E. Gombrich once said that there is no art, only artists. If that is the case, then Chris Afuba is clearly one of them. Whether he is drawing on paper, carving wood, moulding clay, welding iron bars or shaping jute fiber mats he is always fully engrossed in each piece as if it were the only one or the last one.
I visited him this week at his home/studio in Enugu. I arrived there with red dust on my body and a little cloud in my soul. After showing me what he is doing now, he brought two chairs outside the house, and under the shadow of a mango tree we conversed for some time. I am sure he was not fully aware of the “small pleasure” this is for those of us living in the “asphalt jungle”. I left refreshed by his contagious optimism.
Afuba always treats matter with passion and respect. He works iron with strength and wood with gentleness. He listens to them and lets them talk in their own languages. He puts them together and allows the black iron rods find their place around the quiet pieces of wood. He likes to compare some of these pieces with jazz improvisations.
Talking to Chris Afuba one soon realizes that for him an artwork is not a commodity to be produced, marketed and sold. Each of his works has a live on its own. Two things strike most in what he does: his commitment to social issues and his respect for igbo tradition. His works are deeply personal, they come from within, but they are also deeply engaged the present and the past.
He is an unassuming figure, and he has been exceptionally consistent over the years. There is in him a steady continuity mixed with an untiring zest for experimentation. Appropriately, Dapo Adeniyi called him recently “Mr. Experiment” in an article in POSITION, the arts magazine. He experiments, but he does it quietly, not making noise, never engaging in self-promoting gimmicks.
It is always refreshing to find a genuine artist, full of sensibility and a concern to find meaning and beauty, transcending the immanent demands of the market place. I was lucky to meet him again.