Uche Uguru is an Abuja based artist who is largely known for her paintings, she is equally a dancer and singer. The Ebonyi state born artist is a graduate of Ahmadu Bello University is from a family of seven. Our crew, John Adegbenro and Olutayo Irantiola had a chat with her on her work, life as an artist and her frustrations. Herein below is an excerpt of the interview for your reading pleasure-
PDC: How did you become an artist?
UU: I started drawing from the age of six, copying cartoons from magazines, painting them, from there I became more and more interested. While in secondary school, my teachers recognized my passion for Arts, and they advised me to study Art instead of Banking and Finance.I chose Art, because that is what I love, it is what I am most passionate about, and I have always had a huge interest for it and I like Doofan Kwangwhool and Vincent Van Gogh
PDC: What has been the greatest influence to your work?
UU: What has been of great influence to my work, is seeing other art pieces, and when I see artists who are really passionate about their work, it motivates me. Another thing that has influenced my work is; when I look outside, I see everything man has created, the buildings, roads, aeroplanes, I feel like they are someone else’s piece of art, and they also influence my own work.
PDC: How do you work?
UU: I paint, I work with pieces of papers, and glue them together on my canvas to create a beautiful imagery, and many of them are influenced by the society. I also work based on my feelings at that moment, or sometimes based on demand.
PDC: What is the best painting you love?
UU: It is a painting by someone who is a friend and my contemporary, Doofan Kwangwhool, who is also a Nigerian painter, and it is titled ‘run’. I love this painting because of its fluidity and also because of the person behind that particular painting. While the foreign painting I would like to have is any of Vincent Van Gogh’s piece, or one of his portraits, because I read his biography, and appreciated the fact that he was so passionate about his paintings, despite the fact that he didn’t really sell them while he was alive. That passion and that drive is why I like him.
PDC: What are the themes you aim to drive at with your works?
UU: Okay, so the theme I’m currently working on is African women, their experiences, making my collages more fluid, because making a collage is not the same as using a paint, when painting, you can mix colours, but you cannot mix paper, so I try to make my collages more fluid.
PDC: What motivates you, as an artist?
UU: What motivates me as an artist is life generally, every day I wake up and see other people’s work of art. There is a saying that everything we see asides nature is a product of someone’s imagination, so when I go outside and see the houses, aeroplanes, cars, even the roads, knowing these started as someone’s imaginations, it inspires me to paint. Nature also is another source of inspiration for me, seeing the trees, the animals, the water, the sun, even feeling the air inspires me to paint. Also people are another source of inspiration for me. Another thing that drives me is the desire for my voice to be heard without having to shout.
PDC: Tell us about a real life experience that inspired you?
UU: There was a time when I wanted to stop making art, wanted to stop being an artist, I had already decided to start working as a civil servant, because at that time, I was really discouraged, people didn’t really believe in my paintings, and when I started doing collages, people were questioning my art, and discouraged me a lot, which really dampened my morale. Then one day, a foreigner came to my gallery, and he appreciated my works, then he asked to be my manager, which changed my decision, and I decided to continue with art.
PDC: How has your work changed over time?
UU: Ihave experimented with different media, I have done water colour, oils, acrylics, I have even done body art, and currently I am working with papers, so this has been the tremendous evolution of my art works. The appreciation of my paper art is one I am very surprised of, and really appreciative of, also asides from the fact that it is unique, it is something I really love doing, I actually enjoy pasting papers of different colours and seeing how these different colours come alive, which makes me very happy.
PDC: What other work have you done asides being an artist?
UU: I have never done any other work asides being an artist, I doubt I could do any other work asides art, or let me say I have never tried doing any other work. Although there was that one time I almost went into civil service, but then I changed my mind before I started.
PDC: What are your most memorable experience as an artist?
UU: It is when I finish an artwork, and someone comes and just falls in love with it, seeing people appreciate my work makes me very happy, because I love it when people can appreciate an art.
PDC: If you could change one thing about the art world, what would it be?
UU: It would be that young people do not have to wait for a very long time and struggle just to get their works out there. If you notice, artists are stronger in their youths, compared to when they are already made, if you compare the artworks of their early days with now that they are already made, you notice most times that there is a level of depreciation in their art. So, I suggest that young artists should be encouraged, so they won’t give up on their art, because it is more challenging in this country, especially as a woman. I have had people condemn my artwork just because I am a woman, and that tends to make people down-hearted, so I think that should really change.
PDC: What do you love most about the world of art?
UU: I love the fact that everybody is unique, everyone is different, even if they try to copy your painting, there would still be an evident difference in their work, since their methods weren’t the same, also all fingers are not equal, we are all unique in our own way, especially for the artists and we need to discover this uniqueness that separates us.
PDC: What is life like for an artist, especially in this part of the world?
UU: It is not easy for artists in this part of the world, especially for the young ones, you have to struggle to get their work out there, you can’t just sit and expect collectors to come, aside in a case where you are lucky, which is very rare. I think this struggle is everywhere actually, not just in Nigeria
PDC: What is your most embarrassing moment?
UU: I have had so many, but there is one I can never forget, I even cried afterwards. I was trying to fight for justice on my own part. Someone bought my artwork and was still indebted to me, and on the platform, he was buying another person’s artwork, so I began protesting, asking why the person would be buying another artwork when he was still owing me, then people started shutting me up, which was not nice at all, because I was trying to fight for something that was rightfully mine. Although the person later apologized to me but then it had already happened and it was all in the public, which made me leave the platform, however I was later added back to the platform.
PDC: What was the reaction of your immediate family, when you began as a young artist, and even sticking to it as an adult?
UU: As said earlier, when I started, they didn’t understand it, but with time, they realized it is what I love, and I was passionate about it, they then decided to support me. In my exhibitions, they support me in every way they can, my sister is even going to be dancing with me in my performance for the upcoming show “FACE IT”.
PDC: Is the life of an artist lonely?
UU: Artist or not, if you choose a lonely life, you would have a lonely life. I do not believe that the life of an artist is lonely, it is filled with a lot of people, and if you have people that understand you, that would be better. At first, it was really hard with my family, but when they came to understand that this is what this girl likes, and you cannot stop it, and when they started seeing the level of appreciation and patronage I was getting, they began to understand. So everything comes down to the level of understanding. If you want to have a lonely life, you would definitely have one, but if not there are artists who are married with kids, so the life of an artist is not a lonely one to me, and I plan to get married soon.
PDC: How do you think the government has influenced the people’s attitude towards art?
UU: Well, I don’t think it has influenced it much, art is a thing of value, and when the economy is not so good, and people tend to only buy what is considered most essential.
PDC: What are your upcoming projects for this year 2020?
UU: First of are the exhibitions, I am having one from the 1st to 3rd of February, then I plan have a gallery to promote African arts, Nigerian arts, promote the young artists, the vibrant and emerging artists. These are my plans for 2020.
PDC: You are based in Abuja, what are your plans for other parts Nigeria, and Africa at large?
I wish to take the African art as far as I can, and I know God will help me bring it to pass.
PDC: What do you love to do at leisure?
UG: I also love singing, dancing, reading, which is mostly what I do when I’m not painting.
PDC: what advice do you have for young artists?
They should always know that trying times will come, it will be frustrating and make you feel like giving up, but do not give up. They should know what they are into, and should be ready to face it, no matter how crazy it gets.
PDC: Everyone has an aspiration and for an artist, it comes in form of collaborations, who among the older generation of artists do you intend to collaborate with in the future?
I would love to collaborate with Chike Obiago, Ndidi Emefiele, and also to work with Njedeka Akunyili