Your last year, especially from an outside perspective, has been quite wild. Being a part of the Royal Academy Summer Show 2021, your work has really been noticed. There is clearly something that you have in your art that is different and captures the audience. What has it been like for you, this big break as such, or your first break in what should be a very interesting career. What has it been like for you over the last year?
I am very spiritual, I feel as though everything sort of aligned for me. Had I of graduated when I was supposed to graduate in 2018 I probably would not have made the work and I probably wouldn’t have ended up at the RA. Everything definitely aligned for me, so I feel like my purpose is set. It was also great as the works on display there were sort of my a-hah moment works. I finally got it – what I have been trying to do for the past five years, so the people in the RA got to see the best of me, it was at the right time.
Once the works were on display did you think people would notice them? Or were you just happy to be there?
I was really happy, I didn’t expect to be in a BBC documentary, I didn’t expect to win an award, I was just really happy to be in a show. My degree show was cancelled and I had these two massive works and I didn’t know where to start. At that point it just felt like you made work to put it on social media and then nothing happens thereafter. Having the works in the RA was amazing, especially the pieces being selected by Yinka Shonibare as the Coordinator’s Choice and the BBC documentary. The amazing thing was that everything was exclusive from each other, the Coordinator’s Choice, the BBC’s choice, the award – all of it was made independently.
Describe the feeling as an artist, what is it like to be recognised in that way?
I feel like amazing is too boring a word to describe it. But it’s fulfilling. All of your emotions go into these pieces, you sacrifice so much to be an artist and to finally be recognised and appreciated is what every artist wants.
Did it give you the motivation to push on? I’ve been noticed now, I have to make the most of it?
In my head I was so thankful that I’ve been recognised now. I’m still young as an artist, so now it’s time to build my career, I’ve got to keep going, I don’t want to lose focus and keep making the same things over and over again just because these one’s did well. I’m thinking long term, what is my focus as an artist and what am I trying to say? What do I want to be remembered for?
Without choosing one thing – what are you trying to say, what do you want your focus to be? If there are a few things you’d like to be known for or shine a light on, to motivate someone in a different way, what would that be?
I recognise myself as a Nigerian British artist. I feel like it is very political for me. For a long time growing up I was told ‘she’s not Nigerian enough, she’s not British enough, she’s not black enough, is she African?’ So to position myself in the diaspora and to say, I am a Nigerian British artist, I am both of them, not exclusive to one of them is important, especially as I have been the only black female artist in all of these universities for the past five years. Even here, there is not a single black person in this building, I have been on my own for a really long time. I was speaking to a curator and he said there was another black artist in a different university in Salford nearby, but he’s a black male artist. I’ve literally been on my own for a good couple of years. There are very few of us who have studied fine art, who are very dedicated to their practices in the way that I am. It is nice to be in a position to shine a light on it.
It’s all about representation, and having a voice for your heritage, both sides of the coin. Your work does have a British and Nigerian perspective. If someone from Nigeria, or Africa, or someone from a minority views your work, is there a feeling that you want to evoke there?
Actually – at the RA – I went with my aunt and she brought a friend with her. The way they interpreted the work was a bit of an emotional moment for me. They were looking at my work and they looked at it through the eyes of someone in their generation and they started to tell me about the Kellogg’s cereals, when it came to Nigeria etc, they loved it, but the way they saw it was very different to the way I viewed it.
Sometimes it humbles you, as I paint from a privileged place in a sense. I was painting it from the perspective of the End SARS protest, when Nigerians were protesting (2020).
I felt I was painting from a place of privilege, other Nigerian artists were painting in a far more brutal sense as they were actually in that position, whereas I was watching it from the comfort of my bed, that’s not something I can help. This perspective is shown in the way that I paint the work and responded to the situation, but that representation is also necessary as there are Nigerians in the diaspora who are affected by it too.