I first met this unassuming and friendly young man on one of my trips to the Eastern part of the country. I had been invited to Onitsha by a prominent Collector to document his large and rich collection of contemporary Nigerian artworks. It was a rather big project so I was ready and glad to be away from Lagos for a good number of days. Habitually, whenever I visit a city or town, I try to meet the local artists there and even document some in their studios. Having been to Onishta a good number of times in the past, on this trip, I made my way to Abraka (the Delta State University) and then Asaba, it was here I first met Hillary Uzomba, at the Akademik Art Studios, Asaba, Delta state.
Hillary Uzomba at the Moorhouse, venue of his first solo exhibition
The Akademik Art Studio is one of the vibrant art spaces for artists in and around Asaba, it is run by Phillips Nzekwe, an energetic sculptor who works with discarded materials. The studio caters to the needs of artists just as it hosts art students on internship. Hillary happens to be the studio manager, holding the fort for Phillips at the studio whenever the latter is away. He thus acts as an art instructor to the interns on apprenticeship at the studio, he is also an archivists and of course an artist. For the better part of my visit to this studio, Uzomba was preoccupied with other stuff and I did not get to see his works till I was on my way out. However, after I chanced upon them, I had to schedule another visit, just so I could digest what he presented before me.
As with all works in this exhibition, this artist simply puts ink to paper and creates engaging abstracted figures and forms from memory. His style as revealed by him is to ponder on a word, then make an abstract representation of what the word means to him. At first glance, the pieces might seem ordinary, but a closer and deeper look will certainly get most people engaged. It is even better when he gives his insight into the work. Each piece is loaded with calligraphy, iconic forms and motifs that draw from local folklore and African culture. All the works on exhibition are ink drawings, but Hillary does more than put pen to paper. Perhaps through the effect of Nzekwe and the Akademik Studios, he now explores creation of mixed media art made from salvaged and discarded materials too. Prominent in his oeuvre from this class of art are compositions made entirely out of flip-flop synthetic foam slippers. “I walk about the streets scavenging and always on the lookout for these items; I make each artwork, carefully embedding the original colours of the material to form the narrative in each piece”, he disclosed in a recent chat I had with him before the opening of his exhibition. He also paints with auto base paint on Perspex glass.
Works on display at the exhibition, themed Online Timeline
This is his first solo, themed Online Timeline. It opened on Saturday, April 1, 2017 and it features a body of work created solely in ink. These works are on display at the Moorhouse, which is a co-supporter of the exhibition, in partnership with the Alliance Francaise. The drawings explore the relationship between space and time and the cyclic relativity between both boundless concepts. His lines are fine and they appear as one consistent stroke -a conscious doodle if you will, laden with intense contracts effected from heavy shading and highlighting. In his words, “lines are, in my deepest understanding of them visual enjambments that define people, subjects, objects and mental realities.” Hillary’s eye for composition is laudable and I praise his bravery for electing to base his first solo on monochromatic ink drawings –a fear many emerging artists are too conscious of, dreading to be judged and stereotyped as simplistic or naive.
Hillary’s love for the arts is multi-directional -he is an avid poet as well and a lover of the literary arts, film and music. He has won a handful of awards through his literary compositions which litter the web. What’s more, his love for poetry and the literary arts shines through as, next to each piece is a short narrative of his inspiration, or an insight into the work. This not only gives the display more depth but affords the audience a sneak-peek into the mind of this brilliant artist. He is indeed a brilliant mind; one only has to converse with him to get him reeling off.
A native of Isuikwuato, Abia state, Hillary Uzomba was born in 1991 and was raised in Owerri. He had most of his education in Imo state -from grade school to the Tertiary level where he studied Art at the Alvan Ikoku (College of Education) Campus of the University of Nigeria.
Online Timeline will be on display till the 15th of April, it is worth your time.
With Hillary Uzomba and Phillips Nzekwe at the exhibition (L-R).