Umuahia, Abia State- born Chidi Kwubiri is a German-based artist who studied fine arts (painting) at the Art Academy Dusseldorf with Prof. Michael Buthe and Prof. A.R. Penck (Master of Fine Arts [Meisterschüler]). He has had multiple solo exhibitions in Nigeria, USA, Germany, South Africa, France and the Netherlands. Over the years his works have been shown at the Casablanca Biennale, Morocco, the “Palm Beach Contemporary”, Florida,USA, the UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, Goethe-Institut, Dusseldorf, Germany, OPERA Gallery, Paris and at the 50th Anniversary of the Nigerian Independence at the Nigerian Embassy and Deutsche Bank, Berlin, etc. In this encounter, Chidi talks about his works, inspiration and more. Excerpts:
By Prisca Sam-Duru
Why the choice of art as a career?
I started painting at the age of five or six. Born and raised in the village, I didn’t have any role model or any knowledge about art. It was like an instinct. As a teenager, I even had to bear the punishment of my parents, who thought I was wasting my time and whose dream was for me to become a doctor or a lawyer. I just followed my dream against all odds. I can’t say why I chose art as a career. I can only say that I felt very early that this ambition was inborn.
Professionally, at what point did you decide to become an artist?
I think it was in the eighties, when I was already quite successful as a young man, doing commissioned works and portraits for a lot of dignitaries in Nigeria. At some point I felt like this could not be all about being creative. That was the time I decided to travel abroad to seek a professional art education and to get new impulses about art and creativity.
Considering that many believe art appreciation isn’t yet what it’s supposed to be in Nigeria, why did you decide to come and base here in Nigeria?
I am not based in Nigeria as an artist but I am often busy together with other artists in Nigeria to engage in projects and my studio is in Germany, but I have strong ties here in Nigeria and often come back home to enjoy the village scenes and festivals – This is very important for me as an artist, because as the roots are the foundation by which a tree is able to stand and grow, so are my culture and tradition keeping me strong and enabling me to rejuvenate and create. And as the proverb goes… “The river that forgets its source will run dry”. My culture and tradition remain my basic source of inspiration. In addition, Nigeria is also a very important art market for me as I have a very strong Circle of Collectors here and often come back home to engage and to contribute to the vibrant evolving art scene. Like I have always said “It is good to engage globally – but it is also very important to be active locally.”
Your works display your ingenuity, dexterity…yet little is known about you, why?
I don’t know how much is known about me – or how much is supposed to be known about me. But I feel like my works speak loud enough. Since years I have a strong circle of international collectors also in Nigeria without being based here.
Your inputs in Wanderlust are outstanding, why is ‘Priceless’ important in the exhibition?
It is all about the importance of education and at the same time its fragility – especially for young girls and women in Africa. The title of the exhibition is “Wanderlust” – The “lust” to wander. Education is one of the most reasons why we all “wandered”.
What inspires you as an artist and what’s your ideal work environment?
My culture, my people, my tradition – and sometimes global events that touch me inspire me. My ideal work environment is my quiet and spacious studio in a converted historic steel-mill close to Cologne, filled up with my Nigerian music and the smell of freshly self-cooked hot spicy egusi soup…
Do large paintings help your creativity in any way?
I am a space freak. When I entered my first real big studio more than 10 years ago, it was like liberation to be chanced to do real big formats without constraints. And from there my dripping technique became real intense. I do smaller formats once in a while, but I simply love the big formats and I feel like my motives come out better on a large canvas.
We’ve seen artists presenting new frontiers in styles and medium especially in painting, what does it say about Nigeria and art?
Art knows neither limits nor boundaries. So there are still so many paths uncharted. As you know, an artist is a naturally born adventurer – so also is “a Nigerian” in contrary to my own situation then as a child, I today see medical students, law, economics, banking and finance, engineering students etc, all abandoning their studies and switching to arts – What was unthinkable just few years ago. The creative wave has hit Nigeria and many are ready to ride along with – The world’s next greatest artist is going to be a Nigerian.
Any reason you may consider coming back home to stay?
Not before power (NEPA) is reliably working 24/7…
African Art is evolving, how do you see it in the future?
Africa is the new frontier in contemporary art – and Nigeria is obviously one of the front runners. I am proud and happy to be part of this exciting development. The upcoming young artists of Nigeria will have a much smoother path to go than the present generation artist.
What are the challenges contemporary artists face while practicing in Nigeria, and the way forward?
I don’t practice here but I often hear from fellow Nigerian artists, that power (NEPA) and other infrastructural problems are killing creativity. And yet in the midst of all these obstacles, the artists here are still able to create such great masterpieces that can compete with any other artworks elsewhere in the world. I am surprised and happy about the attention, awareness and appreciation that contemporary art gets in the high level society of Nigeria at the moment, but I still hope that this attention and awareness don’t end at the top, but trickle down to the common man and further to the public schools.