George Fochive of Portland Timbers connects with himself and his culture through his upcoming art gallery

Portland Timbers midfielder George Fochive is hosting an art premiere in Portland on October 6, which showcases a newfound commitment to a long-standing passion and the culmination of a lifetime of experience.

It’s a big departure from the grind of professional football, but it’s welcomed. Fochive’s creativity was evident from a young age. The first toy she asked her mother was LEGOs—not for play, but to build something she could use, she said. The mother was impressed by the creativity of her son.

Years passed and Fochive, born in Washington DC and raised around the world, found himself focused on college scholarships and what could give him the opportunity to continue his education. Football was the easy answer and Fochive was a standout, eventually playing for the University of the Pacific at Hawaii and later the University of Connecticut.

Throughout each economics class, soccer practice, family move to a new country, and life-changing experience, one thing remained constant on Fochive’s mind: art. It seems that creative expression was his secret passion.

“No matter what I read, I would always take a class or two – and no one would know – just sign up and take an extra class in art, art history or film,” Fochive said. “Anything about art so I could learn something. I was just interested.”

Fochive’s childhood and professional football career took him around the world, including his family’s hometown of Cameroon and the United States. He spent nearly ten years of his youth in France and also lived in Denmark, Israel and elsewhere. Along the way, Fochive’s travels have not only influenced his art, but also his understanding of the value of creativity and how deeply art touches its cultural background.

Fochive, 30, works mainly in acrylic on canvas. She said she did a lot of oil painting when she was younger, especially when she lived in France. In accordance with the classicism that defined the French artistic spirit.

“I think before I was 15, I lived on four continents and spoke four languages,” Fochive said. “However, other cultures and other forms of art and history, thought, psychology and literature – these are all things that are in my memory bank. I just need to connect them sometimes. Painting is the best way to do it.”

No matter where he lived, Fochive connected with and was influenced by his West African comrades. Some became teammates on the Timbers, including Fanendo Adi of Nigeria and Larrys Mabiala of France from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Adi even plans to sponsor the art premiere in some way, while Mabiala will buy a painting “if I can afford it”.

Most of the Fochive dyes are dark skinned with strong features, often surrounded by color. When she needed a space to host an art exhibition, Fatou Ouattara and her team were the first to step in at Akadi, a West African restaurant in Portland.

“This is West African culture,” Fochive said. “We are very connected through art, music, laughter, cultural stuff. This means a lot to us, because that’s who we are. Music, art, food. Resources are not scarce in West Africa, but they are stolen and exploited by the West. So people tend to develop this mindset not because they’re naive, but because they want to be happy.”

Mabiala joked in an interview with Fochive’s The Oregonian/OregonLive that Cameroonians are “like little brothers” to Congolese.

“We need security guards, we call it Cameroonian guys,” Mabiala said with a laugh. “They are strong but not very smart.”

In reality, Mabiala admires Fochive’s creative talent. And she establishes a deep bond with her teammate and friend from a cultural perspective.

“We come from the same culture,” Mabiala said. “He is from Cameroon, I am from Congo. We eat the same food, listen to the same music. We are the same kind of people, strong and that’s all. Being able to travel so much has helped him open his mind and see different things and different arts. I travel as much as he does, but I don’t have the same skills.

“He learned that he could really do something outside of football. It was very helpful for him and I was there from the beginning. The success of putting this art exhibition together is incredible.”

Under the pseudonym Ivan Yaffe (Fochive’s middle name, followed by the Hebrew word for beautiful), Fochive will showcase and put up for sale a collection of works titled “Call Me Bantu” in its showcase. The Bantu are an indigenous group from West and Central African countries.

“It shows up in the form of colors,” Fochive said. “I have no such intention when painting. It’s just a feeling. When I’m done, I stare like a spectator. If you have an intention, you stall. You cannot manipulate art. Art manipulates you. You are responding to colors, to a vibration. And he’ll tell you what he needs.”

Fochive’s art exhibition is scheduled for 6:30 am to 9:30 pm at Akadi (1001 SE Division Street) on October 6th. A link to purchase tickets to the event for ages 21 and up can be found at ivanyaffe.com and admission is $100 per person, including free wine and small appetizers. A portion of the proceeds will support youth football in Portland through the Zokaei Family Foundation.

“People told me what I did was really great and they said people would be interested in seeing what I could do with it,” said Fochive with a smile. “I said, ‘Yes, society only cares about football’. But I realized that couldn’t be true because I’m not just interested in football and that’s my job. So I thought I should show it to people. I hope there will be a good turnout and people will open their minds to what I have to offer.”

— Ryan Clarke, [email protected], Twitter: @RyanTClarke

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