Obiora Udechukwu (1946) is a Nigerian artist and academic who is currently on the faculty of Arts of St Lawrence University. He is one of the most famous artist from the Nsukka school who creates in a range of two-dimensional media. Apart from his visual art works which has been exhibited in group and solo events, he is also known as an art critic and poet. His works makes use of uli and nsibidi motifs in sometimes satirical and pointed commentaries on Nigerian life.
Udechukwu was born in the city of Onitsha, Anambra State. He is a native of Angulu, a town not far from Onitsha and Nimo, the hometown of Uche Okeke. At a young age, he lived in the cosmopolitan Onitsha while he often visited Anuglu where he had relatives. One of his relatives was the Igwe or chief of the town. Udechukwu attended the Central School, Onitsha and was fortunate to be tutored by an arts teacher, Mr Joseph Eze, during a period art instruction was not a common subject in primary and secondary schools. At the school, he drew and painted and also copied published illustrations. For secondary education, he attended the Dennis Memorial Grammar School where he was able to meet another art teacher, Rowland Ndefo who had studied sculpture and who tutored him for a period as his only art student; it was towards his end at the school that he chose arts as his career path. Then he painted in oil and studied graphic design and also acted in school plays. After finishing secondary school, he became an arts teacher at St John's School, Onitsha. He later went to Enugu and met various artist in the city such as Uche Okeke and others in the Mbari Center including Uzo Ndubisi. He was also introduced to the works of Christopher Okigbo who influenced a few other artists.
In 1966, he co-founded a theatre group in Onitsha where he created set works for one of Wole Soyinka's plays.
Between 1965 and 1966, Udechuwku attended Ahmadu Bello University where he learned conventional drawing but he later left after political and ethnic crisis erupted in the Northern region. He subsequently enrolled in the Arts program at the University of Nigeria Nsukka. At Nsukka, he was able to exhibit his works at a group exhibition, during the period he made paintings depicting scenes of people fleeing the Northern region, market landscapes and images inspired by the works of Christopher Okigbo. But his stay at Nsukka was cut short by a civil war but he later returned to finish his degree after the war.
Much of his early works according to Udechukwu tried to portray objective reality. He had his first contact with uli design in 1966 when he was writing a term paper for a course in humanities and by 1972, he made uli a major part of his thesis, a study of wall art at Angulu.
In the beginning of the war, Udechuwku was at his hometown of Angulu. There he had contacts with the local festivities and culture more than before. In early 1968, he was asked to join the Biafra Ministry of Information's Audio Visual Unit. At the unit which was under the Directorate of Propaganda, he met other artists from the University of Nigeria and he designed posters for the war effort. He also co-founded a poetry society where members works were read. Udechukwu later partook in various efforts within the cultural affairs division of Biafra such as putting on events for soldiers and refugees. Udechukwu also created his own collection mostly paintings showing subjects in dire states.
A lot of Udechukwu's art works makes use of the indigenous uli design's aesthetic principles to produce contemporary and sometimes complex works. Though, he also makes images of masquerades and mask. He describes his works using words like lyrical symbolism to enunciate the rhythmic features of the traditional sources he references. Udechukwu was also influenced by the works of Uche Okeke, Bruce Solomon Wangboje and Bruce Onokbrakpeye. Okeke was a pioneer of contemporary uli designs and was the head of the Fine Arts department at Nsukka when Udechukwu was a student.
In 1975, he had an exhibition in Enugu where he honored Christopher Okigbo.
Some of his major images includes a pen and ink 'At the Mirror' (1975), 'Right on, Brother', 'Tree Spirit', Girl and the Ibibio Doll', 'Through the High Arched Gate' and many other. Many of his ink drawings showed images with suggested partial or broken outline making the viewer to fill in the form and some of the images showed bodies or faces of humans in a striking and but distorted pattern. He favors depicting ordinary workers or the downtrodden but he also makes conventional still lifes, landscapres and self portraits while moving towards negative portrayals of Nigeria's elite.
Odechukwu has published some of his poems including one in Igbo he wrote in a commemoration of Christopher Okigbo, he also has made designs for 'Okike' a journal of new writing. Some of his poems appeared in a collection entitled 'What the Madman Said'.
Between 1973-1997, he taught at Nsukka, some of is students included,[Marcia Kure]], Tayo Adenaike and Chike Okeke.
- Simon Ottenberg. New Traditions from Nigeria: Seven Artists of the Nsukka Group