“It is my desire to promote black visibility in my work, while interrogating and challenging socio-political structures with the aim of having people critically examine these norms”
When did you realize that art way your way? What have been the major turning points in your career?
I realized that I wanted to pursue a career in art while I was studying civil engineering. It initially started off as an hobby of sorts. I had seen a drawing by a course mate and I dared myself to do a better drawing, and I did. But it didn’t stop there…I continued to draw and study hyperrealism. I read as many articles and books as I could about hyperrealism, I watched YouTube videos and studied the masters and pioneers of the movement, as Chuck Close. That was how many journeys began.
While I studied hyperrealism, I realized that I was passionate about drawing and that it was my calling. A major turning point for me was participating in Insanity, my first group show. The show established me as an emerging artist to watch out for and with that little fame, came collectors. This also marked another turning point for me because while art was a passion, I never realized how lucrative it can be.
How have you started experimenting with mixed media works? Where did your latest techniques come out of? Any inspirations?
Well, I have always experimented with my work. I had no formal training whatsoever… but, regarding mixed media, I started experimenting a few years ago because I wanted -and still want- to create works that go beyond hyperrealism. I believe that with mixed media, I can pass on my message further.
I describe my style of art as ‘Contemporealism’ and it is largely centred on the fusion of hyper-realism and contemporary art. It is a welcome deviation from the traditional hyper- realism movement. My work has since evolved from hyper-realism, as I infuse elements from contemporary art into my work –hence, Contemporealism.
These techniques were horned through hours of research and exploration. For instance, in my newest body of work titled Headline Series, I knew I wanted to pass on a message about the corrupt news systems in the world. I initially planned to draw the newspaper but I soon realized that it was unauthentic and may water down my message, hence, I decided to use real Nigerian newspapers, paint and charcoal. Each piece (newspaper) depicts an image of a palm trying to break free from behind a tight plastic bag. This represents a metaphor of the society trying to break free from its oppressors. Each piece is a deliberate attempt by the artist to bring to the consciousness of everyone, the corrupt news systems around the world.
I was inspired by my recent trip to the UK, where I held my first solo exhibition and participated in the Moniker Art Fair. I came across various kinds of art and this inspired me to want to do more to get my message across. The philosophy that drives my work is simple, I want to inspire and create change everywhere that my work is presented. I don’t just want to make works for the sake of it! If you look closely at each piece, I am always trying to say something. From issues relating to Black people and brutality to issues relating to African migration and bad government.
Being from Nigeria, how would you describe the state of art in your home country?
I would say that the Nigerian art scene has come a long way in the last decade and I am very happy with the recognition that Nigerian artists have been getting locally and internationally. I am also very happy with the rising value of Nigerian art, in 2007, a Ben Enwonwu piece at Bonhams auction sold for £50,000. It is quite amazing to motice that in 2019, an artwork by the same artist sold for £1,500,000. It is progress in the right direction…however there is still a lot to do, for example: creating an enabling environment for artists and creating policies that favor artists.
The most striking of your artworks, for me, are the ones that portrait the gaze of young black people cutting through the cut shapes of a white blanket. What is your creative process like for these works?
Thank you for your kind works. That is my Bad Mentality series, created to have people ponder and question commonly accepted socio-political norms and mentality. The peak below the surface or the breakthrough of the main subject often seen in many of the pieces is achieved with several hours on each detail using charcoal or pencil. In my creative process, I conceptualize ideas for each piece, I pen down the idea and do some research on the subject and then I start to draw. It sounds really simple but it is quite complicated, especially in the detailing of each work. It often takes hours just to achieve a particular detail…but I must admit, I am always happy with the final result.
Your work has a strong conceptual feeling…what would you like to convey to people?
It is my desire to promote black visibility in my work, while interrogating and challenging socio-political structures with the aim of having people critically examine these norms and inspiring change.
In fact, you describe your art as “interrogating and challenging socio-political structures and issues within the society”. How important is this goal for the very existence of art itself?
I believe African artists have the ability to change the narrative through their work. We are often presented with opportunities to exhibit outside of Africa and I believe these opportunities should not be taken for granted. There are so many issues plaguing Africans, from bad government to mass migration to poor infrastructure and so on, it is our duty as artists to influence change. To answer your question, I believe art is very important and that it plays a huge role in shaping the society.
If you were to combine a soundtrack to your works, what would it be?
Any song by Fela Anikulapo Kuti. His songs created a new generation of activists, such as myself.
An artist you want to suggest to the readers?
Next and upcoming projects?
I am currently working on a new body of work that I will be presenting this year. I can’t really say much about it because it is not finished.
I will be participating in 1:54 Art Fair New York with Retro Africa