By Tajudeen Sowole
In painter Nyemike Onwuka’s fourth solo art exhibition titled Diary Pages, held at Alexis Galleries, Victoria Island, Lagos, the dilemma of Africans in sustaining cultural values was among the leading themes.
More pertinent of the artist’s thoughts in the current reality, for example in Nigeria, is the issue of aligning sexuality within a reasonable limit of acceptance as against oddity in the choice of partners.
Just So I Thought is from Nyemike Onwuka’s Diary Pages
From multiple husband, to underage girl marriage, Onwuka expresses what he discloses as some of the notes from his dairy, over the last 11 months. In some of the 20 works he showed, the artist collapses his jottings into the body of work. And perhaps, significantly, at a gallery where he was the first artist shown when the space opened as Homestores Gallery in 2011.
One of Nigeria's young artists who are consistent in representational modernism, Onwuka, has however established himself with a distinct identity by aging his canvas. Within this identity, every theme of his exhibition attempts to separate the previous outings from a current show. His Diary Pages is not different, though he boasts that“I am still consistent with my rustic canvas.”
The theme of the exhibition is not exactly far from people’s record keeping attitude, even in the age of smart phones, which even offers a digital diary. A look into an artist’s diary could be of interest, maybe from a fresh perspective. “These are my thoughts over the past 11 months,” Onwuka explains.
Of all the choices of sex partners that people make, the most complex areas of contentious sex partner is a woman’s multiple male lovers. In one of Onwuka’s work titled Polyandry, the artist argues that such behaviour is un-African. Like the ongoing issue of same sex partners, it does appear that Africans have imbibed the habit of tracing“unpopular sex behaviour” to the west. One woman to more than one husband, Onwuka argues, is not African. He notes that “Polyandry is a trend in the west,” warning that “it’s now creeping into the African environment.”
But if the line between polyandry and promiscuity is a thin one, it could be very difficult to trace its origin to the west or any culture outside Africa. It’s as contentious as same sex. Perhaps with the exception that same sex has been with us in Africa for a while, but not same sex marriage.
Indeed, Onwuka's Diary Pages may just be similar to that of every Nigerian who keeps abreast of recent issues of sexuality in the country. From an alleged plans of the Upper Chamber of the national assembly to legislate on marriageable age for a girl child, to the recently ascent law prohibiting same sex marriage, Nigeria is infested with sexuality issues.
While sympathisers of same sex marriage are voiceless in the deafening applause for the passage and signing of the law, the issue of what makes a girl underage for marriage divides Nigerians across religious and ethnic lines. For diverse reasons, it seems that everyone who contributes to the debate has taken a hardline position.
And just when one thought feminism, from Onwuka's perspective, ends on the canvas, the artist too takes a stand on the underage marriage debate. He expresses his view in the work titled If Only I Had A Choice.
In 2011, Onwuka’s Moods was used to formally opened Homestores Gallery, showing paintings, mixed media and drawings, that stresses his identity.
After training at Auchi Polytechnic, Edo State, Onwuka went for further skills acquisition when he studied Character Animation at Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg, South Africa in 2008.
Two of his past shows included Lines and Forms at Sachs Gallery, Victoria, Lagos, and Elegant Urban Decay at Arc Gallery, London, UK.