Oseloka Osadebe: Inner Light

Oseloka Osadebe: Inner Light

From October 20 till December 6, 2018, SMO Contemporary Art, Lagos will present Inner Light, an exhibition of old and recent work by leading contemporary artist and member of the famous Zaria Art Society Oseloka Osadebe.

Early in his career, Oseloka Osadebe developed an interest in uli, the ancient form of Igbo body and wall painting. However, with increasing maturation as an artist, his work flows primarily out of his internalisation of ideas about reincarnation. A frequent and recurring motif appearing in Osadebe’s imagery is the representation of life. Life is represented explicitly by a tree and a mystical journey – a metaphor for the process by which knowledge is gained.

Indeed, gaining knowledge provides the opportunity for a metaphysical transformation. These spiritual or transforming journeys are central to Oseloka Osadebe’s art, as well as to his autobiographic experiences. According to the artist, this path of enlightenment or reincarnation involves the continuous crossing of boundaries or realms, from the physical to the spiritual, and imbues one with purifying and regenerative capacities till a state of perfection is achieved.

Fallen From Grace,1972-1976, Watercolour on canvas, 93.5×93.5cm. Courtesy: SMO Contemporary Art

This phenomenon is exemplified in the artist’s ‘Inner Light’ series, from which the exhibition draws its title. It documents the artist’s quest for perfection and empirical truth. Overlooked in narratives of modern art in Nigeria, this important solo exhibition by Oseloka Osadebe after a hiatus from the local scene since 1965, is aimed succinctly towards a more inclusive history of modern art in Nigeria. Therefore, it provokes discourse centered on his almost sixty-year career – much of it spent in the United States studying and teaching theatre and drama.

The exhibition, featuring eighty-five works document over five decades Osadebe’s artistic practice, and the stylistic evolution of this practice. According to the curator Sandra Mbanefo Obiago, “Inner Light is the first attempt at capturing Osadebe’s rich and vast artistic oeuvre, and I believe, just scratches the surface of the depth of his philosophical creativity”.

Oseloka Osadebe’s experiments in fusing African and European aesthetics are multi-faceted, and draw from his several identities in response to different socio-cultural circumstances and the supernatural. He is a painter and sculptor, as well as a theatre and set designer. Therefore, his diverse output cannot be understood as a linear progression of styles and is at best, cyclical. As evidenced by his broad oeuvre, he oscillates seamlessly from a personal interpretation of uli aesthetics to a more psychologically expressive hybrid with European Modernism, and an adherence to the tenets of academic realism as encountered in his nude sketches and later drawings investigating the metaphysical.

Ikemefuna, 2014, Charcoal and conte crayon,102x68cm. Courtesy: SMO Contemporary Art

Professor Oseloka Osadebe (born 1934) is an outstanding artist, playwright, theatre director, and teacher. He grew up in Onitsha, Anambra State, and from an early age, distinguished himself as a brilliant draughtsman, eventually earning acceptance to the prestigious Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology in Zaria. He became a pioneer member of the famous Zaria Art Society and graduated in 1962 with a specialisation in painting and sculpture. He proceeded to teach art at the University of Nigeria Nsukka from 1962 to 1965, before leaving the country on an Aggrey Fellowship for African Students to pursue graduate studies in the United States. He graduated with a Master’s in Fine Arts degree from the Art Institute of Chicago, in 1967 and received a second master’s degree in 1973 from the Goodman School of Drama also in Chicago, specialising in scene design, lighting and directing. He completed his doctoral work at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois in 1981, specialising in Western and African Theatre and Drama and spent his career teaching theatre and set design at numerous universities including Jackson State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Tougaloo College, Spelman College, and Central State University. He is a member of the Association of Theatre in Higher Education and the Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education. Osadebe retired in 2007 and has spent the last eleven years reviving his passion for visual arts at his studio in Jackson, Mississippi. He returns to Nigeria for the first time in over 50 years to present a retrospective exhibition of rare works he created from 1960 to 2014.

Prof Oseloka Osadebe. Courtesy: SMO Contemporary Art

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