Coffee & Uche Okeke Episode 2: Conversation with guest Lucinda Jolly

Published 15 August 2023 in Conversations

Uche Okeke Editorial


Uche Okeke, a name that may not be instantly recognizable to the masses, yet holds immense significance in the world of art and philosophy. He's hailed as the "Father of African Modernism," but his contributions extend far beyond the realm of artistic innovation. In a candid and insightful conversation, we delve into the life and legacy of Uche Okeke, exploring his multi-faceted journey that encompassed art, poetry, and philosophy.


A Renaissance Man in Every Sense

Uche Okeke was more than an artist; he was a true Renaissance man. His artistic brilliance was accompanied by an unwavering sense of optimism, a profound belief in endless possibilities, and a boundless appreciation for humanity's diversity. Born in Nigeria, Okeke's upbringing was a unique blend of traditional heritage and Western education, which laid the foundation for his expansive worldview.

His early exposure to different cultures and experiences shaped his remarkable ability to navigate between the past, the colonial period, and contemporary life without denying any of them. In essence, he blended the traditional with the modern, the local with the global, and the past with the present. This hybridization was not just a mere acceptance; it was a celebration of the rich diversity that surrounded him.


Art, Poetry, and Philosophy: A Seamless Blend

One of the fascinating aspects of Uche Okeke's life was his simultaneous pursuit of art, poetry, and philosophy. His artistic endeavours drew inspiration from his family, particularly his mother, who introduced him to the intricate world of Uli design, and his father, who was a carpenter in his spare time. This blending of technical knowledge and traditional artistic heritage - one part with the other - was something he would carry with him, and while exploring Uli designs, he didn't stop at aesthetics but ventured into folklore, recognising the deep interconnections between them. 

As a prolific writer, Okeke's poetry was a reflection of his profound engagement with folklore. It was a means to document and preserve the rich cultural heritage of Nigeria, including the Uli designs. His writings were not confined to creative expression alone; he meticulously documented his thoughts, experiences, and research. The written word was just as important to him as the art he created.


A Visionary Legacy

Uche Okeke was a visionary, and his vision extended beyond the boundaries of his country and continent. His hope for artists was simple yet profound: to create an enabling environment where artists could practice their craft without hindrance. At the time, art wasn't widely considered a respectable or viable profession, but Okeke was instrumental in creating curricula to nurture and professionalize the field of art in Nigeria. His mentorship extended beyond borders, promoting cultural exchanges that transcended regions.

One of his remarkable qualities was his unwavering commitment to humanity. Okeke was a staunch believer in the possibilities that lay within each person, regardless of their background or culture. He possessed a rare quality of embracing diversity without prejudice. His view was not marred by racism or tribalism; instead, he valued every culture and the contributions they brought to the table. He believed in the importance of self-improvement, not just for oneself but for the betterment of humanity.


A Life of Experimentation

In the backdrop of post-colonial Nigeria, Okeke's life was a tapestry of experimentation. His upbringing in a changing world allowed him to embrace the opportunities presented by colonialism while retaining his deep cultural roots. He was part of a generation that sought knowledge beyond the borders of their country, journeying to Europe to learn and grow. This quest for knowledge transcended their personal lives and deeply influenced the transformation of their nation.

The life of Uche Okeke serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration, transcending generations and borders. His legacy is an enduring reminder of the importance of celebrating diversity, embracing humanity, and the boundless possibilities that await those who believe in the goodness within mankind.


Closing Thoughts:

As we navigate today's global challenges, Uche Okeke's wisdom continues to shine brightly, offering a path of optimism and endless possibilities. His art, poetry, and philosophy provide a glimpse into the essence of African Modernism and the profound sense of humanity that makes his legacy relevant for generations to come.




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