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Ukenedo at Quintessence Gallery with Loud 'Silent Voices'

By Udemma Chukwuma
A viewer at the opening of the exhibition (photo by Udemma Chukwuma)
What you see from the entrance of Quintessence Art Gallery in Ikoyi, Lagos, where the artworks of Chamberlin Ukenedo are displayed, are colourful fabric petals stuck and sprinkled on the floor to the doorway of the gallery; leading the viewer to a piece on the wall titled: I Rise, I Shine.
Petals are seen cast on the floor from the alluring piece, contradicting its title, I Rise, I Shine. The mixed media piece on board, sets the mood for the show and leads the viewer into the solo art exhibition titled Silent Voice.
A viewer at the opening of the exhibition (photo by Udemma Chukwuma)
Visitors find themselves glue to the works, especially the portrait paintings on board of elongated subjects with exaggerated facial features, such as bulging eyeballs and over emphasised lips.
Silent Voices, the mixed media exhibition, as the theme states, passes a lot of nonverbal messages via the face and other parts of the body. Silent Voices asserts that the face out there is an art piece; for we cry, we squint, we gaze, we frown, we glaze, we scowl, we pout, we leer, we scoff…at the checkered rhythms of life. When we are stripped of words, the eyes are the messengers of the soul.
“For Silent Voices, none verbal, body language is key for me and for body language, the face sees and does a lot for me, more than other parts of the body. Emphasis is on the eyes because the eyes are the messengers to the soul. And when I make portraiture there is only one area I find very interesting. I see it as one of the most beautiful part of the human body…the eyes can see a lot,” explain the artist.
I Rise, I Shine.
Majority of the works are on textured and plain boards. “It is intentional,” the artist says, “I wanted to explore surfaces where I can use less of brush and probably use more of my palette knife.” The exhibition is one of those rare shows which you would want the works to be on view for as long as it takes because you cannot just get enough of the works.
As a cartoonist, a painter and an experimentalist, Ukenedo says he is influenced by his environment, “my works speak not just for myself, but also for everyone who shares the same existential space, including the disenfranchised. My perception and ability to portray the complexities of human emotions has inspired this body of works about the everyday Nigerian whose condition has forced a new way – a different medium – of expressing the melancholic soul of his life.”
There are so many things of interest in the ongoing exhibition which opened on April 8, will run till May 6 this year. Ukenedo uses everyday items within his

reach, such as oil paint, coffee, pastel, old cassette type wire and buttons, and delicate fabrics, neatly arrayed on the surface of canvas and some on board, which he manipulated carefully to produce captivating pieces, like a minimalist composition made of fragments of intimacy. “As an artist I don’t limit myself to any surface,” he said, “I am an artist who likes to experiment, I like to try new things beyond what I see everyday.”
The artist from Imo State, a graduate of the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu, has been in the advertising world since graduation. He reviews that this “has improved my art. I have been able to intertwine between advertising and visual art. Advertising is very subjective and visual art is more like my first love.”
In this exhibition, Ukenedo offers an assortment of artworks that raises questions which needs urgent answer. One of them is the high number of suicide cases recorded recently with a piece he titled, I’m Fine! (created in 2016), but the half-faced male subject is not fine because you could see tears dropping from his eye. I created this painting last year, when I realised that a lot of people are committing suicide, there is nobody to talk to, there is nobody to share with. It is not everybody that you see on the street that is actually what or who you think they are. People are going through a lot.”
A viewer at the opening of the exhibition (photo by Udemma Chukwuma)
It is also worth mentioning that the artist brings to mind the Chibok girls, who have been missing for three years. The piece titled, Save Me! features a half-faced female subject with tears running down her face. “I think it was an accidental installation of the abducted girls in the North-East, who are in the place where they need attention. What I did with this material is to show different faces, they are both in tears, one is a lady and the other is a male; the guy is the opposite of what is on the other side of the painting.
The two paintings produce a strong psychological and emotional tension. The portraits prompt viewers to reflect on the issues and despite the tears running down their eyes, the male subjects seem to be gazing back at the viewer. The two panel maintains a powerful presence in the show.
Ukenedo talking about his work at the opening of the show
How does he start each piece? “What I do is I create sketches and I build up on them…” His works are in Igbo and Yoruba. “I have been able to understand the two cultures and their languages while growing up in Lagos and born as an Igbo child.”
In his first ever “official solo exhibition, in the era which the country is going through recession, the artist is wise enough to make his works affordable. Everything on display in this rich and fascinating survey of unusual art, the exhibition curator Moses Ohiomokhare says, “his works are for the new generation collectors.” The prices ranging from eighty thousand Naira to two hundred and fifty thousand Naira.
Ukenedo uses imagery and theme that anyone can relate to as a direct means of expressing himself, as seen in his sultry coffee paintings, using abstraction to the same ends. “Observation at the office you noticed that the base of the cup, as you are sipping your coffee, you are dropping the cup, you are observing something that you are recording in your mind, so I was able to use the dropping of the cup to form and create an image.”
 Is Ukenedo going to quit the advertising world and become a full time studio artist? “To me advertising and visual art are interwoven. Yes, I’m looking towards that and what adverting has also done for me…people may debate that, make me a better artist because I have been able to create art not for art’s sake but art for reason, art for a purpose and art as a social commentator.”
Save Me and I am Fine on view at the gallery (Photo by Udemma Chukwuma)
His approach to Silent Voices has become more conventional and restrained. This you could see in his series; Everyday People. Everyday People, fabric pieces, elongated expressionless faces arrest the audience. These figures present themselves the way they wish to be seen and their facial expressions become dominant themes in Ukenedo’s works which echo his thoughts.
“Because life and art imitate each other, Silent Voices reverberates their mood, spirit, expression and reaction to life as a people.  What we do not say or have not said is often times captured and externalized through a gradation of facial manipulations involving the lips, brow, chin, nose, eyes, cheeks and all.”
His work points toward the major paradox of vision: while we may choose to see or not to see others, we remain somewhat obscure to ourselves and need a counter-presence to throw back at us our more or less distorted reflection. “So, we keep our eyes open (or peeled), we see eye-to-eye with some but turn a blind eye to others.”
His array of works on this show portrays his love for comic. The exhibition consist of twenty-two mixed- media paintings, the vast majority of them created recently.

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It’s finally out- the part 2 of King Women series. And Kemi Adetiba is the brains behind this captivating series, in collaboration with AccelerateTV.
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