Prior to Moniker 2019 in London we worked with magazine CREATE! to spotlight some of the artists debuting at the fair. Create! Magazine was thrilled to have the opportunity to interview one of the highlight artists who will be exhibiting at the fair, Ken Nwadiogbu. Ken is a Nigerian visual artist whose practice is primarily centered around hyper-realistic drawings and is inspired by gender equality, African cultures, and black power.
You actually studied civil and environmental engineering in school so how did you pivot to focusing on art?
Interesting question. If you’re from Africa, you’ll understand that nothing says “value” more than a university degree. Not just any degree, but either from Engineering, Law, Accounting or Medicine. So from a young age, the society starts, subconsciously, breeding this hunger; regardless of it being your passion or not. This was my case. Everyone wanted me to be an Engineer, and it became a subconscious part of me, even tho I loved drawing. I entered into Civil and Environmental Engineering in the University of Lagos. Was doing pretty well till I stumbled on someone drawing the Dean of the University at that time. Everything changed from there. The feeling of Art started coming back, the hunger begun to grow, I begun researching and asking questions- “how did he draw that?” Study brought hunger.. hunger brought addiction... addiction brought love. And that’s how I feel deep in love with art in the first year of my university.
Was it something that you were always interested in or pursuing on the side?
I never thought I’d be a visual artist 7 years ago. All I thought was, I was gonna be an Engineer. The moment I started art, my mindset changed and this slowly drifted my attention from my studies into my art. Couldn’t quit Engineering, cause to everyone, the excuse was “a taboo”, so I had to get that certificate, prove I had that value, then pursue art exactly how I wanted to pursue it. “Art is not lucrative”, they’d say. “Art is for the poor”, “Art is for the dumb”... so many wrong perception... but I’d not blame them, I’ll blame the society for the lack of knowledge and exposure, and the government for the lack of support to the Nigerian art scene.
Your work is described as being part of the Contemporealism movement. What do you see as the core principles of this style of art?
I started off doing Hyperrealism as my mentors range from the likes of Carole Feuerman to Chuck Klose. But you see, one would describe hyperrealism as a genre of painting and sculpture, resembling a high resolution photograph... Just that. For me, I’ve always wanted more, so what I try to do with my work is not just creating high resolution photographs but incorporating with it- the 3-Dimensional illusion and figurative elements born from conceptual ideas and contextual narratives. In some sense all I’m trying to do is deploy elements of contemporary art or illusions of form and space, usually, to create emphasis in the narrative I portray. With this style, I get to display Hyperrealism in a ‘unique Contemporary way’. Tell us about where you find inspiration for your art and how you use art to express ideas on social and political issues.
It started with me being extremely disappointed with a lot going on in my country. Then I figured, every country has same issues, just with different names and profiles. This pushed me to create art to attack this abnormality- To listen, To speak, and To change a wrong socio-political ideology. I believe that with my visuals, the narratives I portray, and my actions, I can, in some way, change the world to see value as I see it- a conscious act to build worth from within.
What is the art scene in Nigeria like and what did you do to push beyond it at a young age to begin showing internationally?
The art scene in Nigeria is a growing one. The likes of ArtX, Omenka, Artyrama, Rele, and Retro Gallery are changing the narrative by showing upcoming amazing visual artists. But that’s just few out of the numerous galleries around the country. The scene is changing, and I believe it’s only a matter of time. For me, I’ve always seen myself exhibiting internationally... I’ve always seen myself in the likes of Christie’s and Sotheby’s, making global moves like Kehinde Wiley and Kerry James Marshall, birthing strong narratives like Ai Wei Wei, and still being as contemporary as Damien Hirst. I’ve always seen myself as more, so I went for it and it has taken me thus far.
Can you share a bit of what you will be exhibiting at Moniker art fair coming up in October?
A plethora of works that show black presence and value. Works made as of January to August, 2019 in Nigeria- a time when the country went down in value- both politically, financially, and economically... and holds the record of housing one of the highest cases of fraud in the world. A very strong time for me, as a Nigerian and as a Visual Artist.