Prof. Uche Okeke (Nigerian, 1933-2016) Head study

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Lot 67
Prof. Uche Okeke
(Nigerian, 1933-2016)
Head study

Sold for £ 15,062 (US$ 20,713) inc. premium
Prof. Uche Okeke (Nigerian, 1933-2016)
Head study
signed and dated 'Uche Okeke 1961' (lower left)
oil on board
33 x 21cm (13 x 8 1/4in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Acquired from the artist by A. R. Jellings.

    Uche Okeke, along with fellow artists, Demas Nwoko, Yusuf Grillo and Oseloka Osadebe, was one of the founding members of the Zaria Art Society. Graduating from art college in the early 1960s, the aesthetic of these young artists was formed in response to Nigeria's recent independence from Britain. They propounded a new style that they termed 'natural synthesis'. Whilst the group firmly rejected the continued imposition of European artistic traditions and education, the society recognised that some benefits could be obtained from adapting the existing institutions to be more sympathetic to the Nigerian environment and psyche.

    In his presidential address at the first anniversary of the Art Society in 1959, Okeke outlined his understanding of natural synthesis and the importance of art in defining an independent national identity:

    "We must fight to free ourselves from mirroring foreign culture...We must have our own school of art independent of European and Oriental schools, but drawing as much as possible from what we consider in our clear judgment to be the cream of these influences, and wedding them to our native art culture." (Okeke, Art in Development, p.1)

    In this oil study, we can see this fusion; the work draws on the European tradition of the profile portrait, but is executed in bold, styised lines more reminiscent of uli, a traditional Igbo art form.

    A.R. Jellings was a founder member of the Mbari Club, Ibadan, where he was employed by the Nigerian Tobacco Company. He worked in Nigeria from 1958-66 and knew the artist well.

    Bibliography
    C. Okeke-Agulu, Post-colonial Modernism: Art and Decolonization in Twentieth-Century Nigeria, (Durham, 2015), pp.99-105.
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