art.: Sitting with Peter Uka’s Marsha and Sideburn Brothers

have a seat

images via Artsy


Peter Uka.

This is the name of the Nigerian painter whose work is currently on exhibition at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery in Chicago as part of his first ever show in the United States.

I read an inviting interview that is in W Magazine about Longing – the title of the exhibition – wherein Uka shares thoughts on his process and approach to painting. What arrested my attention was his process to paint from memory versus from modern scenes. He approaches creating works with a raptness as if a clock somewhere might be running out on what is stored in the recesses of his hippocampus.

While he confesses that he’s focused on the big picture, it is still the details about what frames that image that speaks from the canvas. For example, in the work, Sideburn Brothers, four men are pictured, three stand for a portrait while one sits holding a cup of coffee – and I’m assuming that it is coffee. There is a swagger to these gentlemen and a joy that is palpable. Although this feels like they showed up to a place and were captured by a photographer, it also feels like this is one of many daily life scenes that Uka witnessed while growing up. Seeing men hang with one another, laugh with one another, being at leisure with one another – collars popped and loosed – all while dressed in fabrics that spoke to their sensibility for style.

The detail in this big picture makes me feel that this scene could be plucked from his memory and inserted into a home, or a place of gathering today. There is also Marsha, who lounges on a chaise with a table in the background featuring two coffee tables that are framed by a window that looks out onto the outside. I can only imagine the conversations had over those cups, as well as the wondering occurring in the mind for what one can do beyond the leaves.

I am forever drawn to how coffee creates a center of community and culture while at the same time being a timeless prop to indicate an aesthetic of being.  While both these works have sold, you can still see them in person if you’re visiting Chicago anytime between now and January 15, 2022 when the exhibition closes.

When you do visit, perhaps take the half mile walk to nearby specialty coffee shop, Metric Coffee, for a coffee and post-viewing discussion to round out your experience.