Uchay Joel CHIMA

A few weeks ago Ugoma Adegoke asked me whether I could write a brief introduction for the catalogue of Uchay Joel Chima’s new exhibtion. Uchay is an old friend and an artist I respect, so, I agreed happily.

Blokes, strings on canvas, 42inches by 42inches, 2015Crafts and ordinary objects, no matter how skilfully executed, are rarely able to communicate with the viewer or user. Instead, with good works of art, it is possible to connect. If the viewer looks and listens attentively to them, she can discover what they quietly say. The more complex and richer the work, the greater its capacity to permit different levels of interpretation and allow multiple readings.

Yellow Sisi Dey For Corner, mixed media, 36inches by 36inches, 2013.Uchay Joel Chima’s works on canvas might look simple enough at a first glance. Probably, some viewers will be happy with it and not go beyond a superficial reading of them. Those conversant with Uchay’s experimentation over the last 15 years know that there is in them more than a cursory look will tell.

The Earth and the People that live in it, mixed media, 61inches by 61inches, 2013-2015.

I Thought As Much iii, mixed media, 35inches by 35inches, 2015Uchay Chima continues in this exhibition with his untiring effort to explore the possibilities of materials. This has been a constant in his works since he came out of the Institute of Management and Technology in Enugu in 1997 as a fresh graduate. For years, Uchay has used paper, newsprint, ropes, strings, cloth, charcoal, sand and other ordinary materials to look for ways of conveying meaning through his works. His main concerns move around two axes: issues and materials.

Sound of Abundance ii, mixed media, 36inches by 36inches, 2015Uchay sees his work as a commentary and a vehicle for action on the land and her peoples. As if to prove it, one of the works on display in this exhibition is titled “The Earth and the People that live in it”. This is an apt title for his approach to art creation. Societal and environmental issues pervade and give meaning to his artistic production. These works have a strong formal presence and character, but at the same time, they are rich in embedded narratives.

Leaving The Past Behind, strings on canvas, 44inches by 42inches, 2015In this exhibition Uchay presents works of three main types: the “string” paintings, the mixed media, high-relief works and the “string” line drawings. The first two groups of works are familiar territory for him and have been frequently incorporated in the past in Uchay’s oeuvre. The works of the third group, the large size line drawings using strings and threads, are new.

Sidon Look, mixed media, 36inches by 36inches, 2015  On A Second Thought, mixed media, 36inches by 36inches, 2015 Though in the past he had experimented with small size works –what he calls miniatures- using this medium, it is only with this exhibition that Uchay shows his excellent draughtsmanship and his capacity to create highly expressive works while using such a meagre vehicle as a plain canvas and some yards of string and thread. These works are much lighter in meaning than the other ones but they have a playfulness and freshness that –in their simplicity and economy of means- makes them particularly successful.

Pinging, mixed media, 36inches by 36inches, 2015For a good numbers of years, Uchay has used strings as a metaphor and a medium for expressing connections, links and ties. As he said referring to them: “I have elected to work with materials that I believe are synonymous with the notions of bonding, togetherness, intimacy and entanglement: strings, ropes and knitting wool. In an era where global upheaval; whether natural, economic or social are the issues of the day – in terms of survival, there is a desperate need for people who can and want to make a positive difference to others”.

You Break Down My Walls ii, mixed media, 36inches by 36inches, 2015 You Break Down My Walls i, mixed media, 2015 These are ambitious aims for anybody, let alone for an artist striving to make artworks that embody some meaning and armed only with his creativity, a canvas, some pigments and a few ordinary materials. This is a truly worthwhile endeavour, and one to which Uchay is applying his not few abilities and talents. It is good to have him back, reminding us that we all play our role in caring for “the Earth and the people that live in it”.

Jess Castellote

With Uchay



Uchay Joel CHIMA

There are artists that make big noise and produce very little. Uchay Joel Chima is not one of them. This morning, taking advantage of the Christmas holidays I visited him at Ebute-Metta. I was surprised by the large number of works he has in his small flat…

Like a few other artists, he stretches several canvases and works on more than one piece at the same time. Works at different stages of completion were all around. Unfortunately, there was no electricity, so I couldn’t see any of his video works, only the mixed media panels that he favours since a few years back.

Uchay has come a long way since he left IMT, Enugu more than a decade ago. His recent works are only vaguely figurative but the influence of Nsikak remains there. The concern for materiality and texture are the driving force of his pieces. His one month stay in Amsterdam in September has definitely broadened his approach to art, but his personal identity remains strong. He is one of the few young artists in Lagos whose works you can identify immediately in a show.

For many months he has been experimenting –this is a word that came up frequently in our conversation- with ropes, thread and strings. Sometimes they intertwine heavily and form a flat background on which one can barely recognize any form. Other times, particularly since he started using fibre sacks and white glue, the surface of the work is strongly textured and acquires a three dimensional quality that provides greater depth to the human forms he sketches.

After many hesitant attempts he is finding his way. His recent works have a serenity that was lacking in the previous ones with threads and strings. His palette has also become more subdued, earthier, with less pink and more ochre pigments, and this has also helped.

He is full of plans for 2011: another stay abroad, a solo exhibition in Lagos, a few more experiments with new media. The inclusion of one of his works in the Bonhams auction in New York last year was a high point of his career. Some other works are presently in London and in 2011 he would like to continue expanding his visibility abroad.

Few collectors or galleries in Lagos have his works. Perhaps this is an indication of how little inclined to experimentation the commercial artworld in Lagos is. The easy realism of the markets scenes, durbars, dancing Benin maidens, etc are still ubiquitous in exhibitions and shows. I hope Uchay is not discouraged by that.

Nigerian abstract painting now

Some time ago Oliver Enwonwu asked whether I could put together an exhibtion at the Omenka Gallery of the Ben Enwonwu Foundation. After some work and a few nice surprises the exhibition (titled “Beyond figuration“) will open on July 10. This is the introduction prepared for it:

Nigerian artists have not been very much inclined to pure abstraction. The older generations -Onabolu, Enwonwu, Wangboje, Okeke, Onobrakpeya, Grillo, Barber, the Oshogbo artists- moved comfortably within the broad confines of representation, even when passing it through highly personal filters. After then, isolated attempts have not created schools, styles or groupings capable of producing on a regular basis quality abstract works. Unfortunately, the of Gani Odutokun 15 years ago stopped a truly promising experiment in free abstraction.

Gbolahan AYOOLA, Untitled 12
Gbolahan AYOOLA, Untitled 12

It is within this context that this exhibition is conceived. It attempts to present a few examples of non-figurative art –mainly painting- created by young artists. It casts a look at what is being done now: a snapshot of the present to help us understand in which direction abstraction is moving in Nigeria. The scope and size of the exhibition is not broad and I hope a more ambitious one is put together showing the works of established artists who produce non-figurative painting: Uwatse, Kainebi, Buhari… Abstract photography is another field left unexplored.

This exhibition started with a desire to look for young artists that do away with representation of external reality and attempt to create self-referential works, moving from re-presenting the world to presenting small new worlds. Of course, artists can’t work ex-nihilo (from nothing), they always carry their cultural, historical, formal baggage. They come from Auchi or from Yaba, Nsukka, Ife or somewhere else and these different backgrounds show in their works.

In my search –cursory, incomplete, limited to emerging artists- I have come across various approaches to abstraction, works that could fit easily under different labels: “abstract expressionism”, “lyrical abstraction”, “colour-field painting”, “post-painterly abstraction”, “neo-expressionism”, “minimalism” or any of the currents of non-figurative, non-representational art created since the first attempts by Kandinsky more than a century ago. The works selected for the exhibition gravitate generally towards those that emphasize immaterial (spiritual) aspects in painting. This does not mean that there is a lack of works full of a rich materiality.

Uchay Joel CHIMA, Open invitation
Uchay Joel CHIMA, Open invitation
The three works that Uchay Joel Chima shows in the exhibition excel in this respect: his exploration of texture over line and colour is a success. The rich, painterly quality of Gbolahan Ayoola’s canvases, with thick, well textured surfaces is also of great interest.

Wale Alimi’s works, so close to Rothko, are unusual in the Nigeria art scene. Their coolness and sobriety contrast strongly with the overworked and overdone so prevalent in shows, galleries and collections…

Wale ALIMI, Less is more II
Wale ALIMI, Less is more II
Busayo Lawal
’s approach is also novel. His recent works start from computer generated prints of his initial design and this allows him a freedom he did not have with his previous works. It is still early to know how far he can go with his experimentation, but he is already obtaining good results.

This exhibition includes only three works by Tony Nsofor. I wish more could have been displayed. In these non-figurative works Nsofor takes an improvisational, additive approach to painting that is full of spontaneity. He allows room for the al and they look as if no preconceived design guided the process of painting. This spontaneity adds great freshness to them.

Tony NSOFOR, Today is red, red, red
Tony NSOFOR, Today is red, red, red

George Edozie and Bob-nosa Uwagboe take a much more planned approach; under the strong brushstrokes and collage materials pasted on the surface there are deeper layers of drafting structuring their works.

Benedict Olorunnisomo and Uche Igwe are highly independent artists. They rarely exhibit, they do not form part of any group, do not follow any defined style, their works are not particularly “marketable” as a commodity but they have an intense quality. There are artists that first look around and then paint what they see, there are others that also look around, but then they paint what they feel, not what they see. There are still others that simply “decorate” a surface, without any look outside or inside. Finally, there are those that do not look outside, they create from the inside. Benedict and Uche are among them.

Tayo Olayode and Norbert Okpu works generally show a loose figuration but for in this exhibition they present abstract works.

Benedict OLORUNNISOMO, Vibrations
Benedict OLORUNNISOMO, Vibrations

The exhibition is mainly about non-figurative painting, but the two-dimensionality of the panels showed by Gerald Chukwuma (wooden panels) and Mukaila Ayoade (panels made for newsprint) fits well in it. Both of them present an abstraction that goes beyond formalism and is rich in references and meaning.

Joseph Eze continues experimenting with discarded materials, but this time formal considerations seem to take precedence over the discursive ones.

Well aware of how easy it is for abstract art to remain on the surface, with a shallow formalism that might be pleasing to the eye, but has little to say to the mind, the exhibition tries as much as possible to stay away from purely “decorative” products. All in all, this is not small achievement.
The Ben Enwonwu Foundation deserves praise for an exhibition that attempts to go beyond the conventional.