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Christopher Uchefuna Okeke (30 April 1933 – 5 January 2016), known as Uche Okeke, was a contemporary Nigerian artist.
Christopher Uchefuna Okeke was born on 30 April 1933 in Nimo, Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State, Nigeria, to Isaac Okonkwo Okeke and Monica Mgboye Okeke (née Okoye). Between 1940 and 1953, he attended St. Peter Claver’s (Primary) School, [Kafanchan], Metropolitan College,[Onitsha], and Bishop Shanahan College, [Orlu, Nigeria|Orl], during which time he had already begun to demonstrate an avid interest in drawing and painting. Before being admitted to read Fine Art at Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, now Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Okeke had already exhibited taxidermy work during the Field Society meeting in Jos Museum, participated in the preparation and presentation of Nigerian Drawings and Paintings with Bernard Fagg as curator and had a solo exhibition of drawings and paintings, in Jos and Kaduna with Sir Ahmadu Bello in attendance.
As an undergraduate in 1958, Okeke together with Yusuf Grillo, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Demas Nwoko and others, inaugurated the Zaria Art Society. In that same year he opened a cultural centre at 30 Ibadan Street, Kafanchan, which later became the Asele Institute, Nimo, where among other cultural activities a part of the Smithsonian Institution-sponsored educational film Nigerian Art - Kindred Spirits was shot in 1996.
In the early 1970s when he was appointed lecturer and acting head of Fine Arts Department at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, he reviewed the entire course programme introducing new courses and research into Igbo Uli art tradition. In 1973, he also designed the first course programme of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu, and initiated postgraduate courses in the Department of Fine Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
He was the Director of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, a visiting Professor to the Department of Creative Arts, University of Port Harcourt, Honorary Deputy Director-General (Africa) of International Biographical Centre, Cambridge, among numerous other engagements with many educational and cultural institutions in different parts of the world.
He inspired many Nigerian artists and Africanist art historians, including some of the world’s avant-garde.
That Okeke carried the Uli experiment beyond the walls of Zaria and stood in the forefront of its transformation into a modern idiom in the 1970s, from the studios at Nsukka was original. He is a father figure in the history of Nigerian modernism.
Okeke died on 5 January 2016 in his native home at Nimo at the age of 82.
In 1958 he became the founder and Director of Asele Institute and Documentation Center, Nimo, Nigeria.
1986–2006 Visiting professor and external examiner, University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly University of Ife).
Federal Polytechnic, Oko. Imo State University, Owerri, Nigeria.
1970–85 University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria. Positions held; Acting Head of Department, Fine and Applied Arts Department Dean Faculty of Arts Director, Institute of African Studies.
1981–82 Honorary Fellow, Department of Textile and Clothing Design, and Art History, University of Minnesota, USA (one-year sabbatical leave).
1968 Refugee Affairs Committee, Aba, Nigeria.
1964–67 Director, Mbari Art Centre, Uwani, Enugu, Nigeria.
1964–66 Artistic Director and Designer, Enugu Musical Society, Enugu, Nigeria.
1961–62 Freelance artist and Director, Cultural Centre, Kafanchan, Nigeria.
1961 Publications Artist, Federal Ministry of Information, Lagos.
1959 Founder/Director, Cultural Centre Kafanchan (now Asele Institute Nimo), Nigeria.
1958-61 Founder/First Secretary/Second President, Art Society, Nigerian College of Arts Science and Technology, Zaria, Nigeria.
1955–57 Clerk, Department of Labour, Jos and Lagos, Nigeria.
1956 Organising Assistant, Exhibition of Nigerian Painting and Drawing, Jos Museum, Jos, Nigeria.
1954–55 Designer, visual aids, St. Peter Claver’s Catholic and College of Mary Immaculate Heart Practicing Schools, Kafanchan, Nigeria.
- 2010 Artcurial Auction, Paris, France.
- Arthouse Contemporary Limited Auction, Lagos, Nigeria.
- 2009 Arthouse Contemporary Limited Auction, Lagos, Nigeria.
- 2008 Arthouse Contemporary Limited Auction, Lagos, Nigeria.
- 2006 Another Modernity: Works on Paper by Uche Okeke, Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey, USA.
- 2003 Retrospective solo exhibition, Pendulum Gallery, Lagos, Nigeria
- 1982 Contemporary Nigerian Prints, Drawings and Paintings: Uche Okeke. Katherine E. Nash Gallery, University of Minneapolis, Twin Cities, Minnesota, USA.
- Homage to Asele, Exhibition of Prints, Drawings and Paintings: Uche Okeke, African American Cultural Centre, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
- 1979 Retrospective Exhibition of Drawings and Prints, German Cultural Centre, Lagos, Nigeria.
- 1978 GraphikAus Nigeria, Germany.
- 1963 Exhibition of Mosaics and stained glass window, Franz Mayer and Company, Munich, Germany.
- 1962 Exhibition of drawings, Rott am Inn, Germany.
- 2010 Nigerian 50th Independence Exhibition, Abuja, Nigeria.
- Afro Modern: Journeys through the Black Atlantic, Tate Modern, Liverpool.
- NIVATOUR, Group Exhibition by the National Gallery of Art, Abuja, Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt.
- 2009 Society of Nigerian Artists Anniversary Exhibition, Omenka Gallery, Lagos, Nigeria.
- 2008 ARESUVA, National Gallery of Art, Abuja, Nigeria.
- 2006 Another Modernity: Works on paper by Uche Okeke, Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey, USA.
- 2002 Poetics of Line: Seven Artists of the Nsukka Group, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA.
- 1995 Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London.
- 1977 Exhibition of African Contemporary Art, Howard University, Department of Art, College of Fine Arts, Washington D.C. USA.
- Exhibition of Nigerian Contemporary Art (FESTAC), National Council for Arts and Culture, Lagos.
- 1976 Joint Exhibition of prints and textiles, Department of Human Environment and Design/African Studies Centre, Kresge Gallery, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan USA.
- 1974 African Prints, an Exhibition of Contemporary African Art, Kresge Art Gallery, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA.
- 1972 Group Exhibition, Nasprstek Museum, Prague, Czechoslovakia.
- 1969 Kunst aus Biafra, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Bonn, Trier, Dortmund, Essen and Munich, Germany.
- 1966 World Festival of Negro Arts Exhibition, Dakar, Senegal
- 1967 Drei Kreuzwege – Drei Kontinente, with Hansen-Bahia (Germany) and Vivial Ellis (USA), Munich, Germany.
- 1964 Group Exhibition, Harmon Foundation Inc., New York, USA.
- 1963/64 Three-man show with Ibrahim el-Salahi (Sudan) and Valente Malagantana (Mozambique), Committee for Cultural Freedom, India and Pakistan.
- 1962 Group Exhibition, Rhodes National Gallery, Salisbury, Rhodesia.
- Gallery Lambert, Paris, France.
- Ugandan Independence Art Exhibition, Kampala.
- 2015 OIS Services passport and Visa Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa.
- 1989 Oko Cross, St. John’s Anglican Church, Oko, Anambra State.
- Portraits of Father Iwene Tansi, commissioned by the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Onitsha, Anambra State
- 1976 Park and fountain designs for the Open Spaces Development Commission, Anambra State.
- 1975 Fourteen Stations of the Cross, St Peter’s Catholic Church chapel, University of Nigeria Nsukka.
- 1971–74 Designed Archbishop’s Throne and portals, Holy Trinity Cathedral, Onitsha, Anambra State.
- 1971 Designed and produced carved wooden doors for Holy Trinity Cathedral, Onitsha, Anambra State.
- 1967 Stage design for television serial, Heritage, ENTV production.
- 1966 EDI Sculpture, Enugu Campus, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
- Film titles design, Eastern Nigeria Information Service’s Film Division, Enugu, Nigeria.
- Sketch designs for the wrought-metal screen wall, Anglican Church chapel, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
- Designed robes for the Presbyterian Church Choir, Uwani, Enugu.
- 1965 Illustrated Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart
- 1964 Designed Boys Scouts of Nigeria Badges
- Designed Oil Murals and Paintings for the Eastern Nigeria Central Library, Children’s Section. Theme: Animals in Procession.
- 1962–63 Three murals in mosaic and stained glass for Franz Meyer and Company, Munich, Germany.
- 1961 Mural for the Mbari Artists and Writers Club House and Gallery, Ibadan, Nigeria.
- 1960 Mother Nigeria and Her Children, mural for Independence Exhibition, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria.
- 2009 Federal Government Award for distinguished service in the Arts and Culture Sector.
- 2001 Presidential award of MFR by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
- 1977 Prize for Terra Cotta Sculpture titled Dance of Unity, Murtala Mohammed International Sculpture competition,Lagos.
- 1973 British Council Bursary Award
- 1972 Illustrator of the Year 1972, for Tales of Land of Death, Igbo Folk Tales, published by Doubleday, New York, awarded by National UNESCO Commission’s Book of the Year competition.
- 1971 Drama award by the African Studies Centre, University of California, USA.
- 1962–63 Fellowship award to study mosaic and stained-glass window techniques awarded by the West German government.
- 1960 Poetry prize in a national literary competition organized by the National Arts Council.
- 1959 First place Esso Inc., Nigerian Independence calendar design competition, Lagos.
- 1958–61 Nigerian Federal Government Scholarship
- 1957 Out-of-doors painting award by the Head of Department of Fine Art, NCAST, Zaria.
Honors, distinctions, and memberships
- 1987 Member, Adjudication Panel, Biennale of Children’s Book Illustration, Bratislava, Czechoslovakia.
- 1985 Member, Nigerian Delegation to UNESCO General Conference, Sophia, Bulgaria
- 1984 Delegate, International Artists’ Congress, Helsinki, Finland.
- 1983 Member, Nigerian Delegation to UNESCO General Conference, Paris, France.
- 1981 UNESCO Delegate to the 24th General Conference, Belgrade, Yugoslavia.
- 1979 Children’s Books on Africa and their Authors, an annotated bibliography – Nancy J. Schmidt. New York and London: Africana Publishing Company.
- 1978 Member of Editorial Board, Black Orpheus, University of Lagos.
- 1978 Chairman of the Cultural Sector, UNESCO Commission, Lagos.
- 1977 Africa Yearbook and Who’s Who *1977, London, Africa Journal Ltd.
- 1977 International Directory of Scholars and Specialists in African Studies, 1st edition, Waltham, Massachusetts, USA: Brandels University African Studies Association.
- 1976–77 Member, Visual Arts Committee, FESTAC '77, Lagos.
- 1976–77 Member of International Association of Artists (IIA), Paris, France.
- 1976–77 Vice-President Society for Nigerian Artists.
- 1976 Associate member, the Nigerian Art Education Association (NAEA), Reston, Virginia, USA.
- 1976 Member of Nigerian Society for Education Through Art (NSEA) Lagos.
- 1975 Member, International Society of Education Through Art (INSEA), Hereford, England.
- 1974 International Directory of Arts, 12th edition, Verlag Muller GMBH and Company K.G. Frankfurt/Main, Germany.
- 1974 American Council on Education Lecture Tour to 8 American Universities in the USA.
- 1971 Member review panel W.A.E.C. Art Syllabus.
- 1971 Iskusstuo Stran I Narodov Mira Vol.3 Soviet Arts Encyclopedia, Moscow, USSR.
- 1971–78 Member of Advisory Committee, Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
- 1971–76 Member of East Central State Arts Council and Chief Art Organiser for the State Festival of Arts.
- 1970 Member of International Bibliophile Association, Paris, France.
Papers and publications
- 2010 Nigeria @ 50, a publication by the Federal Government of Nigeria in commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of Nigeria’s independence.
- 2003 NKU DI NA MBA: Uche Okeke and Modern Nigerian Art, National Gallery of Art, Lagos.
- The Triumph of a Vision: an Anthology on Uche Okeke and Modern Art in Nigeria, Pendulum Art Gallery.
- 2001 Historical Sketch of the Growth of the Catholic Church in Nimo, publication for 50th Anniversary of Our Lady of Assumption Parish in Nimo, Anambra State.
- 1998 The Zaria Art Society: A New Consciousness, National Gallery of Art, Lagos.
- 1995 Seven Stories about Modern Art in Africa, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London
- 1991 Terms of Art: Contemporary Nigerian Art in the International Context, Ministry of Culture, Nordrhine-Westfalen/Kunstsammilung Nordrhine-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Germany.
- 1990 Eze Institution in Igboland, by Hanny Hahn-Waanders, Asele Institute Documentation Centre, Nimo, Anambra State.
- 1982 Art in Development: A Nigerian Perspective, Asele Institute Documentation Centre and the African American Cultural Center, Minneapolis, US.
- 1976 "Search for the Theoretical Basis of Contemporary Art", paper presented at the International Symposium on Contemporary Art, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
- Modern Nigerian Art, Documentation Centre, Asele Institute, Nimo.
- Igbo Art, Asele Institute, Nimo.
- 1971 Tales of Land of Death: Igbo folktales by Uche Okeke, Doubleday, Zenith Books.
- 1969 Geschichte der Ibo Kunst, Dortmund Lecture No. 97, Dortmund: Kulturamt der Stadt Dortmund.
- 1961 Drawings by Uche Okeke, intro. Ulli Beier, Ibadan. Mbari Productions.
Public and private collections
- National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.
- National Gallery of Art, Abuja, Nigeria.
- Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey, USA.
- Iwalewa Haus, Bayreuth, Germany.
- Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich Germany.
- Franz Mayer Hofkunstanstalt, Munich, Germany.
- Tate Modern Gallery, Liverpool, United Kingdom
- OYASAF Foundation, Lagos, Nigeria.
- Broadcast House Radio Nigeria, Kaduna, Nigeria.
- Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
- University of Lagos, Nigeria.
- Holy Trinity Cathedral, Nigeria.
- National Council for Arts and Culture, Lagos, Nigeria.
- Murtala Mohammed international Airport Lagos.
- Akademie der Kunst, Berlin, Germany.
- State House, Enugu, Nigeria.
- Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
- Dolly Fitterman Art Gallery Inc, Minneapolis, USA.
- Beke Memorial Hospital, Nimo, Nigeria.
- Ministry of Education and Information, Cultural Division, Enugu, Nigeria.
- Mr and Mrs Chellarams.
- Dr Ronald Severino, USA.
- A. R. Jellings, United Kingdom.
- W. J. Plume, United Kingdom.
- Lady Dorothy Head, United Kingdom.
- Frau Gertrude Buchta, Deisenhofen near Munich, Germany.
- Demas Nwoko, Nigeria.
- Mr and Mrs Alec Armstrong, United Kingdom.
- Professor and Mrs Chinua Achebe.
- "Veteran Nigerian Artist Christopher Uche Okeke Dies at 83", TV360 Nigeria.
- Okeke, Uche; Lambert, LeClair Grier (1982). Art in development: a Nigerian perspective. Nimo, Nigeria; Minneapolis, USA: Documentation Centre, Asele Institute ; AfricanAmerican Cultural Center.
- Okeke, Uche (1971). Tales of land of death: Igbo folktales. Garden City, N.Y.: Zenith Books.
- Okeke, Uche (1969). Geschichte der Ibo-Kunst: [der Vortr. wurde im Frühjahr 1969 im Afrika-Kreis d. Rhein.-Westfäl. Auslandsges. gehalten (in German). Dortmund: Kulturamt d. Stadt Dortmund.
- Okeke, Uche (1961). Drawings. Ibadan, Nigeria: Mbari Publications.