- Uche Okeke
- signed and dated 1965 (lower right)
- oil on board
- 70 by 49cm., 27½ by 19¼in.
- Painted in 1965
For Uche Okeke, the growth of contemporary art in his home country of Nigeria was irrevocably tied to the country’s greater prosperity; the artist was a staunch advocate for the role of the arts in the development of a nation. Born in Northern Nigeria in 1933, Okeke’s practice was deeply influenced by his Igbo culture, particularly by the folklore shared with him by his mother and sister, as well as by Uli, an aesthetic tradition from south-eastern Nigeria focusing on the Igbo female form. The artist learned this technique from his mother who was a celebrated Uli draughtswoman. Okeke would later become the father of the revival of Uli technique in contemporary Nigerian art. His time as a professor at the University of Nigeria would be a tenure branded by the rise of the Uli Revivalist Movement. Developing in the wake of the Nigerian Civil war, members sought to achieve a radical reassertion of Igbo ethnicity.
Okeke became a member of the Zaria Art Society during his time at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, today’s Ahmadu Bello University. This society, formed during Nigeria’s post-colonial period by a group of young artists, was a means by which students could protest the European-based education they had been receiving and instead promote the instruction and creation of an art that was the result of an ‘unforced and unconscious synthesis of Europeans' media and techniques with forms, styles and contents derived from indigenous Nigerian culture. ( N’Goné Fall, Jean Loup Pivin, An Anthology of African Art The Twentieth Century, p. 247). This ideology became known as ‘Natural Synthesis’ and is essential to bear in mind when confronted with a work by this masterful artist. Despite being filled with references of traditional Nigerian Igbo culture and Uli technique, Okeke’s work does not present itself as an indigenous piece by any means. Instead, what becomes apparent is the complexity of the relationship between European and African aesthetics.