Art in Nigeria has come a long way. From being looked down upon, the Nigerian artist has come to be viewed as someone with great worth and value. In this interview, Ken Nwadiogbu shares not just his experience as a Nigerian artist, but also, his journey so far.
TM: Let’s meet you
Ken: I am Ken Nwadiogbu, from Anambra state. I am a rare visual artist. My works are way different from what you see on a normal day. I call myself a 3-D hyper realist. The idea is to create a three dimensional illusion on a two dimensional surface or space. So what I do is, on a paper, which is a two dimensional surface, I create depth on it and then it starts looking so real. I am also a student of the University Of Lagos, studying civil engineering, and I am in my final year.
TM: Why the switch from Civil engineering to Visual art?
Ken: Art has always been my passion, but passion and Nigerian parents cannot be in a sentence. Also, the society as it was 10 years ago, did not favour the artist, but now it is improving. You have a better society now in the art world unlike before. But in those days, an artist was someone on the road side who sold his work for about five thousand Naira or ten thousand Naira, but a civil engineer with Julius Berger and the rest, there was a huge gap.
TM: When did your journey into art begin?
Ken: I used to draw some works in secondary school, and my friend would take these works and sell them for ten Naira. Then, during my diploma days, I met a guy and saw his works, prior to then I was always drawing on my books or my notebooks, and I kept drawing everywhere. I was reading one night, and I saw this guy who was drawing the then Vice Chancellor and he was very good and then I said to myself that I had to do that. So I started to engage the guy and then he said to me “Dude go and read.“So I went online, started searching for works, artists and reading up a lot. I did not have any formal training; hence, most of my drawings are birthed by my experiences.
TM: What is the inspiration behind most of your works?
Ken: I would say my experiences. I have gone through life in my own special way, and so these experiences are what give rise to my art. The theme of my art may seem dark to some people because it is someone trying to come out of something. Nigerians don’t see that about art. They don’t see art as an expression. They look at art and say “oh who is that? Is that your brother?” However, art is beyond “oh, that is fine!” it is about the “why?”, “what happened?” and “What made you create such a delicate piece?”
TM: How did your parents take your venture into art?
Ken: The thing is that my parents appreciate it now, though I had series of fights with my father and series of “come Kenny let’s talk” with my mother. However, I have noticed that once Nigerian parents start to see financial breakthrough, it opens their eyes and minds. So right now, I get their full support. They are even making plans, sending me links of exhibitions to be part of etc.
TM: What are the challenges you have experienced so far with being an artist?
Ken: The thing about art is that when you create a piece, you sell for about a million, and then you don’t sell again for another couple of months. So you keep putting more in art and you keep buying more. However, the Nigerian art stores do not have enough materials, so you have to start shipping. For a young visual artist like me, I try to help other visual artists because the art world is so segregated. There is not much encouragement for the young visual artists as there is with the old ones. If a regular collector wants to buy art, he won’t buy from the young guys but instead from the older ones. That is the way Nigeria is. The Nigerian visual art community doesn’t give young guys the opportunity. We thank God for galleries like Rele Art Gallery who help young guys. Other galleries would tell you, it has to have this, it has to have that, and so, by the time you are done fulfilling their wishes, your art looks like another person’s art. And they won’t still buy, because it is almost like the old guys’ own so why shouldn’t they rather just buy the older guy’s art. It is just hard to survive in Nigeria.
TM: Do you think there is competition in the art industry?
Ken: Art speaks diverse tongues so why is there competition? Anyone who feels there is competition is not an artist because he doesn’t know the worth of his art.
TM: Are there any collaboration you have had?
Ken: I have organized an exhibition called “Insanity” for a team of hyper-realists at the Omenka gallery. Also, I did another one at Abuja about recycling waste materials, then another one at Omenka gallery again with Fola David etc. Also, “Artist Connect” at Lekki Leisure Lake birthed by Fola David and me.
TM: Are you looking at having any future collaboration?
Ken: Yes, most probably outside the country. I would like to see a Nigerian piece next to a Ken Nwadiogbu piece. The difference would be obvious especially due to the difference in the environment which forms the basis of inspiration for the artwork done.
TM: Who are your favourite artists?
Ken: Fola David, Oscar Ukonu, Arinze Stanley. Also, Nsikan Essien, Emmanuel Desicano.
See more of Ken Ken Nwadiogbu works here
Culled from Issue 18