Invitation to Explore Hues of Unseen Realms

An imminent solo exhibition in Abuja celebrates the prodigious talent of Ifeanyichukwu Obingene, a young artist who, as a child, was diagnosed with autism and ADHD. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

Even as the Abuja art community still grapples with the mind-boggling paintings of teenage prodigy Kanyenyachukwu Tagbo-Okeke, who was recently named a fellow of the Society of Nigerian Artists, whispers about another special-needs artist are making the rounds.

The talent, whose name is Ifeanyichukwu Obingene and who possibly draws from the same creative fount as Kanyenyachukwu, beckons with the expressions of his enchanting brushstrokes. With his solo exhibition, titled Worlds Within (Art and Autism), which opens on May 30 at 6 p.m. at the BNL Club House on Alex Ekwueme Way, Abuja, this artist is set to lead his audience into the unseen realms of imagination, echoing the unseen cosmos in vibrant hues.

His story somehow began, not unlike that of most children; he even took his first toddling steps before his first birthday on February 16, 2000. His parents, Georgina and Emmanuel, upon noticing his inability to talk at the age of two, had cause to be concerned. They were initially assuaged by a paediatrician’s soothing, reassuring words, to the effect that late development sometimes afflicts male children. However, more reasons to be worried began to manifest, attesting to the fact that their child was at odds with the world around him. “We actually noticed a few other abnormal behaviours,” she recalls. One was the fact that he was always quiet, and the nursery teacher observed that he could not answer questions in the class or respond to most activities like other children. “Sometimes he [would go] under the teacher’s table, as he also did at home.”

Events soon took a more worrisome turn after he was abruptly uprooted from Divine Love Nursery and Primary School in Enugu to St. Aloysius Nursery and Primary School in Garki, Abuja. That sudden relocation, spurred by his parents’ move to the federal capital city in 2002, unveiled his hyperactivity, a trait that had been unnoticed until then, when he was just over three years old.

Restlessness seemed to possess him, a relentless force egging him on to constant motion. In class and at home, his fidgeting knew no bounds, hijacking his attention. As if this and his inability to speak weren’t enough causes for concern, he started exhibiting repetitive and constrained behaviours. Academics failed to engage him, adding to the growing mystery.

Enrolling him at Premier International School in the bustling Wuse area of Abuja, alongside his siblings, felt like the elusive solution they had been seeking. After five failed attempts at finding the right school, this new chapter seemed to hold the promise of a brighter academic future. Credit for this goes to the dedicated and knowledgeable Mrs. Joann Anokwuru, the then-school head, who displayed expertise in the field of special needs education.

Additional insights into their special-needs child’s problems came from publications, friends, and parents of similar challenged children. “We met Mrs. Anokwuru almost every morning to review Ifeanyi’s work both in the school and at home in relation to his individualised education plan (IEP), which she designed,” Mrs. Obingene recollects.

Later, as the Obingene couple continued to observe their son’s behaviour closely, they noticed the intensity of his fixation on the alphabet and objects. Perplexed, they observed him meticulously write and illustrate each letter from A to Z, matching them with corresponding objects. Every available surface, whether plain book or paper, would soon become a canvas for his ceaseless outpouring of meticulously crafted drawings.

Subsequently, Ifeanyichukwu progressed to adding whimsical depictions of human figures in the guise of cartoon characters and became fervently devoted to shaping malleable plasticine into forms. All this while, his parents remained oblivious to the profound artistic prowess burgeoning within him.

In 2011, Mrs. Anokwuru, recognising his budding talent and unique way of expressing himself through art, recommended a visit to the Autism Awareness and Care Training Centre in Ghana, where he could spend two weeks of his vacation under the guidance of the dedicated special needs head teacher, Mr. Mawusi. Upon their return, Mr. Mawusi urged the Obingene couple to value and nurture his artistic skills—a message that resonated with the family. Although initial attempts to find a fine art teacher turned out less fruitful than hoped, they didn’t relent in their efforts at nurturing his creative pursuits. Sadly, the school, prioritising academic improvement, overlooked his artistic abilities, viewing them as just another subject to master. As his academic performance flourished, the deeper, untapped artistic potential within him remained dormant, awaiting the nurturing environment it deserved.

It was in 2009, when Ifeanyichukwu was just 10 years old, that he was diagnosed with autism and ADHD. Thus began a new chapter in his life. Despite the hurdles he faced, his journey took a beautifully unexpected turn as he discovered a hidden talent—his impeccable handwriting. With diligent practice, he got better and better at it, transitioning effortlessly from simple, free-flowing sketches in pencil to intricate ink creations. Guided by the gentle hand of his occupational therapist, Mrs. Eniat Elias, Ifeanyichukwu ventured deeper into the world of art—a realm where his vivid imagination thrived. Through Mrs. Elias’s unwavering support and guidance, he crossed paths with a skilled sculptor living in the Bwari community of the federal capital territory and a mosaic artist, unlocking new dimensions of creativity and fostering his growth in ways both profound and transformative.

The spark of creativity in him eventually got the attention it deserved during his secondary years, opening a vent to his freely expressing himself in the visual arts. This passion blossomed into a remarkable journey of artistic discoveries, leading to his exceptional achievements in both the WAEC and NECO exams, where he secured a commendable credit grade in fine arts. The year 2017 marked a significant milestone, as his talent captivated the discerning eyes of the British High Commission during a prestigious exhibition at the British Council in Abuja, which featured art by special needs students. Subsequent accolades followed in 2020, when his works graced the pages of his school’s magazine and were hailed as the best student artwork. This was after having appeared several times in the school’s yearbook. 

Through the Award Scheme Development Accreditation Network (ASDAN) programme, Ifeanyichukwu soon gained proficiency. He enhanced his artistic, photographic, and computer studies abilities under this comprehensive UK-developed curriculum, starting a life-changing path that would pave the way for a bright future.

“We continued encouraging him at home by organising art lessons,” Mrs. Obingene discloses. “During his long vocations, he attended lessons at the Arts Centre at Cyprian Ekwensi’s House, Abuja. At the end of his second year in the ASDAN programme, Ifeanyichukwu had his first solo art exhibition at the Premier International School with the assistance of his art instructors at the school and his private art teacher. It was a huge success, which generated handsome revenue for him through the sale of some of his works.” 

Currently, Ifeanyichukwu is fully immersed in the creative ambiance of the Arttitude Art and Design Studio, fervently honing his skills under the director’s meticulous supervision. Concurrently, he also takes graphic design courses at Aptech Computers and Kani Computer Technologies Ltd.

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