born in Benue, Nigeria
Study at Kunstakademie Yaba College of Technology, Yaba Lagos
Guest-student at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf
(Klasse TAL R)
Study at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf
in the class of Eberhard Havekost)
Masterstudent under Eberhard Havekost
Prizes and Scholarships
Förderpreis der Freunde & Förderer der
Jahresstipendium BEST GRUPPE, Düsseldorf
"Longing", Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, Chicago (USA)
"J'ai Deux Amours...", Mariane Ibrahim, Paris (F)
"Surprize", Kunsthalle Düsseldorf
"Inner Frame", Galerie Voss, Düsseldorf
"Polke und die Folgen" Akademie Galerie, Düsseldorf
"Fragment Of The Present Past" Galerie Voss, Düsseldorf ( April 2018 )
"Fachwerk", Kunsthaus Mettmann, Mettmann
BEST GRUPPE, Düsseldorf
"Panoptical Blend#1", Hollerei Galerie, Wien (A)
"Crossing Borders", Galerie Voss, Düsseldorf
"Silberrücken - Klasse Havekost", Galerie Ringel, Düsseldorf
Rundgang Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf
“Inner Frame”or Poems on Permanence
On the Pictures of Peter Uka
An Essay by Heinz-Norbert Jocks
Visiting Peter Uka in his light-flooded studio, one is greeted with a far-reaching view of the kind one would hardly expect to see in Cologne. In front of us, alongside completed paintings, there are also canvases on which figures and things are sketched in advance with black paint, waiting to be animated and brought to life through colors. The outlined sketches - which, for example, show the back view of a man pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with bamboo sticks across a street, while a passerby paces the sidewalk next to him and, further back, a car drives by - exhibit an inner tension, that allows one to anticipate the energetic atmosphere the painting will have after its completion. Next to them is a black-and-white photo, that he uses as his starting point. On another sketch, a young, bearded barber is at work, his gaze totally concentrated on his everyday task. The temporary face-to-face interaction between the barber and his client provide true evidence of minutes of strong intensity. All in all, it is a “poem to permanence” in the sense Peter Handke wrote about, that directs our attention to a routine action that has repeated itself day to day, year to year, since time immemorial.
Another picture exists in an interim state. The first surfaces are already enhanced with opulent colors. There is a wall, in front of which two young men sit across from each other on patterned seat cushions, gazing into each other’s eyes both intimately and intensively. At the same time, they hold hands in a communion as heartfelt as if they were just in the process of pledging long- lasting friendship. There is also a television set that indicates their social status, and in addition, a small photograph set on top of it, in which a man in a suit is pictured kissing his wife. All these things are already bathed in lush colors rich in contrast. The wall in the background blazes fiery red, while the colors of the television and the frameless photo placed on it change between grey and brown. Viewing the picture, one has the impression that Uka wants to reveal a contextual connection between the little photograph from the album of memories and the intimate scene between the two men. Inquiring who is pictured on the photo, we discover that here we have the parents of a friend of the painter, while the two men have originated from the rich pool of the painter’s imagination and make their appearance as archetypes without references. Although they function here as representatives of the people of his homeland, they convey the impression that Uka feels a certain proximity to them, as if they were close friends from earlier times or had played an equally significant and essential role in the story of his life up to this point. That Uka appears to know the people extremely well most likely has to do with the fact that he has displaced them into a privately charged situation. Yet, although the scene is composed in such a way that it seems like a symbol of the abiding nature of friendship, it merely depicts one brief moment. However, due to its enormous intensity, it appears as if torn or lifted from the monotony of a completely normal day, because, being of essential and timeless significance, it reaches out far beyond this short period of time. In this case, the gesture of holding hands symbolizes the loyalty between two men. Consequently, the elapsing moment, eternally immortalized by Uka, implies the mutually assured, shared future of a friendship. The scene seems like a ritual. The subtle manner, in which the painter constructs the building, allows the conclusion that this imagined reality, assembled out of a montage of different moments, rather embodies an inner truth that only appears to be an external one.
On the table, standing in front of the picture with the two boys, there is a terrible confusion of all kinds of things like tubes of paint, brushes, newspaper cuttings and the diverse photographs that Uka draws on in order to define, substantiate and concentrate certain aspects of a picture. Among the shots is one of a Nigerian woman in colorful, traditional dress, whose aspect aids him in recreating what is typical and striking about the outer appearance of women in his homeland, as well as a black-and-white photo of three happy-looking women. One of them, wearing a head covering, is sitting on a chair, while a younger one squats behind her on a bureau with an old television set. A further woman can be seen behind the two, her left hand touching the upper arm of the sitting one and her right hand resting on the shoulder of the young girl. The gazes, the gestures, the postures and the touches are indeed contrived, but nevertheless we sense the inner bond between the people who happily pose in front of the camera. When we consult the painting made on the basis of this snapshot for the purposes of comparison, it becomes evident that Uka is not in the least concerned with translating the photograph into the picture on a one-to- one basis, and that he places no great value on documentary veracity. Rather, he wants to subjectify certain situations according to his memory by means of a well-tempered painting, through which he imagines a world just the way he likes it. In contrast to the black-and-white template, the painting appears in glowing colors. As the set comes from the time of black-and-white televisions, it occurs to us that, here, the painter not only completes the sudden transition from black and white into color but also an easy leap in time into the complete now, tantamount to the illustration and visualization of the eternal memory of a past that appears to him neither dead nor in the past. It is also striking that, of the three women in the photograph, only two can be found again on the painting. Amongst other things, one reason for this is that Uka does not cling to his template 100 percent and in its every detail. Rather, he uses it as a tool for orientation, in order to mobilize his capacity for remembering. Like the French novelist Marcel Proust, he crystallizes something essential for himself out of it, and this is related to the coincidence between what he lets us see and what he has especially committed to his memory as something significant. Indeed, he transcends the documentary character that is innate to photography, and, on this basis, embarks on a search for the inner substance of the images that trigger true sentiments in him and that he would like to transport into the light from the depths of his unconscious. It is precisely here that the fine difference between photography and painting becomes evident in a striking way. At the same time, painting proves itself a special form of “lying into truth” (Louis Aragon).
Two of his aunts and a niece of his can be seen on the photo. In the painting, he consciously omitted the latter and only captured the older women. This is because he is primarily concerned with the free associative reconstruction of his memories of those family members who mean something to him and with whom he connects formative experiences. Through the view of both women he basically builds a connection to the lost time and the land of his birth he left behind that he vividly shows us, and he creates a bridge between here and there as well as between now and yesterday.
He achieves this just as subtly with a large-scale street scene. On it, one can recognize the façade of a yellow house with a covered, shade-spending inner space, screened off from the road by a wooden wall. In the background, we catch a glimpse of a cupboard and a shelf and in the foreground, facing the street, two young men. One of them, wearing a red short-sleeved shirt, is leaning out onto the street. In contrast, the face of the other man, wearing a green shirt, is hidden from view by the head of a woman walking by on the street, in such a way that their bodies merge and fuse together. A street vendor is sitting on a plastic chair in front of the wooden wall dividing the inner and outer spaces, in the process of selling oranges to a man. To the left of him there is a green station wagon with an open rear door, from which a packed and tied-up load protrudes. A man with red flared trousers enters from the right, his gaze directed to the woman coming towards us. What seems to us like a completely ordinary scene on the busy streets of Nigeria, is the result of a quest for the lost sights of daily life. The visual appearance Uka lends them does not just depict the all-too typical. Rather, through them he explores or develops the essential core of his remembered perceptions and their enduring echo.
The most recent pictures - conceived by Uka for the exhibition titled “Inner Frame” - have nothing whatsoever to do with duplicates, painted after photographs he either took himself or was sent by friends. Rather, they are the product of the gradual distillation of the essence of the perceptions buried deep in his memory from the time of his early farewell from Nigeria in the year 2007. Ultimately, he wants access to what photographs conceal, because they truly always only touch the surface of things. Something solemn resonates when he gazes at them. Indeed, as a melancholic, who zooms in on the distant world back then with his inner eye, he paints pictures out of the summery freshness of the past as if they had a solid consistency and complete contemporaneity. They are painted freely from memory and shaped by his desire for a clear composition, so they are not authentic in the sense that they intend to capture and document lost time and its appearance exactly how it once was or still is. What Uka strives for is the benefit of an illusion of eternity, based on the gestures and postures of the people, known and unknown, who have remained in his memory.
When asked what the impetus for this splendid retrospective was, Uka speaks of the sudden confusion he experienced during telephone calls with friends and his sister and brother. In them, he found out that much of what he remembers has disappeared and a few of the people he once knew have died in the meantime. Like a magician, he projects these virtual inner images on the canvas as if he wanted to save them from ultimately being forgotten. This is also the case with the portrait of a woman in a white dress with a hat, sitting on a green sofa in front of a blue wall. Next to her on the pillow is a copy of “Nervous Conditions”, the first novel by black Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga, published in 1988. By symbolically placing this book that Uka himself is currently reading in her hands, he establishes a link between his current examination of one of many African cultures and the time before he arrived in Europe. This image of an unknown woman without any direct references, creates a connection between the person reading now and the person remembering and is also distinguished by the beautiful freshness of his contemporaneity.
Uka - who left his hometown at the of age 16 studied later Art in Lagos 2000 - 2006 and came to Germany 13 years ago as a 32 year-old in order to further his studies at the Arts Academy of Düsseldorf - pores over the vast landscapes of his memories like an archaeologist. At the same time, he delights us viewers with an imaginary, unblinkered journey to an African country, its way of life and its culture. We travel to a continent beyond our Western field of vision alongside a passionate insider, whose heart oscillates between Western and African culture. The group picture of two women and a man, sitting together near an open fireplace with a large pan of the kind used to cook with in Nigeria, also bears witness to this. In composing his pictures Uka feels no inclination towards the documentary. This fact does not just have to do with him being an artist who creates what does not exist as such while awakening the appearance of its existence; it also has to do his deep mistrust towards the authenticity of memory. His preoccupation with memory has taught him that it is rather gestures and postures that imprint themselves on our minds and that memory is simultaneously deceptive and true. This is also a reason why he composes colours into something approximating the feelings his memory unleashes. Then again, he subordinates them to the logic of his artificial compositions. All in all, he is a visionary in love with color, who fabricates significant pictures parallel to his memory and, in doing so, displays their essence.