artist Nsikak Essien dies

Nsikak Essien, Artist Extraordinaire and a Generous Spirit, Departs


NSIKAK Essien, a Lagos-based multimedia artist, was a celebrated at the Institute of Management and Technology, IMT, Enugu, where he was the 1979 Best Graduating Student in Painting, with a Distinction, and the Overall Best Graduating Student. Those were times when the quality of an artist’s works testified to the plaudits he got.

Broad Street,” one of Essien’s paintings

His works assumed increased religious intensity with themes like “A road-to-Damascus”, “Agape” in which Essien preached that, “People should always discover God in their lives as He is the only one that can fix their lives and usher in the much desired peace and harmony”.

He also won the 1979 Fasuyi Best National Art Graduate Prize in Painting.

Essien earned every bit of the high marks that came his way. He was a legend that IMT would not let him go. He was in IMT for another 12 years.

When our set arrived in IMT the same year he graduated, everyone knew him by reputation. IMT had retained him for his NYSC programme. The very ground he walked on might have as well sprouted master pieces. He was well regarded even by many of us who knew next to nothing about arts.

Serious, and minding his business, he often surprised with a ringing laughter when he let it out, otherwise he was too quiet for an artist. Both his students and colleagues spoke well of his generous spirit.

The news of his death on Wednesday, 29 July 2020 was another shock in this era of deaths. Just 63, Essien had buried his life in impacting the lives of many artists and influencing the art scene with his works that were places, like the Aso Rock, the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Before Abuja, his works adorned Dodan Barracks, the former seat of power in Lagos, and offices of some of Nigeria’s biggest organisations.

He spent 11 years lecturing in IMT before venturing into full-time studio practice experimenting with various media that finally themed in iconic explorations of religion, family, and love.

“Quite a few of my friends and I won’t be artists today without this guy. As giants go, there’s none greater, in the way he fired up our young minds, not by his words, but by the sheer grandeur of his God given ability,” Nnamdi Okonkwo, one of his students posted on Facebook. “To us then, and I still happen to feel the same way today, if God came down disguised as an artist, His name would be Nsikak. I believe there’s a special place for you above, Nsikak, earned not just by your legendary talent, but also by your generosity of spirit. Occupy it with the same mastery with which you wielded a pencil and paint brush! And thanks for the inspiration!,” Okonkwo’s tribute read.

His works assumed increased religious intensity with themes like “A road-to-Damascus”, “Agape” in which Essien preached that, “People should always discover God in their lives as He is the only one that can fix their lives and usher in the much desired peace and harmony”.

A 2016 two-week solo exhibition at the Nike Gallery, Lagos, with over 35 works, encapsulated Agape, and aligned with the previous year’s exhibition titled “Love Songs”. Most of those works aimed at getting human being to seek harmony in their relationships with each other and their Maker.

Essien was adept in his use of colours on different media. Once he began the provoking works on humanity and the Almighty, he ceased accepting commissioned works. His works on glass had rebuses of religion.

“My theme is Agape. The Bible says that God loves man, but, man has lost his relationship with God, and it, sometimes, looks as if God is punishing man. But no, our Father is a God of love. So, the exhibition was all about God’s love for man. We are not God’s invention. We are His creation, the work of His hands,” Essien had explained his 2016 exhibition.

Some of his works, among them the cover picture of this article, depicting Broad Street, Lagos, illustrate this article. One of them titled “Alert” shows the joy of a cart pusher on a particularly busy day that guarantees a lot of money.

Norwegian Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Rolf Ree, who declared the 2016 exhibition open said, “Essien is a gifted artist who demonstrates uncanny insight, amazing creative imagination and the ability to bring his vision into manifestation. The results are both beautiful and compelling, as well as informed as they are by his gift.”

“I am happy to be here. Essien is one artist that has carved a niche for his works. It is a good show going by the works paraded here,’’ Ben Ikimi, art collector and builder said at the exhibition.

The Board of Trustees of the youth empowerment NGO, Life In My City Art Festival, LIMCAF, appointed Essien, one of the best known full-time studio artists of his generation, as its National Jury Panel Chairman in 2019. Members of the National Jury were Mr. Sam Ovraiti, a consumer artist and a notable Nigerian artist from the Auchi colourist school, Erasmus Onyishi, an experimentalist and one of the 10 artists El Anatsui presented in the controversial “New Energies” exhibition in 2001, Klaranze Okhide, a Nigerian Visual Artist and Educator and Dr Lasisi Lamidi, of Sculpture from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

Essien was a founding member of the famous AKA Circle of Exhibiting Artists which included other stalwarts such as El Anatsui, Bona Ezeudu, Obiora Anidi and the late great Okpu Eze.

Often mistaken for Nsikak Essien, former Editor of National Concord, Essien the Editor posted this on Facebook on Thursday, “Artist Nsikak Essien was studying at IMT in Enugu at about the same time I was studying at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He is one of the best fine artists in the country. As Editor some people mistook me for him and vice versa. A few even visited me in Concord newspapers office in Ikeja, expecting to see him.

“Just about six months ago someone phoned to inquire if I were the fine artist. Sadly, both of us had never met but we spoke on telephone about twice. The sad story is that he passed on some hours ago. As usual some friends think I am the one. I mourn the loss of my namesake. May his maker take back his soul. I am alive and well. My maker has not called me home yet. Rest in peace my namesake. Amen.”

The tributes are pouring in for a master painter, teacher, and a generous-spirited man. He leaves a void.

Adieu, Essien, the artist.