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Beings In Colour… Nigeria’s socio-political expression on canvas

By Oludare Richards, Abuja
06 May 2015   |   5:30 am
With themes addressing issues of societal relevance and subjects of symbolic influence on the Nigerian historic and contemporary socio-political, the iconoclastic representations of Tochukwu’s works speak in bold terms, Tochukwu bars no holds.
ne of Tochukwu’s works on display

ne of Tochukwu’s works on display

With themes addressing issues of societal relevance and subjects of symbolic influence on the Nigerian historic and contemporary socio-political, the iconoclastic representations of Tochukwu’s works speak in bold terms, Tochukwu bars no holds.

“I believe in my Nigerianness, its complexity, beauty and its veiled simulated negativity. This belief has led me through life’s different journeys, none of which I regret, most prominent amongst these is my journey through art,” says artist Tochukwu Maduka Okide, whose a solo exhibition of paintings and drawings is expected to run from the 2nd – 9th May 2015 at the Thought Pyramid Art Gallery, Abuja.

“I was fortunate to study at Zaria, an art school synonymous with artistic freedom, there I encountered the late genius Gani Odutokun who upon conducting my acceptance interview into 100 level simply asked? ‘’Can you draw?’’, I nodded in affirmation and he then slipped me a sheet of paper and instructed make a drawing of anything I liked,. I proceeded to make a still life drawing of a pencil holder atop his table.

When I finished ,he took the paper, peered at it, smiled, and congratulated with a very firm hand shake. Viola!! I was in!!!

Beings in Colour is the title of the solo exhibition by the artist whose choice of the title was informed by his bias for figurative expressions through his art.

Tochukwu is of the opinion that the human figure as composed is the ultimate communication contraption; a single gesture made with any part of the body conveys a thousand meanings, emotions, like love, hate and fear joy, gladness discomfort etc and can all be mirrored by the slightest look in a person’s eye. To be, means to exist. Being is a confirmation of existence; living is an affirmation of humanity.

“Color is a constant differential, not in racial terms, but for me, in the conveying of thought, action or intent, colour is a solidifier of action. I am of the opinion that the aura around a person can be captured in colours. I apply colours with sharp or subdued brushstrokes on my work seeking to convey the emotions behind actions or vice versa,” Tochukwu said.

As an artist, Tochukwu has come to reject the term ‘’full time studio artist’’ or ‘’studio artist’’. Describing his work area as his creative space, if others choose to call it a studio, fine. He is of the opinion that the above terms are artificial veils that dichotomises Nigerian artists, their work and the practice of art in Nigeria.

“I also reject the myth of ‘’the starving artist’’ why aren’t there starving architects, lawyers, musicians, actors etc, why aren’t they being accused of selling out? With the volume of facets for expression in today’s world I think it’s an archaic excuse for unnecessary bohemianism.”

On Arts development and Nationhood, Tochukwu believes that there are too many excuses for the nations state of underdevelopment with too much blame on leadership failure. But then, are they really the only culprit? “What about the gigantic body of followers that throws up the leader? Can they be totally excused? There seems to be a conspiracy of silence when wrong is being committed in instalments.”

One of his works, “Power Rotation,” an oil on canvas painting depicts this view. “Based on ones stand point, power rotation is a balancing act needed to ensure inclusion of all involved in running the affairs of state, sadly, it seems political power is being sought for itself not as a means to better the lot of others.”

Power Rotation dissects the facelessness of power mongers, who put on different masks and exchange them depending on the duty at hand; they are chained together by their common goal of self preservation. Around them are dangerous weapons which are used as instruments of coercion as the need may arise, in all this an angel watches calmly.

“Fighting Terror, Together,” oil on canvas reflects on terrorism. Terrorism is a global scourge and this work of art is encouraging Nigerians to come together and defeat terror. The work shows to male figures in the fore ground holding hands in the style of an arm wrestle determined to work together, their apparel is a combination of civilian and military clothing-this emphasizes the need for co-operation and mutual trust between both parties. The head gear of the men is also a combination of Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, South-south and a military helmet.

The background shows a figure in anguish and hands reaching for each other in gesture of peace and solidarity as if to pull the green-white-green of the Nigerian flag back together and heal the country.

According to Tochukwu, another of his paintings on exhibition, MA-LA-KAI, is an Oil on Canvas painting that reflects on the situation of christendom in Nigeria today nothing on the rendition of feel-good Christianity has greatly widened the gap of inequality and has entrenched an ideology of ‘’ only the blessed takes all, no questions asked ’’ in the minds of many.

Coincidentally, these notions have their roots in the mischievously and wrongly preached book of Malachi in the Bible.

Abami 47((Music is our weapon), oil on canvas, is a tribute to the genius, political icon and Afrobeat originator Fela Anikulapo Kuti, it contains 47 motifs of Fela giving his special African power salute, the motifs are rendered 47 times in a bid to liken the power and influence of Fela’s music over all generations to the popular Russian AK 47 rifle.

“Fela’s music like the AK 47 is a positive metaphor for the continual fight for human beings to better their existence on earth and entrench the best values of democracy, human rights, justice and equality amongst all men irrespective of race, social status or creed, things the Afrobeat crooner stood for.
The words ‘’ Music is our Weapon’’ written in gold emphasizes the value of Fela’s promotion of non- violence as a means to resolve contentious issues.

For “Identity Crisis,” Oil, used ID card casings on canvas, he said, “Identity is a weighty word with various meanings for various people; it could be social, hereditary, ethnic, racial, religious etc. It can be inclusive, exclusive, statutory or arbitrary”

“This painting is set on the background of the country’s voter registration and National ID card registration; it seeks to question identity in relation to tribal affiliation and loyalties.
What identifies a person as a settler, indigene or citizen?

The internet has changed our way of life and brought the world closer, however its abuse has shredded the fabric of African society, it isn’t uncommon to find youths involved in pornography, internet fraud and identity theft. In this painting I incorporate different symbols to convey a meeting of new and old ways, a trade and blend of cultures; ultimately I depict a silhouette of a young man before a white computer screen, about to take a plunge into the ethereal and surreal and the ever present face with a taped mouth symbolizing censorship. “This Box That Sits Before Me” reflects this.

A visual ode to African Women, the ‘’Ceiling Breakers’’ shows the resilience of the African woman who has excelled in numerous fields despite societal and cultural hurdles.