Wednesday 19 October 2022

Ahead of burial rites, flood of tributes for Ijeoma Loren Uche-Okeke

Ijeoma Uche-Okeke (1972-2022).

WHILE struggling to contend with two major losses in the past three years, the Africa and Diaspora art management space, on September 1, 2022 woke up to another shocking loss. Chief Executive Officer of Asele Institute, Ijeoma Loren Uche Okeke (1972-2022) took untimely exit after what family sources said was her lost battle against "pulmonary embolism, blood clot that hits the Lungs." 

In 2019, two big names in Africa and Diaspora art management field, Bisi Silva (1962-2019) and Okwui Enwezor (1963-2019) died, in separate circumstances from what was announced as cancer, for each deceased professional.

With a Wake Keep scheduled to hold October 19, 2022 at Asele Institute, Nimo, Anambra State, burial rites for culture administrator, Ijeoma Loren Uche Okeke takes off. While the Lying in State holds at Asele Institute, the Funeral Mass takes place at Assumption Catholic Church, Nimo, an internment follows.

Daughter of late Nigerian modernist, Prof Uche Okeke (1933-2016), Ijeoma gave hope to the creative world at a time when vacuum seemed to be lurking in managing the legacy of her father. Asele Institute, Nimo, Anambra State, a cultural facility founded by her late father, Okeke, had, under Ijeoma's management ascended to an international resource centre.

Few weeks ago, her brother, Chuma, Uche-Okeke, in announcing the burial rites wrote: "I write to inform you of the death of my dear sister IJEOMA UCHE-OKEKE.

"She succumbed to a Pulmonary Embolism on the first of September 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

"We the family are heartbroken but must push ahead.

"I personally take comfort in the ancient Igbo proverb :- Igwe nine ga nalito n’uzu. (translation- all iron is bound for the smithy’s forge)."

Earlier, Ijeoma's sister, Salma, opened a Whatsap platform through which tributes have been pouring in for the deceased. "My dearest Ijeoma, the news of your sudden passing entrenches even more something you once said to me. You said that we all had something to give and we must give it while we can. I never got to work with you professionally but your smile lit up the room and I loved your conversation. Go gently into that dark night my friend. We are a sadder world without you." - Sarah Hallat.

"Dearest Ijeoma...speechless at the news that I will not bump into you welcomed with your smile and a warmth...that was so easy to embrace and so welcoming ... i will not forget you...and be warmed by the fleeting moments of remembrance! till we see each other... much much love," -Maria Fidel Regueros-Wess

"Dear Ijeoma, 

"Ije oma Nne 

"You will be missed 

"Your beautiful smile and warm bubbly personality 

"What a rude shock 

"My deepest condolences to the whole family and everyone touched by this beautiful soul 

"May we all be comforted."-Nwakaego Boyo.


"Thanks for touching our lives so positively. 

"Thanks for the smiles and laughs.

"Thanks for the labours of love.

"Thanks for teaching us about friendship.

"Thanks for exemplifying the true Ubuntu spirit.

"Thanks for being your best.

"All these will be missed, terribly missed.

"Well, keep spreading joy on the other side.

"Love ❤" - Chinedu Afigbo.

️"I am bereft of words for this shocking news of Ijeoma’s sudden death. How can anyone imagine that a young woman so full of life with so much on her plate and a young daughter to raise would within just one week of illness depart this world so unceremoniously. A typical instance of the saying that in the midst of life, we are in death; very thin line between life and death. All is vanity, nothing but vanity. We are indeed in shock. Rest In peace dear cousin. May the good Lord grant Aunty, Thembz, Ifeoma, other direct siblings, extended Okeke family and us the fortitude to bear this irreparable loss."- Chinwe Iyizoba.

"The day I introduced my daughter to Ijey in Joburg in 2020. Ijey was her SA mother for 2 years of boarding school....all because we met at a BBQ hosted in Jozy by a mutual friend in 2013." - Ike Ilegbune.

 "Dear Ijeoma, heaven's new angel.

"I remember the first time I met you...

"You were a bright eyed, curious and chatty eight year old. You and Ifeoma were a "tag team" in those days.

"Over the years, you became a genial warm woman, with a captivating, caring personality. You always made out time for personal contact, reaching out to meet and greet, at every given opportunity.

"I choose to cherish happy, warm snippets of memories you evoke. 

"Ije, Ijeoma, Good Journey to the House of God.

"I pray that the Good Lord gives all your family, especially your Mom and your daughter, the fortitude to bear your unexpected departure from this earthly realm.

"Sleep well Ijeoma We all miss you.

"May you rest eternally in the light of God." - Chinwe Uwatse.

"Ijeoma, I knew you as a baby, then a toddler and a little girl while we were growing up in UNN Nsukka campus. Our parents were firm friends and we all who came from Nimo had a tight little circle including the Ikemes and Akubues. Ifeoma was also my sister Ejiaka's best friend so I saw you growing up. In recent years I have been in daily touch with your Mum and Ifeoma and was so glad to know of your joyful strides and dear Thembi. 

 "I thought my eyes were seeing double when I read the text from Aunty on the morning of the 2nd of September and I wished deeply it was some sort of error but alas it wasn't. 

"Being much older than you and having seen your recent vibrant outing at Iwalewa House this was never what we could have envisaged. 

"However at the end of all days we all will know why it had to be this way. We must all take consolation that no spirit is older than the other and that the Almighty who is All-Knowing will only permit what is best for each human spirit. As we mourn because we love and miss you we must remember that in the great Circle of Life there is a joyful reception in the beyond for you. 

"May the Lord grant succour to Aunty, Ifeoma, Chuma and Chindo. All will be well with Thembi, love surrounds her.

"May your path, Ijeoma Loren Uche-Okeke be lit up with love. Amen." - Nkeiruka Orebiyii.

"Ijeoma (Obele), as I called you, it has been so difficult to get myself to write a tribute. Coming to terms with the reality of your passing to be with the Lord and then just thinking about writing a tribute have been so difficult. I start writing and then stop, asking myself if this is real.

"Being age mates and childhood friends, we had a special friendship which was filled with laughter, fights and simply just trying to make fun of each other. I believed I had a way with words and could use any situation to make fun of anyone but you always beat me to it when I tried doing the same to you. I always had to be fully on guard with you because you never hesitated to give it to me with equal measure anytime I tried to make a jest of you. You had the skills to respond immediately like you had been waiting for me. 

"After you moved to South Africa, I made it a duty to visit you whenever I was in J’borg. From eating Naija food at yours and then going out to dinner on numerous occasions, it was always fun being around you. I remember you always asking me to bring chocolate coated malted biscuits whenever I visited and the lovely time my wife and kids had when we visited you in 2011/12. Once I ate one pack before it got to you and I wished I hadn’t after you gave me a mouthful though of course it was filled with lovely words. With time it seemed you got tired of the biscuits because you just stopped asking for it. You had a great sense of humour and never hesitated to make me realize that you were a few months older than I was, so I had to give you ultimate respect. 

"In 2019, which incidentally was the last time I visited South Africa, we unfortunately couldn’t get to see each other because our schedules just wouldn’t let it happen. I still have the voice note you dropped for me, giving me a piece of your mind for not doing enough to make sure I saw you before I left for Nigeria. I have listened to it so many times over the last few weeks and tears fill my eyes just thinking that I will never get to hear your voice and laughter again. I will cherish that voice note all my life because it is a special memory of you. I ask that you please forgive me for not making that visit happen. I could have done more honestly

"To say that I will miss you is an understatement. Your were my sister, friend and play mate. I know that you are resting with the Lord. You are simply just too beautiful and kind hearted for one to think otherwise. Memories of you will always be embedded in my mind.

"Rest well my dear sister and friend." - Ikenna Ikeme.

"The Uche Okeke children were a recurrent part of the Onobrakpeya children's childhood. Our dads were best of friends from their University days and our mums too were close. Ijeoma was a great girl, very confident, always talking with a smile on her face as she engaged me in diverse topics. In our adulthood our interactions became more intense. We had common backgrounds and passion and we saw from time to time to discuss. Recently, I wrote an article about Asele Institute and she called me to say she did not know I wrote so well.I liked Ijeoma! Now I hear she passed on. Shock is an understatement about how I felt. But I never asked why. Thank you for being my friend Ijeoma. Greet Uncle Uche and other loved ones on that side. Goodnight Ijeoma." - Ejiro Onobrakpeya.

Ijeoma graduated from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1992 with BA honours in Fine and Applied Arts. Following an early career in Lagos, Nigeria, where she served in roles at the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) and the African Foundation for the Arts, she attended the University of the Witwatersrand, from which she earned her MA in Heritage Studies and a postgraduate diploma in Arts, Culture and Heritage Management. Ijeoma also earned a postgraduate diploma in 2008 from Bard College’s Centre for Environmental Policy, receiving a fellowship through Bard’s Learning Across Borders program funded by the Henry Luce Foundation. She worked as a cultural researcher, participating in fundamental research projects for numerous organisations, including the European Union and the British Council.

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