Uche Okeke was born on April 30, 1933 in Nimo, Anambra State, Nigeria. He was brought up at the railway junction town of Kafanchan, Kaduna State, in the north of Nigeria. His father, Isaac Okonkwo Okeke, who was himself a craftsman and designer in his own right, worked in wood for the Nigerian Railway’s Engineering Department until his death in 1943. His mother, Monica Mgboye, dressmaker and midwife encouraged Uche to develop his artistic talent quite early. Uche continued his literary and artistic interest through high school by collecting Igbo folktales, as well as writing his first poems. In 1954, he made visual aids for his old school at Kafanchan and moved to Jos to work as a clerk in the Department of Labour. There, he held his first group and one-man art shows in the National Museum and Local Council Hall in 1956.
Uche transferred to Lagos where he was admitted into the Art Department of the old Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, now Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (he was there with Demas Nwoko and Bruce Onabrakpeya). Uche was one of the leaders of the Zaria Art Society, 1958 – 1961, changing the course of Nigerian art since the late fifties and developed the “Natural Synthesis” concept using African content with European mediums. He founded Asele Institute, Nimo, formerly Cultural Centre, Kafanchan, in 1959. His book of drawings was published by the Mbari Club, Ibadan in 1961. From 1962 to 1963 he studied mosaic and stained-glass window techniques in Munich while travelling in Germany and visiting art schools, academies, museums, and theatres. Returning to Nigeria, Uche moved his Cultural Centre, now Asele Institute, Nimo, to Enugu. There he joined with the Mbari Club and his centre became the Mbari Art Centre under his directorship.
During the Nigerian Civil War, 1967 – 1970, he headed the visual arts section of the Refugees Affairs Committee at Aba and Umuahia. He took a touring exhibition of contemporary art and crafts to Germany. In 1970, Uche was invited to join the Department of Fine Arts (now Fine and Applied Arts) at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He subsequently served as department head and developed the art collections and documents of Asele Institute at its permanent headquarters in Nimo. Uche was also elected the Dean of Faculty of Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1979 and served his two-year term before going to the United States with his family. He spent his sabbatical leave in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. One of Nigeria’s leading contemporary artists, he passed in 2016 at the age of 82.
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