‘I have never signed up for an office job in my life. I don’t even know how to write a CV. Painting is what I do full-time.’ Anthonia Nneji Chinasa struck a chord when she had those words to say about her art. While the Nigerian creative space is welcoming new creatives, most of whose hands were forced to create by the increasingly narrow path to office employment; Anthonia is an outlier who never used the thought to put aside her art for a salary-paying job.
To Anthonia Nneji, art is a calling, a path laid down by her paternal forebears whose carving skills manifested in her in the form of painting and she has submitted herself in totality to its summon like a new bride submits to her husband on the night of consummation – her passion, desires and resources given to the process of painting the world in new colours and shades.
Her early experience of art started in elementary school where crayons were the only paints available and 2C drawing books were introduced to her as canvas on which she painted pictures of the man sitting under the palm tree and the lady walking down the river path with her clay pot sitting guided on her head. In her class exercises, she excelled and her paintings usually came out as recognisable art from the imaginative view of a youngling.
Her painting skills improved with her commitment to practise, so also her lens of imagination broadened as she saw more of life’s experiences. From painting characters from her Macmillan books, she started to see the world in a new light, using her art works to express the abstracts in her imaginations and reproduce images in which she took keen interest.
When it was time to make decisions about her tertiary education, she looked to the four walls of the University of Lagos and headed straight for the department of Creative Art which lead her to work under one of the country’s most-skilled painters, Mr. Wallace Ejoh, at the Universal Studio of Arts where she was inspired by Mr. Wallace’s paintings like “the good neighbour.” The renowned impressionist visual artist soon took her as one of his fave tutees and under his guidance her talent matured. Anthonia learnt to brighten her eye for colours and with measured strokes she painted abstracts to life as she commenced her journey as a professional visual artist.
All of these were happening at a time when even the best advisors sounded warnings like “art is a hobby and not a profession, so artists do not get paid much here. Art & aesthetics are luxuries in this part of the world.” But like the doubts of Thomas, the ominous advises started to disappear when she sold all her materials at her very first exhibition –achieving the Holy Grail for painters.
But to Anthonia, art is more than just a thing to be bought and kept. In her hand, it is a social tool for imparting values and emitting cultural essences that improves life’s qualities, particularly the appreciation and respect of women, the specifics of their gender and the concomitant challenges they face. Anthonia Nneji has given herself to art and allowed herself to be used as a vessel in painting the intricacies of the world in the way that great artists of history have done.
This article was written by Ibironke Oluwatobi. He tweets via: @ibironketweets