Okeke, Uche (1933--) By Rice, Erin M.
Born as Christopher Uchefuna Okeke in Anambra State, Nigeria in 1933, Uche Okeke is a founding father of Nigerian Modern Art. As one of the original members of the Zaria Art Society and the author of the group’s manifesto, which laid out the principles of Natural Synthesis, Okeke was influential in the formation of a national aesthetic as an artist, a writer (poet and playwright), and as a teacher. Okeke sought to bring together forms and subjects indigenous to his Igbo ethnicity with modern, foreign influences and techniques. He practiced primarily in pen and ink and oil painting, exploring Igbo folklore and a body and wall painting tradition called uli. After graduating from the University of Nigeria in Zaria, Okeke actively promoted cultural activities throughout the country, running the Mbari Centre Workshops in Enugu and founding the Asele Institute, which provided studio space, educational programming and a gallery for artists. Okeke was also influential for subsequent generations of Nigerian artists through his teaching at the University of Nsukka during the 1970s. Additionally, he served as an ambassador for the art and culture of Nigeria for UNESCO, helping to promote Nigerian arts throughout the world. Although the work done by members of the Zaria Art Society varied greatly, all members were engaged with the same effort to discover a true, modern Nigerian art, a quest fuelled by the euphoric drive towards independence in the late 1950s.