Uzo Egonu: Past and Present in the Diaspora; an exhibition curated by John Gill and produced by the Institute of International Visual Arts in assosciation with the Norwich Gallery, 1995.
Uzo Egonu was born in 1931 in Onitsha, Nigeria and came to England in 1945. He studied fine art, design, and typography at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts and has since exhibited internationally in solo and group shows, including The Other Story at the Hayward Gallery in 1989.
The art historian Olu Oguibe, writing about the infrequent inclusion of Egonu’s work in gallery programmes, points to the difficulty experienced by curators and critics in categorising and placing his work. In his forthcoming Kala Press monograph, Uzo Egonu: An African Artist in the West, Oguibe locates the complexity of Egonu’s work firmly within the tradition of modernism: “What we see is a judicious synthesis of visual languages developed from his critical encounter with Western art and an informed awareness of his African heritage; it is a synthesis which reaches beyond mere formalist concerns to involve both experiences of his life in the West and the painful turmoils of his country of origin, post-colonial Nigeria.”
The current exhibition provides a rare opportunity to view a large body of Egonu’s work in series. Past and Present in the Diaspora, a group of paintings and drawings completed between 1990 and 1992, is the result of the artist’s reflection on the much celebrated ‘discoveries’ of Christopher Columbus, and the legacy of the voyage to the Americas. The title refers to the movement of two groups, the diaspora of African peoples who were forcibly shipped from their homeland to a life of bondage in the new world, and those who more recently have left voluntarily. He writes, ‘Africans are contributing in various ways to the everyday life of their adopted countries, though whether these contributions are appreciated is another matter. African peoples of the past have laid a cultural foundation, especially in America, which was the consequence of frustration, deprivation and dehumanisation. Among their greatest contributions are those in the fields of music, education and art, and the present sees the continuity, expansion and elaboration of their past achievements’. For Egonu, a private man and a compassionate artist, the theme of his work is a celebration of the spiritual strength of Africans past and present.
Uzo Egonu: Past and Present in the Diaspora opened at the Norwich Gallery, 11 October to 4 November 1995, before starting its tour at the Maidstone Library Gallery on 27 Novemeber 1995. The tour has been organised by Maria Amidu.
Uzo Egonu: An African Artist in the West, a new monograph by Olu Oguibe, will be published by Kala Press (An inIVA Francise Publication) in October 1995.