Meet Ekene Ngige: The coffee artist – Toni Kan

Ekene Ngige walks with support but the huge smile radiating from his face belies his frailty.

His voice is as firm as his handshake and he is animated as he speaks about the paintings which he makes using coffee paste on canvas. He is exhibiting alongside four other artists in a group exhibition proceeding under the title Refuge in Community.

Presented by Nomadic Art Gallery and Art Digging, the exhibition, which is on the sidelines of the Lagos Biennial, runs from February 8 to February 29, 2024 and according to the announcement “explores the intricacies of individuality and community, revealing the fundamental elements of a society thriving in harmony…Viewers are invited to contemplate the beauty found within diversity and the strength derived from shared experiences.”

The final product from Ekene Ngige’s unique coffee paintings is monochromatic; alternating between deep and light brown.

His centerpiece in this exhibition is the expansive “The Coffee Break” which riffs on “The Last Supper” even though there are seven figures seated at the table instead of the Twelve disciples and Jesus.

In the tongue-in-cheek piece, late Queen Elizabeth sits in the middle flanked by several world leaders – Donald Trump, Vladmir Putin and Muhammadu Buhari to her left and Kim Jong Un, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ebrahim Naisi of Iran to her right.

The piece is dated but highly political, thought provoking and engaging, demanding a second and third look.

“I actually finished this work on monday,” Ngige says. “I’ve been painting it since 2018. I had already painted the team players and all that but I added all the background recently because I didn’t think I was going to exhibit it soon. It was like my baby. But when I heard about the Lagos Biennial and they already knew about the work and they wanted it to be displayed so I said let me wrap it up.”

Serendipity played a huge part in Ekene’s artistic journey and unique medium of expression.

“One day, I spilled coffee on paper and when I looked at it I realized I could make art from it.”

But what happens when the work demands a touch of colour beyond brown?

“I am gradually infusing acrylics,” Ekene explains. “For example if I want to paint a red rose, I don’t want the red rose to be killed by the brown.”

Trained at the Yaba College of Technology under the tutelage of the world renowned Kolade Osinowo, Ekene was classmates with Kelani Abass and Taiye Idahor.

Ekene Ngige who has had two solo exhibitions and an auction with Nifty Gateway is working on a solo exhibition.

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