Temple Muse, the luxury concept store, was enveloped in quietness as I stepped in on Wednesday morning. Bottles of exotic wines were neatly arranged while an array of beautiful pieces of art were hanging on the wall. I knew immediately that they were the works of Gerald Chukwuma. I was right. He was seated in a corner having a chat with some journalists as I joined the table.
Chukwuma has been around for some time as a visual artist. The uniqueness of his works and the medium through which he tells his story have made his works enduring statement pieces. Born in 1973, he is a celebrated 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 which are laid out on painstakingly etched wooden panels.
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 its impact on everyday people.
Chukwuma’s solo exhibition titled ‘People’s Paradise’ is a collection of a diverse body works represented in different mediums including wood panels, sculptures, water colours and mixed media works on canvas. He is an artist who loves to use his works to advocate for equality and social justice. One of his pieces showing at the exhibition entitled: ‘Omo Onile’ (wood panel) highlights the challenges with housing in the society where majority of the Nigerian population cannot afford to rent or build decent accommodation while the few who can afford to build are faced with the incessant demands from the omo oniles for financial settlement.
“We have the challenge of housing and when government is going to get something done, Omo Onile inflates the price of land,” Chukwuma says of the piece. “It is a metaphor to say it is time for us to do something.”
Also instructive is his piece, ‘Black Gold’. A work rendered in fibre glass which takes a critical look at Africa as a land full of opportunities but everyone’s attention is focused on the natural resources. They have been blinded by greed to see alternatives in the other potentials the continent has.
“I thought about Africa in some way while doing the work,” explains Chukwuma. “People have potentials in themselves. However, everybody is scrambling for something which they can’t see.”
Other interesting work to see at the exhibition is ‘Google Map’ a series made of discarded recharge cards. It is a series of works detailing different sides of the human experience and life trajectory. And the fact that there is unity in diversity. It took him a year to make. “The pieces are different yet they are together,” he says of the series. “What this shows is that we can agree, it doesn’t matter what we believe.”
Other works you must surely see at the exhibition are ‘The Key Factor’, the artist’s favourite, and ‘Not Alone’.
Finally, Chukwuma says creating his wooden panels is a journey and an adventure. “I get different types of wood depending on how I intend to work them, hang them on the wall and then sketch on them. I usually work on several different pieces at the same time. I try to depict different angels of similar themes. I carve, burn, chisel the wood before I paint them and clad them with recycled metals of different colours. Whenever I work on the wood, I think of conflict resolution. I believe people create conflict; it is manmade. So I ask myself, how can I get different panels to agree? Sometimes they match or don’t match. What I like is the adventure because you don’t know how the materials will juxtapose. I find this exciting.”
“Chukwuma’s creative genius is not only technically impressive, it is also rich in message and medium,” comments Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, the exhibition curator. “His work is filled with intrinsic forms and symbols which clearly express an African aesthetic, but point to universal truths that are understood by everyone.”
“We are delighted to host Gerald Chukwuma for our first art exhibition of the year and to be able to continue to provide a platform for cutting edge Nigerian creativity,” commented Kabir Wadhwani, director, Temple Muse.
Sponsored by UBS, the global Swiss bank, and Veuve Clicquot of prestigious Champagne House, Möet Hennessy the exhibition which opens today, Monday 21st, March runs until April 30th, 2016 at Temple Muse, Victoria Island, Lagos. To be a part of it you can RSVP by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling +234 803 402 1901.