Saturday 21 June 2014

From the paintings of Onuorah, warnings of how not to lose Priceless Heritage

By Tajudeen Sowole
In a world where contentment disappearing regularly on the scale of values, artist Chike Onuohar argues that it shouldn’t get so bad that a people or an individual would not have something to cherish.

One of Chike Onuorah’s works titled Chai! NaOnly Me Waka Come O!!!
Onuorah explains his thoughts in a body of work titled Priceless Heritage, which he just presented in a one week duration art exhibition at Didi Museum, Victoria Island, Lagos.
 "With the way things are going on in the world, it has become necessary for people to re-invent themselves," the opening part of his Artist Statement warns. He advises that it is necessary to hold on to one's core values, particularly “the identities that are peculiar to a people.”

In this period of Nigeria’s challenges of security and complete loss of values, the National Orientation Agency, a federal government wing could do with some works and texts of Onuorah. The artist states

“Cherish the simple things that make us who we are. Hold on to your values. Hold on to your identity. Be proud of your heritage. It is true that a tree cannot make a forest and man is not supposed to exist in isolation. However the core essence of our being should not be lost in the quest for a self-assessed upgrade.”

He stressed: “Protect what you have. Protect your values. Protect your heritage. It is your only true identity. It is priceless.”
Inside the modified art gallery space of Didi Museum, a greenery piece that welcomes me a guest from the distance suggests that Onuorah keeps sustaining his chains of themes. Titled Abundance, it’s a deep green grassland from high angle view, which the artist describes as "An abundance of richness, gladness, goodness and wellness."

Still making the best of high angle views, Onuorah's brush descends on two craft women in Lady Potters, a capture of sea of pots swallowing the potters. Similarly, a large number of fishermen titled Argungu in Colours, suggests that the artist has stepped up his brushings. These two works are quite distinct from the rest of displays at the exhibition. In fact, the styles and techniques appear like the artist's new form of expression. "They are not exactly new," he says. "I have painted these works since 2009, but have not shown them in public." He discloses that "this is the way I work; new styles evolve over time and I gradually unfold them to the public."

In this age of social media network where trends and news flow without control, artists themes are not left out of being influenced by the trending. For Onuorah's Priceless Heritage, one of the current most-trending in the social media reverberates in one of his work titled Chai! Na Oly Me Waka Come O!!! 
 Onuorah's story is that of a stone slinger stranded after a frustrating day of no kill. The artist's poetry addition to the painting explains how the boy laments being empty-handed, only with the listening of the birds’ singing: "Abi make I follow dem dey sing! Where again person go go? Chai!...and na only me waka come," the poem reads in part.

But the artist discloses that except for the "Chai” that he just "added," the work has been so titled "since I did it in E013" long before the slogan became popular via the social media network."

Arguably one of the most-exhibited Nigerian artists of his generation, Onuorah comes into Priceless Heritage with an identity of having had a solo exhibition yearly in the last 13 years. In fact, sometimes he had two solo shows in a year. Among the common features of his past exhibitions were portraits, mostly of unidentified women. But the just held exhibition depopulates Onuorah's canvas of portraits themes.

And the demise of the portraits gives way to another dominance in still life themes. Such works include flower vases in realism, Beautiful Day and Grateful Heart; pottery Happy Time, Priceless Heritage, Seven Days, Together Forever and African Treasure.

Still life drawing or painting are taken for granted and hardly attracts the attention of established artists. What exactly is the attraction for. Onuorah? "No artist can exhaust any theme," he argues. "The more research, the further you realise that there are still so much to cover.” As regards his choice of the household objects, he explains that “these are not just pottery. If you look deeper, so much is said in the motifs and signs."

In fact are the real contents of his central theme as each them speaks about values that are being lost.
He urges people to look at their environs and “listen to the radio, watch the news on TV, or read the newspapers, source the news on the internet, anywhere, man keeps proving to be the worst virus in all creation.”

The painter who carries a nickname D’Artist sees no reason why art should not be in the forefront of changing the world for the better. He passionately insists that “the line between good and bad is not just getting thinner but getting blurred by the day.” Values, he states “are torpedoed by strange beliefs and indoctrination,” just as “life is no longer sacred; these days, it is just a number.”

Some of D’Artist’s themes in the past included
Crackilino, Splashillino, Plastillino and Grassillino as well as Timeless.

Onuorah graduated from the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Benin (UNIBEN) and has been having shows almost every year since he started full time studio practice.

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