Kunle Adegborioye: NOSTALGIA, Glimpses from Diaspora
Kunle Adegborioye’s work focuses on the profound changes he has witnessed in Nigerian society, both in Lagos and his home city of Ibadan. Over the years, he has come to admire artists like Robert Raushenberg, Kolade Oshinowo, David Dale, Abiodun Olaku and Gani Odutokun. These artists have influenced his work and remain a source of his inspiration. His works can be loosely divided into three; topographical and pictorial compositions, portraits, and abstract and mixed media. In this interview with Omenka, he talks about his upcoming exhibition at the gallery, Nigerian society and living in the United Kingdom and the Nigerian society.
Your work focuses on the profound changes you have witnessed in Nigerian society, both in Lagos and your home city of Ibadan. Please, tell us more about this.
I have witnessed many dramatic situations in Nigeria. The good – when I was growing up (1970s), the bad – when I left Nigeria (1990s) and the ugly – the present predicament. My feelings are mixed and it’s like a dilemma of a ghost when reflecting on the story of Nigeria. The situation is more about whether I should return home after almost 30 years of stay in the UK or remain within my comfort zone. This informs my decision to title my forthcoming exhibition “Nostalgia”. There are worrying national issues that seriously threaten the unity of Nigeria as an amalgamated geographical entity, and are already resulting in pandemonium and a conundrum in many parts of the country. We have issues of Boko Haram, Biafra agitators, MEND, tribal clashes and recently herdsmen attacks. There is a crescendo and cacophony of discontent among the masses. We have all failed as a country and need to be of good intent to get back to where we belong. My small part as an artist is to louden my voice through my canvases and create awareness of the good we can achieve as one nation.
You were born and mostly educated in Nigeria, before moving to the UK for your Master’s degree, where you are currently based. What differences have you noticed between the art community here in Nigeria and that in the UK?
There are quite a lot of differences between the two art communities. I will be honest with my response. At this state of our development, Nigeria has not lived up to the expectations of the art world therefore, it would be unfair to compare the two. The standard created in the UK is that every local government has an art department that facilitates loans, grants and funding for art. Do we have such in our system here? In the UK there are more art galleries and museums than in Nigeria. Until the Nigerian government realises how important art is and takes a more serious approach to development, we cannot start talking about comparison.
Having said that, I must give credit to the creative ability of Nigerian artists. Despite all the negativity, Nigeria has produced many excellent artists in the last 50 years since the days of Ben Enwonwu and Yusuf Grillo.
What impact has living in the UK on your work, considering the fact that you mostly depict Nigerian scenes and people?
I have no regrets living in the UK because I can feel the impact of the system on my art. The impact is not on the subject matter but is visible in terms of the quality of production, and through exposure to different international art fairs and in meeting artists from all over the world. After my Master’s degree, I was able to develop a modicum of response through research using different methods and materials. My exposure has truly lifted my work to a level I can call 21st century refined art.
Please tell us a little about your work process.
My work can be classified as Pop Art though with its own individual elements. Few artist in Nigeria are painting in this direction maybe because the traditional style is taught in schools. The process and development of my paintings are unique and systematic. Firstly, there must be a vision of what I’m trying to pass across to the audience. Secondly, I engage in rough sketches to formulate my basic design. I usually use newspaper and magazine captions for my wordings before adding my creative elements to it. These are produced into stencils and later screen-print mesh. I have broken all screen-printing rules and regulations to achieve the level I’m on now. I call my paintings mixed media because they are combinations of charcoal drawings, screen-printing and acrylic paintings on canvas. The process affords me the freedom to produce images on more than one painting or repeat an image on the same painting. However, these are unique paintings that cannot be reproduced like proper screen-print. As each work is unique, it therefore narrates its own story.
Your works are vibrant, colourful pieces that depict culture, tradition and the everyday life of the Nigerian people. What is the philosophy behind your use of colours?
The philosophy behind my use of vibrant colours is that Nigerian cultural profundity is vibrant and colourful; this is all part of Nigeria. I have visited many cultural activities in Nigeria and the cultural leanings are the same. I witness the same spirit, energy, heritage and costumes.
Some of your works incorporate text, what is its significance in your works?
Text in my work allows a modicum of response to the creativity, as the process of creativity is endless. It also forges my own identity especially in our society that is full of riddles and puzzles. There’s never a shortage of ideas as the society evolves every day. Though complex in preparation but easy to understand, the text in my paintings gives clues to the title of each work.
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