Ocheja ‘Walks Through Shades of Yellow’
While a shadow occupies all of the three-dimensional volume behind an object with light in front of it, Johnson Ocheja is currently occupying the four corners of Alliance Francaise, Mike Adenuga Centre, Ikoyi, Lagos gallery as he journeys through the shades of Yellow in his first solo exhibition.
For his debut solo show, titled, ‘A Pilgrim’s Journey; Through the Shades of Yellow’, Ocheja make his muse the pilgrim archetype.
Curated by Princess Ayoola, with curatorial advise from the founder and Director of the African Artists Foundation (AAF), Azu Nwagbogu; Alliance Française, Ikoyi, Lagos, the show, which started on April 22, 2023, will run through Saturday, May 20, 2023.
‘A Pilgrim’s Journey: Through the Shades of Yellow’ is ultimately the journey of the graduate of Statistics from Kogi State University, Anyigba, Kogi State, who started painting in 2020.
With ‘A Pilgrim’s Journey: Through the Shades of Yellow’, Ocheja is no longer trying to be an artist, he is actualising his journey. Yellow is Ocheja’s safe colour. The colour with fewer tones than green but one that represents happiness and joy. The purpose isn’t merely about self, but also his documentation and relative immortalisation of his subjects.
Yellow is Ocheja’s safe colour. The colour with fewer tones than green but one that only represents happiness and joy. Ocheja charges his audience to pay attention, to listen and to be kind like a child. His portraits do not titillate, they mesmerise and saturate his canvas.
In Ocheja’s work, the use of yellow holds significant symbolism, representing felicity, possibilities, and hope. Each painting’s shade of yellow resonates with the artist’s journey. There is variability in tone and therefore in language sometimes it exudes a lighter and spirited hue or a deeper and muddy tone. And although the human body is the primary element in these pieces, Ocheja emphasises that it is equally vital to contemplate the attire that adorns the subject and it is these yellows, characterising his subjects’ internal worlds, that he elevates beyond aesthetic choice, to become a symbolic portal into the experience of happiness.
The presence of religious symbolism is an attempt to revive spiritual connections in a society that often overlooks spirituality in favour of materiality. Furthermore, in this exhibition, Ocheja uses the pilgrim archetype to reference pilgrims of old Hindus, Buddhists and Christians alike for whom the colour yellow symbolises knowledge, enlightenment and spiritual growth. Thus, he elevates happiness to sacred contemplation.
In truth, Ocheja’s characters are not so much striving for happiness as they are already in their gardens of pure bliss, enjoying the fruits of their journey irrespective of the simplicity of their physical reality.
In A Pilgrim’s Journey; Through The Shades of Yellow, moments of domestic life are captured in Ocheja’s paintings as visual journal entries, reminding us that like a pilgrim, we must retain a journey-oriented mindset by shifting away from the romanticisation of the destination, to focus on the people and social relationships that make the destination tangible and rewarding. Again, we are reminded that happiness is not just an individual pursuit but also a shared experience that brings people together and uplifts those who are struggling. It is a journey of noble curiosity.
When asked why women mostly adorn his paintings, he said: “It is natural for me to paint women because it’s a way to speak for the women. I grow up in a society where the voices of women are not really heard and I don’t like that growing up. I detest the situation where a woman cannot talk when a man is talking.
“Though I am exhibiting 13 works for my first solo show, I have done many joint exhibitions.
Before painting in 2020, I have been drawing with pencil before then but I felt limited because there were things I wanted to do but couldn’t; I like to tell stories but because of the technic I was using, I was limited.
On the choice of the theme, he said: “Because it’s a journey and since I am a spiritual person, the theme stuck so, I decided to go for it. It took me almost a year to make the work.