Inner Frame: Peter Uka is Telling Us a History @ Galerie Voss, Dusseldorf
Peter Uka grew up in a culture whose history was written by others, but vividly passed on through narratives told over generations. Though he has not lived in his native country for thirteen years, the past is still present in his bones, and this personal history informs his work. Trained as a realist painter in Lagos, Uka moved to Germany in 2007,but quickly realized he could incorporate his current home into his oeuvre. Instead, by summoning animated memories of his motherland and family culture, he started telling the stories by painting pictures.
On August 28th, Galerie Voss in Düsseldorf will open Inner Frame, Peter Uka’s second solo exhibition with the gallery, presenting a new series of work that continue the artist's ongoing mission to expand the narrative of Nigeria. "I walked through the museums, and I couldn’t see anything that I could relate to," the artist told Juxtapoz when we talked a few months ago at his studio. "The only time I see a picture of a Black man, it’s the servant or something. I understand that you see us like this. But this is not who we are. Because that is just a fraction of my people."
With this in mind, Uka embarked on a quest to show a wider portrayal of life in Nigeria, the way he actually remembered and experienced it. Battling stereotypes and prejudices along the way, he paints the truth, rendering everything and everyone from side-of-the-road scenes to portraying archetypal professions, such as hairdressers, seamstresses, or truck owners. So imbedded are the tropical beauty of the landscape and physical presence of his subjects, imbued with strength and pride, the artist employs his practice to bridge the cultural and physical differences between his own present and past, his adopted and a real home.
"What I’m doing right now is a way of documenting myself, and my life and my culture, for my son, and for the unborn, for those to come—so that it is not forgotten," Uka explains about the urgency reasoning of his anthology of works. Eschewing photographs, but painting images straight from memory, he can naturally accent a fabric pattern, a unique shade of color, an aspect of light cast on a character, often purposely omitting a part of the picture that personally holds no resonance. By contrasting hsi deftness in drawing the most picture-perfect details against such intentional "sloppiness" he constructs dream-like snapshots of actual real-life scenes in unspecified time frames.
With perspectives askew, lights, saturation, and contrast dramatically exaggerated, faces, drapes, and details are rendered with perfection in work that smacks of a reality filled with emotion, romanticism and a scent of nostalgia reality. Just like memory, imperfect, but powerful. —Sasha Bogojev