Nkiru Nzegwu has had a long and illustrious career in African Studies, a large part of it devoted to challenging discursive interpretations of African culture based on colonialist and Eurocentric models. Her curatorial and publishing projects foreground indigenous African knowledge and interpretations while also locating African subjects as active agents in global discourses.
Born in Onitsha, Nigeria in 1954, Uwechia grew up in Enugu, Nigeria. She studied art in the University of Ife, and specialized in painting. She set an academic record in her department by winning the distinguished Faculty Prize in her graduating year. She has lived and worked in Akure and Lagos as well as Ife, and is presently residing in New York.
Occupied in other fields of endeavor for the past twelve years, Uwechia paints only because she loves to paint, not because she has to. Although she has worked as a graphic artist in Akure and Lagos, she has not actively pursued an artist's career. Nevertheless her works are much sought after because of the quality of the paintings. Her paintings are in private collection in Nigeria, Canada, and United States.
The artist's preferred medium of expression is oil. The technique is mostly active and fluid, involving the building up of multiple layers and washes of colour with well defined brush strokes. Each painting represents hundreds of hours of work and captures some aspect of the artist's experiences.
Uwechia takes great joy in capturing the dramatic intensity of her Nigerian social world as well as her personal experiences. Her interest lies in transforming quite ordinary events and ideas into one of symbolic significance.
Because of my peculiar background and experiences, my general concern as an artist is very different from that of many Canadian artists. Issues like modernism, abstract expressionism, post-modernism are terms that define typically Western concerns and preoccupations, they have no referential signification for me. I come from a society with different social, historical and artistic experiences where terms like colonialism, nationalism, post-colonialism, and pan-Africanism are closer to my artistic scheme of understanding. Thus my painting and drawings tend to speak of a yearning for a better world in which African personhood will be respected.
Notable Person: Nkiru Nzegwu
By Dr. Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie
October 14, 2007
My notable person for this week is Nkiru Nzegwu, Professor of Africana Studies at SUNY Binghamton, and Founder/Director of Africa Resource Inc., a webportal that distributes educational content about African art and culture. Africa Resource Inc. has grown from a web portal through which Prof. Nzegwu manages five peer-reviewed online journals into a brick-and-mortar operation with the opening of the Africa House, a new 6500 sq. ft. multiplex Africa House, at 50 Washington Avenue, Endicott, New York. This facility provides space for an art gallery, an office for the overall operation and additional space for a media company.
Nkiru Nzegwu has had a long and illustrious career in African Studies, a large part of it devoted to challenging discursive interpretations of African culture based on colonialist and Eurocentric models. Her curatorial and publishing projects foreground indigenous African knowledge and interpretations while also locating African subjects as active agents in global discourses. On her web portal, she oversees five journals dealing with topics such as African contemporary art, African philosophy and Gender Studies. The strong feminist viewpoints of her writing owe a lot to her own intellectual development as a graduate of a Canadian university during the height of the feminist movement, but perhaps owes much more to her heritage as an Onitsha Igbo woman from a lineage of powerful and iconic women whose roles as traders, warriors, and independently wealthy citizens of the great port-city was usurped by British colonial prescriptions for a patriarchal social order.
Nzegwu's trenchant criticism of similar tendencies in the discourse of modern and contemporary African art is notable and quite combative, as is her focus on developing the web portal through which she now disseminates information on subjects varying from art through philosophy to hip-hop. Prof. Nzegwu is currently chair of the African Studies department at SUNY Binghamton. Below is a clip shot of the front page of her book Family Matters: Feminist Concepts in African Philosophy. She has also edited two anthologies on Contemporary African art.
Dr. Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie is an Associate Professor of Art History at University of California, Santa Barbara.
Issues in Contemporary African Art, 1998
Contemporary Textures: Multidimensionality in Nigerian Art, 1999
Originally appeared in Aachronym.