After a twenty-minute struggle with the ever so disappointing WIFI, the sudden google chime causes me to sigh out of relief. I wait nervously for her to join the meeting. It was easy for me to conjure all sorts of versions of her I had never met and make up scenarios of how horribly the interview could go. A pop-up box opens politely asking if I would like accept Jacqueline into the meeting and hesitantly obliged. A face I had seen in pictures, news interviews and a TED talk pops up on my screen. “Hello Kikachi, good morning, how are you?” Jacqueline asks with a smile.
Before our meeting that sunny Saturday, Jacqueline had quite an unsettled week of shuffling between the hospital and her studio. The pressure from her one-month ongoing exhibition, Now I wear myself, had skyrocketed her stress levels. Nevertheless, you would never know unless she told you. She looked radiant as she spoke about her week and excitement for the weekend. I immediately felt a little bad for interrupting her weekend dedicated to relaxing with this interview. She laughs at my comment and opens up about how meetings like this aren’t stressful for her. The hustle and bustle of getting glammed up for an interview in the city is what would’ve made her a bit more stressed than normal.
For Jacqueline, a regular week without an exhibition majorly consists of spending over nine hours in her studio below her home and being with her family afterwards. She explains working so close to home isn’t a problem for her as she’s mastered separating work life from personal life. She’s spent a considerable amount of time studying the lives of the few female artists, the likes of Njideka Akunyili Crosby, who have learnt to balance being a wife, mom, and full-time artists. Prior to owning her personal studio, Jacqueline spent 2015 to 2018 sharing a studio space with one of her friends. The discipline she learnt during those years plays a huge part in helping her find a balance between the multifaceted duties of being Jacqueline Suowari.
Our meeting is abruptly cut short by the stony-hearted wireless connection. Away from our interview, she goes along her day making effort to rest and do minimal work.
The lemon-green-ginger tea loving artist spent her Sunday evening in the comfort of a hot cup of tea in her fabulous “J” mug and a few slices of bread while graciously answering a few more questions that try to demystify who she is. Interrupted by her 5-year-old daughter’s consistent jabber, she’s slightly torn between our interview and responding to her daughter. “I’m scared of the dark mommy” she wails as Jacqueline tries to recall her childhood.
I loved going to the sculpture garden in A.B.U, it had a sculpture of every student who had passed through their fine art department. I used to go there all time; it was like going through history.
Born and raised in Zaria, she spent her formative years in the environs of Ahmadu Bello University, where her father served as the Deputy Registrar. Through her primary school and secondary school, friends had always known her to be ‘An Artist’. It’s all she’s always wanted for as long as she could remember. Her parents always knew and couldn’t ignore or deny that art was what she was supposed to do, hence their acceptance of her choice to study fine arts in University of Port Harcourt in the early 2000s. Like every other parent, they were initially concerned about her choice but not because they thought she wouldn’t excel, majorly because art hasn’t ever been a popular career choice in Nigeria. Her time in Zaria was quite a memorable one. She recalls visiting the sculpture garden in A.B.U and oftentimes marveling at the works of now famous artists who have their student project situated there.
Jacqueline’s dog, Diamond, also makes an appearance in our interview just as Jacqueline starts to discuss her latest exhibition Now I Wear Myself. Jacqueline’s first solo exhibition Now I Wear Myself is a 15-piece collection made up mixed arts. Each piece is accompanied by a poem that captures the artists soulful interpretation. “I really enjoyed writing the poetry for each piece, but I prefer the audience to create their interpretations before they read the poems.” Jacqueline says. Her inspiration for the collection is drawn largely from personal experiences. Some of the experiences are borrowed, some she puts herself in someone else’s shoes to draw from.
She recalls her first exhibition in 2009 and the rush of feelings she experienced. The overwhelming mix of fear and nervousness was washed over by the complements she began to receive. She felt good that people enjoyed her work and felt even better when people reach out to her later to gush about how her work had changed their lives.
I don’t know, I guess it’s my superpower.
Going through her gallery of work, Jacqueline focuses on humans, on people. The more you look at her pieces the more you realize each piece has unspeakable layers that make the faces more personal than they seem. She confesses her secret is capturing the “expressions of the vulnerable”. Capturing her models when they’re in their soft, vulnerable spot is what gives more life to her work. On how she gets her models to drop their guard and be comfortable around her, she can’t really explain it. “I just met you yesterday, but don’t you feel like you can tell me anything?” she asks. “Yes” I respond. “Don’t you feel like you can open up to me?” she asks again “Yes” I confess. “Well, I don’t know, I guess it’s my superpower. People just feel comfortable around me.” She admits she doesn’t give off an aura of what ‘she should be’, rather she simply is herself. She attributes it to growing up in the north, explaining that’s how a lot of residents behave there. It’s something she also picked up from her parents growing up., she watched her parents treat everyone with equal respect.
She likens being a creative to being a superhero. To her, superheroes have several powers, in the same light creatives have several powers. “Creatives can decide to harness their talents one at a time.” She says. After spending 11 years in the industry, Jacqueline toys with the idea of exploring her other superpowers. She reveals there’s more to her than just drawing or painting. She writes, sculpts, and does performance art as well. For now, she enjoys the fruit of her labour at her ongoing solo exhibition at Retro Africa, Abuja.