Abii ……. Constructing Artistic Landscapes
Walking into her studio this evening, the image that stares is breathtaking: beauty and classic elegance. Detailed and unique craftsmanship are visible in every piece of creation in the display room. Her plum palette also reflects her familiarity with textile prints. Her workspace, filled with memorabilia.
Like a musician taking the stage in a command performance, she is very present constructing new landscapes.
Nkechi Abii is an artist, who sees the world through the eyes of art. She discovered her artistic skills very early. Being a silent observer, she expresses herself better in her creativity, by putting things down on canvass, while conveying the right message.
Her parents gave her the best they could, and a huge part of her successes in life, she owes to their counseling and guidance. Growing up in those early years when a lot of parents desire was for their children to study medicine, law, pharmacy or engineering etc., was very interesting. Her dad simply wanted his kids to be happy, intelligent and follow their dreams. So daddy allowed Nkechi to study the arts.
“At every point, dad was involved in my personal growth and career path and decisions,” she says. “My father convinced me that I was special and I could achieve whatever I wanted, and I believed him.”
In the early 80s, a forest of flowers, potted plants and trees surrounded their Owerri home, which was painted green. There, she and her family lived happily with a pocket of her childhood friends playing around in the neighbourhood.
They lived in Aladinma, which was then a newly built federal housing estate in Owerri, at the edge of a forest. They usually ran through that forest, searching for Icheku (a local seedy velvet-blackberry with a succulent orant flesh) and utu (a wild sour berry).
“We also searched for birds nests and delighted in play acting like we were actors in a Rambo or Indiana Jones movie, running wild and free. Life was simpler then, without worries” she says, with nostalgia.
She attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and was privileged to be taught by some of the best professors of those days, intellectuals like Professors Chike Aniakor, Obiora Udechukwu and El Anatsui, Ola Oloidi, Chuka Amaefuna also taught her.In UNN, students were encouraged to investigate further, far from their familiar, native artistic and cultural traditions, she says. “European classical music poems, and essays on creativity and the creative process formed the potpourri. This was a familiar turf, as I grew up listening to my dad’s classical music LPs.”
The 1984 graduate of Fine and Applied Arts held a series of shows during her National Youth Service Corps year, and in fact, won the President’s Prize as Best Corper for 1985. Despite the loud ovation, this talented artist soon went under. Nkechi’s first solo show was at the State Library, Owerri, Imo State, in 1984. Then in 1985, she participated in a joint show of graphics, textiles and paintings in Akure, Ondo State, titled, Back to Land. Creative Sorority, another joint show, followed closely on the heels of this one, the next year.
Getting married meant she withdrew from the larger society. Those demanding joys of life beckoned: love and marriage, child bearing and raising children, all at the expense of resting her hitherto restless palette and brushes.
But why, one would ask?
“ I was young, and so full of life and zest. I was a young artist that needed to mature, to unfurl my creative wings in order to soar. It took another 14 years before I showed again, starting tentatively with a bit of the story of my life and my passion, of a bit of what had kept me away from the art scene for those years. There were three other shows before Genes Apart – Creative Sorority, Efe and Back to land.”
Like the opening of a cervix, the joint show, Genes Apart: Two Generations, One Canvas, which was with her first son (Nduka), also an artist, she came back roaring, bolder, better, more daringly and more determined to do best what she has always loved to do.
Happiness is the key to her exhibitions. “ I am aware that people have associated a sense of darkness to my painting, a whiff of melancholy. So, I have deliberately turned from all the negativity and hard circumstances of living here to present a happy show. So, there is much to be grateful for” she says.
Nkechi’s works take a critical view of socio-political and cultural issues. In some, her spirituality comes to bear. A lot of them are on women, because they are a complete work of art. A casual glance at the works, The Peach Path, Seasons of White, Beetitude, Paradise on Fire, Subdued and Uncharted Dreams leaves the wrong impression that she wants to brighten her creative outlook with the celebrations of flowers.
But then, there are two related works depicting the profiles of two African women, titled, Bisi and Bose, which are obviously celebrating the natural elegance of the local women.
Outside the arts, Nkechi loves making clothes. This comes to her not only as a calling, but also as a passion, having done this for many years. She didn’t set out to develop a brand. Nlecha is her creation. “ The inspiration for me was to have something that a woman can just throw on, something comfortable. Something you can wear with thinking, yet, its something good. It is for me art forms through clothes” she confesses.
The interesting thing about Nlecha is its Pan Africaness, not just African. In it, she looks really beautiful. It has sold very well in many countries of the world, and so far, it’s been evaluated as a good business piece. Nkechi is easily affected by things that happen around her and feel deeply about people, situations and opportunities, however, she has found that the best way of dealing with the sometimes frustrating experiences that get thrown at her daily is not by speaking about them, but by painting.
Despite her busy schedule and hard work, she has learnt to take life, one day at a time, while allowing herself to break free and enjoy the best of the moment. She is pretty busy now with so much to do and not enough time. Yet, she is learning, “ I have learnt to take things easy. I am learning in my old age to eat healthy.”
When it comes to mentoring, she has a positive approach to it. “ Mentoring is a powerful tool. I am all for women mentoring women — The elderly and older women talking to younger and inexperienced women. The older generation should inform them of what to expect and how to handle all that may come their way. Although, I don’t think I was prepared enough for the pain of childbirth,” she smiles.
This lady sure loves to look good, while being the cynosure of all eyes, but this comes with a decency label, as she wouldn’t be caught dead wearing anything short enough to expose her thighs. Neither will she be caught dead wearing anything inappropriate or indecent like a plunging neckline to the navel. “No way!” she says.
She is a lover of the yellow colour. She says, “ It is a happy colour. I really don’t have a favourite food, but I love coffee! It’s an addiction to me.”
On travel or dream destination, she says, “ I am not a travel freak. In fact, I like to stay in one place. The one place I haven’t visited yet, which I would like to go, as soon as I have brushed up my French, is Paris.”
Nkechi concludes our chat in a rather philosophical manner. She says, “ Life is transient ” she says. “ We are pilgrims on this earth. The sooner we assimilate this fact, the better we face what really matters. That is, where we will be spending our eternity.”