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Uche Okeke @ Grillo Pavillon

By Japhet Alakam
Last week, great Nigerian Zarianist  added another feather to their cap when one of the founding members of that revolutionary art group, Prof. Uche Okeke was celebrated at the 4th edition of the annual art fiesta tagged, Grillo Pavilion Visual Arts Fiesta in Lagos.

The event which according to the art-collector,economist and industrialist, Chief Gbadamosi,” has become an occasion to fraternise with his extended family of artists, like-minded collectors and critics”, brought many art lovers, promoters, collectors and students  to the ancient city of Ikorodu for the celebration of the artistic exploits of Uche Okeke.

*Prof Uche Okeke (right), his wife Ego and one of his colleagues at Zaria, Jimoh Akolo listening to the lecture by Prof Ola Oloidi during the 4th Yusuf Grillo Pavilion, a celebration of Okeke's legacy.

The celebrant, Okeke is famed to be  the pioneer originator of the “Zaria Rebel”and founder of Ulism, a philosophical and theoretical paradigm that defines what is today known as Nsukka School of Art. And as usual, the event featured exhibition of Okeke’s works, writings and philosophical impulses .

It also featured a lecture by one of his students, Prof. Ola Oloidi of the Fine and Applied Arts Department, University of Nigeria (UNN), Nsukka.

Interestingly, the event which witnessed the presence of many dignitaries had also in attendance three other members of the Zaria Rebels: Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya, Prof. Demas Nwoko and Prof. Jimoh Okolo . Also present at the fiesta were: Igwe Alfred Achebe,The Obi of Onitsha who was the Chairman of the occasion, Amb. Segun Olusola, Prince Yemisi Shyllon, Kolade Oshinowo, Prof. John Godwin and wife, Prof. Kole Osho, Prof. Adetoro, David Dale,Chief Frank Okonta and many present and former disciples of Uche Okeke.

Why the event was unique

This year’s event was unique because of the state of health of the celebrant. Okeke has been down with  stroke  which confines him to a wheel chair. But his appearance at the event with his beautiful wife was really appreciated and celebrated by the people. Last  year when he was announced as the next person to be celebrated  at the fiesta , many thought that he would not make it. But thanks be to God that he  lived to be honoured like his contemporaries.

And in line with previous editions of the fiesta, this year’s event centered on the artistic exploits of the great Zarianist, Uche Okeke. One of the special events  of  the day was viewing of his works at the Grillo Pavilion , a building that houses the private collections of Rasheed Gbadamosi.

The exhibition at the Yusuf Grillo Pavilion was arguably the best curetted so far as there was space for viewers to go round  the floor before going upstairs  to see other of the works. Some of the works were done many years ago and were sourced from the private collections of Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF), Asele Institute in Nimo and Rasheed Gbadamosi.

They include works like: Primeval Forest, Primeval Beast, The Burning Bush, In the Forest, Village meeting with the Priest at Umuofia, Song of Uli, The Maiden Spirit, The Face of the Cloud, Akwa Ndeli etc.

In his lecture titled, Uche Okeke: an Enduring Embodiment of Art Revolution ,Prof. Ola Oloidi, described Uche Okeke as an unrepentant apostle of art revolution. Going down memory lane, Oloidi stated how the radicalism in him began as far back as 1948 during his secondary school days when he started collecting photographs of notable people.

As an apostle of art decolonisation, Okeke  was said to be  influenced by the nationalistic revolution that was targeted against the colonial powers through his art. He kicked against the systemic rejection of all ultra modern primordial systems against Africa.

Continuing, the lecturer went on to point out some of the many contributions of Uche Okeke. According to him ,he was the first to make poetry an integral part of visual art. He was also one of the most important promoters of critical writing in Nigeria and  made drawing a full profession in  the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

After the lecture,many thought there would be counter reactions from the audience. But most of the people that spoke especially some members of the Zaria movement like Demas Nwoko, Jimoh Akolo, Bruce Onabrakpeya all agreed with the speaker and even poured glowing encomiums on him for his revolutionary move that influenced them.

In his remarks, Igwe Alfred Achebe, Agbogodi, the  Obi of Onitsha  thanked all for honouring Uche Okeke, and especially, Rasheed Gbadamosi for the initiative. According to the Royal father, “much has been said about him by his colleagues, but one area that they did not touch well was his role during the Nigeria civil war. Uche was one of the people that fought with their brains during the war. I met him during the war and ever since, our lives have changed because of him.”


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