Johnson Ocheja: A Pilgrim’s Journey; Through the Shades of Yellow

African Artists’ Foundation, Lagos, Nigeria
22 Apr 2023 - 28 May 2023

Johnson Ocheja, My Friend Beside the Church (Detail), 2023. Courtesy of Johnson Ocheja.

Johnson Ocheja, My Friend Beside the Church (Detail), 2023. Courtesy of Johnson Ocheja.

Lagos-based African Artists’ Foundation (AAF), a non-profit organization and art space, unveils A Pilgrim’s Journey; Through the Shades of Yellow, the latest series of works by emerging Nigerian artist Johnson Ocheja. Marking his first-ever solo exhibition following a two-week artist residency at AAF Headquarters in April 2023, the exhibition is on view from April 22 – May 20, 2023, at the Alliance Française de Lagos and the AAF Headquarters, Lagos, Nigeria. Curated by Princess Ayoola, the exhibition echoes the artist’s creative journey and immortalization of his reoccurring subjects through a vibrant explosion of yellow hues. This exhibition aligns with AAF’s artist development initiatives, directly supporting the foundation’s mission of fostering and aiding emerging African artists through solo exhibitions.

The dual-location exhibition showcases 12 large-scale paintings by Ocheja and in the collaborative spirit of the AAF and the local artist community, it will also present collaborative works by Ocheja and four other artists, creating opportunities for collaboration and community engagement by employing diverse forms of displaying work to enhance audience interaction.

For his solo debut, Johnson Ocheja makes his muse the pilgrim archetype. The exhibitiondepicts a series of portraits, mesmerizing and saturating his canvas through an intense reiteration of the color yellow as an emblem of happiness and bliss. The artist’s subjects are depicted in their gardens of pure delight, enjoying the fruits of their life journey irrespective of the simplicity of their physical reality. The title of the exhibition finds its roots in Ocheja’s pursuit of a symbolic quest, the ultimate journey of the artist, seeking a safe, often solitary space envisaged as a pilgrim’s journey to bliss. The pilgrim is typically associated with religious iconography, but the pilgrim is really anyone who seeks a deeper sense of purpose and significance in life. This questing is part of Ocheja’s journey.

Marking significant symbolism, representing felicity, possibilities, and hope, each shade of yellow, from a lighter and spirited hue to a deeper and more muddy tone, resonates deeply with the artist’s personal journey. Yellow is Ocheja’s safe color. Although the human body is the primary element in this body of work, Ocheja emphasizes the subjects’ internal worlds through various shades of yellow, elevating it beyond its aesthetic code and becoming a symbolic portal into the experience of individual and collective happiness.

Foliage in these portraits serves as a recurring motif of vitality and connectedness to life sources, nature and abundance. It is a reference to our greatest desire for space, space to be, to roam, to wonder and wander. The presence of religious symbolism is an attempt to revive spiritual connections in a society that often overlooks spirituality in favour of materiality. Furthermore, in this exhibition, Ocheja uses the pilgrim archetype to reference pilgrims of old—Hindus, Buddhists and Christians alike—for whom the colour yellow symbolizes knowledge, enlightenment and spiritual growth. Thus, he elevates happiness to sacred contemplation.

In truth, Ocheja’s characters are not so much striving for happiness as they are already in their gardens of pure bliss, enjoying the fruits of their journey irrespective of the simplicity of their physical reality. Moments of domestic life are captured in Ocheja’s paintings as visual journal entries, reminding us that like a pilgrim, we must retain a journey-oriented mindset by shifting away from the romanticisation of the destination, to focus on the people and social relationships that make the destination tangible and rewarding. Again, we are reminded that happiness is not just an individual pursuit but a shared experience that brings people together and uplifts those who are struggling. It is a journey of noble curiosity.

For the opening of A Pilgrim’s Journey; Through the Shades of Yellow, Ocheja has partnered with fellow artists to present collaborative works:

Ibi Írántí

Lagos-based drummer, performance artist, and community art curator, Goodluck Babatunde Ọlọ́runjedálọ, known as Jedálọ, will perform at the African Artists’ Foundation in honor of Ocheja’s exhibit. His performance, titled Ibi Írántí (memory place), interprets Johnson’s vision in two cycles. This musical piece uses African drumming to explore human connections and memories in society. The performance features site-specific sounds and engages the audience, allowing Jedálọ to connect with people and spaces through his art.

The Girl on the Swing

Johnson Ocheja has invited Samuel Semako to collaborate on a painting titled The Girl on the Swing. Samuel Semako Vittu is a Lagos-based artist whose style cuts across contemporary portraiture and anthropomorphism, using his art to promote self-awareness and infuse human consciousness into non-human life forms. This experiment explores the theme of happiness through the fusion of their creative energies, thus the produced artwork represents the joyful union of artistic minds. Drawing inspiration from Yoruba folklore, Semako employs anthropomorphism as a means to discuss modern trends and issues.

Of Pathways, Pilgrims, and Sources

Afeez and Atẹ́rẹ́ will be creating ceramic works entitled Of Pathways, Pilgrims, and Sources. The artwork conveys that there is no single right path in life; instead, the journey shapes us as individuals. It highlights the importance of staying connected to beliefs, hopes, and communities for guidance and support. It encourages embracing unique experiences and trusting in the process of self-discovery.

Adeoti Azeez Afeez (b. 1998) and Olúbúnmi Atẹ́rẹ́ (b. 1991) are Nigerian ceramicists. Afeez, a Yaba College of Technology graduate, specializes in sgraffito and has participated in group exhibitions like Beyond Limit 2022 and LIMCAF 2022. Atẹ́rẹ́, a former communications professional, debuted as a ceramicist in 2022 and uses carvings and abstract inscriptions to create complex surfaces. Winner of the Dr Pius Okigbo prize at LIMCAF 2022, her works have been exhibited internationally. Both artists explore clay as a means of expression and communication.

Performance by Laisa Layode McGrath

Laisa Layode McGrath is a versatile African creative, design and creative thinking tutor, and fashion broker. In 2021, she launched her spiritual and immersive singing career, delving into African heritage through sound. McGrath will deliver a performance that blends Catholic-Latin hymns with African spiritual sounds, centered on her interpretation of Ocheja’s theme.




All content © 2024 Contemporary And. All Rights Reserved. Website by SHIFT