A rising star of contemporary painting, Peter Uka's meticulously rendered canvases provide a view into the past, as the artist paints scenes from his childhood growing up in a newly independent Nigeria.Read More
Born in Benue in 1975, Peter Uka looks back on his childhood in Nigeria to inspire his practice. Uka was surrounded by art growing up—his father was a self-taught artist who made a living teaching and doing sign writing. After briefly considering a career in architecture, he began studying art at the Yaba College of Technology in Lagos in 2000.
The artist now lives and works in Cologne. There he viewed an exhibition of African-American contemporary artist Kerry James Marshall at the Museum Ludwig, which he notes as being a turning point in his practice and a major influence on his work.
While Uka's artworks feel fresh in today's art world, his techniques and subject matter hark back to the past. Classically trained in naturalistic painting, he depicts scenes from his memories of growing up in Nigeria in the 1970s and 1980s in the wake of emancipation from British rule in 1960.
Peter Uka's paintings carry a tradition of West African portraiture—popularised by 20th century photographers such as Seydou Keïta, Malick Sidibé, and James Barnor—bringing the discipline into a new medium. Rather than through the lens, Uka effectively evokes the zeitgeist of this pivotal time in West African and global history in oil on canvas, using mostly personal memories for reference.
Brightly-coloured, his canvases reflect a multitude of quotidian moments—in the barbershop, dining with friends around the television, a seamstress at work, and friends dancing to disco music. They are teeming with vivid, saturated colours and patterns, transporting the viewer to this bygone era.
The artist explains, 'The paintings I do are bones from memories. A snippet of different parts of what I remember from my childhood back home.' A sense of nostalgia is naturally ever-present in his compositions, especially in works like Sentimental Corner (2022), where a fashionable woman with an afro stands before a black-and-white studio portrait of a woman in traditional dress.
Uka's paintings are also enlightening to the impacts of Westernisation in 70s and 80s Nigeria. In some works the subjects sport afros and bell bottom jeans, while other figures wear braids and wax cloth dresses. There is also a certain tension of modernity and tradition throughout his practice; we see gramophones, radios, TV's, and cars, but also traditional cooking methods, masquerading, and occasionally even spirits, rendered in white, such as in The Dance (2017) and Invisible Guardian (2017).
Peter Uka was awarded the Förderpreis der Freunde und Förderer der Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and the Year Scholarship Best-Gruppe in his final year of studies at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 2017.
Peter Uka has been the subject of both solo exhibitions and group exhibitions.
Group exhibitions include: Fachwerk, Kunsthaus Mettmann (2017); ITK goes ART, Haus der Kunst, Munich (2009); Within our Grabs, National Museum Onikan, Lagos (2005); God of this age, DIDI Museum, Lagos (2002).
Peter Uka enjoyed his auction debut at Christie's London in March 2022, where the 2017 painting Invisible Guardian sold for 56,700 GBP, more than double the high estimate.
Peter Uka's Instagram can be found here.
Rachel Kubrick | Ocula | 2022