Thursday 30 July 2020

Nsikak Essien (1957-2020), master of experimental art

Nsikak Essien (1957-2020). Pic: c/o Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA).

Another prominent artist, Nsikak Essien, passed on, Wednesday night in Lagos. Essien, died of yet to be identified cause.

On June 30, 2020, former president, Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), Uwa Usen died, aged 57.

Born in 1957, Essien was a lecturer at Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu, the same institution he graduated from in 1979. He quit teaching job in 1991 for  full-time studio career.

Essien was widely known for his works on experimental  textures. For example, in 2012,  Essien's solo art exhibition titled Love Stories, shown at Nike Art Gallery, Lekki, Lagos from June 2 to 8, was one of bis most profound statements in the mixed media genre.

 Ahead of the show, he declared with passion: “Man is on pilgrimage on this earth to raise the consciousness of unifying people.”

Littering his four-room studio, in Ogba, Lagos, where he hosted his only guest of the preview were works, mostly in large format as each attempted to shocase the artist’s revered image in mixed media mastery. More importantly however, was the central content of the works: a mix between fantasy and reality.

Leading his guest into a small room, where one of the works, supposedly, reflects the concept of love story, Essien, like a preacher, insisted that everyone owes the environment, irrespective of tribe, race or religion, the debt of unity. The work, though a distance from reality is best enjoyed from the perspective of its aesthetic content. In a multi-ethnic Nigeria, the workappears like something from the land of fantasy: Yoruba father, mother of Benin origin, and the child Akwa Ibom. It’s surreal. “Well… maybe that’s the idea, the concept of unity, which can only be told through love,” Essien said.

As a widely commissioned artist, it appeared that Essien was still trying to free himself from an aspect of his career that gave him so much. For instance, the heavy surfaced characteristics of commissioned work still took a chunk of his space. Perhaps, it also made him undetached from working with board, giving a zero space to canvas. “I work with heavy surface, so canvas is ruled out,” he said.

And the traces continued as the studio was also littered with quite a number of works such that it became difficult to know the state of production of each piece. “I start all my works at the same time, and finish all at once,” he disclosed.

For Essien, concentrating on one work at a time could remove the spontaneous strength in him. 

He was 55 then, and still a widely experimental artist, which perhaps demanded some studio assists to carry out his kind of work. But Essien would continue to work alone. Working alone, he insisted, “is part of my strength as I need to receive messages to get direction.”

The energy required in bringing his work to fruition would not also be detached from some of the wild concepts for the show. For example, a sci-fi kind of a three-headed horse flies into a viewer’s psyche with 3-D quality. Why such a wild composite in the midst of the artist’s preaching for love? It’s about the economic challenges the people are facing, he said, noting that “living in Nigeria is like a three-headed horse; but by His grace, one can still have the best from the country.”

Essien returned to Nike where he showed another solo titled Love and Songs from September 12-20 2015.

A member of Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA), Essien was also a founding member of AKA Group of Exhibiting Artists.


  1. He was a senior friend, a mentor, an encourager,and a model to younger artists! The Nigeria art community has lost a gem! May the Lord grant his family the strength to bear his loss, and grant him eternal rest