Gerald Chukwuma (E)

New wall sculptures by Gerald Chukwuma


In 2008 Galerie 23, among others, presented ‘The Unbreakable Nigerian Spirit’, an exhibition with work by 10 Nigerian artists including Gerald Chukwuma (1973). The participating artists live and work in their homeland, unlike a growing number of fellow artists who have settled abroad. When organizing the exhibition one of the most important aims of the African Artists’ Foundation from Lagos was to launch the participants onto the international market. Understandable for an organization from a country where most of the galleries are in fact art shops providing conditioned tourists with the (traditional) art they expect.

Gerald Chukwuma makes sculptures from materials he finds in his immediate vicinity. He assembles used planks or panels of various sizes to make one whole. He makes no attempt to beautify them. He then attaches eye-catchingly colorful images to them. Sometimes these are figurative, sometimes they look like linguistic characters or abstract forms. They refer to patterns and symbols that play an important role in the traditional Igbo culture. Furthermore, their colorfulness and playful gaiety seem to be anticipating a better future. In Chukwuma’s eyes colors can say more than concepts or words. The way they manage to convincingly attract most viewers is a welcome additional coincidence.

He often supplements the painted images with many dozens of rough ‘cut-out’ pieces of thin metal taken from discarded beer and soft drink cans. With these he adds another dimension to his visual language. After all, these pieces can be seen as signs of the times. At the same time they are symbols of the mingling of different cultures. The difference between these cultures is likewise demonstrated by the way they deal with waste. For example, what an American will carelessly leave behind or throw away is for many Africans a valuable and effective means to use for self-expression.

With his treatment of waste Gerald Chukwuma finds himself in the company of internationally esteemed artists such as El Anatsui (1944, born in Ghana, but living in Nigeria) who makes enormous, seemingly costly, undulating carpets or draperies from thousands of lead caps from wine bottles and of Pascale Marthine Tayou (Yaoundé, 1967) who for example at the Venice Biennale in 2005 allowed the wind to play through a row of hundreds of used plastic bags that he had hung up in a vast wire netting fence. A form of artistic recycling that most Western art lovers beheld with some amazement.

Gerald Chukwuma also makes sculptures that are suspended from the ceiling. They rustle and move slightly. Here too, he uses all kinds of pieces of metal from varying sources. The strong colors ensure a complete change in the atmosphere and ambience in any space that these works hang.

‘The Unbreakable Nigerian Spirit’ wanted to open up the international market for its participants. For Chukwuma this seems to be happening.

Rob Perrée
New York, February 2010.