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Udemba talks identity crisis, tribalism in A Question Of Being


Emeka Udemba, Wanderlust artist

The artist Emeka Udemba has opened this year’s vibrant art, design, photography, and fashion season with A Question Of Being, an art show curated by SMO Contemporary Art, at the Temple Muse, Victoria Island, Lagos.The show presents the vibrancy of hybrid cultures referencing race, history, memory, gender, time and beauty. Udemba experiments with rich colours, transparencies, words, printed paper and textures to create multi-layered portraits, which take a critical look at the emergence of vibrant multicultural communities and how hybrid identity affects human’s sense of belonging.

Udemba is an artist of Nigerian descent, who has spent the past 25 years working in his studio in Freiburg, Germany. Through his paintings and installation, he touches on issues of global migration and the need for people to be confident in their race roots and culture, and ”not to let themselves be defined by the strangers’ gaze, but to celebrate e diverse colours of all humanity.”

Co-founder of Temple Muse, Avinash Wadhwani, said, “Udemba’s exhibition is the perfect way of marking this exciting new step, as we recognise many of the artists we have showcased over the years including, Chidi Kwubiri, Gerald Chukwuma, Modupeola Fadugba, Kenny Adewuyi, Victor Ehikhamenor, Wura-Natasha-Ogunji and many others”


On her part, founder and artistic director of SMO Contemporary Art, Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, said, “I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to curate the walls and spaces of Temple Muse since 2013,” adding, “‘Udemba’s work provides a powerful and insightful next step in this exciting journey of presenting the best of global creativity in the beautiful, multifunctional spaces Temple Muse has to offer.”

At the exclusive Collectors’ Preview held during ArtXLagos, the renowned artist Yinka Shonibare, encouraged local artists to understand and embrace global culture, and to have the freedom to be inspired by current events, and not have restricted view of what has been labeled ‘African Art’.

Emeka Udemba, whose installation of 12 hooded figures is referenced from 14th century Spanish history, said, “I work as a multi-disciplinary artist because, like the lgbo adage says, ‘you don’t stand in one place to see a masquerade, you move around it’.”

He noted: “We live in a multi-faceted world today to which we all belong. You see how colourful and sparkly the hoods are? I think we are fortunate to live in a society that really appreciates arts, whether its big or small. I tell people that you don’t have a lot of societies where you find a young artist that can actually make a living from art, even in Europe or in America.”

On why he left Nigeria for Germany despite the opportunity in the Nigerian art scene , he said, “I did not leave Nigeria mainly because of money, but to develop. You need to go out of your comfort zone, experience other places and then that experience or that encounter changes the way you think, the way you do things. I went for a long residency in the sense that I stayed for a longer period but that really impacted me as an artist.”

Speaking further on the theme of the show, he said, “as a person of colour living in a predominantly white society, you are faced with that question because people will always ask you where you are coming from. So, for someone like me, that has been in Germany for more than 20 years, I still meet somebody even if I speak the language perfectly, that still asks these questions ‘where are you from? sometimes it becomes annoying. And then if you come back home, somehow you are still been confronted with that same question.”She added, “so, my work is still very positive in the sense that it plays on that strength of you accepting who you are. You can’t change it invariably. So you have to live with it or deal with it in a very positive way.”


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