By Tajudeen Sowole
For over 15 years, Chike Onuorah seemed to have predicted the current state of Nigeria's socio-economic challenges - on canvas - when he engaged some salient themes and preserved such till date for an appropriate period. Mostly from his personal collection, the paintings, which probe into people's states of minds in perceiving situation and makes the best of it, form major part of the artist's ongoing exhibition.Titled Discerning Minds, Onourah's exhibition, showing at Moorehouse Ikoyi, Lagos, suggests how the artist delves into the terrain of psychoanalyst, with his palette. Typical of the artist, his themes have always been laced with subjects that compel viewers to see the paintings either as a therapeutic balm or piercing truths that set people on soul searching.
For Discerning Minds, the gaze is a metaphor, from which Onuorah distils mental functions of responsive effects of how people make the best of their lives or squander it. While one may have to leave the artist to sort out art's capability in that aspect of science with fans of late Austrian physician, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the styles and technique in rendition of the paintinsg are more of importance in art appropriation. The title piece, a big close view of what appears like a lady's eyes, nose and lips raises questions about the important part of the body that plays so much role in discernment. "The eyes do," Onuorah says during my visit to the exhibition few days after it's formal opening. If the eyes are the centre of action as he intends, the rest of facial features are - in creative context - competing with the eyes for attention. Perhaps, just the eyes could have been more precise, and convey the whole message of discernment, isn't it? "It could be too scary having just the eyes bold on canvas."
Smooth brushing style or technique is hardly a style for Onuorah. But Discerning Minds as a title work is quite distinct from the rest of over 20 pieces mounted at the venue's lobby, particularly, the features such as nose and lips, which apparently soften, or rescues the concept from the path of stern expression.
From the challenge of alertness, which the central theme focuses, comes quite a tone of respite in Double Blessing, two-figure of identical look (ibeji). For a socio-economic environment such as Nigeria's, where spirituality at religious level is deeply piercing through the people's lives, painting such as this could become a prayer point.
And quite a number of pieces set in rural areas, of which the artist believes could help city dwellers reflect on neighourly love. He argues that sharing and "caring for the others exists in rural areas," which makes it less chaotic. He particularly cites the current state of probity into the country's past financial recklessness. "Lack of love and respect for the other person is a major reason looters of Nigerian treasury are stealing our commonwealth." He insists that "if you love your country, you wouldn't steal from the people."
The retrospection tone of Discerning Minds exists in works such as One Day At A Time dated 2001 as well as the theme piece, Discerning Minds, produced in 2007. He discloses that showing the works and others of similar age was deliberate. "Some of the paintings have been purposely kept away from the public till a moment like this, knowing fully well that time and relevance add value to art."
Among the new paintings on display are Talk About the Beautiful Soul, Unstoppable Spirit, Colour Of My Soul Here and Perfect Puzzle: Woman.
Apart from a tensioned year of Nigeria's general election in 2015, Onuorah has been having a solo exhibition yearly. For examples in 2013, he showed Fireworks at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagosan exhibition Onuorah describes “explosion of creativity.”
In 2014, it was Priceless Heritage, at Didi Museum, Victoria Island, Lagos.
Meanwhile a trace of his past technique, ‘Crackilino’ exists in his current exhibition. Amog similar techniques of the artist aith similar coinage included Splashillino and Plastillino,
A poetry excerpts from his Artist Statement on Discerning Minds: On the piece titled Double Blessings. “Give me the blessings in double
Make them two for one and four for two
Release the love that one will be able
To know that life is better with you
In pairs the greatest of gifts do come
That one may stand when another may fall
Watch our double blessings become
The strength we share, one and all.”
And the title work, Discerning Minds
“What can you see when you look
What do you see when you look
What do you know when you think
What do you feel when you touch
What do you do where you go
Where do you go to when you walk
What do you say when you talk.”