…..AS WE MARCH ON CEASELESSLY…..
While legend or rather
autobiographical fact has it that the man who will be an inventor of a genre in
Nigerian modern art movement, Christopher Uchefuna Okeke, had cut his teeth
early in the adorable effervescence of
youth, he was to have drunk from the fountain of wisdom of the likes of Akinola
Lasekan, the first Nigerian cartoonist and hobnobbed with expatriates such as
J.G.C Allen, Dennis Duerden, T.M Evans of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation
and had even met Bernard Fagg, the renowned ethnographer.
And so for the fourth year running, we are showcasing another intellectual artist, Uche Okeke to whom has been attributed the origin of the Zarianist trenchant philosophy, cultural synthesis. Once in 1950s there was a bunch of young, budding, bubbling art students of the Art department of the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, now Ahmadu Bello University in 1958-1961. There was indeed the ferment in arts consciousness then which was parallel to the political emancipation story of Nigeria.
The literary thoughts of Uche Okeke blossomed then and it continued in the wake of the civil war. His restless soul engendered the birth of another school, “Ulism”, a portrayal of the depth of artistic creativity.
|Prof Uche Okeke (right), his wife and one of his colleagues at Zaria, Jimoh Akolo, listening to the lecture by Prof Ola Oloidi during the 4th Yusuf Grillo Pavilion, a celebration of Okeke's legacy.|
Uche Okeke’s reputation as an illustrator of books found unparalleled sanctuary in the largest selling novel any Nigerian has ever written, “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe.
Here is Uche Okeke’s talent as a master illustrator, applying his pen and superb drawing talent to immortalize that pioneer, novel and in effect, he too has earned immortality. His disciples sing his praises and emulate his style with great adoration.
It would be appropriate for us to attempt a synthesis of the oeuvre of Uche Okeke, the theorist of the philosophy of natural synthesis from the boisterousness of his youth with the artistic assimilation from the elements of life and the untrained artistic mind in the village to tutelage under Akinola Lasekan and unto Nigerian College of Science and Technology, Zaria, where he bonded with a generation of modern artists and then his maturation at the discovery of the spiritual and artistic values of Igbo body arts, “Ulism”. Uche Okeke the poet, the teacher, the supplying inventor now exalts in his legacies of a string of disciples that we hold in high regard such as Obiora Udechukwu, Tayo Adenaike, Ndidi Dike, Chinwe Uwatse, Ego Okeke and the great and the good products of the School of Arts of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
It is our desire at Grillo Pavilion to continue our search for the authentic intellectual underpinning of modern art in Nigeria and it is a thing of joy to hold this gathering periodically.
For this particular exhibition, great thanks must go to several collaborators of Grillo Pavilion four years on. Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya a renowned member of the Zarianists Movement whom we celebrated in 2010 has lent us an impressive work of his soul mate, Uche Okeke which we are making a centrepiece of this exhibition. Three disciples of Professor Okeke namely, Tayo Adenaike who is also a scholar, Chinwe Uwatse and Ndidi Dike successful female students of our celebrity and revered artists in their own right have volunteered works too.
But the pride of place must go to the great art collector of our time, Prince Engineer Yemisi Shyllon who has allowed us to raid his priceless collection of the exalted works of Uche Okeke. We succeeded in wresting 13 pieces of Okeke’s work out of a vast arsenal of beautiful unmatchable holdings. It was a psychological contest indeed. Here is a collector who is extremely protective of this hard-earned holdings which he has amassed from his secondary school days pitted against a friend who is a jonny-just-come-lately convert to art collection and appreciation. But this is what the world of art appreciation and collection is about. The initial design of Grillo Pavilion edifice is the brainchild of Prince Yemisi Shyllon; the initial sketch, choice of location in the compound and the concept of design and the contactors are attributable to the head-start Yemisi Shyllon had painstakingly earned in the theatre of art. I salute him today.
To Asele Insitute, Nimo belongs our appreciation of the multitalented enigma of our time, Professor Uche Okeke. When he draws lines on canvass, his strokes speak of gold; his poems voice the timeless expression of generations of creative art of yore; his essays are a scintillating explication of life’s tribulations and ecstasy.
|The celebrant in the 3rd edition, Prince Demas Nwoko, speaking on Saturday as he reminiscences on UIche Okeke's Zaria days, while Mrs Okeke applauds.|
He was noted, by his students, to be a humourous, subtle teacher who is forever anxious to impart knowledge and make better artists of his disciples. Hence a separate portion of the Pavilion precinct next to this lecture hall has been dedicated to an exhibition of the works of the followers of Uche Okeke. So much inspiration.
Here’s a toast to the spirit of Ulism, the Nimo Asele inspiration and the throwback to the earth shaking composition of Zairianism whose trenchant philosophy opened up the thoughts of Uche Okeke and his contemporaries may their creative essence never die.
May God bless them all.
Welcome address by founder of Yusuf Grillo Pavilion, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi during the 4th edition held at his residence, in Ikorodu, yesterday