Here’s the story of my life during this pandemic written by Okey Uwaezuoke in today’s ThisDay Newspapers- https://okeysworld.wordpress.com/2020/04/26/in-new-york-and-smack-in-a-pandemic/
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.
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:
Art and the Challenges of Professional Art Historiography
of All Trade/Master of None: Artists as Artists and Historians
History in Nigeria: Towards Proper Research Methodology
and Failures of Engaging the Verbal-visual Challenges in the Nigerian Art Field
of Art History in Nigeria: the National Universities Commission (NUC) Benchmark
Colonisation, Art History and the Need for
g. TheNigerian Art Historian and the Politics of Postcoloniality
History, Art Criticism and the Space In-between
Curricular Problems in Art History Training
Art History in Nigeria and the Global Standards
Art History in Nigeria for the Challenges of the Future
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 email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org Conference registration
fee is N15,000, payable not later than two weeks before the conference.
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.
Professor Babatunde Lawal; Prof. Chike Aniakor
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.