas, then it is legitimate; not a whim. Occasionally the idea is a known, with a sketch or reference to start on. Other times it is achieved after several rewritings through the years. The work has a different, inherent life force that grows outwards. I have often embraced people’s interpretations, urging them on enthusiastically. The audience completes the process, and I encourage them. As a product of society, the artist gives and takes generously, every time; the work belongs to me as much as to the buyer, collector or audience.Image

I drank at arty places like the French Cultural Centre and Bogobiri, and seedy joints like Ynot. My drifting took me to the beaches to hang out for picnics at Jagunlabi’s, to walk, think and sometimes to paint the landscape. Dilomprizuluike, “the Junkman of Africa”, lived in Alpha Beach, a popular haunt. El Anatsui once labelled him “the only artist working in Lagos”. He lived Art. On a visit to his “Junkyard Gallery of Awkward things”, I had a strong awareness of the presence of the Object-as-Art around us. I sat in junk beside him in his “painted” yellow jeep, driving through Lagos traffic. He would occasionally stop by the roadside to pick up discarded objects which he saw as “Art”- things imbued with life and an ability to convey a message. He was a great inspiration. I recall my impression of his “house”- a place that had no visible walls or geometrical regularity; I compared it to my paintings. I seemed to paint with a similar familiarity. Before he left for Germany, he gave me some of his fashion drawings from his show at Goethe Institut. He also asked that I stay in his house. I never did, but some of my works relive the experience of that space.  I am not sure which came first, the experience that led to the work; or the work, that has similar attributes with the space. I am not about making assertions of originality here. Rather, I will continue in gratitude for all-the pains and joys I have known, the people and places I have been, and the things that happened to me and the things I have done. As in one of my paintings, Memories grow long and become the thing around your neck (both to choke and hang you; or to beautify and adorn you), 2009, my reading of Memory is optimistic.Image

With several long stays in hospital and scars of surgical blades came a familiarity with pain, and knowledge of the transience of life. The most recent and greatest sorrow came when my mother died last March. I sought reason and direction, and felt a dark cloud hovering. Then the words of Christ in the Beatitudes had new meaning to me, and became a survival chant. Soon I started recollecting the gestures of sorrow and wailing. We deal with sorrow differently, I told my siblings. These ideas were soon reflected in my paintings from the period. It was about Sorrow, tears and blood. I have also known many joys. For all, I am grateful.