I was born in Akwa Ibom state in Nigeria, I am Ibibio by ethnicity. I attended secondary school in Lagos and studied fine art at the University of Ife. After my bachelor's degree, I worked as a cartoonist and illustrator at the Daily Times newspaper, while maintaining a painting studio in my apartment in Lagos.
I currently live in and have a studio in Washington DC in the United States.
I did not discover classic African Art, I lived with them. My upbringing in Nigeria as the grandchild of a maternal grandfather who was steeped in the traditional institution, was a titled man, a herbalist and a healer, was my first introduction to traditional objects which I found around his compound and his home.
As an adult, these objects took on new meaning other sacred and spiritual functions, I became drawn to the aesthetic of the artistry and even collected some for my home.
Encouraged by the philosophy of the art school at Ife, to embrace and explore the art of our forebears, classical African objects became a major source of inspiration for my style of artistic expression.
My new body of work is a series of paintings and drawings titled, 'I am my Ancestors' Essence.'
This series is a contemporary dialogue with African ancestral objects, recomposed, juxtaposed, and reimagined as portraitures.
The works in this series continue my exploration of consciousness and memory.
The portraits posit that memory informs individual and collective identities. I am intrigued by the nature of self-knowledge as layers of memories that are ceaselessly transposed, appropriated, and imagined. I believe our identities are the sum of our past and present memories informed by traditions and genetics.
As I study the aesthetics of these objects, these portraits are perhaps a search for the essence of ourselves.
I chose these objects based on my cultural affiliation to them, the spiritual essence they exude, and the aesthetics of their forms. While now living outside of Africa, I look through museum collections, I could spend hours in classical African art section of museums. These objects teach me so much.
The internet is another great source, ÌMỌ̀ DÁRA, Sotheby’s, The Met, etc. are some of the very rich online sources.
My drawings, paintings, and sculptures are rooted in indigenous Nigerian knowledge systems, exploring such themes as politics, narratives from the African diaspora, gender, and broad investigations of the human psyche.
Perhaps the unintentional consequence of my insistence on rooting my work in African knowledge systems is that viewers are made aware of African aesthetics they’d not considered or have been unaware of.
Deriving my abstraction from Nsibidi, and other African writing systems, perhaps have contributed to conversations in contemporary visual art practice.
There are classical objects that I have referenced in my current series on view in London which, to the best of my knowledge are mainly known to a few African art scholars and even fewer collectors.
I’ve been asked if the ekpu (ancestor figures) depicted in my paintings “His Father’s Son” and “Child of The River” are based on Star Wars characters.
I saw this as a great teaching moment about the work of Oron artists and culture of cross river region in Nigeria, and to remind viewers that African imagination continues to be the womb of uncredited artistic inspiration to Western artists including Hollywood.
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