African Ratz: Is Talent Really Enough To Succeed?
Gangs in urban areas onced marked their territories using street culture and graffiti. Made popular in recent history by artists like Banksy, today, this art form is explored by artists and designers around the world to showcase their talent and engage various societal issues. African Ratz is a prominent Nigerian graffiti artist. Multi-talented, he is also a sculptor, poet and musician, but he is not without his fair dose of frustrations in a society where talent and hard work is sometimes not enough.
Omenka Magazine: Are you a trained artist?
Ratz: I only have my secondary school certificate from Akungba High school in Akure.
OM: Does art run in the family?
Ratz: Well I am from a family that takes art seriously. My father had music running through his veins; even my siblings are all musicians. I am the only one who God has directed to take art from another angle, which is graffiti.
OM: How did you come by the name African Ratz?
Ratz: I used to be called Studio Rat but I discovered that one of the pioneers of music in Nigeria, Oritz Wiliki was called Studio Rat. I decided to be different by changing my name to African Ratz.
OM: What’s your real name?
Ratz: My real name is Olaitan Olorunwa Theophilus Iwalokun. These are also the names of my father’s name. He was well-known during his playing days in the western region then and also abroad. His performances earned him the honorary membership of the Performing Right Society, London.
OM: Why did you choose visual art and not some other business?
Ratz: It is not about me, but God. Everybody has a role to play on earth, and a prophecy to fulfill. I would say graffiti is my calling, as well as music.
Ratz: Before I write on walls, I make use of my brain. I am usually creative about the way I do it. For instance in 1998 during the regime of the late head-of-state Sanni Abacha, I wrote “12.6 dead or alive.” If you think deeply, you would know I meant June 12, but no one can really prove it. That’s just one of many examples.
OM: Some of your graffiti works contain obscene languages the public would term offensive, what do you like to say on these?
Ratz: Before I write, I do a lot of research to find out what many people would like to say but cannot for one reason or the other. I say it for them through my works.
OM: Why did you choose visual art and not some other
Ratz: I think before I write and do a lot of research to find out what many people would like to say but cannot for one reason or another. I say it for them through my works.
OM: You have the skull of a cow hanging on the wall, what exactly is the significance? Don’t you think people would consider it fetish?
Ratz: Two classes of people appreciate art; the learned and the unlearned. When learned people see my work they understand the message behind it, and even when they don’t, they try to find out the meaning. Some unlearned minds don’t understand my works and don’t try to find out what such works mean. That is why some people would think of me as a madman. The cow skull on the wall as you can see has two colours; green and yellow, which represents the Brazilian Campos family. Only the natives of Lagos Island would know I am talking about the locals from the Brazilian Campos family.
OM: Don’t you get distracted by all the noise around you while you work?
Ratz: When I’m working, I am in my own realm. I always tell people I am a graduate of the University of Heaven, so when I work, I’m in the heavenly realm and can’t be distracted by anything.
OM: Do you get paid for the graffiti you do on walls?
Ratz: No, it’s the passion that drives me. Passion could either be money-oriented or sincere. Mine is sincere; in fact, it is the encouragement people give me that fuels my passion.
OM: Do you have patrons? If yes, who are they?
Ratz: I do have patrons. General Yakubu Gowon, ex military head of state is one of them. Others include the late Ola Vincent, former Governor of Central Bank, the former Lagos State head of service and the former People’s Bank Chairman; Chief (Mrs) Maria Shokena of blessed memory.
OM: People think you are more of a critic than an artist?
Ratz: I have met several activists who told me I don’t need to belong to any activist group because they consider me a one-man activist. But I only try to reach out to the federal and the local government to keep them in line.
OM: How do you view Lagos State and Nigeria as a whole?
Ratz: I believe Lagos and Nigeria are one. Before Babatunde Fashola became the Governor of Lagos, the state was in a bad shape. Lagos was dirty-a place where crime and miscreants flourished. Moreover, Nigeria seemed to be under a dictatorial leadership rather than a democratic government. All that is almost history now. The Governor of Lagos and the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are more interested in changing the face of Nigeria, unlike their predecessors who were only interested in looting funds.
OM: Has there been any moment you felt you were doing the wrong thing?
Ratz: Not at all. I have never felt that way.
OM: What or who has been your source of inspiration?
Ratz: It is no other person but God.
OM: Do you get support from friends or family?
Ratz: I love this question because in Nigeria we don’t care about the next man regardless of his talents. We hardly offer assistance even when we have the resources to do so. It is not in our blood to be our brother’s keeper. In foreign lands it is different; they help people realise their dreams and ambitions. They are passionate to see people succeed, even if they won’t benefit from it. All the big clients I have don’t render any help; instead they send their drivers to me if they need my services.
OM: Do you have role models?
Ratz: Yes I do. The late Fela Anikulapo Kuti, my father, Theophilus Iwalokun and King Sunny Ade. As you can see all three are musicians. As a good musician too, I find them to be kindred spirits. I am also a sculptor, so it is a load of talents blended into one person that is the African Ratz.
OM: If you were not an artist what would you have been?
Ratz: I would have been a musician, because I am good at music too.
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