‘I am an unconcealed reflection of sacrifice for a cause,’ says artist
“I just have this uncanny belief that every artist could have been born an artist,” he said. “I grew up discovering I was made like that and I have come to accept that how one becomes an artist may not really matter.”
Although his parents did not support his idea of becoming an artist, he did not relent in his quest, noting, “I only had an option to study courses like medicine, law, engineering, and accounting. My love for art was considered illicit and unacceptable. I later did an OND in marketing at Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, where I graduated as second best, but I was far from being fulfilled. My father could not allow me become the man of my dreams – an artist.
“For this reason, it took me about 10 years to enter University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I had to come to terms with the reality of my parents’ refusal to pay my school fees should I remain recalcitrant about my burning desire. Rather than return to Nekede to complete my HND, I secretly enrolled to study art at Nsukka, where I graduated cum laude in 2002.”
At some point, Chukwuma turned to making cards and posters and painted portraits to survive through school. “I remember how I left school a number of times to hawk my art in Enugu and Port Harcourt. It was a tough one but I was living my dream. Art has been a fantasy and everyone, who knew me, saw how much I loved and enjoyed what I was doing. Perhaps, the man I have become today may just be an unconcealed reflection of how far I have sacrificed for a cause I have greatly lived and adored.”
However, the artist lamented the low level of art appreciation in Nigeria, adding, “In pristine Nigeria, like in virtually all of Africa, art was life and life itself was art. There truly may not have been any questions about its appreciation since it was naturally participatory and revolved around all facets of life. Colonialism later baited us with commerce and the new religions, turned us to strangers within our homesteads and art was later to abruptly become an esoteric exercise.
According to him, “There is obviously a bit of disconnect between today’s artists and the general public and the reason may not be far-fetched. The average Nigerian may have to grapple with the exigencies of life’s basics – food, shelter, clothing – before getting excited about the rejuvenating values embedded in the art of his beleaguered society.”
Although he said he has enjoyed a certain amount of patronage from Nigeria, it is a far cry from what it should be.“I recently read a line from Tokeni Peterside, founder of Art-X Lagos, where she expressed her disbelief that Nigerians do not appreciate art because by nature, we are a bunch of art-loving audience. I agree, there are sweeping opportunities of appreciating art in Nigeria,” he added.
A few years ago, Chukwuma and a group of artists, after a group exhibition, agreed to start a gathering of artists with focus on international exhibition. On whether his upcoming exhibition with a Ghanaian artist is in line with that agenda, Chukwuma said, “There is this flush of enthusiasm that comes with knowing that you could be a critical actor in a creative process. The gush gets even more intense when you encounter other young, seemingly undeterred ‘creators’ who just want to explore explosively. We have straddled a mélange of dreams in the past but art lances from imagination to internalisation and thereafter, execution gives it the voice that it craves.
“I have participated in a number of international shows since then, although they may not have been borne out of the same measure of bias or energy that buoyed our decision from the outset. Certain opportunities have sprouted out of appreciation or sheer awe from enthusiasts and art lovers and as an artist, it is important to key into some of these looming interests and tactfully embrace the pivotal ideals.
“I would not easily say that this show is not a brainchild of that agenda. The manifestation may have been betrayed, as it were, but the core of that hunger to speak to the international audience remains the same.”
Chukwuma, whose works are mostly known as panels with burnt parts and paintings of motifs, said his upcoming exhibition is likely to take a different form because art is evolving and there is need for a paradigm shift.
“I just love to work the way I do but I understand the values embedded in flexibility,” he said. “This show is expected to clearly manifest an embroidery of what I have done in the past with fibre glass and ink drawings, metal pelletes mangled in earth colours, audacious textures, intruding hues and sacrosanct creative presence. Expect a mixed grill of the old and new.”
On a lighter note, the artist said if he were not an artist, he would have been a cook, saying, “I just love food, food, and more food and the poetic kind of nuances and measures that surround it’s processing. Whatever transpires between the assemblage of recipes and utensils and the actual cooking reminds me of the artistic pleasure of planting a seed and watching it blossom. A cook, like the artist is a therapist, an intermediary whose role takes full shape after the interspaces between soul-stirring and quintessence has been wholly filled.”