By Josephine Agbonkhese & Chris Onuoha
From time immemorial, the ratio of male to female artists in Nigeria, and even across the globe, has always been strongly imbalanced in favour of men. So disproportionate has it been that the word Fine Artist became synonymous with masculinity as it became almost impossible to visualize a female at the mention of it. In art schools for instance, men form the majority of faculty members and among art collectors, the inequality is even stronger.
But things appear to be changing very fast. Not only are more women opting to study Visual Arts; they are also opting to practice after studying, unlike what obtained in the past. Woman’s Own can categorically say this because it has encountered more number of young, passionate and vibrant female visual artists lately than it has ever done—and they seem to be sending their male colleagues to the laundries too. We engaged some of them.
My forebears and father were carvers — Anthonia Nneji
The only female in a class of seven studying Fine Arts at the University of Lagos during her time, Anthonia Nneji Chinasa who graduated top of her class, is one of the young ladies gradually conquering the Visual Arts industry in Nigeria. She has participated in several exhibitions and aspires to become a renowned artist with her works adorning notable museums.
Since when have you been practicing Visual Arts?
I’ve been doing this, professionally, for one year. I studied Fine Arts at the University of Lagos and graduated last year.
How many exhibitions have you participated in?
I’ve participated in about four exhibitions. I did one recently with the Society of Nigerian Artists, of which I am a member.
How many females were in your class and what was it like studying Fine Arts?
I was the only girl amongst six males. At first it was challenging. In fact, intimidating, because we had two guys who came in from Yaba College of Technology. Nobody believed I could cope but I was encouraged by my mates and learned to work together with those guys from Yaba Tech. Gradually, I did cope and even graduated with a 2.1. We were only two that got 2.1 in my class.
Why Fine Arts?
My paternal forebears and even my father were traditional carvers and masquerade carriers. So, it runs in the family. Even when I told my mum I wanted to do Fine Arts, she didn’t argue because she preferred me doing what I enjoyed doing. My grandfather carved totems for traditional worship. My father was also a carver but I didn’t know him much because he died when I was a baby. But I still have some walking sticks, figurines and others that he did.
Your love for Fine Art started when?
My mum has been ever supportive of my passion for arts. She used to buy me crayons, coloured pencils, drawing pads, and others right from when I was a child.
…and at what point did you decide to study art professionally?
That was after secondary school when I wanted to put in for JAMB. I was wondering whether to go for Law or something else. My mum encouraged me to pick Fine Arts since I was already good at it. I remember her telling me that even if others do not earn a good standard of living from it that I would do well in it since I loved it.
When did you first sell your art work and for what price?
I first sold my work while still at school. We were doing an exhibition and some collectors bought one of my paintings for N25,000. The work would however had cost about N200,000 if I were selling it now. Art is a very lucrative business right now and I guess it’s why we see so many artists these days.
What’s your medium?
Oil and acrylic on canvass. It is the old master’s medium and the most known medium for traditional arts. So, most traditional artists like me either use oil on canvass or acrylic on canvass. For me, oil works because it creates this kind of rich feeling and makes your painting glow even five years after.
Do you sometimes explore other mediums?
I sometimes explore other mediums like water colour, wax, charcoal, etc., basically because I want to be versatile or know about them. But mainly, my medium is oil and acrylic on canvass.
How has it been trying to find your feet in a male-dominated terrain like visual arts?
I’ve never had any problem finding my feet because my works are based on personal experience. I trained with Mr Wallet Ejoh at the Universal Studio in Lagos for my six-month industrial attachment and he taught me a lot which have helped me not struggle. I also started working with him immediately after school.
Who has been your biggest influence in the industry?
Mr Wallet Ejoh and only Mr Wallet Ejoh, so far. He is the one I look up to right now and want to be like.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years…?
I hope to have become an internationally known and renowned artist whose work will be found in notable museums around the world. I hope people and women especially, who find it difficult to talk about their emotional problems can relate with my work and find the strength to open up and gain inspiration from them.
On the average, how much do you earn from fine art in one month?
It will be hard to say in ‘one month’ because sometimes you can stay a month and not get somebody to buy a single work from you. As an artist, you don’t expect people to buy art works everyday from you, so, you have to be very patient. So, one the average, I can say I earn between N200,000-N400,000 in one month from your works. On some other months, you can get even up to a million and sometimes, you can get nothing in two, three months.
Your biggest moment so far?
My biggest moment was when I had my first exhibition. That was November last year. I was the only emerging artist in that exhibition and I was really excited to see myself exhibiting with big names in the industry. So many of my works were bought at that exhibition.
I worked with Onobrakpeya — Igbinovia Omon
Sophia Omon Igbinovia is an emerging artist who honed her skills at the feet of renowned print master, Professor Bruce Onobrakpeya. Today, she has mastered the techniques of printmaking, bead painting, plastograph, and metal foil process. The Federal Polytechnic Auchi graduate of Graphic Arts who also presently works as an Art Analyst in Lagos tells more in this interview.
Since when have you been in this field and what was your parent’s reaction when you first opted for it?
I’ve been practicing fine arts officially since 2011 even though I was still studying at the Federal Polytechnic, Auchi. My parents actually didn’t see a future in it when I first told them I wanted to put in for Fine Arts; they tried to discourage me because my twin sister was going to study Law. But I just could not give in because I had passion for nothing else but visual arts; which they of course knew.
How many exhibitions have you taken part in?
I have featured in group exhibitions, some of which are Auchi Art Expo 2011; Nigerian/American Exhibition 2012, Lagos; Ribbon 2016 in Lagos; Faces and Phases 2016, Lagos; Onobrakpeya and the Harmattan Workshop Artists 2016, Lagos; Art-titude by Female Artists Association of Nigeria (FEAAN) South West Zone 2017; Breathing Art 2017, Abuja; German Embassy Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls Exhibition 2017, Abuja; Abuja Unlocked: Discovering Art Spaces 2017, Abuja; Visual Printmakers Association of Nigeria Maiden Touring Exhibition 2017, Lagos, amongst others.
I was among the top 100 finalists in the Union Bank Centenary Art Challenge, 2017, and also among the 2015, 2016 and 2017 Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) and All Africa Music Award (AFRIMA) graphics team. Recently I was also featured in a book, The Art of Nigerian Women, written by Chukwuemeka Ben Bosah.
But why Fine Arts?
I would say I was born an artist. I drew on practically all surfaces while growing up. In fact, all the pages of my school notebooks were my sketchpad. Art is my lifestyle.
You certainly had more boys in class than girls; how did you fare?
More girls are actually falling in love with visual arts these days. We had about 13-14 females and 45-52 boys in my HND class. I coped well and was even assisting some of my male classmates with their assignments. I was never intimidated in any way; in fact, I was among the top five in my class.
What’s your medium presently and why that choice of medium?
My major focus is print art – that is printmaking and bead-painting. My medium is metal foil and additive plastograph. I chose these medium because I love the fact that it is very stressful and difficult for females, and because I love the final result of my own art work. I somehow love challenges. I have a deep rooted desire to explore all facets of printmaking and develop new and varied techniques.
How would you describe your art?
My artwork takes a critical view of our society, environment and everyday life activities around us. This is because our everyday life, beauty, waterside, festivals, etc., can be beautifully expressed through prints. I also apply different techniques in my work which usually involves the use of my index finger to achieve unique effects and application of colour strokes which is quite unusual in print art.
Do you sometimes explore other mediums?
Yes. I sometimes work with water color on paper, acrylic on canvas and also bead painting.
Who is your biggest influence in the field?
Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya. His unsurpassed craft and vision have helped transform my works. In fact, I would say I was fortunate to spend years with him; working in his studio right from when I was in school, was most inspirational, particularly as he discussed and revealed his printmaking techniques without holding back anything. My first experience at his studio as an intern gave me leverage like in my passing out project. I remember I told my supervisor that I wanted to do metal foil and he was like, ‘can you do it?’ I ended up doing it and I was the one explaining to him how it is done. I had one of the best works and was the only one who did something different.
Where do you draw inspirations from?
From my environment and everyday life activities around us.
Which artist, dead or alive, also inspires you?
Mr Sam Ovraiti
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I see myself becoming a renowned artist and I also aspire to teach the skill to younger people; especially ladies.
I studied Computer Science but didn’t bother searching for work — Ibironke Komolafe
Ibironke Komolafe is an usual Fine Artist. Reason? She spent years studying Computer Science at Babcock University, graduated, kept aside that degree and went straight for the drawing pad. She is one of Nigeria’s emerging female artists and her work is fast gaining acceptance and an impressive following. The artist without any formal training tells us more.
What kind of art do you do?
I presently do a mix of collage and charcoal painting.
Why art and is it a full-time job for you?
Yes. I am currently not working; I studied Computer Science at Babcock University from where I graduated in 2015. Right now, I am focused on building my art.
Since when did you discover your love for visual arts?
Like I said earlier, I’ve been doing art since I was a child. I remember my dad would buy me drawing pads and other art materials each time he came back from his trips. But I started doing it commercially in 2012. I’ve not attended any formal training but over the years, I’ve been working hard at advancing my art through personal studies both online and by reading books.
Was it because you couldn’t find a job that you went into this?
No. I actually didn’t look for a job. I decided to just focus on art and nothing else. I believe focusing on art at the pace at which I’m going now will benefit me more in a few years.
…and has the business been lucrative enough to pay your bills and enable you call yourself ‘self-employed’?
I do get commissions from people once in a while, with which I stock up on materials. And then monthly, I am able to pay my bills. Though, the income is not enough yet.
But what makes you still prefer focusing on art than picking up a Computer Science-related job?
I just would rather do art; I love it. I have been attending exhibitions to see if I can get better commissions and meet people who can introduce me to a bigger crowd so I can earn more money from my works
But why did you spend years studying Computer Science instead of Visual Art?
My father has very strict standards when it comes to choosing a school. He didn’t want us to go to certain schools even though they have Fine Arts. The schools he preferred us to go to do not have Fine Arts, so, I had to choose a course that could enhance my passion for arts. You know Computer Science involves graphics. So, the knowledge will help me go into graphic arts later on.
How do you plan to sharpen your skill so you can be operating on same level with leading artists soonest?
I think it is about exposure to what obtains presently in the industry, what the crowd wants, what people are doing and more; and I am working in that direction.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I draw inspiration from things I see around me. I might see a picture now and just decide to draw it. For instance, a friend posted some pictures on social media and I just loved them and just began to draw them.
What would you say about the art scene presently in Nigeria and the ratio of male to female artists?
I could say it is 20 men to three women because I could count on my finger tips how many female artists I’ve come across this year. As for the industry, I would say there is hope for artists more than in the past. They are better regarded and the appreciation of art works is growing.
Is there any form of gender bias in the sector?
Not at all. Everyone is judged based on their work. It is just that the women are not putting themselves out there.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Big studio, beautiful works, better established.
…and then what if you get a job in January 2018 to come work in Chevron as a Computer Scientist, would you forfeit it for visual arts?
Funny enough, I can let the job go. If I pick up a job now, it will be because of my art; probably because I want to finance my work. But if it’s a job that will take all of my time, I will not take it.
Your biggest influence in the industry?
Ken Nwadiogwu and Sylvester Aguda.