Adanna Odikwa is a creative artist and makeup artist, and a graduate of Fine Arts from Abia State University. She recently organized an art exhibition in Abia State called “Stroke and Shades”. In this interview with KINGSLEY ALUMONA, she explains why she chose to study Fine Arts and the therapeutic function of the arts.
What was your fondest memory of studying at the Beaux-Arts?
I chose to study Fine Arts because I have always loved doing art and am also good at it. I started to make art very young. When I was little my parents would buy us pencils and sketch pads, and after we finished painting a picture we would show them and they would applaud us and encourage us to paint more pictures. My brothers and I also made things with clay. We made decorative flowerpots and placed them in our bedrooms.
Making art in high school was kind of an escape for me. I went to boarding school and it was not an experience that I enjoyed, so I found myself writing stories, making story books with pictures, drawing and painting as well. I’m always likely to be the most artistic person in the class and whenever there was an art assignment my classmates would come to me for help.
It happened at the university. My colleagues were asking for help with their mission. It got to a point where I had to help my lecturer with some portrait work he was working on. I never really complained about any of this.
What are two high school experiences that weren’t met and how has art helped you cope?
First off, there were a lot of routines and restrictions that I found very difficult to manage, from JSS1 to SS3. Second, the atmosphere was nothing like home. Few people were kind and supportive, unlike the house. Turning to art was a distraction from reality. A relief. It was there that I could create my own world and live my daydreams.
What types of themes / human conditions do your works capture and why?
I am fascinated by the cultural and political aspects of human existence, Africans specifically. So I tend to capture it a lot. Some of the themes I explored with the paintings I did last year and this year were inspired by the EndSARS protests, gunmen, and unknown shepherds. I do this because of the effects they have on us, directly or indirectly. I also love to paint African abstract landscapes as a way to recognize our beauty and architecture. I am also fascinated by human figures. The majority of my paintings are figurative. I also experimented with other artistic styles. I used palette knives, collages, hardboard etc. I also like to experiment with colors.
Why this inspiration from EndSARS protests, gunmen and shepherds? Have you had any experience with them or have they affected your community in any way?
These events did not directly affect me. However, as a human being and as a Nigerian, I am concerned about the current state of the country and its leadership. It saddens me to see these things affecting people. I have close friends who have recounted their harsh experiences at the hands of the SARS officers of the day. They told me that they had been beaten and detained until their innocence was proven for crimes they had not committed. It is not a pleasant experience. I constantly fear for my brothers and my male friends, even for my female friends too. So, these paintings that I made while exploring these themes express my concern and also remind viewers that lives have been affected by this cause. Then again, what better way to document history than to turn it into art.
What is your creative process? And how long does it take you to produce a work of art?
My creative process can be difficult, especially since I started working with larger dimensions. I must first go to a carpenter to build frames, buy a canvas or get a fabric to replace the canvas that I would later prepare with glue and emulsion paint to prevent the colors that I I would use only penetrate, then I would mount the canvas / fabric on the stretcher using a stapler or nails. Once the surface is primed, I would let it dry before applying color to it. It really is a long process and these materials are not readily available here, so their supply can be hectic as well. I try to work with those available. It takes me less than three days to create a work of art, if I’m not distracted; but when i am, it takes up to a week. I don’t like slowing down my creative process because once I do, it’s hard to come back to it and I lose the motivation to complete it.
You recently organized an art exhibition labeled: ‘Stroke and Shades’. Tell us about it.
The exposure of strokes and shades was basically a way to promote my talent and raise awareness of events in our company. It was not that easy to plan. It was financially and physically draining because I was working with larger dimensions, but I received a lot of support from my parents and peers. The general manager of the Abia National Marketing and Market Quality Agency was also of great help. It was a successful event, considering where it was held. A few young people approached me and told me that they would like to pursue a career in the fine arts. I hope the exhibit inspires more young talent in my area to start with all the resources they have, regardless of their location.
How many of your works have been presented in the exhibition and where can you find your work?
About 30 works have been shown and you can find them at the Abia State Market Marketing and Quality Agency in Umuahia. My works also have a virtual presence. You can find and order them on my social media pages, including Facebook. I do not have a gallery or a workshop because I do not yet have a fixed address. This is something that I would definitely consider in the near future.
Do you intend to present your work outside of Nigeria?
Yes. It’s on every list of artists to exhibit internationally. I have seen some of my colleagues exhibiting globally and they are doing very well. I would like to get to that level too. Hopefully, getting in touch with the right people and having more visibility would help me achieve this. I also have to join groups, attend conferences and exhibitions. I never really saw myself as a social person. I’m still in my comfort zone, but it’s a habit I have to break to get far in my career.
What type of digital technology / innovation do you adopt in creating your work?
I’m a traditional painter, but recently started making art with my laptop using software like Fire Alpaca and Adobe Illustrator. I have a graphics tablet that I plug into my laptop and draw on. I would like to immerse myself in graphics one day. I am also looking to sell my art in the form of NFT.
A lot of people don’t like or appreciate the creative / visual arts in Nigeria. What do you think could be done to change this story?
It is a sad reality that I cannot change. As much as I can’t control people’s perceptions, it’s important that I keep doing what I love. People tried to discourage me from studying fine art. They even went so far as to tell my parents to let me study other courses like nursing, medicine or math, but my parents refused. I think the stigma that goes with it is that it’s not a palpable career and I wouldn’t make a living from it. I understand their fears, but I must say that I am doing very well. The only thing that matters, as I mentioned before, is to keep going and work harder too. However, I think there are quite a few who enjoy it in areas like Lagos, Port Harcourt, etc., and these people motivate me. I would also like to exhibit and sell art in these places.
In your opinion, do you think the government and schools are doing enough to nurture and support young creative talent in society?
I think they are. Fine arts have been on the curriculum of many schools in Nigeria. I studied it in elementary school and university, and also experienced some interschool competitions. So yes, the government is doing an excellent job in this regard. I wish it would be available as a course in every school so that students with an arts bent can find a way to unlock their potential. It would be nice to see a young talent who had the opportunity to use his skills. It would also boost their self-confidence.
In what ways do you think creative art could be a source of healing for the mental health of the individual and of society in general?
Art in all respects is therapeutic. It doesn’t matter if it’s a simple aesthetic or if it’s done to get a message or to tell a story, it makes sense with the mind and the emotions. He has a way of uplifting his mind. Take, for example, if you walk into a room filled with artwork, whatever it is, the ambience would be more pleasant and relaxing. It’s just something you can’t put into words. Every line and every color has an effect on you.
Creative / visual arts are serious arts that require time and mental energy. How do you manage your time and sanity in creating your work?
I like to work on a schedule. I find time for my art and time to take a break. I also schedule time to do important things like my housework, school, and other needs. Most of the time, making art is my way of taking a break. This is the fun part of being an artist.
Apart from the visual arts, what other work do you do?
I am currently doing NYSC. However, while I was in school, I did a bit of professional makeup and tailoring. My business name was Bloomkulture. I would have liked to continue with makeup because I was making money with it. But I’m comfortable with the way things turned out. I also earn a reasonable amount of money by selling my art.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years, I would be a successful studio artist, participating in national and world exhibitions with a masters degree, while pursuing a doctorate.
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