My name is Sam Onche, I am a painter and illustrator from Benue state, Nigeria, and currently based in Chicago. I graduated from Colby College with a major in studio art and a focus in painting. Before coming to the United States, I lived most of my life in Nigeria where my love for the arts originally formed.

I come from a big family with six siblings and many cousins, of which a handful also lived with us. At the time, drawing comic books and copying characters from my favorite cartoons and movies were my first introduction to making art. At a young age, I quickly realized that I was not limited to the world around me, so I sought to create drawings that often led to places or discoveries I never imagined possible.

Coming from an average family, I knew I had to find a way to stand out if I wanted to pursue my interests. My parents had already done their part by providing me and siblings with love and care, enrolling me in good schools, and instilling in me core values that were part of my culture. To be able to explore a career in the arts, which was my dream, I knew I had to leave home and come to the US. Now that I look back at my reasoning, I think I probably realized that I had to really dream big and the US was a country that allowed for that dream to thrive. Knowing my parents couldn’t afford to send me overseas, I briefly put art aside and worked extremely hard on my second hobby, which was playing basketball. I knew I had a better chance of impressing foreign basketball scouts that came from the US with scholarship opportunities (mostly during the summer) if I wanted to be put in a situation where I could then pursue the art dream. Prayers, hard work, and luck provided me with a generously funded opportunity to come to the US to continue my education.

Fast forward to 2018, I was recruited by Colby College to play basketball which was a great opportunity that put me in a position from which I still benefit to this day. With the help of the Colby grant, I was able to study art in depth and its history and impact. At Colby, the path on my artistic journey became even clearer, but another problem arose. I was thousands of miles away from home and in a white-dominated environment with a handful of people that looked and talked like me.

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Sam Onche, Adrift, print on paper, 11 x 14 in., 2022.
This is a self portrait which I tell my personal story about my struggles since being in the US. I use the water waves to represent these difficulties and the five boats to represent my siblings who have been my support system.

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Sam Onche, Card Game, print on paper, 11 x 14 in., 2021.
In this piece, I talk about my childhood playing my favorite card games and my growth which has mostly come from pain. The card games also represent the game of life and my experiences.The boy can be seen wrapped around with red thorn-like vines that represent struggle and pain. On his cheek is a bandage covering his wound which is going through a healing process as flowers emerge from within.

This problem made me look even beyond my current environment which is when I believe I truly knew I had to use my art as a voice, especially for people of color.

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Sam Onche, Place to Rest, print on paper, 11 x 14 in., 2022.
I made this painting at a time when a lot of people were stressed with the pandemic, events from BLM and lacked motivation.The boy resting in the hand is a message, one that reminds us that even through the hard times we are protected.

I’ve been part of a couple of exhibitions, made paintings that sit in universities and homes, designed and illustrated covers for books, songs, and publications that celebrate and seek to understand Black culture and experience. I’ve also recently started writing about my work and motives.

Onche 5 Baobab Bark 2022 Oil and Ankara fabrics on canvas 48 x 60image copy

Sam Onche, Baobab Bark, oil and Ankara fabrics on canvas, 48 x 60 in., 2022.
This piece was commissioned by the University of Pennsylvania to celebrate and represent people of color on their campus. I immediately knew the direction I wanted for the painting. The Black experience originated from the continent of Africa. One of the ways I make connections to these roots is by using Ankara fabrics seen in some of my paintings. I have also represented parts of her body in a way that mimics these roots as a reminder of the origin of most people of color all over the world.

Onche 6 Boy Wonder 2022 Oil and Ankara fabrics on canvas 56 x 60image copy

Sam Onche, Boy Wonder, oil and Ankara fabrics on canvas, 56 x 60 in., 2022.

For a long time, I’ve tried to make sense of several things happening around me, some truths and many lies. To be able to make sense of everything happening around me, I engage with it internally and externally. I understand that some topics can be difficult to talk about, such as racism, inequality, and pain and suffering, which are both internal and external.

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Sam Onche, Scream,, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 36 in., 2022.
At the time I made this piece, I was frustrated with events I had seen on the news about an unarmed Black male who had been brutally beaten by the police. I wanted to find a way to show my frustration and anger in a way that would be felt and less graphic.

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Sam Onche, Legend Never Die, print on paper.

This difficulty has led me to look inward and use symbols, unique expressions, colors, and even elements from my culture as an entry point to talk about these topics. For instance, flowers have a way of communicating feelings perfectly in a way that other symbols might not. As you will see in some works I’ve shared, I’ve used flowers to replace the eyes, lips, and the heart. Many people of color experience horrors, struggles, and pain that the world tries to hide with lies. My goal is to take an approach of healing while I make a statement about these struggles. I want to heal the eyes that have seen these struggles, unseal silenced lips, and mend broken hearts.

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Sam Onche, Two Roses, print on paper, 11 x 14 in., 2021.
In this work, I try to talk about diversity, beauty in difference, and positivity. The two different roses symbolize the difference in color of skin, yet are still connected. We are all the same regardless of color. I also use the roses to symbolize love in general as well as self love, and substitute them with the eyes as a message to see and love others.

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Sam Onche, Heart of Rose, print on paper.

To uncover truths and lies, I believe “afrofuturism” plays a unique role. For those new to the concept, afrofuturism can be found in African-American science fiction. Today, it is generally used to refer to literature, music, and visual art that explores the African-American experience. Concretely, it can be understood as a wide-ranging social, political, and artistic movement that dares to imagine a world where African-descended peoples and their cultures play a central role in the creation of that world.

Many people of color have been lied to in several strategic ways in which the use of imagery plays a big role. Imagery takes different forms and characteristics like illusion. Illusion can be used negatively or positively. Knowing that there are limited works of art out there that show people of color being part of the future, I consider this a negative use of illusion. This is why in some of my works I try to create that space with endless possibilities, which I hope can lead to conversations and talks about the future for all peoples, especially those marginalized.

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Sam Onche, Aluminum City, print on paper, 11 x 14 in., 2021.
Aluminium City is a story about a time in the future where people of color are devoid of racism and enslavement seen today and in the past. It is an afrofuturist painting meant to inspire, excite, and motivate people about life in the future. The floating cities seen in an upward trend are all connected to his eyewear, which is a statement about his vision for the future.

Confronting the truth and the lies can be painful; I always try to shy away from representations that show pain and suffering. I try to find creative ways to illustrate this pain in a way that viewers can see the deep meanings and understand the broader topics.

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Sam Onche, My Escape, print on paper, 11 x 14 in., 2022.
My love for sci-fi movies and video games and hopes for the future greatly influence my afrofuturistic work. In this painting, the boy can be seen wearing VR goggles which I have designed that allow him to be taken to another place. I also touch on escapism in this piece as the boy tries to step away from his current reality—a reality that is unfortunately biased for people that look like him.

From my study of the world around me, I find that people connect with topics when there’s a story. For instance, in one of my works titled Puzzle Pieces I have intentionally represented a Black man with missing puzzle pieces. This is my way of informing people of color especially that we are all pieces of the big puzzle, even though we are currently missing some of these pieces.

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Sam Onche, Puzzle Pieces, print on paper.
This situation is the journey towards figuring out one’s purpose, direction, or the next step. I love puzzles and use it in a couple of my paintings as a symbol for discovery or a process of understanding oneself.

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Sam Onche, Growing Pains, print on paper, 11 x 14 in.
This is about self-growth and realization.The fist clenching the roots represents the pain and growth. The cloth wrapped around the face is a statement about being neutral and not prejudiced.


Note: The digital paintings are painted on a software like Procreate or Photoshop, using a stylus.


Image at top: Sam Onche, Trumpet Boy, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 36 in., 2021. I’ve always had a love for music; it’s part of my daily life and work and a medium to talk about how people can become one with their craft. I try to bring viewers to a special moment that can inspire them or evoke a memory.