By Tajudeen Sowole
Apart from very few artists whose impact in the Diaspora are well known in their country of residence and at home, there are others such as returnee Chuks Echiemeze Okoye who have made their marks, but remain unknown in the Nigerian art environment.
After three decades of sojourn in the Diaspora, Okoye has returned home with Echoes Of The Past, a solo art exhibition, which opens today and ends on July 6, 2012 at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.
During a preview of the exhibition, he narrated how his returning home to share his art with Nigerians was made possible by Chinwe Abara of the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC).
Interaction with Okoye in Lagos showed that he has channeled much of his art into activism, which perhaps led to a seeming lack of visibility for his art, compared to some of his fellow Africans in the U.S. and Europe, who are known in the mainstream art gallery space.
In fact, he disclosed that he had worked with quite a number of African-American groups, focusing on art education to promote African art and ideals.
|Chucks Okoye’s Great Expectation, acrylic on canvas.|
Coming home with Echoes of the Past, he explained, was a continuation of his mission in the U.S.
Art, he argued, is first and foremost about educating people on the value and ideals of culture.
Three decades may seem a long time away from home, but he stated that he still had a strong sense of cultural value of his native Igbo culture.
He noted, “This is a reflection of my contribution to the world of art and creativity, as well as the impact my artistic expressions has had on modern society. I have used my cultural experiences while growing up in eastern Nigeria in the 1970s and early 1980s as the benchmark for this art exhibition.”
Some of the works available for the preview are rendered in embossed or relief, either combining painting and sculptural characteristics, which he described as “wall sculpture,” and “framed wood collages.”
However, his thoughts on values, as seen in some of the works indeed reflect his passion for promoting African values, even in the Diaspora.
Works such as ‘Ancestral’, ‘Be Fruitful and Multiply’, ‘Great Expectation’ and the theme piece, ‘Echoes of the Past’ underscore the artist’s cultural nostalgia abroad.
Largely in mixed media, with a hint of subtle abstraction, the artist’s style of populating his canvas with images such as figures or motifs appears like a signature as nearly all the works for the preview, including those presented in soft copies share this feature.
On his mission to promote African values through his art abroad, Okoye submitted that “a society that does not preserve and promote her traditional values tend to lose an essential part of her history.”
And, without any pretext, he declared, “my art is African-American.” He explained that these ideals had been promoted with his art at such places as Ramses and The African Origin of Civilization in Dallas, Texas; Black History Month Celebration at the Epcot Center, Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida; New York Art Expo, and the internationally recognized National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, Georgia.”
Perhaps in recognising Okoye’s zeal as a “cultural ambassador of Nigeria,” his works, as set out in his profile were selected to be used in decorating the walls of the Embassy of Nigeria in Washington D.C. and the Consulate offices in Atlanta, Georgia, indicating that he devotes “his time, talent and money to various community and charitable organisations and schools including UNCF, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation NBCF, the Atlanta Minority AIDS Foundation and Georgia’s Sheriff Association — Youth’s foundation.
His active involvement in the civic and art communities has earned him countless awards and recognitions around the country and abroad.
Okoye is a recognised member of the Nigerian Elite Art Society, and he has received recognition from the Consulate General of The Federal Republic of Nigeria for his effort in promoting the talents and cultural heritage of the country and the continent of Africa. Okoye’s collection of art was chosen to adorn the walls of both the Nigeria consulate office in Atlanta and the Embassy in Washington D.C.”
Okoye studied for two years at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka 1980/81 and proceeded to University Of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma’s College of Fine Arts & Industrial Arts – Product Design and Painting (1985- 1987).
His past solo exhibitions include
Ancestral Legacy at Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, Dallas, Texas, June 1991; and Reflections shown at Unique Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia in May 1995.