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‘Why sawdust is my best medium’

Experimentalist and painter, Chukz Okonkwo, works with what many may call funny medium; sawdust! Whenever he visits the wood market to gather the material, workshop owners are always happy as he helps them clear their place.
But if they knew the amount Okonkwo makes from the waste, certainly they would not let him leave without paying for it. “When I go to the market where they are cutting wood, they will be so happy that I’m packing the waste. I go there with my truck and take bags of sawdust from there and they are happy,” said the artist from Anambra State. “I add adhesive to sawdust and mix them to achieve clay like texture.”
When the mixture is dry, he creates the piece and starts etching, inscription and add colours. “After mixing them, I start modelling to create the images I have in mind.” As simple as this might sound, the artist who graduated from Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu State, said “it takes me time to do.”
Okonkwo said he started working with the medium in early stage of his life as an undergraduate. “My father was a contractor with Julius Berger; he supplied them timbers for years. So, as a child, whenever I go to the timber shades where they cut timbers, I notice a lot of waste. I see them pack it to one corner and burn it. It was when I gained admission into the higher institution that I started to experiment with sawdust. I was naïve then; you know, when we start with something new, it looks funny, but now, I have mastered the use of the medium. I can use it to create anything now.”
Thirty of his recent recycled sawdust works will be on display this month at Alexis Galleries, on Saturday, 22nd September to Saturday, October 6, 2018. The exhibition, titled Wooden Cloth, will feature Seye Morankinyo, who will show twelve fabric works along with Okonkwo.
As a painter generally, Okonkwo has also evolved. His paintings for this show are colourful with bold strokes unlike the earth colours he was known for. “Recently, I met a friend of mine and he told me about contemporary art; we know about traditional, modern art; my grandfather was a traditional artist, a native doctor and a caver, so I know a lot about monotheism and polytheism. He told me, ‘if you’re exhibiting outside the country and want to make a mark, and for people not to know where you are coming from, make paintings without motives’. He said those motives we use, say where we are coming from.”
When asked what is bad about incorporating African motives to his work, he said: “It is not bad, they are in my paintings and sculptures. I just decided to be more expressive, depending on what is on my mind,” adding that “my concern in this exhibition is mainly the material, which is what gave birth to the theme of the exhibition, Wooden Cloth.
His paintings for this exhibition will focus on body shaming. “I recently read a lot about body shaming. Body shaming is a global issue now.  Women are being victimised because of their body structure. There was a lady I met and she told me when she was twelve years she was victimized because of her breast size most time she went to school.”
Talking about one of the paintings titled Tonia's Story, he said women should “be comfortable with the way they are. And as an artist, I’m so kin about emotions, love and relationship with people. Why not be okay with what you have and be comfortable with it?” he asked.
He draws inspiration from nature, event, his desires, aspirations, emotions, memories, passion and experiences. He is currently experimenting on the possibilities of achieving textural behaviour of colours and light against shade in search of form and content. The works are accompanied with inscriptions.
All Okonkwo’s subjects are women. Also talking about another of his paintings titled Figure Eight, he said “I love women a lot.  I’m talking about good physic, because I use models, through this I have come across a lot of women, nude images and so on, so when I came across this lady, I saw her as my ideal structure to work on.”
One fascinating thing about his paintings are the texture which the artist said he achieved with modelling paste. “I use modelling paste to texture the canvas, though it is very expensive. Why I incorporated this texture to my paintings is to portray our continent, Africa,” said the artist.
“One ever evolving wonder within the creative cycle is how to express human feelings in work of art. This can be achieved by judiciously exploring the expressive qualities of line to make an impression beyond what is obvious,” he asserted.
The exhibition is curated by the CEO Alexis Galleries and the Homestores, Patty Chidiac-Mastrogiannis, who said: “The theme of the exhibition is like the title, Wooden Cloth. The artworks are really very nice and colourful. I’m really looking forward to the show.” 
The exhibition is sponsored by Pepsi, Delta Airline, Amarula, Nederburg, Cobranet Internet Service Provider, Cool FM, Wazobia FM/TV, Chocolate Royal, The Avenue Suites, Art Café and The Homestores Limited.
 By Udemma Chukwuma

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