Obiora Udechukwu
New Works


Reception: Thursday, June 1st, 6-8pm

Skoto Gallery is pleased to present Obiora Udechukwu: New Works, an exhibition of recent drawings, paintings and prints. The reception is on Thursday, June 1st, 5-8pm and there will be performances by Nwakego (soprano) with accompaniment by Aya Kato (keyboard) as well as story-telling with musical accompaniment by Oma Chukwurah-Orezabo. The renowned Nigerian author Chinua Achebe is the guest of honor.

Obiora Udechukwu, one of the most influential contemporary artists from Nigeria for several decades, is a visual lyricist, a poet whose mastery of the line and drawing is beyond compare. Since the early 1970s, Udechukwu has been a leading member of the Nsukka School – known for experimentation with traditional Igbo Uli mural and body design. In the late 1970s he became interested in watercolor and Chinese calligraphy, particularly in the juxtaposition of text and image, but also in the lyrical power of lines deployed with brush and calligraphic pen. The combination of visual elements and design sensibilities from Uli and Chinese drawing, in addition to motifs adapted from Nsibidi signs from southeastern Nigeria results in drawings that powerfully dramatize negative and positive spatial tensions, the dialogue of delicate and strong lines, and the dialectic of poetic and dark subject matter. Since the past decade, Udechukwu has included texts written in longhand in English or Igbo in his compositions. When they occur, the texts serve as textural – in other words as design — elements in the drawings, but he also relies on them to extend or complicate the idea or message already suggested by the drawn image.

The lyrical beauty of Udechukwu’s drawing often belies its deep social commitment. His work has focused at various times on the military dictatorship, official corruption, and the economic devastation wrought by the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Program in Nigeria. Thus, in his drawings and installations he has incorporated passages from writings by major Nigerian public intellectuals, including Achebe, Soyinka, lyrics from the songs of Fela, and extracts from his own poems. Although the texts can often be read quite easily, sometimes they are either illegible or incomprehensible because they are repeated over and over, or adjoined without regard to normative lexis and structure, thereby withholding or deferring their communicative power.

In the drawings presented in this show, Udechukwu uses graphite with such subtlety that reveals the incredible possibilities of the medium. Soft fields of gray become backgrounds for abstract Uli motifs, or strong quirky lines tempered by thin lyrical or swirling ones. From these emerge cosmic elements, animals and plant forms, masks and portraits that, when read, reveal subtly powerful commentaries on contemporary Nigerian and global politics.

Born in Onitsha, Nigeria on June 4, 1946, Obiora Udechukwu trained at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he was a Professor of Drawing and Painting for more than two decades. His work has been shown in many venues around the world, including the National Gallery of Art, Lagos, Barbican Art Galleries, London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC, National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Triennale-India, British International Print Biennale, Johannesburg Biennale and Havana Biennale. He is in the collections of the National Gallery of Modern Art, Lagos; National Council for Art and Culture, Lagos; Bradford City Museums and Galleries, Bradford, England; Iwalewa-Haus, Universität Bayreuth; Museum für Völkerkunde, Frankfurt/Main, Germany; National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC. A founding member of the Aka Circle of Exhibiting Artists and the ?dunke Community of Artists, Udechukwu has co-written four ?dunke plays, co-edited (with Chinua Achebe) a collection of Igbo poetry, Aka Weta, Aka Weta: Egwu Ag?l?ag?, Egwu Edel?ede (1982), and won the ANA/Cadbury Poetry Prize for his book What the Madman Said (1990). He is currently Charles A. Dana Professor and Chair of the Department of Fine Arts at St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY.

Chika Okeke-Agulu, MFA, PhD.
Department of Art History
229 Arts Building
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pa 16802