Abuja-based artist gives an insight into his creative thought process and inspiration as he attempts to reclaim African agency through his art.
Agudiegwu’s surrealist expressions attempt to rewrite the African narrative one painting at a time. He explores the purposeful redeployment of African thoughts and traditions, highlighting a cultural disconnect in budding generations of African descendants, as his investigations journey through historicity and its modes/forms of existence.
His new works investigate the concept of an African Renaissance, drawing on decades of historical knowledge to inform future speculations and visions.
Instilling the idea that self-discovery must be done collectively; rewinding history to envision a more refined future realm for current and future generations.
In his painting - Our Ancestors weren’t Savages, he argues that the image of the ancient African has been painted to be a savage one, highlighting how recent societal debates have seen an incursion in conversations which renders the image of the ancient African to be a savage one; enabling an environment that conveys to them that their ancestors were worthless savages, which he notes as a miseducation - detrimental to the self worth of current and future generations.
In his recent works, he makes a statement with cut trees; which represent Africa and her ancestors - tying its significance to the references of trees in various African traditions.
The visual depiction of the cut trees indicate they have been sawed off, the artist paints this as a way to capture the severing of African civilisation during the colonial and post-colonial era.
Another fascinating element is his integration of Cambium lines from biological science (applied in studying/tracing the growth and history of a tree)
Aided by his extensive research in African history (before the 1860s) and conversations with his grandmother, He debates that history wasn’t fully documented, Africa had her unique way of chronicling past events through arts, crafts and oral tradition.
Citing the Uli Women Paintings, Benin carvings and other lost artifacts which signal the existence of historical misconceptions and biases.
In Agudiegwu’s words “This leaves us in an imaginative realm, In a state of not knowing…, the artist denotes hints of an invented reality of the continent, one ridden with questions of identity and other sub-particularities of culture.
Seeking a perception of African history beyond the context of Slave trade and colonialism and without debt to preexisting facts, he reimagines a place, a paradise of sorts where people coexist and share values. He further illustrates the concept behind his art in this phrase “…Until we begin to discover ourselves, sit back on the cut trees and find ourselves together as a collective.”
He also pictures birds trying to build a nest; alluding to a collaborative call to rebuild, with the sitting posture referring to internal reflection, preparation to rebuild nests on the trees as they grow back. A preparation to start over and this time stronger.
“Until we begin to discover ourselves, sit back on the cut trees and find ourselves together as a collective.”
I Have Seen Paradise
The artist portrays clouds as a way to elevate the status of black figures in his paintings - an impression that the black race can reach and go beyond the limit. With the sky as a Metaphor for limitlessness, boundless success.
In his large sized painting, Agudiegwu highlights the disconnection in the new generation of African descendants, illustrating the need to find ourselves as a collective by returning to our roots. The call to sit on this cut down tree signals the collective’s creation of a new abode, finding connection to our roots with a refined approach .
Expanding on the collective call, he acknowledges the ill sides of our ancestors, without dwelling but allowing it to refine us.
“For you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’re coming from.”
Interview with Ebuka Pascal Agudiegwu
What inspires your style?
What fascinates me most about life and existence is the symbiotic relationship that exists between man and plant, how man depends on plant and vice versa. Man breathes in oxygen and breathes out carbon(iv)oxide while plants breathe the other way round. These thoughts have always tickled my fancy and thus influenced my artistic expression and so I find it very pleasing to create works which capture these two subjects as one piece.
What sort of experimentation has led you to your current style as an artist?
I enjoy working with charcoal pencils especially on canvas and I have always been in love with colors. So as a self taught artist, part of my challenge has always been learning the best medium that will suit my style. I was able to resolve the best ways to use the acrylic colors with charcoal pencils and it’s pretty interesting. Also I am currently working on other mediums too like candle soot painting which i intend exploring in future.
Why did you start making art? How did you kickstart your artistic endeavour?
Art has been a part of me since I was a little boy. I drew to impress folks and family until I realized that art could actually be a good tool to effect the change I most desired. I have always battled with the right medium to express my subjective views about issues challenging humanity. I always try engaging people in conversations that are targeted at bringing our minds back to consciousness but that doesn't work out well because I sometimes lack the right words to really engage people as I would love to. But with my artistic expressions I have been able to do that.
I started making art as a boy when I visited my grandma in Umuahia south eastern Nigeria and she took me to the market where she owns a shop. To my amusement I saw art expressions everywhere, on the walls, doors, ceilings of shops and pillars. The experience was overwhelming and that instant I felt the urge to key into that energy and it has been fun all the way.
What other artists, genres or movements do you draw inspiration from?
I draw inspiration from Kehinde Wiley, his use of colors and ability to express himself has helped in molding my confidence.
If you could change one aspect of society or social issues through your work, what would it be?
Yeah, that should be in the area of black identity and black inferiority. I like to say I am a proud black man. I love my skin color, my hair texture, my broad nose and my physicality. I like my works to be a source of inspiration to other blacks in Africa and in the diaspora.
What do you do to get into your creative zone?
Music is my magic. I perceive my creative zone to be a safe place where I have serenity and so to get myself in the right frame to create I usually play myself very good music. Also I enjoy playing audio books while creating, it puts me in a very imaginative space as described by the book in play.
What are the biggest challenges you've had in your art?
As a young artist my biggest challenge is how I can get in touch with curators, collectors and galleries. Creating works and not getting spaces to exhibit your works is really sad, as the aim of getting people to see them and draw inspiration becomes very difficult
What ultimate messages do your creative expressions convey?
Originality and indigenousness. The narratives and stereotypes about the black race have a negative impact on present day Africans. As an artist I feel it falls in my place to contribute in changing those ill narratives that are targeted at trauncating black restoration.
What other Art practice are you venturing into?
Poetry, but that should be in the future.
Has technology had any impact on your artistic practice? In what ways has it affected or shaped it?
Yes. In the media aspect especially, I have been able to get some audience in a short period of practice and has been able to get my works to places that ordinarily might not have been possible in such a short period especially in this covid era.
What influences your creative process when working on Art of the Feminine? Does it go beyond culture for you?
I see women differently, I see them as the spice that gives life its taste. The struggle they go through as women and yet they still come out beautiful fascinates me the most. Just like in every meal we eat, we don’t get to see the spice like we see every other food material used in making the food, but we all know that without those spices the food will be tasteless. So, capturing the woman in her true essence is very important to me.
Your recent paintings embody strong narratives - reclaiming African agency and thoughts, can you give us an insight into the driving inspiration behind them?
Very evident in my recent works are Cut trees, I use the cut trees to visually illustrate the way African civilization was brutally disrupted. In various African traditions the tree is very symbolic and Africans make several references to the trees. Growing up I was a fan of epic Nollywood movies and in scenes where an elder dies or someone very prominent in the community dies, villagers often say “Oke osisi adago” which literally translates to “ the great tree has fallen. But to build my narrative I painted the cut trees, which describes how the African civilization was disrupted during The transatlantic slave era and colonial era. Most Africans living today are ignorant of great exploits made by their ancestors. They live in self denial and believe the white lie that Africans were savages and until their encounter with the Europeans, Africa was a land of Savages and Bavarians.
Are there any recurring themes in your work, or are there any that have emerged as your work has evolved?
Yes, recently I’m beginning to build my works around African civilization. Exploring this theme for me will not only make me a fulfilled person, it will also spark conversations that will prick our consciousness and make us more aware of who we are and why we exist.
Ebuka Pascal Agudiegwu is a self-taught artist from Imo state, Nigeria, who currently resides and works in Abuja.
Carving a niche in the realm of surrealism, Agudiegwu explores his creativity with an array of mediums and elements; from charcoal, graphite, ink, to pastel, acrylic, oil paint, salt and candle flames. Agudiegwu’s works are elaborate and insightful - challenging critical life issues - questioning norms and traditions and encouraging continental discourses.
See more works by the artist here.
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