Nigerian artist Uche Uzorka‘s is one of the new names making an impact within the African art scene this year- so act like you know! He graduated with a degree in Painting from renowned artistic mecca University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 2004 and in 2011 won first place in Nigeria’s National Art Competition with Chike Obeagu. Since then his work has been exhibited from the U.S to Germany and Cuba where he continues to receive critical acclaim for his technique and imagery.
His recent body of work will be exhibited at the African Artists’ Foundation (AAF) in Lagos, Nigeria through the 23rd of February will feature a series of large scale ink drawings, a deviation in technique from his past series of collage and mixed media work. Up close it’s easier to pick out the individual black, red, and sometimes blue lines that cluster and flow together in a series of seemingly spontaneous yet very concentrated doodles. Uzorka’s lines and colors arrange themselves in a Basquiat-esque manner, with abstract figures emerging through negative space and in some cases words, dribbles of ink and haunting charcoal shadows.
These drawings are an ode to the city of Lagos in all its energetic splendor. Uche moved from Abjua to Lagos in 2011 for his Artist Residency at the African Artists’ Foundation in Ikoyi. The fast paced city with constant activity and noise moves at a tempo that he has grown accustomed to especially when he started working on these drawings.
Line.Sign.Symbol is about the power of lines. You can literally do anything with a line and you’ll never know where it will end up. The unknown is what I am curious about. I like the idea of crowds, congestion and noise. In Lagos these are part of the societal rhythms, it becomes a system of its own. The constant noise becomes music, the pollution, long lines and overcrowding become a part of everyday life and you have to keep up. It makes you wonder–like the lines on the drawings–where did it all begin, where will it ever end?
It takes a remarkable amount of emotional energy to fill in each patch of paper. I allow the process to be king–what can happen next? One initiative inspires another and another and before you know it, it has taken on a life of its own. It is easy to enjoy the process (sketching) while it is going on and on, but the process itself can overpower you. I have to step back from the piece, calm down and allow it to condense, sink in; otherwise I run the risk of bleaching out the whole story.
About the exhibition the Director of the African Artists’ Foundation Azu Nwagbogu explains, “These drawings could have originated from any part of the world, that’s the beauty of it. It is not the typical ‘pretty ‘African art as we know it, women with calabashes or a landscape pieces. But it is detailed and contemporary and has a story to tell.” And AAF Curator Joseph Gergel explains further, “What makes Uche’s drawings unique is their place in between the figurative and the abstract. And by blending such traditionally opposing strategies, he is able to make what could be on sudden judgement compared to childhood doodling, and elevate it to the level of harmonic contemplation.”
Uche got a late start into the world of drawing and painting, showing no visible signs of artistic talent until well past his 3rd year of high school. His first sketch was of an uncle he’d never seen before, whose likeness he duplicated from an old passport photograph. He ventured into sculpture, experiment with forms and clay, and found his passions in sketching and eventually painting. Uzorka resigned his young and reckless years to staying indoors all day drawing, sketching and honing his craft until eventually getting accepted as a student of art at UNN in 1997.
Being a shy and extremely reserved child and young adult, Uche claims many of his former schoolmates and friends are still quite shocked to hear of his success in the art world.
I was very quiet so they didn’t know what I could, or could not do. I was a mystery to all of them. But you don’t need the whole world believing in you, just a few people and they will go ahead and translate that message on to more and more people.