UCHE OKEKE (1933-2016)
WORKS SOLD FOR THE MOWAA RAINFOREST GALLERY AND THE NIGERIA PAVILION AT THE VENICE BIENNALE 2024
UCHE OKEKE (1933-2016)

Osondu (Refugees)

Details
UCHE OKEKE (1933-2016)
Osondu (Refugees)
signed and titled 'Uche Okeke Refugees' (lower edge)
ink on paper
5 ¾ x 11 5⁄8in. (14.6 x 29.5cm.)
Executed in 1968
Provenance
Private Collection, Nigeria (acquired directly from the artist, thence by descent).
Donated by a Private Collector to MOWAA, Nigeria.
Sale room notice
This Lot is Withdrawn.

Brought to you by

Anna Touzin
Anna Touzin Specialist, Head of Day Sale

Lot Essay

‘I have strong belief that with dedication of our very beings to the cause of art and with hard work, we shall finally triumph. But the time of triumph is not near, for it demands great change of mind and attitude toward cultural and social problems that beset our entire continent today.’

– UCHE OKEKE

Christie’s and the Museum of West African Art (MOWAA) in Nigeria are collaborating to raise funds for MOWAA and its initiatives to create a cultural ecosystem in Benin City, based on the art of the past, present and future. A number of artists have generously agreed to donate original works of art to the auction, including Yinka Shonibare, Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, Lakwena Maciver and Victor Ehikhamenor. Proceeds from the sale of the works will go towards MOWAA initiatives including the presentation of the Nigeria Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia, 2024—commissioned by the Governor of Edo State and also curated by Aindrea Emelife—and the 20-acre Creative Campus, including the Rainforest Gallery. Designed by the Dakar-based architecture firm Worofila, the Rainforest Gallery will be dedicated to showcasing Modern and Contemporary art, as well as historic exhibitions.

Uche Okeke was born in Nigeria in 1933. His artistic career took off at a significant moment in the country’s history, coinciding with its political independence from Britain in 1960. As a student at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, he founded the Zaria Art Society, along with figures including Bruce Onobrakpeya, Demas Nwoko and Yusuf Grillo. These so-called ‘rebels’ railed against the Euro-centric art education they had received, and instead promoted what Okeke described as a ‘natural synthesis’ between Western practices and indigenous Nigerian culture. Okeke drew heavily upon the myths and figures of his own Igbo tradition as well as the distinctive curvilinear uli drawing techniques practiced by his mother. Combining these influences with his own spirited contemporary style, his work played an important role in the evolution of Nigerian modernism at the dawn of the postcolonial era.

During his tenure in the Fine Arts Department at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka between 1971 to 1985, Okeke transformed the curriculum, promoting a revival of uli practices and a focus on broader African culture and tradition. He also founded the Asele Institute in Nimo, which houses a library and a collection of contemporary Nigerian art. His work has been exhibited internationally over the decades, with a major solo show at the Newark Museum in 2006. He featured in Tate Liverpool’s 2010 show Afro Modern: Journeys through the Black Atlantic and in the Nigerian 50th Independence Exhibition in Abuja that same year. Examples of his paintings and drawings are held in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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