Public Presentation of Obiora Udechukwu: Line, Image, Text by Chika Okeke-Agulu
I am thrilled to announce the publication of my latest book, Obiora Udechukwu: Line, Image, Text published by Skira Editore (Milan, 2016).
This book is a major publication of the drawings of the US-based Nigerian artist Obiora Udechukwu (b.1946). With more than 500 images, nearly half in colour, this is primarily an art book, with priority given to the reproduction of high quality images selected from the artist’s drawing books dating from 1965 to the present. The book includes contextual, scholarly texts and interviews with the artist by the author, as well as a timeline by Princeton-based art historian Perrin Lathrop and comprehensive bibliography of the artist by Janet Stanley, librarian at the Smithsonian Institution.
Udechukwu, who in 1976 was described by the scholar Pat Oyelola as “master of the sensitive line,” is best known for his development of a style of drawing and painting inspired by Igbo Uli body drawing and mural, following the experiments of his teacher Uche Okeke (1933-2016) in the early 1960s. But Udechukwu’s incomparable draughtsmanship and pictorial design sensibility led to him to develop drawings and paintings that not only influenced generations of artists associated with the Nsukka School in Nigeria, but also secured his place as one of the most consequential Nigerian artists of the 20th century. This publication, the most substantial on Udechukwu’s oeuvre, focuses on his drawings for four compelling reasons.
First, the collection of drawing books from which most of the images are selected is without doubt a treasure that must be shared with students and professional artists, critics and scholars, and the general public who appreciate intimate encounters with work of the artistic imagination; for sketches and drawings provide unique insights into the artist’s creative process. This is particularly important, for Udechukwu has, even before he enrolled in art school initially at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 1965, paid an unusually meticulous attention to drawing and more importantly to preserving these documents for over half a century. This career-long exercise has left for us today, documents of inalienable artistic and documentary importance.
Second, a bulk of these drawings were produced during the late 1960s, a period of political crises and civil war in Nigeria (1967-70); they thus provide us a perspective on the experience of that war quite different from extant literary or documentary accounts it. In other words, although the drawings published in this book take us on a journey through Udechukwu’s artistic career, and the different stylistic turns he took over the decades, they crucially are visual texts about a period of social and political upheaval from the perspective of a young artist.
Third, given the tremendous global interest in the work of modern and contemporary African artists since the past decade, and given that only few close studies, and high quality reproductions of the work of individual artists exist, this book constitutes an exemplary publication, that will surely be of interest to the widening stakeholders in this growing field.
Finally, and perhaps most important, the sketches and drawings presented in this book are powerful, extraordinary and profound images that bear testimony to the making of an artistic genius whose reputation—substantial as it is in the context of twentieth-century Nigerian art—will certainly continue to grow internationally. Teachers and students of drawing and painting will appreciate Udechukwu’s accomplishments in the mastery of line, space and design; General readers will see the images presented here as a rare and unique opportunity to encounter a brilliant artist at a most intimate level. They also will find a beautifully produced book with drawings of an incredibly accomplished artist and one of the leading figures in modern and contemporary African art. This book, hopefully, sets a new standard in the monographic publications on Nigerian and African artists.
The publication of Obiora Udechukwu: Line, Image, Text has been generously supported by the Ford Foundation, and Princeton University. The public presentation will take place at 5:00PM on March 21 at the African Artists Foundation, 3B Isiola Oyekan, Off Adeleke Adedoyin, Victoria Island, Lagos.
March 17, 2017