Using a crude, expressive painterly language, Adjani Okpu-Egbe unfolds a wide range of themes based on African history and the African diaspora, incorporating them with autobiographical materials. The mathematical formulae that appear in many of his paintings are an automatic scribble that has become his distinguishing mark. As a child, Okpu-Egbe played football and was said to be destined to greatness, but his father objected to his choice of professional football and made him study Mathematics, hoping he would become a businessman. Eventually Okpu-Egbe studied History and Archaeology at Cameroon’s University of Buea, then enrolled in the British Army and served for five years. The math exercises he was forced to do reappear in his paintings, as a repetitive sign of his relationship with his father and consequently with any imposing, repressive authority: the signs that represent science and logic become in his hand a subconscious, automatic, wild and uncontrollable scrawl, and—perhaps the worst affront in the context of West and non-West relationships—a decorative element.
His drawings are characterized by a surging energy stemming from contemporary urban life and the world of African rituals. The colorfulness of his paintings is often based on the colors of the pan-African flag—red, green and black—and paints his figures with a political hue. These are the colors of The Politics of Mary Seacole (2014), a typical example of the way Okpu-Egbe introduces an opinionated African agenda to his art. The protagonist of this painting, Mary Seacole, was born in Jamaica in 1805, to a Jamaican mother and a Scottish father, and learned the secrets of herbal medicine from her mother. When the Crimean War broke out in 1853, she opened an independent hotel for treating the battlefields’ wounded. For many years she was forgotten but recently, with the growing interest in non-hegemonic history, she has become the object of renewed attention. While her name is commemorated in health and education institutes in the UK, some have claimed that her importance is being exaggerated in the name of political correctness. Michael Gove, former British Secretary of State for Education, wanted to remove Mary Seacole from the National Curriculum and opened a renewed debate about the place and role of a black woman in British history.
1979 Kumba, Cameroon