Paradise…according to Chukwuma’s art of panels
In a world where clergymen, across faiths, are overwhelmed by increasing disturbance of peace around the world, Gerald Chukwuma takes ‘gospel’ of peace onto the art space. In fact, his work, in sculpture and painting suggest that paradise should start from earth in preparation for the heavenly state.
Chukwuma, an artist whose mien has some traces of men of the pulpit stresses the importance of art in peaceful co-existence as he leads the way to People’s Paradise, in his solo exhibition, currently showing till April at Temple Muse, Victoria Island, Lagos. Coded in creative contents, the artist’s gospel of peace is about art as a therapeutic prescription; don’t expect religious contents in practical sense.
“I believe that paradise is what people make it,” Chukwuman states. “All our troubles; wars, kidnappings – people choose to do that and they can also decide to do good.” And within that spirituality, he distills the importance of art in generating his idea of a ‘paradise’.
Tracking Chukwuma’s mastery of burnt-wood in assemblage of panels technique, in nearly a decade, one has no doubt the artist has found a ‘home’ or identity in the medium. And in the last few years, the texture of the burnt surface, implored by the artist, has generated more diverse tones. For, People’s Paradise, it appears that, Chukwuma brings into the exhibition, his richest gathering of the charred-wood effect.
Apart from wood pieces, some of the other works are in glass fibre and paintings with drawing flavours. Interestingly, the ink on paper pieces stress Chukwuma’s abstraction characteristics. But in the charred woods lie the core strength of the show. From bold colours dominance, in such works as Google Map series and Princess Series; to subtle colour renditions like Me, Notin Dey Happen and monochromatic toning as The Key Factor, there is an indication that the natural blackened outlines, which usually defines Chukwuma’s work is paving way for a broader expression. Perhaps, a perception, but the aura radiates in nearly all the wood pieces.
However, the aesthetic value of the burnt outlines – as a major component – glitters in Not Alone. A figural piece in double or relflecting images against combined burnt and painterly background, the Not Alone panels include quite a lot of uli and nsibidi motifs that boost the sculptural texture.
Confirming the less emphasis on burnt-wood outlines in some of Chukwuma’s new body of work are Nude Series, a group of works cubed in different shapes, but with images inscribed in minimalism form. These set of works, clearly, take the Chukwuma’s burnt-wood identity far ahead into the future.
Sponsored by UBS and Veuve Clicquot, the exhibition, according to the curator, Sandra Mbanefo Obiago exposes an artist whose technique “has matured into a distinct artistic expression of his own.” Perhaps, it’s important for the curator to make such an observation, given the fact that Chukwuma is one of the artists whose works are identical to that El Anatsui’s panels. “His use of traditional uli and nsibidi symbols also shows how the Nsukka art tradition, which expanded and modernised the Igbo cultural aesthetic, still influences his consciousness,” Mbanefo Obiago argues.
Decoding his art contents of paradise in representational context, the artist explains how, “sometimes, I try to create a perfect society in my head.” His art as a medium is really ambitious. “I try to solve some of our problems and address global issues with my works.”
Excerpts from Chukwuma’s bio: b 1973, he is a visual artist and furniture designer with an enthusiastic local and international following. He graduated from the prestigious Nsukka Art School, University of Nigeria, with a first class degree specializing in painting. Chukwuma’s bold works using a multitude of found objects have an unforgettable visual language, in which he uses African symbols and patterns in refreshing new ways; he uses a combination of textures, lines, symbols and colours laid out on painstakingly etched wooden panels.
He began his career as a painter before expanding his work into mixed media relief sculptures and designing afro-contemporary furniture. In 2008 and 2012, he emerged as one of top three winners of the prestigious national arts competition. He was featured on the Cable News Network CNN’s Inside Africa program in 2011 showcasing his unique artworks. In 2014, the University of Nigeria Nsukka commissioned him to produce two monumental pieces for the university library and the Vice Chancellor’s complex.
Chukwuma has taken part in 20 exhibitions in the last decade in Nigeria, Cameroon, France, Denmark, Holland, and the United States and his works have become auction favourites. His thematic focus is on the complications of life and it’s impact on everyday people.
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