ken nwadiogbu brings hyper-realism into surreal places

April 4, 2019

Keeping it real and keeping it surreal swim closely together. We are offered moments of spectacular joy and fantastic terror on some days; we might even confuse our own lives for films on these days. We also have days that are mundane and you feel as if you can feel every second inching by.

The work of Ken Nwadiogbu speaks to this space of disbelief with the state of the world and the dissonance created when one has to interact with it. And what that struggle and the grace looks like. Nwadiogbu spoke to AFROPUNK about his work, politics, and when he most feels seen.

WHAT THE MEDIA WILL IGNORE — what do you believe prevents the media from portraying certain messages and visuals that show in your art?

Interesting question. Personally, I believe the media has been choked with a lot of lies enforced by the rich and powerful, that the truth seems hard to believe now. The series was born from the presidential electoral process in Nigeria and the media coverage around it; where the corrupt are portrayed as legends. The media keeps failing to expose the truth and highlight the state of the country or even condemning the misappropriations of the present government. This is why people still vote wrong and also why I was inspired to create the trilogy THERE WAS A VOICE, TOO MUCH TALK NO DEY FULL BASKET, and EVERYBODY IS A FUCKING HYPOCRITE.

How did you arrive at visual art?

I’ve always been drawing cartoons, a bit unprofessionally and as a hobby in my secondary school. The narrative changed during the first year of my Civil and Environmental Engineering study in the University of Lagos, when I saw a young man drawing the past Vice Chancellor of my University. I was so intrigued by the actuality of it that I begun reading about art and stumbled on Hyperrealism. The rest of the story lead me to this present day; as a full-time visual artist.

Your art is arresting, what are the other intellectual and artistic inspirations that inform your work?

I always believe the society speaks. It sometimes says, “Women cannot have the same rights as men”, “Black men will always remain prisoners,” as well as others. The intriguing thing is that we all listen to this voice but we seldom evaluate, interrogate or challenge our sociopolitical structures and ideologies. My reason for creating art everyday is born from my desire to answer back to this society with what I believe is right and the truth. In that way, my hope is that I am able to inspire one or two people to re-evaluate their socio-political structures.

How does your heritage inform your work?

You see, I come from a part of the world where the voices of youth are kept mute, where the girl child is denied education, where corruption and injustice lurk like a plague. I grew up witnessing all these and seeing only very few people fighting against it. I have witnessed disasters, pain, sorrow, violence, and many other ill-deeds. It’ll be inhuman to witness all these and not push for change. This is why I became an artist, this is why I create art; To become the voice for the voiceless and the power to the people.

Timelessness is a word that could effectively describe your art. Is being timeless important to you? If so, why?

Timelessness births Legends. So yes, Being timeless is important to me.

What are the political ideas that you’d like for people to walk away with after seeing your work?

We all have a decision to change the way the political system is run and to empower ourselves. We are the government, and until we understand that, we can’t change the society to our advantage, for the betterment of the nation and the next generation.

What are other forms of creative expression you envision yourself exploring?

I will be touring around the world a lot in the coming years of my life to learn new cultures and new ideas, to uncover more things to speak about in my art and a broader narrative while also exposing the African culture and the Nigerian story. During this visits, I believe I will stumble on more creative expressions and forms. For now, I have been working on an installation project called 1005 PORTRAITS, inspired by my quest and hunger for feminine empowerment. In this project exists 1005 portraits of different women of different races from different countries coming together against feminine denigration arranged in an unorthodox setting.

What is a lesson from your childhood that still helps you navigate your artistic life today?

When I was a child, I mistakenly ran my left eye into the handle of a door while playing. I bled through my left eye and was rushed to the hospital. I would have been blind but God had it that only the skin around my eye was affected and my pupil was still intact. This still reminds me that I have been given the grace to see… and not just to see, but to create.

Being in the world is hard. How do you take care of yourself?

As a full-time visual artist who trains young visual artists and acquire ways to improve the Nigerian Young Visual Artists Guild, life is BEAUTIFUL. What keeps me going is that a young artist somewhere is inspired to be a visual artist in the future. What keeps me going is that my art can start a conversation that can change the world. What keeps me going is that I can assist my friends and family financially. Every other thing I believe is vanity.

When do you feel most seen?

After the completion of every work and the publication of every piece.