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Artists rally in Asele for Uli Day

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Ahead of the third yearly edition of Uli Day tomorrow, National Light reporter, KINGSLEY UGWU, engages Anambra State chapter Chairman, Sir Tony Obi Otikpa, on the scheduled event. Excerpts:

LETS start with a brief background of the Society of Nigerian Artists.

The society of  Nigerian Artists is the Umbrella body for all the artists in Nigeria. This association has been in inception since 1963. So, the association is working very hard towards making sure that art in Anambra State takes the normal course and that things are moderated. We also look into  African culture.  Those of us in Anambra State precisely concentrate on  Igbo culture.  The association is planning for an event on Friday, April  26, 2019; precisely 10:00am tomorrow.

We want to celebrate our mentor, guru, and director  as far as  art is concerned; he is no other person  than Professor,  Uche Okeke of blessed memory.  He died  on January 5, 2016  and at the burial, we decided  that  every year,  we must have a remembrance day in his honour.

This year also,  we’ll use to remember  Uli as a design, the Uliism (Uli drawing), which he is  the exponent of. This is converting  the traditional Igbo Uli into conventional modern arts.  He is one of those  who schooled at Zaria School of Arts, Science and Technology. They were ten in number and they were called the ‘Rebels’. These people rebelled against accepting the colonial arts as part of their studies. They diverted and worked on African motifs, which introduced a new dimension in art education.

Late Prof Okeke, who is a native of Nimo, Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State has a well built institute called Asele Institute, Nimo. This institute is developed to help younger ones that are coming up in arts. That same institute helps in developing already made artists into a more conventional way of engaging in art works.

This professor has worked very hard that in 1960, he was made the acting Head, Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He introduced as at then, a system I am talking about now- the ‘synthesis’ (converting the local ideas into conventional ideas). The Uli concept is a good example here. He carried the Uli message from his mother and toured the world, today, Uli is discussed across the globe. He has died but these ideas are flying all over the world like butterfly. We want to help immortalise his ideas, even though he’s gone.

This Uli we have named after him is to be celebrated every year as Uli Day, and to mark this year’s own, as it comes up tomorrow, we have lined up programmes starting with prayers. Following that will be designing of some selected young girls with Uli and they will entertain the guests with Uli dance. For the entertainments, we are going to centre it on our traditional foods like the roasted yam, abacha, palm-wine and other things. The essence is to assert the intent in rejuvenating the missing link of our culture. This is what we are planning for the Uli day.

 

You’ve spoken elaborately on the Uli Day already and Uliism, how exactly do you intend to connect Uli values with contemporary art vis a vis the event?

 

When we talk about Uliism, it is the same thing as Uli. That Uliism is rejuvenating the old Uli design and converting it to conventional linear designs. Uli denotes drawing lines on the body of human being, especially, the women folk. These lines are used to create motifs. So, in the conventional way, you see those motifs, or modern paintings that go with those lineals. At University of Nigeria, Nsukka, they named it Uliism. This implies adding Uli to whatever they are doing. It even transformed from just painting on the canvas to metals works. There are clear Uli motifs like anyanwu (sun), onwa (moon), designs flowing in metal works, even in buildings, those Uli designs make good part of the art works. Mind you, Uli is just a cream from seed of Uli plant, but the use is awesome in art world and even health. The ink from Uli fruit lasts long when used in a design. It can be combined with Uhie, a prima colour that is usually applied to help retain Uli design from being submerged by body moisture.

 

Prof Uche Okeke means different things to different people, what does he represent in Uli world, specifically?

 

Yes! That’s what I called the synthesis.

He is the exponent, the founder of this Uliism – that is the academic line we are talking about here. He only had to watch his mother use Uli to make designs before taking  it to the academic world to the extent of rebellion at Zaria, insisting that the conventional American and British designs, that Africans should be allowed to use what they have, to express their tastes. This group that was labeled rebels included himself, Simon Okeke, Bruzo Maduakpaye, Danmas Nwoko and others. They brought a new angle to the system by adding more values. They came down towards Sapele and Anambra East. The history of Uli could be traced to Igbo-Ukwu excavation as far back as 9 AD; the pots and some other artworks were found to have traces of Uli designs on them. So, he cashed in on the experience and began revolutionalising arts from his school at Nsukka. Till today, Nsukka is known for Uliism. Apart from that, he built Asele Institute. The name Asele means something like a goddess- a high point of Uli. So, he named that place after Uli. He converted the traditional art into conventional art; that is the synthesis. People are coming to Asele, the Germans are there already. They are exhibiting our art  to the world because they appreciate it.

 

So, Okeke brought contemporary art to Uli culture?

 

Yes! That’s what I called synthesis earlier in the course of this discuss..

 

What would you want to tell your expected guests at the coming event?

 

I would want to let them know that everybody has to embrace this tradition. We have to rejuvenate Uli as this man started it and we have to continue to work on it. I spoke at Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS) on the need for people to do away with tattoo but should go for Uli motifs. Those who design the tattoos do not know much of the messages they communicate. Some may have criminal content, yet, people buy into their appeals ignorantly. People should revert back to Uli tattoo model as it can easily be removed when necessary, unlike some tattoos that are permanently inscribed. Uli is even medicinal, as rubbing it across the joints could cure jaundice. Uli marks could be used for self identification too.

 

You mentioned young girls to be designed with Uli during the event, is that a kind of induction?

 

It’s one of the ways of catching them young. They want people to see the beauty expressed in a natural way. They are students and are meant to promote the idea.

 

Your final words to Uli community

 

This Uli we are talking about is not a town. The place where it is done is in Aselle, Nimo, but people who are interested in Uli, especially the artists should inculcate the motifs into their designs in order to expose our culture in whatever work you are doing; ceramics, textiles, sculptures and more. Let us become the disciples of Prof, Uche Okeke and continue from where he stopped. Let me as well use this opportunity to thank our Governor, Chief Willie Obiano, for his immense contributions in the development of all the towns in Anambra State. If you observe closely, you will see that he is a lover of culture. I will as well solicit his assistance in building of Art Village where artists should gather and rub minds. My appeal is also for him to sponsor some of these events. By this, I wish to invite all lovers of art and other well meaning Nigerians to be present on Friday at Nimo for the event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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