Uche Uzorka’s ongoing exhibition is a summon into the unknown, says Okechukwu Uwaezuoke
It is safer to assume that they are mere doodles on paper. Thus, the viewer needs look no further for the proverbial emperor’s non-existent clothes! He needs only unassumingly delight in the contemplation of the works before him. But, surely, some cryptic forms and messages must be lurking beneath those sombre-toned blotches of colours, which quickly resolve into lines! Something about their obvious deliberateness hints at the artist’s intent.
They could also be called abstract drawings. The apparent visual contest between of vague forms and colourful smudges offers enough fodder for the viewer’s contemplation. Then, there is something about how they coalesce into a slapdash patterns and designs, which whisper ideas into the musing one’s ears.
Could they be the artist’s impression of a cityscape as seen from above? Maybe. Maybe not. Whatever they are, these meticulously-detailed forms – albeit, fluid – affirm the exhibition’s title, Lines. Signs. Symbols.
The morning after the January 31 official opening of Uche Uzorka’s second solo exhibition at the African Artists’ Foundation headquarters in Ikoyi, Lagos. Always a more suitable time than the opening day for those who would attempt to wring coherence from his numbingly-intricate meshes of ink and charcoal drawings...
“When I make art, sometimes the process is so powerful that I cannot say that when I start with this, it would end like that,” the artist explains in his exhibition catalogue. “I like the fact that in-between the beginning and the end, there is always an intriguing story that could change. For example, when I start with A, it could be B, C, or D...”
This 2001 University of Nigeria, Nsukka graduate of painting first wormed his way into the heart of the African Artists’ Foundation – also known as the AAF – after he had clinched the first prize in the 2011 National Art Competition. The prize was for his collaboration with another artist, Chike Obeagu.
Then, there was the 39-year-old’s deft incorporation of collage as well as charcoal and ink drawings into his paintings, which helped distinguish him from among his peers in the talent-glutted art scene. Still basking in the glory of his sudden emergence into the limelight, the artist had held his first solo exhibition last year at the Goethe-Institut Nigeria, which partnered with the AAF. That exhibition, titled Uche Uzorka: The Organic, followed closely on the heels of his residency programme at the AAF headquarters in Lagos.
He had previously been featured in art platforms like the 10th Havana Biennale in 2010 and Art for Humanity in Durban (South Africa) in 2009, among others. His clearly unconventional drawings, which seethe with cryptic messages, also earned him a spot among the AAF’s favoured artists whose works graced the Art Africa Miami held in the US city from December 4 to 9, 2012. Specifically, these chosen few (which also included Joseph Eze, Ike Francis, Taiye Idahor, Obinna Makata, Chike Obeagu, Demola Ogunajo, Richardson Ovbiebo, Alafuro Sikoki, Stephen Arueze Ubaka and Bob-Nosa Uwagboe) were featured in a platform exhibition at the Miami event titled, Nigeria Now: Emerging Trends of Contemporary Art in Nigeria.
Really, nothing about Uzorka’s offerings in that exhibition – like “Waltz” (a 48 X 60 inches collage on canvas offering), “All That Is Colour, All That Is Bright” (a 48 X 60 inches acrylic and collage on canvas work), “Elation” (a triptych of 10 X 12 inches mixed media colourful collage works), “Power and Pleasure” (a circular 16-plate mixed media work displaying the now defunct Nigerian pound) or even “The Organic” I and II ( two four-panel mixed-media consisting of 10 X 12 inches works) – prepares the viewer for the drawings featured in his ongoing solo exhibition, which ends on Saturday, February 23.
Joseph Gergel, the AAF’s American-born curator, observes that his “elusive titles reflect his interest in exploring more overtly abstract philosophical positions, using descriptive analogies such as ‘galaxy’, ‘moon’, ‘orgasm’, rhythm’, ‘shadow’, ‘journey’, and ‘multitude’, the kinds of universal references that suggest an infinity or beyond.”
Indeed, such titles as “Where There Is a Fire”, “Journeys Are Made of Decisions”, “The Map Maker”, “You Are Not a Shadow”, “One Space for Two Pages”, “Epic-Centre”, “Galaxy” and “The Orgasm” seem to invite the viewer to a drawn out dialogue.
Yet, Uzorka’s solitary musings tasks even the most well-intentioned viewer’s patience. Like most artists, he seems unconcerned about the meanings people choose to read from his abstract offerings. Obviously, playing with lines gives him a childlike thrill. “A line is like a life,” he enthuses in his catalogue. “It is a life. It is also like a cell within the nucleus of a life. Its potentials are a multitude. The determinants of its destiny are many and are varied. The journey of a line is full of adventures. A myriad of adventures; there is always the chance of multiplicity. A repetition of occurrence or congestion; solitary existence or static; fluidity or movement...”
His subsequent string of questions betrays his indifference to meanings. “What is the meaning ...of form? Does form require meaning to function? Does line require direction to exist? Can it not just float on paper and say ‘nothing’? Can it not be true also that a line, bare as a thread, can exist not just as precedence to form but as form itself? Should form require discernible features for it to acquire acceptance?”
Uzorka’s creative odyssey leads towards an uncertain destination. It is indeed a destination that neither he nor his viewer knows.