Pamela Enyonu is a copywriter at ‘Aggrey and Clifford’ and an artist. She’s the kind of woman you want around when things get a little crazy. Something in her air, her manner of speaking, the bold look on her face, her stride…it all tells you that this is a woman who knows how to get things done.
In her art, she bares her soul and isn’t shy about it. You may choose to blush, look away or judge, it doesn’t matter. She’ll be too busy making important statements through her art to fit into those tiny boxes women are often placed into.
What drives your passion for art?
Art is my center, my clarity, and my god. When I do art, the world rights itself. I am driven by stories. My art is a re-imagination of my and the stories of those around me. I am inspired by stories of triumph and self – empowerment.
Where did your artistic journey begin and how has it evolved since?
My artistic journey began when I was about 8 or 9 years when I made the decision to do art in primary 4. I vividly remember drawing a yam and finding it so easy and from then onwards, I never looked back.
I went to art school at Kyambogo University, majoring in printmaking and multi-media crafts elements. This has somehow found its way into my crafts. During my journey, there are times when I have deviated from my path, however, I have always found my way to the things I love.
Could you describe your artistic process?
For a long time, my process was pretty organic. However, these days I have deliberate plans, reading, collecting and educating myself on the stories I want to tell. I use words and photography a lot in my work.
My process begins with composing the narrative before I begin making the art. I then keep adding layers as my point of view gets clearer. For me, it’s important that my message is clear despite all the multi-layered looks.
I am currently acquainting myself with the more abstract thought processes and I have to admit, this is alien territory for me. I am hoping to produce more abstract work in the future.
How can African artists protect their art?
Africa is a vast continent that has inspired a lot of ideas at home and beyond. As African artists, you always run the risk of your work being misinterpreted. I don’t think it’s something we can control.
However, we can perhaps get ideas from other industries that successfully manage to protect their work. For example, coders sign their work through embedding unique codes that only them can interpret. Perhaps, as artists, we can begin using tech to protect our work.
Other than that, I think documenting your work and having a good lawyer’s number on speed dial should help.
What do you think will take for African art to gain as much appreciation as say European art?
We need to educate people on how to appreciate art. Unlike music where the beat just takes you, art is deliberate. You must immerse yourself in the art and the artists, learning their motivations, their ethos etc. That way you will gain a unique appreciation.
I think schools should be involved in the arts, arranging tours to galleries and meeting the artists etc. There should a deliberate effort to groom a culture of going to art places. Everyone should visit a gallery at least once a month.
If you could creatively collaborate with any artist in the world, who would it be and why?
Liberian-American artist Lina Viktor Iris and Lady Skollie from South African. Lina inspires my desire to ascend as a mixed media photographic artist. Her work evokes a sense of reverence and worship.
Lady Skollie, on the other hand, appeals to the rebel in me. Her work is thought-provoking in completely unexpected ways. I also like that she draws her inspiration and style from her Khoisan heritage. It’s empowering to embrace our narratives with no apologies.
What does the future look like for Pamela Enyonu?
All I want to do is make good art, turn into a competent carpenter and teach for rest of my life. Everything else will be a bonus.
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Growing up in a household rich in colour, born to parents of Nigerian heritage and a culture that inspired her artistic talents, it’s no surprise that Flo Awolaja grew to become an incredible burst of creativity. Flo is a fun loving and exuberant personality that exudes a quiet confidence and steely determination to succeed in all things.
She has been influenced by many of her mother’s collection of African fabrics, various painters, designers, textile artists, photographers and inspired by a plethora of contemporary Nigerian and African American artists in the likes of Chief Nike Davies-Okundaye, Abdoulaye Konaté, Peju Alatise, Victoria Udonian, Hayden Palmer, William H Johnson, Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Bearden et al.
Flo Awolaja represents a lot of things in one, as a writer, poet, and photographer, she continues to take delight in all visual pleasures which stimulate the senses. She also has a successful career as a graphic designer and lecturer and has combined her passion for art, design, and photography with teaching, working to raise achievement in her learners by encouraging them, raising their self-esteem, and aspiring confidence in them.
There is an expression that I have been carrying around with me for the best part of a year now. When I stumbled upon it, whilst surfing through social media, it was so profound that I have it permanently on my screen saver on the laptop to remind me to keep striving and designing, and how fortunate I am to be doing the things I like.
The quote is, “The things that are random, are not your calling, they are your passion”. This is what essentially guides me, and I really do try not to take my talent for granted. Like most things, the body of work that I am now exploring happened by accident, (the best things usually do) it occurred whilst I was at home looking after my son, who had been in the hospital and was now convalescing at home.
I had travelled to Ghana in 2013 and brought back a lot of batik fabrics. Not knowing what I wanted to do with them, they lay dormant, until 2015. Whilst looking after my son, I remembered that I had them, and had added to the collection by purchasing metre samples in all colours from friends who would travel to Nigeria and Ghana, gently asking them to bring me back whatever they could. In those moments as a designer, the light bulb goes on and you find yourself creating pieces, which is how the first few ideas transpired.
Gradually one became two, and the pieces began to materialise, to the extent that I had about 20 small pieces which I had framed. Enter my son, who saw me spread them out on the floor and was marvelled at how I had managed to hide them around the house, out of the eyes of my mother.
Quick as a flash he had photographed them and posted them onto his Instagram account, I still do not have one! From that moment the genie had been released and it was not going to go back into the bottle. It became a question of how to showcase the designs to a wider audience. Each opportunity has acted like a stepping stone, I have been most fortunate in the breaks that have come my way I tend to look at my work much in the way a painter starts with a blank canvas. No two pieces that I create will ever be the same. Whilst I am creating these textile paintings, I am only aware of the colours that I will use, but not the journey of the piece, each one has its own rhythm and story, that for me is what makes each one off piece unique.
Wow, that is a difficult question, but I can honestly say that I am inspired by many things, from listening to music, conversation, hearing and reading a line of poetry, along with photographs that just capture my imagination. I also think that being raised in a culture steeped in Yoruba tradition, has been instrumental in my journey as a designer.
My mother was a printer and my father was a draughtsman, so design and the love of design have been instilled in me from an early age. I am inspired by anything that delights and tickles my visual senses.
How would you compare the Western and African market in terms of values for art works?
Like most things we have been constantly conditioned through no fault of our own to have the idea that African works of art are somewhat in inferior; that is certainly not my view, and anyone who knows me will tell you I am the most ardent and fervent champion of our African Ancestry and Heritage.
The African market is far more exciting. The current resurgence and proliferation of African art is taking the art world by storm. Our trajectory of art has always been rising, however presently its stock has never been higher, why is this? Artists from Picasso to Hirst have made more than a passing reference to the art of Africa, even to the point of appropriating whole elements in the quest to claim works as their own. So why the sudden interest?
What many curators were happy to call ‘tribal’, that somehow adding the word ‘tribal’ made it somewhat less authentic and therefore was not really valued. Fast forward, the last few years have seen a sudden surge of interest as new kids on the block enter. From photographers and sculptors to painters and textile designers, old and new now sharing the platform. There really is space for us all.
As cultural houses and museums have watched this market grow so has the interest in all things African, fuelling and creating a demand. Contemporary artists such as Yinka Shonibare and El Anatsui share the space alongside Peju Alatise and Kehinde Andrews, all creating a rich mélange.
Modern art collectors are looking for something and presently African art is it. Major houses and museums are keen to reach the emerging markets of Ghana and Kenya, alongside the more established countries of Nigeria and Morocco. Having international events like the Venice Biennale, The Art Paris Fair, and the 1:54 London and Paris Fairs will continue to raise the profile of African art and artists, along with a growing number of galleries in London and Paris that find, develop and support African art, the value, and market of which will continue to grow.
Recently, you had the Making Stories, Telling Tales exhibition, tell us about it.
Again sometimes it is about being in the right place at the right time. There were two parts to this exhibition, it was never intended to be but fate and the universe have a lovely way of conspiring to tell you something different. As I alluded to earlier on in this interview, sometimes it is a case of banking ideas and then releasing them when the time is right…and so it was the case with the Making Stories, Telling Tales.
I was invited to exhibit to celebrate the work of a Black female artist for Black History Month. The body of work presented had been mulling around for some time titled ‘Ain’t no Jack’, based on the seminal work of Professor Paul Gilroy ‘Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack’. The stories of the flags bearing semblance to the work he has written, depicting Britain’s involvement in the Commonwealth, exploring the struggle of the African and Caribbean nations’ fight for their independence.
The original exhibition held in 2016 at the Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, North London was a body of work exploring the idea of fabrics telling stories and going back to explore the tradition of handcrafted work. Printed collaged textiles is like a painting, it is watching a print evolve. What was meant to be a 2-month exhibit, turned into a 6-month stint. Such was the success of this exhibition that I was asked to show case the exhibition in Bath, at the Tafari Gallery (the former home of the Emperor Haille Selaisse and his wife), where it remained for 4 months.
So I have been most fortunate in showing my work. The opportunity to exhibit in London was too good to miss, and I was looking for a space that was sympathetic to my work and artistic ideals, The GIDA Collective, in Brixton, South London was the perfect spot. A week long exhibition in April 2017 was followed by a very stimulating artist’s conversation. These new ‘Paintings’ continue to explore the theme of ‘Narrative’ within printmaking, with the use of African textiles. Employing material predominately native to Ghana, namely batik woven and dyed cloths which are collaged together.
My use of fabrics creates abstract compositions that hark back to West-African traditions of using textiles as a means of commemoration and communication, taking them and placing them in a contemporary setting. It is interesting how the idea of ‘Narrative’ can be explored through a range of media, techniques, and processes to tell a story that does not need words. Enthused with a rich sense of colour and rhythm, these works serve to remind us that the idea of narrative, of story telling, is not always verbal.