Obi of Onitsha (standing) and other guests at the event
The evening was not just about a book presentation as lovers of art recently gathered at African Artist Foundation, Victoria Island, Lagos. With the rich, serene cultural ambience of the venue, it was evident that everyone was enthralled by the vibes issuing from the music in the background and visual art works on display at the foundation.
It was the launch of Obiora Udechukwu: Line, Image, Text by Chika Okeke Agulu that had the support of Ford Foundation, with Mr. Innocent Chukwuma representing. Chair of the event, Alhaji Abdulaziz Ude, said Nigerians are fond of taking individual efforts for granted, as they are not appreciated properly.
He, however, commended the fact that in the last two decades, more Nigerians have become very creative, adding, “There are so many artists that can move our economy from the third world to the first. In the 1950s, no one thought one could make a profession out of art. Obiora’s prints are still visible. Contemporary art is acknowledged all over the world over primitive art.
“We need these monumental works to celebrate our artists. I advise collectors to collect more in these hard times because there can be no better investment than the Nigerian art. Today, we are celebrating the amazing collection of paintings of Obiora. It is a wonderful work for posterity and many should key in also.”
Ude commended the efforts of collectors, art promoters, especially the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, who was the special guest of honour of the occasion, Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon and Lagos State for always encouraging art.
On his part Igwe Achebe said Obiora was referred to as the big masquerade. As classmates and boys back in the days growing up in Onitsha in the early 1960s, he said the environment where they grew up influenced Obiora into becoming an artist.
Achebe was proud that their school had produced icons in all spheres of life, noting, “His social conscience and moral courage is in no doubt his legacy and one direct influence on his contemporary and others is seen.”
For Chukwuma, Ford foundation was happy to be associated with the publication of the book, with regard to the whole issue of documenting the life and works of iconic assets, saying scholars in Nigeria have been in the background.
According to him, “We have made it a point of duty to celebrate illustrious sons and daughters, who have made a name in the field of the art. The problem in this country is that we don’t have enough reference and art materials for art critics to make use of while teaching the subject. We, in this part of the world, don’t have our religion, philosophy or history documented, and it will be a failing on our part not to support this gesture.”
The book reviewer, Prof. Ozioma Onuzulike, said the author provided critical essays and intellectual discourses that place Udechukwu Obiora at the centre of debates surrounding contemporary art and mid-20th century postcolonial modernism in Nigeria and Africa.
As he noted, “The book places the full range of the core of Udechukwu’s eventful career in the public domain. Okeke-Agulu has prepared the ground for further intellectual work by scholars, curators and all those interested in postcolonial debates and the histories and divergent forms of African art modernisms.”