(Visual) KEN NWADIOGBU
Ken Nwadiogbu is a multidisciplinary Nigerian-born hyperrealist artist. He was formally trained as a Civil Engineer, and his highly detailed drawings and works on paper have earned him widespread attention and accolades. In this interview he discusses his experiences as a young artist, along with some of the meanings and intent of his work.
As an artist with no formal training, what were some challenges that you have faced on your way to realizing your figurative hyperrealistic style? What are some that you face now?
I’ve faced lots of challenges, ranging from the issue of not being recognized as a professional artist because I wasn’t formally trained in art down to my location, as the Nigerian art scene is still growing. It’s one thing to create art, and it is another thing to have a platform to showcase that art. This was difficult for me when I started.
How much do you think that your Engineering training informs your artistic technique and style?
My Engineering training has undoubtedly given me eyes for perfection, details, and patience. I feel these are the core elements of a hyperrealist. Also, I’ve been working on some installation ideas and that is where a lot of my engineering skill comes into play. Hence, I do not regret getting my B.Sc in Civil Engineering.
While making such superbly realistic pieces, what kind of techniques come into play? What type of mindset would a hyperrealist have versus someone who paints or draws in less directly realistic styles?
Hyperrealists have to summarize a narrative in just one image, so at times the thought process before creating the piece is a difficult one. Creating the piece also can take a lot of time, so there’s an intense need for patience and hunger for details, as opposed to an artist who paints or draws in a less directly realistic style.
When viewing art pieces portrayed in the hyperrealist style, it can sometimes be easy to mistake the work for a photograph. Do you ever have the urge to put the pencil or charcoal down and take up photography? Do you think your art work would have the same effect it does now if you switched to photography?
This is an interesting question. But if you check my pieces, you’ll see there are other elements that change the perception of my art from looking just like a photograph. Secondly, hyperrealists do not necessarily copy 100% from a photograph, there are fragments of creativity and exaggerations that burst the art alive compared to a photograph. So my art has a different effect than that of a photograph, though I’m working on a project soon that includes photographs.
When you aren't drawing, what are you building in terms of physical space? As an activist, you're creating space for others to step up and express their truths, but is there anything in particular you hope to open or organize? (Community centers, rallies, etc.)
I opened a company called Artland Contemporary Ltd a while back, and under this company, I organized and co-founded the first and largest Young Nigerian visual art gathering in Lagos. It kick started the Artists Connect NG group I also put in place for Nigerian visual artists to share ideas and help themselves grow, hence the spread of hyperrealism in Nigeria. I assisted in the building up of the hashtag #WeAreNigerianCreatives as well as creating the #UnitedAfricanCreatives that took over Twitter at the time. I organized, still under the company, and with the help of some great sponsors, the first hyperrealist exhibition in Nigeria called INSANITY Exhibition that birthed some of the best Nigerian hyperrealists, like Chiamonwu Joy and Arinze Stanley. So yes, I’ve been doing a lot for the Young Visual Artist Guild in Nigeria as well as being a mantle of inspiration. In the future, I’d love for my company to become a physical space, where artists can come together and work side by side, where conferences, exhibitions and art fairs can be held.
With your series The King's Diary and your 1005 Portraits installation, you have directly addressed issues of female empowerment. Do you have plans for any new upcoming projects or series focusing on these issues, especially in the sense of recontextualizing and subverting traditional feminine depictions and roles?
These series are still ongoing. They may take years before they are fully understood. So I’m not in a hurry to work on other series that may include this subject…but I do have more ideas ranging from sculptures, performance art, art videos, and many more.
In your series The Value of Nothing, you address the essential emptiness of measuring the worth of individuals via money and material possessions. Could you speak about your thoughts on the role of money and financial valuation in the commercial art world? As your work becomes more widely known, how do you see yourself navigating through the business realm of the art world while maintaining the integrity of your artistic statements?
I think artists are easily carried away by the business sector, and most times it affects their artistic statements. Most artists start out without the hunger for financial valuation. I know it is important, but at the same time dangerous to the productivity and integrity of the artist and works produced. The great thing is, Managements have sprung up from different galleries and teams to assist artists in this sector. Hence, I’m grateful for my management, Premier Art Solutions, for handling most of the business side of my art.
Could you speak about some of the lessons you have learned while coming up to where you are now? What did you discover about art politics and the movement of the art mind? How do you think the art world politics are different in Nigeria as opposed to in Europe or the U.S.?
I try not to be very observant of art world politics because it is believed to be everywhere. I just create what I create and leave the rest to God.
Do you plan on remaining based in Lagos? What do you think some of the advantages are to working in Nigeria as an artist, as opposed to working abroad?
No, I do not plan to remain in Lagos. I’m working on moving abroad to be exposed to different creatives and a new form of inspiration. While the art scene in Nigeria is growing and developing — which brings an interesting side and perspective — it’s still not as exposed and open as in New York, London, Germany, etc.
What's in store for you in the near future? How do you see your artistic career evolving over time?
I only see myself creating more conversations. More interactions. More inspiration. Becoming a voice for the voiceless. A microphone for my country and the world as a whole. Speaking about the ills in the society and the bad sociopolitical mindset. Wherever this takes me to is left to the world. All I do is create.
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Special thanks to William Walker, Jr. for assistance with this interview