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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What can we learn from the past, how do we find meaning in the present, and what awaits us in the future? These three questions provide the bedrock of the first ever Nigerian exhibition at the Venice Biennale, otherwise known as “The Olympics of Art”.
Since 1895 the world’s oldest cultural biennale has risen to become one of the most prestigious art exhibitions. Eight African countries are represented at the prestigious showcase this year: Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe.
Nigeria makes its solo debut this year. Though superbly rich in artistic and cultural talent, the country hasn’t had nearly enough representation on the international art scene. Godwin Obaseki, Governor of Edo State and commissioner of the Nigerian Pavilion, says that “opportunities like the Biennale offer a platform to establish national pride and develop a more positive narrative for the country.“
Curated by Adenrele Sonariwo and Emmanuel Iduma, the Nigerian exhibition at the 57th Venice Biennale, titled How about now?, features a rich multi-layered journey showcasing the country’s past, present and future, with an emphasis on the present, or as preferred by the artists, “the now”.
Mixing videos, conceptual art, installations, and performances, the exhibition showcases exceptional pieces by award-winning visual artist, writer and photographer Victor Ehikhamenor, acclaimed writer, poet and mixed-media storyteller Peju Alatise, as well as performance artist, Qudus Onikeku. The combined genius of these three artists creates a contemporary, as well as far-reaching exhibition, that tells a fresh African narrative, while presenting Nigeria as part of the global art community.
Biography of the Forgotten BY VICTOR EHIKHAMENOR
Paying homage to the unsung and unrecorded pioneers of Nigerian art, Victor Ehikhamenor’s “Biography of the Forgotten” amalgamates bronze, mirrors, thread and acrylic to create a pure masterpiece.
In this installation, he tinkers with both the dilemma and material form of history while paying homage to the historical Igun Street in the heart of the ancient Benin Kingdom. He sources hundreds of Benin bronze heads from the World Heritage Site that still maintains its guild structure to this day, addressing a fragmented history.
Against large canvases, Ehikhamenor alternatively places mirrors and the bronze heads, which bear metonymic weight, as symbols of colonial encounter – the former often exchanged for commodities as valuable as humans, and the latter plundered. In addressing the now, “Biography of the Forgotten” reenergizes historical time and material, reviving the past in an effort to bring meaning to the present.
Flying Girls BY PEJU ALATISE
Using metal, fiberglass, plaster of Paris, resins, and cellulose black matte paint as primary mediums, Peju Alatise uses her storytelling skills to create a fantastical masterpiece. Based on a book that Alatise is set to publish, the piece describes Sim, a little Yoruba girl who lives in two alternate worlds.
In one world she is a nine-year old girl who is rented out as a domestic servant working in Lagos, and the other world Sim lives in a dream world where she can fly at will. Alatise describes “Flying Girls” as a body of work dedicated to girls in Nigeria that offers them a little safe place for them to be children.
Right here Right now BY QUDUS ONIKEKU
Harmoniously combining elements of modern and African dance, contemporary choreography, and aspects of age-old Yoruba spirituality and philosophy, Qudus Onikeku presents his artistry in three sections:
Of Contemplation, Of Poetry, and Of Engagement.
His dance film brings into clear focus the tensions between the various senses of time, and how an audience can be triggered to remember. It draws from his recent and ongoing work to infuse dance with the energy of Yoruba spirituality, with emphasis on the significance of self, the commune, and the divine in imagining the role of aesthetics, beauty, and art.
Onikeku says: “I’m not interested in the present, I’m interested in the now, the present is concerned with the past, but the now is so powerful that it doesn’t have time to think about the past, it’s grabbing at the future. That’s when dance becomes so interesting; it’s constantly inventing the now.”
Assil Diab, is a Sudanese visual artist, graphic designer and graffiti artist based in Doha, Qatar. She is the first female graffiti artist emerging from Qatar and Sudan. Assil graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2011 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Graphics Design. She also holds a diploma in Digital Marketing and a Diploma in Advanced Social Media Marketing & ORM.
Known as ‘Sudalove’, today her work consists of mixed media and painting canvases using nothing but spray paint, “Graffiti on Canvas”. Assil’s first solo graffiti project was with SDI Marketing in Qatar where she was commissioned to paint at the Renaissance Hotel in Qatar for Cirque Eloize’s Press Conference. One of her great achievements was when she joined internationally known French-Tunisian artist El Seed in a Calligraffiti Project to paint one of the largest graffiti projects in the world in the Salwa Road Tunnels.
When you are tagging you are basically speaking to the world through street art. From the responses you have had so far do people actually get the message?
Being an Arab, Muslim female painting the streets is not always applauded. I’m a very quite person in general but once I start talking, it’s through that can.Graffiti is visually appealing because it is public art. It’s literally putting your art, thoughts, and feelings in people’s faces. Public art has the power to evoke thought and start dialogues. It is my way of communicating with society.
Tell us about the very first time you decided to hit the walls. What was the first tag and how was it received?
I started doing making art on paper and painting on t-shirts and shoes in my early teens. Then about three years ago, at the age of 25, I began taking it up as a profession.
I used to see graffiti everywhere while riding the metro in New York- where I was doing my internship as a photographer & graphic designer in Brooklyn. I was fascinated by graffiti, with all its shapes and colors. I loved what I was seeing on the streets and I wanted to be a part of it.
I’ve always liked challenging myself to see what I could do. So in 2013 I joined Public Works Authority ‘Ashghal’ and Qatar Museums Authority. I joined on a 4-month long internship to assist Tunisian-French calligraphist, El Seed, in painting the Salwa Road Tunnels; and that’s where I picked up a spray can for the first time.
I have never put the spray can down since those intense 4 months of graffiti. My first exhibition was in VCU-Q Bookstore where I sold 9 paintings of 13 in just two days. The paintings were painted using nothing but spray paint aka “Graffiti on Canvas”. I later switched my signature from my original name assil.diab to SudaLove. Which is my way of expressing my love and represents my home country, Sudan.
Photograph by: Ahmed Shaheen Â
There can be negative connotations associated with graffiti. What do you wish people knew?
Graffiti is not just for men. It’s not all about hip-hop, or gang-related, and it doesn’t have to be illegal. Most people don’t take it seriously and fail to see it as a profession. In fact, most of my work is commissioned, so I do get paid for it.
Also, often, people confuse mural art for graffiti or vice versa. There is a difference. There are no governing laws or rules to graffiti. Graffiti Is faster/quicker. But, there’s a lot of thought process & sketching when it comes to mural art, also, you don’t tend to use only spray paint when painting a mural.
Do you ever collaborate?
I’m working on a collaboration right now actually. I’m working with three local artists painting Aspire in Doha, Qatar. The first time I worked with these guys was in December 2016 painting in Katara. Besides these two collaborations I have only done exhibition collabs- where we all showcased our work on canvas in a particular hotel or gallery.
Photograph by: Tariq Mohammed Al-Fatieh
Approximately how much time do you devote to art?
From the time I wake to whenever I need to go back to sleep. If I am not painting, I’m thinking about a sketch way before it needs to go up on a wall or canvas. My surroundings are full of art. I spend even more time looking at art, visiting museums, galleries, events, sketching and writing emails at least two hours a day talking about art. Or responding to emails that involve or commission artwork.
Yes, I get special, sometimes unusual requests for T-shirt designs. As a fashion designer, I do not specialize in one category of apparel- I hand paint T-shirts, shoes and hats. I’m also working on a collection of Sudanese women’s “teyabs” using contemporary designs for the younger generation.
In 2010, I worked as an intern fashion photographer at Katya Moorman’s Style Defined NYC in Brooklyn, New York. I was also assisting with the design of the marketing materials for Better Than Kate, an award winning street style blog.
In addition to taking various courses in fashion design, my graphic design degree provides the required skills for fashion.
Photograph by: Tariq Mohammed Al-Fatieh
What is your creative process is like?
I practice a lot of sketching in my little black book. Sometimes I’ll scan a sketch and enhance it on illustrator or a similar program. Sketching helps me grow and develop. I get inspired by everything – religion, politics, travel, culture, earth, feelings and reading.
When I’m interested in developing a new technique in graffiti, specifically, I go out and find a wall to practice on until it’s mastered. Even on the days when I don’t feel creative, I still have a consistent work ethic. My creativity is lead by my emotions and feelings at that particular time.
I’m also very easily distracted. I spend more time trying to discipline myself to get back into a particular artistic mind state, rather than the actual execution of the artwork. I remain involved with my imagination in an hourly and daily manner. I try to stay connected with everything and anything that inspires me- that way my creativity finds it’s way into a canvas.
Janine Gaëlle Dieudji is a bi-national French and Cameroonian graduate of Culture and International Relations from Lyon 3 University in France. She also holds a Master Degree in Political Science from Paris 2 Panthéon Assas University.
She’s been living in Florence, Italy, for the past six years, a city she has since fallen in love with. This is how Florence became home to her and the place where she started to build her career as an art professional. She considers herself as a ‘multilocal’ by believing that we belong to all the places we have lived in. Home is where the mind can create and feel rested at the same time. This is what the life journey is made for, exploring to become the person we decide to be.
For me, it’s a person who makes the art scene move and is committed to it. It could be a curator, an artist, an art dealer, a gallerist or a collector. The ability to inspire others by your achievements and the way you humbly contribute to the dynamism of this versatile field.
What gave you the sparks to follow this career path?
Well, I truly love what I do which helps a lot. The absolute truth is that this path in a certain way chose me, actually.
First when I landed six years ago in the renaissance city, Florence. I was there for a year through a study exchange program (Erasmus). I had no idea six years later I would still be here, but I fell in love with this city, and every time I tried to leave (I have tried three times), I always come back after a couple of months.
The second time (in 2012) I was about to leave Florence because I wasn’t happy professionally. Then, randomly, I met the artist Clet Abraham. We quickly got along and I think he saw something in me, which became a working relationship. After six months in Lyon to complete my Master’s degree, we started a three year, beautiful and enriching collaboration.
Two years before Clet, I had a two month internship at the city hall of Rosny-sous-Bois in France where I assisted the Director of the Cultural Department in the organization of Beninese artist Zinkpè’s exhibition. At that time, I wanted to be a journalist or work in a cultural department of an international organization like the UN, La Francophonie or a French Institute abroad.
What’s the best way for one to make a name for themselves?
It may sounds cliché, but I would say to be yourself, stay humble and always be curious to learn something new. I believe that these ingredients make people excel at what they do. Humility and originality are the key, but also the hard work you put on it. One can not forget that fears and struggles are important in ones daily development.
How is it like working with talented people such as Johanne Affricot of Griotmag.com?
It’s definitely inspiring. Johanne Affricot is one of a kind and I’m very grateful to work with her. She’s multi-tasks, a great mom, a wife and a do-er with no fear.
She created Griotmag.com two years ago, the first Italian webzine celebrating an aesthetic, creative and cultural diversity in and from Italy – African Italians – and the African diaspora. From this project, she pushed forward by creating a webserie, The Expats – a a documentary web series exploring the lives of African Italian creatives living abroad in the search of new opportunities. Two new episodes filmed in London will be released by the end of this month. The use of the term in the title of the series is meant to be provocative and encourage reflection not only about the idea of black Italians in Italy and abroad but also Italians who do not know this “different” or “diverse” Italy.
I was very excited when she approached me a year ago, we immediately clicked the first time we met, we have a lot in common and work well together.
You have a lot of experience as a contributor. What is the most valuable thing you have learnt so far?
I realized that together we do better and we go further. I like changing and renewing myself so being a contributor on different projects makes me do different things and it’s exciting. I recently collaborated with Justin Thompson on the organization of the Black History Month Florence, we had at least 50 events all over the city, in only one month.
My main satisfaction was the Clay Apenouvon’s installation “Film noir, danse de survie” which I curated in collaboration with the City Hall and Institut Français Firenze. I met Clay almost two years ago at 1:54 art fair in London where I discovered his work and I love how down to earth the artist was. After that, we decided we want to collaborate, so we started in Florence, and hopefully will do more in the future.
My point is we don’t have to be shy or afraid to share ideas with people, this is how beautiful things happen, by putting our strengths, capacities, and inspirations together. With this philosophy, I’m actually doing a collaboration with Wires eyewear on the Italian and French market, and I’m planning to organize a Street Art Festival in Cameroon for 2018, as soon as I find some partners to fund it.
So Janine is also a translator. Is there a code of ethics when it comes to translating?
I’m new in this field actually; I started a couple of months ago in a multinational corporation, General Electric, I was translating engineering and computer science files. Honestly, I had no clue of what I was translating the first days, so I had to study different manuals and technical languages, I did a lot of research and it made my life easier. I’ve always been passionate by languages, I actually speak three and half (Spanish is the half, I understand it well but since I’m living in Italy, I’m always mixing up with Italian when I try to speak it.) and I took a six month course of Chinese when in College, I really liked it, I wished I had gone into it in depth, but then I started working and let it go.
Speaking many languages doesn’t make you able to be a proper translator, it’s really hard. This is why the first code is to always translate into your mother tongue, making sure you master all its intricacies. I document myself a lot. So every time I have to translate something new, I do an intensive research to make sure I’m giving a top notch translation.
Keep yourself updated through a lot of reading and practice.
You also assist artists to achieve and develop their work and you connect them with other professionals. Share with us your highlights.
Well, I easily make contact with people. I’m very sociable and it helps me to create new connections every time I travel, and I travel a lot. Once I’m back, I sit and start brainstorming about how I can put two and two together. Like I previously said, sharing ideas and thoughts with others is very enriching, this is how you understand someone’s needs and how you can contribute to make it happen.
This is how I connected Clet with the French film festival, France Odeon I work with for example. He told me that he wanted to do something new with his art, like a cartoon. On the other side, Francesco Martinotti, the festival’s director told me he wanted to make an animated jingleto screen before every movie during the festival, something artistic. So I naturally connected them and a great collaboration was born.
The process was almost the same when I brought together Anna Gargarian, founder of HAYP Pop Up Gallery in Yerevan, Armenia and Noumeda Carbone, French-Italian artist, or when I put together Clay with the Black History Month Florence project. And right now I’m currently doing a collaboration with the artist Barthélémy Toguo for the upcoming auction at Piasa “Contemporary Art from Africa and the Diaspora: Origins and Trajectories” on April 20.
Fun question! Janine if you were to be a city which city would you be and why?
I would definitely say Johannesburg. I’ve never been there, but it has always fascinated me, and I recently had a dream where I was there. The subculture and creativity in Joburg amazes me and attracts me.
I read a lot about and follow some creative South Africans on Instagram, like the Mukheli’s brothers, the talented Zanele Muholi I had the chance to meet in Florence, or one of my favourite designer Laduma that I met first in London then Florence. I find them very inspiring and cutting edge in their vision of creativity on the continent. I would definitely like to travel there very soon, to experience a swenkas” competition and connect with the creative community.
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Josephine Forson founded Tekura, an interior decor enterprise, in 2000 with only two local artisans, crafting baskets under a mango tree. By 2009, she was exploring other art forms made from locally sourced materials developed by artisans within the community.
In partnership with Ghana’s Forest Research Institute and the Forestry Commission, Tekura sources reclaimed wood (off-cuts and dead wood) from forest plantations in Ghana for their furniture pieces.
Tekura designs have been exhibited in USA and Europe, and have won the Africa Growth Institute of South Africa’s Trade Sector Award in 2008. Behind the scenes, Tekura is run by a mother, father and daughter team, and is inspired by the rich, diverse cultures of Ghana.
Tekura is a family business run by a mother, father and daughter team. What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of working closely with family?
And when it comes to decision-making, whose call is it?
Working closely together as a family has and continues to propel our loyalty and commitment to our brand and business. This makes pooling of resources much easier and everyone is empowered to bring along their own skills to grow the business.
Like any family business that cherishes unity, we were concerned external investments would trigger a takeover. But with our well-structured succession plan, we will soon be on our way to going public.
We’re grateful to God for Tekura’s success but what’s great is the opportunities and potentials for higher achievements. Our success mix is hard work, perseverance and love.
The direction of policy is led by the board of Tekura. The Managing Director leads the daily consultative decision-making process.
Your daughter, Audrey, is the manager of Tekura, what’s the biggest business disagreement you’ve had with her? And how are business skirmishes handled?
Disagreements are essential for growth. It can be hard for us to agree on the definition of the various markets for our product lines.
Climate change is an issue on everyone’s lips. As a furniture company reliant on wood from reforested woodland, what role does Tekura play in sustaining the forests and in turn its business?
Tekura is committed to keeping its environment safe and so we have a strict policy not to cut down trees in order to do our work. Our work involves recycling wood, and working with the Forestry Commission to collect and transform waste wood.
A lot of African business struggle with quality control and consistency. How does Tekura ensure standard procedures are being followed at every stage of the design process and that every piece reaches customers in perfect condition?
At Tekura, quality means everything!
It’s not been easy but over the years we have engrained a kind of obligation in everyone to ensure the highest level of excellence and quality. This has been through supervision and other forms of checks and balances right from pre-production stage until the final product.
What does the future hold for Tekura?
The prospects for Tekura are great. Our partnerships with World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) and the Centre for the Promotion of Imports (CBI) from developing countries has been successful as Tekura has penetrated global markets, particularly in the US and Europe.
Also, Tekura’s space in the local market has grown and achieved great strides. There are so many opportunities out there with changing trends, markets and even competition, and that excites us.
Tekura’s vision is to be the world’s go-to brand for hand-crafted furniture and décor.
If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.
Nomthandazo Tsembeni does not call herself a musician or a poet but an artist. She does not classify herself in one basket, her talent allows her to explore each and every artistic bone in her body.
She speaks very passionately of her talent and gift which allows her to be who she wants to be. Nomthandazo doesn’t have any limitations and for her, the sky is not even the limit. She wears so many hats one will start to wonder about their own journey.
SLA contributor, Lerato recently got an opportunity to speak to this vibrant woman. Nomthandazo shared many gems on being a performer while working a full-time job and gave us a glimpse of her award-winning poetry.
You are a performing artist and an award winning one for that matter, what is your genre of music?
I have been exposed to a lot of genres. Commercial house music is what a lot of people know me for although I love music without any boundaries.
I do afro-pop, afro-jazz and soul music because it connects me to my first love, poetry.
You don’t have your own album as yet. Where have you been featured and how was the experience?
I have been featured on DJ Nova and Tapes song called “Ndihoye”, “Heal Your Heart” by Tapes and “George” which was a remix by Rabs Vhafuwi who is known for “Count Your Blessings”.
Working with different artists has helped learn to appreciate the gift of others and the learning is limitless. It is not about what you want but what needs to be given or done to produce results.
I was given a gift to pass unto others, to heal and mend broken souls. It is God-given, something I had to obey and not because I want to appear in magazines and billboards but it is my calling.
I never compare myself with others. Art is a spirit, you can not create art but can transform from one level to another.
You seem to be an artist of many forms, do you regard yourself as a singer or poet?
I regard myself as an artist, I define myself as God’s best Stanza. I can sing, write music, stories, come up with a script for a play, play drums and I am still learning how to play a guitar.
If one classifies oneself according to one discipline then there are limits to what one can do. Trying to define myself in a specific form will confine me.
I am not an ideal woman but a woman in reality. A woman in reality can have it all and do anything they want to and are comfortable without limits because they define their own beauty and success with no pressure to be perfect.
Tell me about your awards, what were they for?
I have three awards, two online international poetry awards which I received in 2012 and 2013 and one from Moduwane District Arts Festival in 2012.
The first international one from AllPoetry was in 2012 from a poem I wrote for a general category called “The Hardest Part”.
“The hardest part
About having both feet is that
We are unable to jump a certain step in life.
In order to be successful,
You need to work hard.
For you to be wealthy,
You need to have some knowledge about poverty
And for you to be somewhere,
You have to start somewhere…”
It defines the limitations of one’s body parts through defining each part, its function and where it is limited to do certain things.
Another award I won in 2012 —Moduwane District Arts Festival— was with a poem was called “Mmabotle” which speaks of the beauty of a woman. I got the first price.
“Side by side, she would move her hips.
On her head, she put nkgo alokga metsi.
She left me drooling as she licked her back lips.
That woman left me choking on my own saliva.
This chick makes the traffic stand still tsi…”
I was again awarded by AllPoetry in 2013 for a general category for a poem called “Reality shaded in 3D pencil”.
Our bodies are graves of dead emotions?
We think we are over certain people,
Yet we carry the corpses of their deceased images deep within us?
Our faces are tombstones of pain and unhappiness
And the smile we wear is just a marble stone making the whole womb luxurious?….”
AllPoetry is an online platform where various poets from all over the world submit their poems and the best poem is selected. It gives global poets a stage to get to know one another and to introduce themselves in the industry.
Growing up in a small town of Welkom, do you think you are getting enough exposure?
I grew up in a location called Thabong and yes, I am getting enough exposure. It is not about where you come from but about the work you do and where you see yourself in the future by associating yourself with the relevant people that are in the same field of your expertise.
Coming from a small town must not limit or be in a definition of who you are, it is about exposing yourself to things that will assist you to succeed in life. Yes we have limited access to resources but that is not an excuse to not try. It is about how you present yourself, the love and respect for your art or whatever that you specialize in.
I have had the honor to work with the likes of Jerry Mofokeng, Tina Mnumzana, Tinah Mnumzana, Ntsiki Mazwai and Wilson B Nkosi among others. I have been featured in local newspapers like Express and have been on the finals of Welkom’s Got Talent 2014.
I have performed at the State Theatre in Pretoria and the MACUFE Annual Festival in Bloemfontein and have recently been on the cover of Carob Magazine for their Woman’s month issue. I have also been interviewed on 90.9, Mozolo FM 98.2 and CUT FM 105.8.
I have not limited myself to anything based on where I come from. Instead, I have sought for help and used social media to get access to other things.
Who would you like to work with in the future?
It is so unfortunate that I have so many fellow colleagues that I would like to work with and I have to list only a few so I will only mention four artists.
Aus Tebza (Tebogo Sedumedi) who is from Gauteng Province and plays base guitar.
Asa who is a Nigerian-French artist who sings pop, jazz and indie pop.
Black Coffee (Nkosinathi Maphumulo who is the African God of House Music from KwaZulu Natal.
Samthing Soweto (Samkelo Lelethu Mdolomba) who is from Soweto and does acappella.
Tell us about Nomthandazo, how does performing and art make her feel? Who is Nomthandazo when she is performing?
I feel alive when I am performing, I am actually fulfilling my purpose, the reason why I was born. I have been sent to heal, mend, teach and help (deliver) people. I move from one space to the next when I perform because every time I ascend the stage, for me, that is taking a step further as far as my art is concerned.
People come to tell me I helped them to get over whatever they were dealing with. I get a lot of feedback that my performances makes them get a certain feeling and find a certain kind of healing. People confess their problems and quote my work. That also motivates me to keep writing and performing.
I knew I was meant to be a performer from a young age when I could sing lyrics fluently, the pitch, tempo and everything from the age of 4. I never saw myself doing something else than just live art.
When I was doing my matric, I started asking myself if I am doing this for fun or must I take it seriously. I realized that this is not just anything but a gift, I do it effortlessly because it is a gift. I respect each and every person who comes to watch me deliver what I have been called for.
I listen to the spirit and everything that comes to me I do it there and then. My art is spiritual as I too am of the Spirit.
Tell us about your book, God is a Poet. What is that all about?
God is a Poet is an anthology of poems, short stories and quotes. Everything is original and I have written them myself. The book includes poems that I have written from high school and have been edited to meet the maturity of the work that I write now.
The name “God is a Poet” came during one of my performances when I was reciting back in 2013 in Kroonstad at a poetry session hosted by SoulStud (Phindile Mathonsi) who is originally from Mamelodi and an artist in his own right.
The words escaped my lips as I was reciting, magic was created from that moment and I knew that was going to be the name of my book. At that time, the book was ready but I didn’t have a title for it.
Because I am a spiritual person, the title “God is a Poet” made so much sense to me because in the beginning; God was with the word, the word was with Him and He was the word. Everything he did, He used words from the creation of nature to a human being, hence I emphasize that He is a Poet and I am his best Stanza.
When was it published and how long did it take you to write it?
I self published it in 2015 and it took me a long time to get everything together. I can say it took me 3 years to finally say I have a book.
My book is self published, therefore you cannot get it at book shops but from me for now. Anybody looking for any of my two books —the other one is Time is Never On Time and that is an ebook— can go to my website or my Facebook page Lady Black Poet. Anyone can also get me on Instagram or by email.
Let’s be real for a minute, we live in societies where single motherhood is seen as a almost a crime and disability, a limitation. Brenda Areto Okotkotber is a single mother and accident victim dispelling these stereotypes. In 2010, Brenda was involved in a motorcycle accident when a speeding car knocked her down from behind. She sustained blunt injuries to her ribs and majorly on her spinal cord.
This brought her studies at Makerere University to a rude halt but Brenda is not one to lose a fight. Though Brenda has had to press pause on some of her dreams, she is determined to be independent even if it means having to lie on her side all day making beads.
Jessica Layado, our contributor got Brenda to share her story with us, get ready to be inspired.
Tell us about the things you’re passionate about
Oh my, I love music! You know, that combination of MDD (long ago it used to be called Musulu Dala Dala…it means “very stupid” in Luganda. It was believed that people who do Music, Dance and Drama as a course at university were too stupid to pursue anything meaningful).
I also love the arts with all my heart.
I’m passionate about helping the needy. Growing up, I always knew that when I started earning money, I’d build an orphanage, pick up every child in the streets and be a mother to them.
I don’t know about that anymore but right now, my desire is to help people like me.
Have you always been an artistic person?
As I mentioned earlier, art is a part of me. Right now, handmade craft is my passion and one that I wish to grow. I also desire to perfect my painting. Currently, though, I am more into women accessories.
Interestingly, in my school days, I used to be every art teacher’s prodigy. I was always the first to do my sketches and then shadings. It wasn’t just about the assignment but how great my work was done.
Only few students could beat me in the arts. I actually wanted to pursue Industrial Arts at the university but I wasn’t given that subject. I settled for IT which wasn’t my passion at all.
Let’s talk about the accident. How has it affected you, both physically and mentally?
As a result of this accident, my spinal cord was injured. It affected my limbs right from below my breasts. This has affected my ability to move or walk. This, in turn, has affected my productivity in most ways.
It’s also affected my social life. A woman of my age should be married and looking after a family. On the bright side, though, I have my son to look after.
I lost love from many people who I held so dear to my heart and this affected me greatly. I also lost my dignity as I had to live on charity. I am not one to enjoy lying on my bed and calling for help.
It was such a setback and a humiliating one and to some extent, still is. However, it’s different now. I am hopeful now, productive and doing something on my own.
Are you still into the arts?
When I lost function of my limbs, I could not go back to school anymore. The first reason being my faculty at the college was not disability-friendly.
I also had no money to finish my degree. My son and I needed to survive and so, I just didn’t see getting an education as a priority.
I had dreams of singing after my degree and even approached Benon of Swangs Avenue, a very popular recording studio in Kampala. The injury affected my diaphragm and I could barely control my voice.
I also dreamed of working in the tourist industry (travelling, adventure). That too, I can’t do anymore.
It’s amazing that instead of self-destruction, you chose self-development. How did you do this?
My first inspiration is my little boy. I grew up in poverty and didn’t have much but I promised myself that no child of mine would suffer. I therefore started building my self-worth.
Like everyone, I desire the good things in life. With determination, I’m hopeful I’d be able to provide for my son and I.
I also wanted to prove that I wasn’t finished. I needed to prove that I was just getting started and wasn’t going down easy. I am a fighter and survivor. I couldn’t afford the luxury of depression. That, I always say is a disease for the rich.
However, in all, I can’t tell my story without mentioning the most important factor, God. He has been the ultimate, the most significant in all. He still stands by my side and says to me, “You can make it because I am with you” (Phill. 4:13).
He’s been true to His word that He won’t ever leave my side (Deut 31:6). I wait upon Him whenever I feel I can’t go on. I hang on His every word (Habbakuk 2:2). I am a child of God, I learnt who I am in Christ and held onto that. He will never put me to shame (Romans 10:11).
How would you encourage that person who feels down and out right now?
It is not the end of the world. Put your trust in God and He sure will never let you down (Prov. 3:5). If you ever fall, get right up, dust yourself and move on. Do not allow a situation hold you down. When people see that even after a bad fall you’re still ready to fight on, they’ll be willing to lend a hand.
There are people who are just naturally kind. God will place such people in your path, if you’d trust Him. I met such people and till now, they still hold my hand through my journey. That they do it with pleasure is the most amazing part of it all.
Just when I thought I had lost it all —relatives, the ones who were so dear to me— God brought me such great and encouraging individuals. God will do it for you. Do not look at the situation you are faced with. Look up to the great God, who is above it all.
I am not there yet but I’m sure not where I was when I had the injuries. And all glory goes back to the lord God almighty. Don’t ever allow depression rule over you. You have a life to fight for.
If you are to get out of that situation, then you would need positive thinkers around you, not sympathizers. Find the ones who will instill some tough love in you.
I hate poverty and this has served as my driving force. I dislike pity and that’s what keeps me on one side of my bed all day, beading. Yes, I work while lying down because of my body pain.
How can your prospective clients locate you?
Currently, I operate from my home in Nansana. I do deliveries in and around Kampala.
For those who won’t mind, they can pick up their products at my place.
Inspire us with your story. Let us know about the amazing women in your communities here.
To artists and designers, exhibitions are very important. In fact, they are akin to gigs and appearances musicians make. Exhibitions are a good way to talk to people about your art, meet prospective buyers and patrons and generally reach more people. Now, most people think you need to have a gallery or art-house to have an exhibition. However, more and more independent art exhibitions are put together across the world.
Three months ago, I had an exhibition titled, “The Philosopher’s Muse: An alternate art exhibition” in Lagos, Nigeria. I’d like to share firsthand how you can pull off a great event.
Now, the first step is to have all your art works completed first. This way, you don’t run into any future troubles. Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to start.
Build a committee
The committee can be made up of people you have employed or friends and family. No matter what, always start with a committee. Tell as many people about your idea as possible to get their take and then have some of them help make your idea a reality.
Create a budget
With the help of your committee, you would need to decide on a budget for the event. Stick to it closely and don’t forget to factor in marketing costs.
Get a space
If you can get a gallery space, that would be amazing. If you can’t, there are tons of other types of spaces that can be used. Think of bars, garages and so on. If you’re in Lagos, you can reach out to Sao Café, Blue Mahogany, StrangerLagos, Ice cream factory, iamisigo store and Kia Motors. These are a few places in Lekki that seem to be game for such events. If you don’t want to go with them, you can get a garage, a white space, a store or a room to host your first exhibition.
Invite other artists
Always do this. Two heads are better than one and it’s a great idea to invite other artists to exhibit with you. This will require drawing up an arrangement with them.
Publicise your event
There are a number of blogs which would be happy to publicise your event for a small amount of money or for free depending on your agreement. Some of these blogs may not be powerhouses in the blogging world but they reach the right crowd. A number of examples are NTDIL, FOMO, The Sole Adventurer, UnravellingNigeria, Vunderkind, The Naked Convos , ArtsandAfrica.com, Afropunk.com.
Also, getting your event on a free events platform may help the turnout of the event.
Upload the details of the exhibition
Having all the details of the exhibition on your Facebook page or website will cut the cost of publishing exhibition material. It will also get other people who may be unable to make it to the exhibition aware of the event.
Rent or loan a small set of speakers for music. Then organise caterers to provide small finger foods and drinks so your guests know you appreciate them for coming. Yellow Canopy is an affordable option for event catering.
After publicizing the event, don’t forget to send out personal invites to people you want to see at the event. These could be influencers, mentors or others.
Set up early
Before the event, try to set up a day before. Have the name and titles of the works you’ll be exhibiting neatly placed near the pieces.
Have a good time
At this stage, you have done all you can. It’s time to have some fun. Enjoy it knowing that no matter what, you have taken the first step in your career. This is good news.
Art opens us up to the world. We can get a glimpse into the culture and history of a people through their creations. When it comes to African art, many artists are visual griots who tell a story through their visual work. The digital age has made it easier for artists to present their works on a larger platform. Thelma Golden, Director and Chief Curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, explained to us at She Hive NYC 2016 that art at its core is multidisciplinary.
Here are some of the points that Thelma Golden highlighted.
– “Digital spaces for art display can have pros and cons. Many museums plan so far ahead that it could take years for your art to be showcased, digital spaces in this instance can be great for artists to bring attention to their work.”
– “Create a support system within your peer group, within different fields, they can be cultural mentors to you.”
– “Art being in the digital space has been to the great benefit for artists who don’t always have access to the official portals of art.”
– “When thinking about investing in art you need to do your research. First figure out what you like, go to museums and see what is for you. For example, do you like abstract art? Do you like art with a lot of texture? To live with art, you want to be around something that inspires you and provokes you.”
– “One of the amazing things about collecting contemporary art is that you get to know the artist. Knowing about the artist should also be criteria when investing in art pieces.”
– “You should only buy art from reputable sources to ensure that you are getting what you paid for.”
– “Follow artists that you like on social media and see their path, engage with them.”
She Hive NYC attendees learned that art is an investment in culture itself. If you want to be an agent for change in the distribution of African art, be involved in the art scene.
Sign up for a museum membership within your community. Visit art exhibits whenever possible. There is strength in numbers, have your peers get involved. Let’s go out and support!
Nengi Omuku is an emerging Nigerian artist making her mark in the contemporary art world. After attending the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, she’s gone on to showcase her work in exhibitions across the globe including the prestigious annual Armory Show in New York as part of the 7th edition of the 2016 Armory Focus: African Perspectives, an invitational section on Pier 94. She has received multiple awards for her work including the British Council CHOGM Art Award, which was presented to her by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2003.
Nengi shares with us her favorite artists, proudest moment in her career and her hopes for the future of African art.
Who are some of the artists you admire most? Who did you look up to when studying art in school?
Ben Enwonwu was an inspiration for me at art school. He was a role model and an alumnus of the Slade School of Fine Art, which inspired my decision to also study at the Slade. I admire Wangechi Mutu’s work, which highlights themes related to women. Yinka Shonibare has an incredible body of work, which flawlessly captures his sense of humour. Then there’s Chris Ofili; there’s a simplicity and sensuality about his recent paintings that I relate to.
When do you feel like you create your best work? What setting is it? Are you at home or in a studio?
Painting at home has never really worked for me, because a lot of my paintings are quite large. I work best in a dedicated studio space, surrounded by paint and pigments. Alternatively, a garden would work just fine.
When it comes to a geographical location, I could be dropped anywhere in the world and I will be inspired to make. All the work that I make comes directly from experiences that I have had and every space offers new experiences.
How is it being a woman in the art world, would you say that there’s some gender inequality or are there some challenges that you would say only female artists face or is it not as bad as other industries?
A gentleman came to the first solo show I had in Nigeria and was genuinely surprised that I was a ‘small girl’ showing large canvases. He expected to meet a man! There are lots of articles being written about gender inequality in the global art world about how female makers aren’t as recognized as their male counterparts.
There’s no doubt that men have dominated the art scene in Nigeria and elsewhere, but at the same time I don’t find that daunting. We are all just players in the same game. So I’ve thrown myself into the pond like everyone else, because our limits are only imagined.
What has been your proudest moment in your career?
Winning an art competition and getting to meet the Queen of England was an amazing experience. She encouraged me to continue with art and as a young person, that’s just something you don’t forget. The other awards that I have received as a result of my work have also been very encouraging. There’s no better feeling than being rewarded when you push for more from something that you’re passionate about.
What are your hopes for the future of African art?
I look forward to increased visibility for artists that live on the continent alongside the proliferation of art spaces. Another hope is that the concept of ‘African Art’ grows and expands to reflect the dynamic and diverse work of artists who live and create on the continent and its diaspora.
You can follow Nengi on Instagram @nengiomuku to learn more about her work and travels through the art world.