Rising Stars: Emmanuel Okonkwo


Okonkwo (b. 1993) is a Calabar-based Nigerian painter and experimental artist. He has applied his multi-disciplinary creativity in associated disciplines like music and the movie industries. Okonkwo had his education at the Federal College of Education, Eha-Amufu, where he obtained a National Certificate in Education (NCE) in Fine Arts Education. He also studied at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, where he received his BA in Fine and Applied Arts in 2018, majoring in painting. It was at Nsukka that he keyed into the Uli visual language. He currently lives and works In Calabar, Nigeria. Okonkwo also combines his studio art with art teaching, which he says inspires him. He believes that working with children is an opportunity to see things from their perspective and thinks Life would be more fun if we all lived like children as they hardly discriminate or bear grudges in their hearts. He has participated in numerous group exhibitions, art fairs, and art competitions throughout Nigeria.

Emmanuel Okonkwo


Okonkwo’s work focuses primarily on the dynamics in Nigerian society, such as the struggle for survival, dealing with conflicts and other social ills. His work is like an integrated arena of an intricate labyrinth.

Okonkwo’s style comprises naturalistic figures, while his mediums are oil and acrylic. These unique paintings usually have figures of children engaged in different activities. Okonkwo’s fascination with children in his work hinges on the premise that we were once children until society fed us with the social poison called prejudice. Throughout his career, he wishes humanity could be like a child blind to colour and tribe. They mainly see themselves as playmates and are quick to forgive. His talent in colour manipulation enables him to play with multiple colour hues in his paintings. Earth colours such as burnt umber, yellow ochre and burnt sienna tend to appear more in his paintings, with splashes of other colours depending on what he intends to communicate. One notable element in Okonkwo’s work is his use of fabric-based images, which is informed by the maxim, “you are addressed by what you wear.” He uses cut-outs of printed wax (also known as Dutch wax or Ankara) to make works of art that are beautiful and full of symbolism. Wax print fabrics known locally as Ankara is used for their beauty and texture to suggest African cultures. According to him, Ankara has been integrated into the society so that one can rarely dictate the culture it truly represents. If humans can see the significance of this material in ourselves, then it would be beautiful.

The backgrounds of his paintings are also well-decorated with lines reminiscent of uli linear language. His deliberate use of very busy and textured backgrounds translates to the fact that the world is a bustling place filled with various activities and struggles. Okonkwo ascribes his use of Nsibidi and Uli-derived hieroglyphs to the mentorship of master artist and scholar Chuu Krydz Ikwuemesi. He also integrates modern symbols and words into his drawings to reflect elements of western influences. The resulting work is a multi-textured work that is the result of innovation and creativity.

There for all, 2022
Acrylic, oil colour and fabric on Canvas, 3 x 4 ft, unframed

Love flows from within. One must first Love one’s self before one would be able to emit love. It flows
from within. Most times we are bothered about people loving us when we have not first loved ourselves.

Love grows where there’s love. Nobody enjoys a depressing environment.

Selfie (self love), 2022
Mixed media, 3 x 3 ft, unframed

Seeking Solace, 2022
Mixed Media, 4 x 4 ft, unframed

In a world where rejection keeps you under depression. It becomes sad when alcohol becomes a
substitute for happiness and the humans whom the maker has created for us to interact with become the reason for our depression.

As I wait, 2022
Ankara cuts, and acrylic on canvas), 28 x 29 inches, unframed

Awaiting dinner, 2022
Acrylic and fabric on Canvas, 36 by 42 inches, unframed

For more information about the artist, please visit:

Instagram: @emmanuel_okonkwo_colours

All photographs courtesy of Emmanuel Okonkwo
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