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50yrs later, the last rebel comes home with inner Light

By Prisca SamDuru

Hardly would any mention be made concerning Nigerian modern art without mentioning names of the likes of Yusuf Grillo, Bruce Onabrakpeya, Demas Nwoko, Uche Okeke etc who were students from the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology now known as Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Those were the founding fathers of contemporary art in Nigeria.

Inner Light, Conte Crayon on Board, 2013 by Osadebe Oseloka

One unique feature of this crop of artists who were later known as the Zaria Rebels is that most of their works still speak of their relevance to the   Nigeria art and beyond while a few simply disappeared from the art terrain.

One of such artists whose signature vanished from the art space is

Professor Oseloka Osadebe. Born 1934 in Onitsha, Anambra State, Osadebe, an outstanding artist, playwright, theatre director, and teacher who from an early age, distinguished himself as a brilliant draughtsman, became a pioneer member of the famous Zaria Art Society and graduated in 1962 majoring in painting and sculpture.

After being away in the United States for five decades where he engaged in full time academics, teaching theatre and set design, Osadebe is back in his home land with a stunning retrospective exhibition of very rare and unique works.   The historically significant body of work titled ‘Inner Light’, is being showcased at the   National Museum, Onikan from October 22nd  – December 7th, 2018.

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It is sponsored by Access Bank, Deutsche Bank, The Wheatbaker, Louis Gunrtum Wines and the Lagos State Government.‘Inner Ligh’t  is Oseloka Osadebe’s first retrospective exhibition of eighty-five paintings, sketches, drawings, posters, and one sculpture, a remarkable collection of works spanning over fifty years of artistic practice. Osadebe left Nigeria in the early 1960’s and is  the last rebel to come home to share works he created over a lifetime of experimental practice.

The exhibition chronicles Osadebe’s   artistic journey from growing up in the bustling city of Onitsha, Eastern Nigeria, in the 1930s and 1940s, to studying in Zaria, Northern Nigeria from 1958 to 1962 alongside other art grand masters,  to eventually leaving Nigeria on an Aggrey Fellowship for African Students graduate studies in the United States followed by years teaching in America as a professor of theatre.

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Osadebe’s eclectic body of work range from abstraction to realism, exploring   broad themes of culture, self-actualization, spirituality and identity. His years of teaching theatre lend a unique perspective to his works as exhibited are souvenirs as old as 58 years as well as works from the last decade up to 2014. A good example are display of   event posters for theatre performance of Wole   Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel in the 90’s in US.

Also on display are female and male nude forms in pencil and   charcoals, a drawing in full shading titled, ‘Ikemefuna’, a blind musician which was inspired by the lives of Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder; and ‘Tree of Life’ series. Other works include , ‘Inner Light’ from where the exhibition derived it’s title; two works on paper titled ‘Iba’, (1967), which capture the family unit in Igbo tradition; and ‘Falling From Grace’, angelic flight which perhaps depicts the fact of the artist’s religious background.

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“We are delighted to be part of the homecoming of Oseloka Osadebe, and present this important body of work at the National Museum because of its historic importance for Nigeria and the world,” said Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, the exhibition curator and Founder of SMO Contemporary Art.


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