‘Nigerians Don’t Appreciate Arts’ – Jekein Lato-Unah

In a country where graduates roam the streets in search of jobs, meet Jekein, an Undergraduate who is set to take the art world by storm.

Let’s meet you.

My name is Jekein Lato-Unah. I am a 300level law student at the University of Lagos. I’m in my early twenties. I am a creative artiste, basically into different kinds of art. I do portrait, sculpture, bag making, painting, drawing and I specialize in paintings.

Why did you decide to go into Law?

I have been in UNILAG before. I did one year creative art. Then the strike happened, meanwhile I had siblings in Dubai and I decided to go to Dubai just for the fun of it and the strike did not stop so I enrolled in an art school in Dubai. It was an intensive program, an art course that should take about 3 years normally, was going to take 18 months because it was intensive. I got that done and then moved on to another art school, but when I got back my father said that wasn’t enough and that I had to be a professional and study law. It didn’t make sense to me. It still doesn’t make sense to me, but I still have to fulfill his dreams so I can move on with my life.

How do you push your market?

I started selling my works at an early age, people would then give me small money like ten thousand naira but when I got back, I started using Twitter and Instagram; Twitter most especially because I have a lot of following on that platform. In the first year I started, I had about 40 clients and for a beginner that is great because I had just perfected my skills and from June to December, I had a lot of clients. I don’t have a problem pushing my work, my problem is just school. I have school and it is tasking combining my work and school.

Why don’t you get a personal assistant?

The thing is, in the art world, people want to meet the artiste and they want to ask questions, get to know the artiste so getting an assistant isn’t the problem. Though I have people I train. There is a 16 year old guy. I train him. He is better than me, he is a fast learner, but the type of stuff I paint, he can’t paint it. Also, I have a 13 year old girl who I train as well.

How did you get to start training these people?

People basically reach out to me. Especially because they do not know how the industry works. Also, I like when creative minds come together and collaborate. I belong to an organization PTNA (Paint The Night Africa). What we do is, we get together, people pay and then we paint so it is basically like painting parties. We have had in Hard Rock Cafe, Dominos. We teach people how to paint and that isn’t even the hard part. The hard part is teaching children how to paint because children just want to do what they want to do.

After school, what is next?

I would spread my wings and fly.

You are skilled in other areas of art, why do you prefer painting?

Well, I can just wake up one morning and pick up a brush and start to paint. I can’t do that for drawings. I have to make sure the paper is clean, it is not smudged, but for painting, I can put it on an easel and just start to paint. It is also the same for sculpture. I can’t just decide to start sculpting.

How did you start sculpting?

During my WAEC period, I went to Yabatech to take creative arts and I was given a list of courses to take and I was interested in Pottery.

What are your plans for the next five years?

I do not think I would be in Nigeria in the next five years. Nigerians do not appreciate art and they just want to seem elite which is why they purchase it. Also, I have a problem with the way people price art works. Especially considering the fact that I am not the only one who would work on it, I still have to get a carpenter to frame it; these people come with their own prices too. So when I say this art work is N100,000 and people start trying to beat down the price, I do not understand.

Asides social media, how else do you reach your target audience?

I am constantly on the lookout for estate agents, hospitals, hotel owners, etc. Sometimes galleries too. But some galleries have funny requirements for you to exhibit your works, so many other artistes make friends with gallery owners, but I do not see the need to suck up to anyone.

How do you cope with competition?

I do not consider anybody as competition. I am always rooting for my fellow artists and so I do not consider anybody as competition.

 

Culled from Issue 16

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