Meet the Artist
Ubah Christian Michael was born in Owerri, Imo State, Nigeria, in 1989. Ubah is the son of a carpenter and a fruit vendor. He grew up with his two brothers and three sisters. Unlike his brothers, Ubah chose to join his mother in her small fruit selling business in the market. Ubah’s family lived a modest life and was caught in the hand to mouth culture. Through his journeys to and from the market, spending his days talking with different customers, young and old, rich and not so rich, Ubah developed a curiosity and fascination for people; their faces, their smiles, their hands and nails, the texture of their skin, the colors and feel of their garments. Ubah was curious about laughs, he tried to put a face… an expression, to every laugh he hears. He was fascinated by the art of trading, the beauty and colors of the fruits he sold, the market and all that surrounded it.
“My mother had a beautiful customer who came to our stall every Saturday. She smelt very good and her hands looked so soft. I used to look forward to seeing her every Saturday. Her face was perfect. Her teeth were white like snow. I dreamt for years about having her picture; just to stare at her face, I wanted to study her face. She was like Mami Wata (marmaid).
Ubah decided, the only way he could get a picture of the beautiful Mami wata was to draw one. One day a neighbor opened a box with a small radio and threw away the box. Ubah took the box and found the best charcoal he could. The following Saturday, Ubah went to the market, but there was no sign of the beautiful woman. Ubah was disappointed, but looked forward to whenever he would see her again. The following Saturday, the beautiful Mami wata pulled up in front of Ubah’s mom’s stall. Uba was overwhelmed. He nervously brought out his cardboard and charcoal and started sketching. He would look up at the beautiful woman occasionally as she chose the fruit she would buy. At one point she smiled as she spoke with my mother. I had never seen lips so beautiful. Teeth so straight”.
Over the next three weekly visits, Ubah finished his drawing of the beautiful Mami wata. He decided to show his mother his special drawing. To Ubah’s surprise, his mother was very proud. She had no idea her son even had such skills. Mama decides to give the drawing to the subject, the beautiful Mami wata. “The next time she came to the market, she brought me a plastic bag full of paint, brushes and what looked to me like just a big piece of cloth”. She handed over the plastic bag personally to Ubah, he covered up his nerves and proudly accepted the bag. Then she said, “make good use of these. They will change your life”. The rest is history.
Ubah is considered one of the talented and most exciting new artists in Nigeria, with his work in some of the biggest galleries in the country. He lives with his wife and two children in Lagos and spends three evenings a week teaching underprivileged kids in his neighborhood art. Ubah wants to create opportunities for children who are skilled, but don’t have the opportunity, the encouragement needed, the resources, needed to pursue their love for art.
“My art is inspired by my culture, my people, the politics, life…the children…the faces I see every day. Art is my life”.
In Nigerian Pigin language, the word "shakara" means show off or confident or slayer. In this very timely piece, Ubah paints three friends slaying in their modernized clothing incorporated with traditional Igbo accessories and popular traditional oversized headdresses commonly known as gele. The shakara women look dressed and ready for a fun night out in their vivid and proudly African inspired fashion.