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Chidi Okoye Presentation


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Chidi Okoye Presentation

  1. 1. PRESENTATION OVERVIEW<br />Presentation II:<br />Involvement in Biafra/Nigerian Civil War<br />Biography/Studio Arts Education<br />Teaching in Nigeria <br />Move to Canada <br />Today’s Presentation: <br />Cultural Influences: Igbo Masking and Uli<br />Artist’s Time in Atlanta<br />Past Design Awards and Current Work<br />1<br />
  2. 2. Chidi Okoye<br />Chidi is a contemporary African sculptor, painter, and poet from Nimo in the Anambra State of Nigeria.<br />He currently works as an independent and professional artist and resides in British Columbia, Canada.<br />Photo of Chidi Okoye today at age 50, image sent by email<br />“My art is my ministry.”<br />2<br />
  3. 3. Chidi Okoye – The Early Artist<br />Chidi states that he grew up in a loving and nurturing home. <br />He had no interest in art as a child, instead he dreamed of becoming a musician, but planned to pursue accounting at the university level of his studies. <br />He truly wanted to be a musician, but this was not considered an honorable profession for an eldest son who was expected to support his parents and siblings.1<br />Photo of Chidi Okoye as a young man, image taken from<br />3<br />
  4. 4. Chidi Okoye - Childhood<br />Chidi was briefly involved in the Nigerian War as a child. <br />Although he states that his art does not reflect any of these horrific images from his memories or make any political statement, he states “My past is part of who I am today and my art.”2<br />What happened in the <br />Nigerian War? . . . <br />Artwork Pictured: Sorrows of Eve I by Chidi Okoye, 13.5 “ x 21.5”, Pen drawing on paper, image taken from<br />4<br />
  5. 5. Nigerian Civil War: History<br />The Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Nigerian-Biafran War, which was lead by an Igbo , military leader , Colonel Chukwemeka O. Ojukwu . <br />Ojukwu was the military head-of-state in the Eastern region and he attempted a secession of the southeastern provinces of Nigeria as the self-proclaimed Republic of Biafra. <br />The result of the 1967 political struggle for independence was a civil war that was in part, caused by economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions among the various peoples of Nigeria.3<br />Map of the secessionist state of the Republic of Biafra (1967 – 1970) as in May 1967. Western Boundary is in yellow. (Image taken from:<br />5<br />
  6. 6. Chidi Okoye – Civil War in Artist’s Lifetime <br />Chidi’s father was involved as a participating activist in the Nigerian War and Chidi was recruited into the Biafra military uprising as a volunteer. <br />Chidi was helping in the rebellion in 1968, at the age of seven years old, he was assigned to fetch water and food for the soldiers from their camp because of his height. <br />Small children were often recruited to fetch supplies for the soldiers, as they could run through the streets and open urban areas during the intense fighting and the bullets would miss him as often the flying bullets were too high to hit small children.4<br />Child casualty of the Nigerian War (Image taken from:<br />6<br />
  7. 7. Nigerian Civil War – Aftermath in the West<br />The war ended on January 15th, 1970 but Nigeria was left with an economic collapse with most of the population in famine, particularly starving children, over one million corpses, and violence and suffering of such intensity that it took several years for Nigeria to recover economically as a nation.5<br />(A.B. Akinyemi, “The British Press and the Nigerian Civil War,”African Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 285 (Oct., 1972), pp. 425) <br />Life Magazine Cover, 1970 Taken from:<br />7<br />
  8. 8. General Gowon: The Healer of Nigerian Wounds<br />Today, the Igbo people and the former military combatants now live, work, and intermarry with each other. One positive aspect of the war was the humanity with which Nigerians and Biafra's forgave each other. <br />This reconciliation was possible due largely to one pivotal figure, the then Nigerian head of state Yakubu "Jack" Gowon.  He had insisted that Igbos should be treated as “prodigal sons”, rather than defeated foes.  This was against the insistence of his colleagues who wanted brutal punishment to be meted out to Igbos.<br /> Gowon repeatedly declared that “We do not take the Ibos as our enemies; they are our brothers.”6<br />General Gowon shaking hands with Biafra leaders. (Image taken from:<br />8<br />
  9. 9. Chidi Okoye – Anambra State Today<br />Chidi is from Nimo in Anambra State, Nigeria. Anambra state is well known for their industrious and hospitable people. They are known for there great industrialists, entrepreneurs, and craftsmen. This area of Nigeria is well known for its blacksmithery, iron-mongery and carving. As well as their agro-products produced that included Oil Palm, Maize, Rice, Yam, Cassava, and Fish. Anambra is also the home of several large Cotton Textile Mills.7<br />(Images taken from:<br />9<br />
  10. 10. Chidi Okoye<br />Peter Ndidi Osegi, a professor at Bendel State University in Nigeria, defines the three style groups of artists in Chidi’s generation as: <br />1.) Traditionalist-Traditional African Artists that follow the art making craft of their society, generally passed down in a generational training and they produce art for the purpose of cultural ceremonies and rituals.<br />2.) Noncollege-Trained Modernist-Consists of commerical artists, tourist trade artists and informal school artists.<br />3.) College-Trained Modernist- formal training in art at Western-style universities, either in their national universities or abroad.8 <br />*The latter (#3) applies to Chidi’s formal training as he paints in the abstract and cubism style in acrylic and impressionism for his watercolors.8<br />10<br />Art Pictured: Long Time No See, by Chidi Okoye, 30” x 48”, Acrylic on Masonite, Image taken from<br />
  11. 11. Chidi Okoye-An Artist by Accident<br />Chidi studied sculpture and studio art at the Institute of Management and Technology in Enugu, Nigeria, where he graduated in 1988.<br />However, he had no intention of becoming an artist after high school. On the day of his enrollment into the university, he was unable to be there, so he sent a good friend in his place to enroll him in accounting courses. Instead, his friend enrolled him in studio art classes.<br />Chidi was furious when he found out and realized that his future as an accountant was not going to happen. He had to take the courses he was enrolled in, as he had no other opportunity to re-enroll and little finances for other options. 9<br />Sculpture pictured: Lolo Mask by Chidi Okoye, relief sculpture, Image taken from<br />*Chidi never sculpted masks in Africa, he did not want his art used in rituals. <br />
  12. 12. Chidi Okoye – Artist & Professor <br />He taught sculpture and drawing at the Federal Polytechnic Oko in Anambra State in Nigeria for the next 6 years. <br />Over this period, he also created an exceptional collection of sculptures, paintings, and poetry.10<br />Photo of the Federal Polytechnic Oko School, Image taken from the Igbo Cultural Support Network Website,<br />12<br />
  13. 13. Chidi Okoye -From Nigeria to Canada<br />Chidi states that he had a love hate feeling about teaching. He enjoyed it and the respect that came along with this position, but he often became so involved in helping his students that he never had time to create his own art. <br />In 1993 he was asked by the Canadian Ambassador to come to Canada for a cultural exchange where he could show his art in top galleries and help promote African art within the Canadian community. <br />After moving and one show in Canada, the situation was dire and the reality was that Chidi was unable to show his art in major galleries in Canada.<br />After several shows in the states and in Europe, while still based out of Canada, he made the decision to move to Atlanta.11<br />13<br />Art Pictured: Sweet Breeze, by Chidi Okoye, Acrylic on Canvas, Image taken from:<br />
  14. 14. Chidi Okoye – Cultural Influences <br />The Igbo people and traditions are a major influence in Chidi’s art.<br />The Igbo are one of the largest ancient ethnic groups in Nigeria. Not much is known about the Igbo’s ancient culture and the discovered artifacts have not provided much insight about the people.<br /> It has been debated that their culture may be connected with the modern rituals of the kingship of Nri based on a large bronze excavation find, dating back to the ninth century, discovered by Thurstan Shaw in 1959-1960.12<br />14<br /> Art Pictured: Bronzes from the ninth century town of Igbo Ukwu, located at the British Museum. Image available from The Metropolitan Museum of Art., accessed at<br />
  15. 15. Chidi Okoye<br />Chidi is drawing upon the Igbo masking that are linked strongly with Igbo traditional masquerading, ritual, and music.<br />Although, Chidi states that he never made masks while living in Africa as he did not want them used for rituals.<br />The Igbo Maiden Spirit masks of the Northern Igbo represent the spirit of deceased maidens and their mothers and symbolize their beauty.13<br />Art Pictured: (Above) Mma Mask, resin on hard board, 20” x 28” x 3” Image accessed from<br />(Right) IgboMaiden Spirit Mask , Nigeria, Igbo, North, Height 17 ¼ in., Wood, pigment, paint, located in the Iowa Memorial Union’s third-floor Richey Ballroom. Image accessed from<br />15<br />
  16. 16. Chidi Okoye<br />Maiden Spirit masquerades perform annually during the dry season in the Nri-Awka area of northern Igboland. At these performances men dance as adolescent girls, miming and exaggerating their beauty and comportment. They also sing tributes to both real and spirit maidens.14<br />16<br />Link to video of Traditional Igbo masquerade Dance:<br /><br />Photo: Igbo maiden-spirit maskers near Akwa, Nigeria 1935, Image accessed from<br />
  17. 17. Chidi Okoye<br />The Maiden Spirit masks exaggerate the smallness of a young girl’s ideal features, particularly the neck and arms, while the white chalk of the face is constructed to indicate purity.15 The white pigment also serves as a background for the elaborate uli designs and symbols to be painted on young Igbo women’s skin.16<br />Some maiden spirit masks have elaborate coiffures, embellished with representations of hair combs modeled after late 19th century ceremonial hairstyles.<br />Art Pictured: Igbo Maiden Spirit Mask, Date unknown, height 23 ¾ in. Image accessed from<br /> *This mask sold in Nov. 2011 at Sotheby’s Auction for $12,000. <br />17<br />Photo: Woman with a coiffure in the form of a crest with a comb and ornaments.<br />
  18. 18. Chidi Okoye<br />Most uli designs have formal names and differ among various Igbo regions. Much of the uli is abstract with zigzag patterns and coiled circles, while other symbols represent household objects, such as a cooking pot. Others forms may represent animals, including the python or elements of nature, such as plants. Stars and the crescent moon are common as well. 17 <br />Art Pictured: (Above) Joy of Womanhood, 2001, 24” x 24”, (Right) Bound, 10” x 14”, 2005, both graphite on paper, accessed from<br />18<br />
  19. 19. Uli in Chidi’s Art<br />Chidi explains the Uli elements in his art: <br />“The magic of Uli Lines, which is an extended dot or a moving point, that has very many possibilities, particularly, the quickly drawn one. <br />My drawing explores the evocative and lyrical possibilities of line and derives from Uli. There is no question of erasing or cleaning. There is something about the spontaneously executed work, a breathtaking vitality and freshness that defy description or repetition.”18<br />Art Pictured: Lines of Life, pastel on paper, 6.75 “ x 9.75”:, 1994, accessed from<br />19<br />
  20. 20. 20<br />Chidi Okoye – Atlanta – 2001 to 2007 <br />Okoye's Art Gallery - Owner Chuck Okoye<br />50 Upper Alabama St SW, #248Atlanta, GA 30303<br />Photo: Gallery Front, Atlanta – accessed from <br />
  21. 21. Chidi Okoye – Atlanta – 2001 to 2007 <br /><ul><li>Chidi Okoye won the first prize in the South Fulton County Gallery Best Artist of the year 2002.
  22. 22. Participated in the jury art shows of National Black Art Festival Atlanta from 2002 to 2004.
  23. 23. Executed Award commission design for 2004 Clark Atlanta University ADVANCE Leadership Award.19 </li></ul>Artwork Pictured: Daughters of Eve, colored pencil on paper, 10” x 11.5” accessed from<br />21<br />
  24. 24. Chidi Okoye – Design Awards<br /><ul><li> Won the design submission for the Festival Sundiata in Seattlein 1995, 1996, and 1998.
  25. 25. Won Sundiata Best Artist of the Year in 1998.
  26. 26. He designed a poster and logo for the, “Spirit of the Nation” for the Canadian Heritage Art Society in Victoria BC in 1997.
  27. 27. He designed and created the award statues for the Black Historical Society in Vancouver, BC in 1999.
  28. 28. In 1999 won first prize in the Co-op Radio Poster Competition in Vancouver BC.20</li></ul>Art Pictured: Celebration of Life, Award winning poster design for 1998 Sundiata Festival, Seattle, WA, acrylic on canvas, 36” x 48”, accessed at<br />22<br />
  29. 29. Chidi Okoye – Current Work <br />23<br />Chidi is still painting but has more recently taught himself Photoshop and<br /> is currently creating more digital Pop art.<br />He is considering a move to Bangladesh by invitation.<br />He sells some original work and prints of his original art on his two websites:<br /><br /><br />Snail Mail Address:  338 - East 58 Avenue, Vancouver,  BC. V5X 1V9 Tel. 604 628 7402<br />
  30. 30. Cheri Samba<br />Artist working in Paris in the late 1980’s using moralizing themes in his art. <br />He is often the subject of his own “visual commentaries” and in this piece he is implying the imposed shackles of the exclusive gallery contract as depicted with the ropes pulling Cheri in opposite directions that are tied around his neck. 21<br />Art Pictured: Why Have I Signed a Contract?, by Cheri Samba,1990, Image taken from<br />24<br />
  31. 31. ENDNOTES<br />25<br />1. Okoye, Chidi. Interview by Jill Hayes, 25 March 2011, phone call from Kansas City, MO.<br />In a phone Interview Chidi explains that the images in his art are not a reflection of his exposure to the Nigerian war, but that because of these experiences, he paints images of beauty.<br />2. Okoye, Chidi. Interview by Jill Hayes. Chidi describes the images in his art as images of beauty rather social or political commentary or personal experiences. <br />3. Herbert Cole, Igbo Arts Community and Cosmos, (Los Angeles: Museum of Cultural History, 1984), pg. 13. A detailed description of Nigeria’s change in regimes and the Igbo’s attempt for independence is covered , as well as the status of the culture up to 1984.<br />4. Okoye, Phone Interview. Chidi shares some of his graphic experiences as a participant in the Nigerian Civil War as a child.<br />5. A.B. Akinyemi, “The British Press and the Nigerian Civil War,” African Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 285 (Oct., 1972), pp. 425. Akinyemi discussed the role of the British Press during the civil war, but also describes the state of the Igbo people after the war ended.<br />6. Max Siollun, “Nigeria’s Civil War Reconciliation”, Nigerian Village Square [Website] , accessed on 25, March 2011 at Online article that describes the unification of Nigeria after the civil war and the role of the military leaders involved in the process.<br />7. No Arthur, “Anambra State,” Igbo Culture and Support Network [Website] accessed on 29, March 2011, available from This website provides some detailed information about the area where Chidi was born and lived up until 1993 and the culture and local economy.<br />8. Peter Ndidi Osegi, “African Art: The College-Trained Modernist.” Visual Arts Research, Vol. 17, No. 2 (34) (Fall 1991), pp. 56-59. Osegi details the typical art education that was taught in Nigeria during Chidi’s time at his university and describes the roots as stemming from the Modernist coming out of the 1950’s. He criticizes Nigeria’s inability to grasp the importance and value of it’s own cultural heritage in art academia.<br />
  32. 32. ENDNOTES<br />26<br />10. Okoye, Phone Interview. Chidi confirms details about his education and years of teaching and shares the circumstances of his move to Canada.<br />11. Okoye, Phone Interview. <br />12. Jones, G.I., The Art of Eastern Nigeria (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 12. Jones states that not much is known about the history of the Igbo people and that the related archaeological artifacts do not offer much more insight to their ancient culture.<br />Cole, 219. Cole details the purpose of the maiden spirit masks and their meaning.<br />Cole, 120-121. Cole elaborates that these dances are a call to the Maiden spirits for assistance in a good harvest.<br />Cole, 121. A typical female of ideal beauty should have a long neck with a slender and tall body as described by Cole. <br />Cole, 39. Cole details body painting and the relationship to Uli as the women’s art and the shared likeness to wall murals.<br />Ibid, 39.<br /> Okoye, Chidi, “Magic Lines of Uli Art Style” [article online] on available from accessed on 14 April 2011, Internet.<br /> Okoye, Chidi, Artist Biography, Modern Art Images Website, accessed on 14, April 2011, Internet. Okoye provides some key highlights of his time in Atlanta. <br /> Okoye, Artist Biography Internet. The artist details awards he has won for his design submissions over the past decade. <br />Sidney L. Kasfir, Contemporary African Art (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000), 27. A description of the artist’s painting and the meaning behind the image is provided by Kasfir. <br />
  33. 33. Bibliography<br /><ul><li>Okoye, Chidi, Artist Profile, Modern Art Images website (Artist Website) accessed on February 13, 2011, available at
  34. 34. Okoye, Chidi, Artist Biography, Fine Art America website, accessed on February 13, 2011, available at
  35. 35. Jones, G.I. , The Art of Eastern Nigeria (London: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 12.
  36. 36. Brief online Q & A with Chidi regarding his background.</li></ul>Art Pictured: Lovers Melody, Watercolor on paper, 10” x 18” <br />27<br />
  37. 37. BIBLIOGRAPHY<br />28<br /><ul><li>Akinyemi, A.B., “The British Press and the Nigerian Civil War.” African Affairs, Vol. 71, No. 285 (Oct., 1972), pp. 425.
  38. 38. Cole, Herbert M. and Aniakor, Chike C., Igbo Arts: Community and Cosmos. Los Angeles: Museum of Cultural History, 1984.
  39. 39. Jones, G.I., The Art of Eastern Nigeria. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
  40. 40. Kasfir, Sidney Littlefield, Contemporary African Art. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000.
  41. 41. No Arthur, “Anambra State.” Igbo Culture and Support Network [Website] accessed on 29 March 2011, available from
  42. 42. Okoye, Chidi. Interview by Jill Hayes, 25 March 2011, phone call from Kansas City, MO.
  43. 43. Okoye, Chidi, “Magic Lines of Uli Art Style” [article online] on available from accessed on 14 April 2011, Internet.
  44. 44. Okoye, Chidi, Artist Biography, Modern Art Images Website, available from , accessed on 14 April 2011, Internet
  45. 45. Osegi, Peter Ndidi, “African Art: The College-Trained Modernist.” Visual Arts Research, Vol. 17, No. 2 (34) (Fall 1991), pp. 56-59.
  46. 46. Oguibe, Olu, “Finding a Place: Nigerian Artists in the Contemporary Art World.” Art Journal, Vol. 58, No. 2 (Summer, 1999), pp.
  47. 47. 30-41.
  48. 48. Siollun, Max, “Nigeria’s Civil War Reconciliation.” Nigerian Village Square [Website], accessed on 25 March 2011 at
  49. 49. Stoller, Paul, “Circuits of African Art / Paths of Wood: Exploring an Anthropological Trail.” Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 76, No. 2 (Spring, 2003), pp. 207-234.
  50. 50. Willett, Frank, African Art. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2002.</li>