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The Nigerian Visual Artist Living an African Dream through The Lens Of a Camera

Not every day are we fortuitous to be sphered by a creative's root, especially one who found his way to art coincidentally. Lucky Unu's head scale of causally taking pictures of inanimate things like flowers, clouds, and sunsets, elements of which he considered "pretty," escalated from a mere flair to an artist's bulb that shone through his creative mind—bringing him to the doorway of the British Journal of Photography (fabled as the world’s longest-standing and most influential photography title), where he made the shortlist for its 2023 Portrait of Britain photography award, the UK’s largest elite photography exhibition. 


Women in Colour © Lucky Unu


Hailing from Effurun, expansively addressed as Warri, one of the radical economic and social nucleus of the oil-rich Delta State in Southern Nigeria, Unu started photography during his sophomore year in university as a prospective electrical engineer. 


His flare for natural habitat was soon dominated by his interest in taking pictures of people. Perhaps, his cyclical transition is the quintessence of Malick Sidibé, Africa's legendary photographer of the 20th century who holds the resolve that “It’s a world, someone’s face. When I capture it, I see the future of the world.”


However, fractionated between the odds of finding skilled creative photographers within Warri's locality and surrounding environments to learn from, and the need to accept his psychological attachment to the course, Unu contemplated a career in visual art. 


But after acquiring his first DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera, he was certain that  "there was no going back at this point."  


Veiled © Lucky Unu


Lucky Unu's early career was launched by Alliance Françaises' young photographers' group exhibition in Lagos, Nigeria, where he displayed "Woman of Colour." "I had submitted my pictures on a whim and couldn't believe I was selected. I will never forget that hope and validation it gave me," he shared his quite humble beginnings. That same year, he sailed his work to the Abuja photo festival, one of the epic photography stoppers of Nigeria's capital city. 


Warri Route UK, But Not Far From Home!


Tapping his synergy from the city of Warri, then to Lagos, and now in the UK, Unu has continued to nurture the seedling dream that germinated in him a few years back. 


Most of his work is entrenched in exploring identity, relationships, dreams, memories, and culture, predominantly African indigenous traditions and values. Looking into Unu’s body of work, it is apparent that his pneuma back home has remained constant. 


Royal Beauty from In The Shadows I Exist Series © Lucky Unu


Regardless of the geo-location, Unu has always been alive in the shots of his camera lens and the zeal of his valiant expression hasn’t eluded him. 


His unbroken inspiration cradles how he sees the world, how the stories call to him, the answers he yearns for, and how different emotions of anger, fear, love, pain, and hope surge through him. In his words “The life I've lived and the ones my ancestors lived before me, all come together in the moment of expression.” 


Unu's "Capitalist Champion," a piece from his series "Who Gets to Be Me?," was shortlisted for the 2023 Portrait of Britain


"Who Gets to Be Me?" collates a series of photographs that reflect upon the age-old dilemma between choosing to be an artist or choosing to be a nine-to-fiver (capitalist soldier, as he coined it). 




Unu's works, much like timeless art, have left a lasting impression through his signature photographs - a momentum he has continually paced.


His creative oeuvre routinely goes through a refining framework of researching, staging, experimenting, and creating in a way that feels most true to him. As he succinctly puts it “I feel if you look at them enough, you'd find a piece of me in them.”


His works "Social Contract" and "Portrait of my Grandmother" were recently displayed at the exhibition at Nottingham’s New Art Exchange, the UK’s largest gallery committed to promoting contemporary visual arts from the Global Ethnic Majority. The pieces were part of his gross series titled "In the Shadows I Exist." 


"In the Shadows I Exist" consists of a catalogue of photographs where Unu used shadows to conceal and reveal a sense of collective identity and shared human experiences. With the body of work, he intends to tell stories based on his own worldviews, experiences, and emotions whilst inviting viewers to find their personal connections and self-indulgent interpretations within the images.





 

ABOUT LUCKY UNU


Lucky Unu (b.2000) is a Nigerian-born visual artist working with photography residing in Middlesbrough, UK. His works explore themes of identity, relationships, and cultural and personal investigations. His process involves various experiments with negative space, shadows, colours and contrasts to create striking and mystical portraits. 


Lucky was selected for group exhibitions some of which are Love your Family (2023) Wunika Mukan Gallery, Lagos, Nigeria, Young Photographers Group Exhibition (2021), Alliance Francaise Lagos, Nigeria, Boundaries of Reason (2021), Abuja Photo Festival, Abuja, Nigeria and Arnheim collection 4 (2022), Arnheim Gallery, Ibadan, Nigeria, Guest room – Poetics of darkness, Der Greif, Online (2024). Lucky was also shortlisted for the Portrait of Britain Award Vol 6 (2023). Art for Lucky has always been a search for truths he couldn't grasp, words he couldn't find and lives he couldn't live.




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The Nigerian Visual Artist Living an African Dream through The Lens Of a Camera

June 16, 2024

Art Report Africa

4 min read

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