Culture
"Ancestral Manifestations" by Alexis Tsegba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Meet Nigerian 'New Media' Artist, Alexis Tsegba, Whose Work Explores the Intersection of Nature & Technology

We speak with the digital artist about the Afrofuturistic themes in her work, exploring culture through technology and her creative influences.

As a 7-year-old growing up in Benue State, Nigeria, Alexis Tsegba, loved watching her teenage cousin draw natural, flowing pencil strokes to create comics. But when she asked him to teach her, he pushed her aside with a scoff and a "No!". Later, he offered her his mentorship in exchange for payment. But headstrong and determined, Tsegba picked up her own writing utensil and a sheet of paper and began meticulously sketching out what she remembers as one of her first works.

At 15, she remembers painting water-colors, and at 18, she moved on to acrylics. Despite studying law at the University of Reading, it wasn't until completing her Masters in Creative and Media Enterprise from the University of Warwick that she realized the infinite artistic possibilities available to her.


"Beauty Overflows" by Alexis Tsegba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

"It was really cool and fun moving away from law and doing something I was more excited about," she says. Her dissertation had been on freelancing and how to use Social Media and YouTube as tools for new media work; this abstract way of thinking helped her realize she could combine her eclectic love of such things as painting, sketching, photography, landscape, portraiture, and architecture. "I don't know why but writing my dissertation gave me inspiration to dabble in the digital art field," says Tsegba. She learned to compose images with all of these elements.

When we speak, Tsegba, now 24, is an artist who approaches new media art by creating visual experiences. Her surrealist portraits often feature mystical landscapes. She documents modern day Africans in jarring settings and enthusiastically speaks about how her evocative collages center on Afrofuturism, reimagining religion and exploring gender.

"Constellations" by by Alexis Tsegba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Tsegba has dedicated copious amounts of time to developing the concepts she wants highlighted and she may not believe it yet but her nonlinear work is disrupting the way individuals perceive art. With Afrofuturism, she states, "I aim to show the complexity of the relationship between our culture and how we use technology." She suggests we should, "change the narrative that we are this aqua people and that somehow being closer to nature is backwards."

Her works touch on what our reality is now and where it could be. With religion, she recalls, "I was raised Christian and because I was interested in theology I would read about other religions." Her curiosity has brought about her need to re-envision the things she doesn't agree with in the Bible. Beyond this, she explores the stereotypical assumptions African people tend to have about gender. She refutes the, "narrative in Nigeria that men are not supposed to be physically close or show affection or emotion. When men are seen as close with one another, it's seen as diabolical." She, instead, celebrates closeness and tenderness between men.

"Creation" by by Alexis Tsegba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

As one would imagine, Tsegba's process is one comprised of trial and error, researching and "piecing images together to find a story." She pushes boundaries much like the individuals who influence her own work. She draws inspiration from collage artist Victoria Topping and her use of the senses to create vibrant pieces; illustrator Christoph Niemann from whom she's learned to see the world as an abstract body of shapes, forms and structures; writer Chimamanda Adichie who has taught her to harness the ability to be unafraid to speak out when she feels something doesn't sit right; and she's gawked at the skill and scale of fellow Nigerian visual artist Njideka Crosby and the portrayal of tenderness she employs while portraying ordinary Nigerian settings. Despite stating that she's "holding back", Tsegba's virtual body of work speaks volumes.

*See more of Tsegba's work below.

"Divinity" by Alexis Tsegba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

"Face of God" by Alexis Tsegba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

"Love Is Here" by Alexis Tsegba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

"Mother of God" by Alexis Tsegba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

"Observing Beauty" by Alexis Tsegba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

"Ready" by by Alexis Tsegba. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Music

6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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