EAS correspondent Valerie Amani in Tanzania catches up with artist Kolapo Kingdiah from Nigeria, talking about his motivations and evolving art practice, and reflecting on how emerging artists are now creatively using both physical and online spaces to share and give exposure to their works.
Young emerging artists are increasingly creating for themselves the spaces they need. Artist collectives being one of the driving forces in changing how communities perceive and engage with younger artists. Social media has transformed into a hybrid ecosystem - acting as portfolio, website and business front for most emerging artists. In the face of this apparent independence from traditional art spaces - what role do galleries and exhibitions play? I caught up with Kolapo Yemi, an emerging artist from Nigeria who exhibited in the international "Last Image Show" [an international art exhibition co-produced by Emergent Art Space in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in September 2018] to discuss this and his own journey as an artist.
Valerie (V): When did you first experience art?
Kolapo (K): Growing up as a kid, I had few friends who loved drawing comics and playing with clay; my older siblings were also making artistic lettering. I was thrilled and I tried what they were doing, and took it more seriously than them, even though I was just copying. That, I will say, was my first experience. Unfortunately, amongst those friends and siblings, I am the only practicing artist now.
V: How did you begin to create your art (apart from the copying, haha)?
K: I remember telling my mum to buy me a sketch pad and she refused; so I used up all my exercise books to make a comic story I called “Thwart” which I will call my first body of (art) work.
V: What was ‘Thwart’ about?
K: Thwart... it's a superhero comic about domestic accidents children go through at home and a super hero character coming to rescue them before the accident happens 🙂
V: Are there other artists in your family?
K: I am the only practicing artist, but my two brothers were artists growing up, until they choose another profession as they grew older.
V: And are you a full time artist right now?
K: I have always been a full time studio artist, even before university - although I studied physics at the university.
V: Why do you choose to focus on peoples faces?
K: I use charcoal and oil paint majorly to create abstract, realistic and hyper realistic art to illustrate the connections that human beings make (or don’t make) through language, gesture, look, expression, physical placement, cultural values, standards, emotions and desires, which can be seen vividly with portraiture.
V: With this in mind, what do you want to say with your art?
K: With every work I make, my intention is to take you on a journey and make you see more than what I myself can see. The only artist that inspires me to the bone is Dirk Dzimirsky. I am not always thrilled by super hyper realistic works but [I am inspired] by the strong interpretation of messages which I find in Dirk.
V: Let’s talk about the Nigerian Art scene, what has been your experience?
K: It took decades for art to be appreciated in Nigeria, but the value for art is increasing everyday now in Africa as a whole. It takes extra talent and connections to stand tall in the industry and also the masters (leaders in art) here are not giving space to emerging artists.
V: What is the biggest challenge you've faced?
K: My first challenge was my parents. It took them two decades to accept my choice of occupation, as they wanted me to be an engineer. After I was able to get their support, surviving was so hard, as I wasn’t selling; but I kept on working to be better and different, which was my escape route.
V: Are there any events/spaces available to emerging artists in Abuja that offer support?
K: We have a lot of events/exhibition spaces in Abuja city. Unlike Lagos [which is much larger city], Abuja doesn’t have many galleries and art promoters; so artists individually or in groups organize exhibitions. For instance, I belong to an art movement of which I am the leader. We do live painting hangouts and also exhibitions in both art spaces and alternative spaces; and our aim is public sensitization. Our last exhibition was in October, on breast cancer awareness, with the theme “Let’s Go Pink”. We are working on more to come and, hopefully, in the future [we will] be able to collaborate with EAS [Emergent Art Space].
V: Talking about Emergent Art Space, why did you apply for the Last Image Show?
K: A friend sent me the call poster. Before then I had been working on showing my work to the outside world; so when I saw the call, I saw an opportunity. Before then, I had exhibited in few countries like Belgium, Malta, Dubai, New York and most cities across Nigeria.
V: Why do you think exhibitions are important?
K: Even though the new generation of artists sell mostly on social media, exhibitions are still very important for every artist, as they are the main way to showcase your body of work with a traceable record, and get [to be] known for a style of art. Art exhibitions are archival objects in their own right, important indicators of perception and appreciation of art and artists at a certain point in time.
V: And what kind of art have you made since Last Image Show?
K: After the Last Image Show exhibition, I decided to put charcoal works on hold for a year, and decided to marry my physics experience with art using oil paint. Since then, I have been creating a body of work I call “equation and dialogue”.
V: What keeps you motivated?
K: Talking about motivation, I always have one thing in mind.
The world has a lot of BESTS (best in all professions); so being the best is not enough. The world is looking for the exceptional and those with the difference. [I want to] be the game changer.
The structure of the art industry preserves the relevance of art shows and exhibitions. As Kolapo so brilliantly put it, exhibitions are a key indicator of perception and social context - however, it is still important for young artists to create their own spaces with their own rules as Kolapo has done. What does it take to be a game changer and cross from emerging artist to established artist? Well it seems the only way to be the game changer is to be yourself. Kolapo's recent work incorporating physics is so unique to him because of what he studied. Emerging artists must keep on claiming space online, offline and within their communities. A gallery show or exhibition should just be a part of the journey, not the final destination.