Artist Dossier: Gerald Chukwuma
Gerald Chukwuma is one of Nigeria’s fastest-rising contemporary artists and is noted for his intricately crafted wood-slate sculptures. He was born in 1973 and holds a first-class degree in fine and applied arts from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
His art, though reminiscent of El Anatsui’s panels, is strongly individual. Using a multitude of techniques, Chukwuma’s unique approach to burning, chiselling, and painting common materials captures a richly layered history embedded with personal and political meaning. The use of traditional Uli and Nsibidi symbols links his work to the Nsukka art tradition, which expanded and modernised the Igbo cultural aesthetic. Meanwhile, the transformation of objects into highly detailed artworks roots him firmly in the contemporary moment of rapid environmental and ecological change.
In his paintings, sculptures, and collage, Chukwuma explores migration as a constant process of transformation and reinvention. Considering the implications of globalisation on his local community, he transforms everyday materials to render new stories of Nigeria’s socio-political landscape. Chukwuma is drawn to the movements of people through voluntary and forced migration as a vital stage in the progress of our collective humanity. This sense of optimism imbues his work with playfully illustrative characters drawn from a wide variety of visual forms present in Nigeria’s deep cultural history.
These works feature a personal intimacy but refer to the global realities of time, trade, and travel. Some works appear as aerial views of road networks and urban landscapes; however, upon closer inspection, the surfaces appear to be collaged images constructed from SIM cards sourced from local communities. These are the very same communities that appear in the wood carvings as symbols of urban societies galvanised by the realities of globalisation and coloured by internal and external conflicts.
Chukwuma’s use of panels of various sizes found in his immediate environment to make one lyrical whole has gained much recognition, raising his auction prices. In November 2014, his sculpture Black, White & Nude sold for $14,616 at ArtHouse Contemporary Ltd.’s Modern and Contemporary Art auction.
Other high-selling works include To Let…For Sale (2015), sold for $11,044 at ArtHouse Contemporary Ltd. in May 2015; Free (2013), achieved $9,640 at ArtHouse Contemporary Ltd.’s Modern and Contemporary Art auction in May 2014; Abeg (2011), sold for $7,073 at ArtHouse Contemporary Ltd.’s Modern and Contemporary Art auction in May 2012; and Face Value (2013), sold for $7,756 at ArtHouse Contemporary Ltd in November 2013.
Easily recognisable with its decorative paint and flattened metal, his work can be found in several significant collections, and has been presented as a state gift to the Ugandan president by late President Umaru Yar’Adua of Nigeria. Chukwuma has won several awards, including the Heineken International Prize for the Ten Best Nigerian Artists (2008). He was also one of the finalists in the first National Art Competition held in 2008 and was first runner-up in the 2011 edition. Gerald Chukwuma has participated in several significant exhibitions in Nigeria and abroad, including, Hedendaagse Afrikaanse Kunst, Galerie 23 (Amsterdam, 2010); Highlife I, Ethnocentrique (Accra, 2011); Soaking up Beauty, Constant Capital (Lagos, 2014); Essentials, Alexis Galleries (Lagos, 2015); Art X Lagos Art Fair (Lagos, 2016); People’s Paradise, Temple Muse (Lagos, 2016); and Standing Ovation, Gallery 1957 (Accra, 2017).
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November 25, 2020