Nigerian artist Ken Nwadiogbu present his debut solo exhibition
Image courtesy of Brynley Davies

Spotlight: Ken Nwadiogbu Uses 'A Different Perspective' To Tell Nigerian Stories

The self taught Nigerian artist's debut solo exhibition embraces hyper-realism and comes out this spring, via Retro Africa.

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists, and more who are producing vibrant, original work.

In our latest piece, we spotlight award-winning multidisciplinary artist, Ken Nwadiogbu. This spring, Nwadiogbu will debut his first solo exhibition, 'A Different Perspective', a series of paintings illustrating the realities that Nigerians face. The art is manifested through an installation branded ‘Jesus of Lübeck’, a canoe referencing the Badagry Slave Trade; and an animated NFT series of a digital recreation of “the migrant”. Nwadiogbu's exhibition brings light to the 'Contemporealism' movement he is credited with speaking life into. The artist's artwork is centered on Hyper-Realism and contemporary art and credits his inspiration to many heavy-hitters that came before. Nwadiogbu's art is meant to inspire thinking outside of the box, and to question the societal structures we've been forced to believe are tried and true.

We spoke with the artist about his many opportunities that the world of NFTs afford artist, reframing the way we look and talk about Africans migrants, and telling the true stories of Nigerians who stay home.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Describe your background as an artist and the journey you've taken to get it to where it is today.

I’ve always loved creating, and I believe this is why I was drawn to study Civil Engineering. But while in school, I stumbled on a more exciting way to create -- Art. I first embraced Hyperrealism and charcoal drawings after seeing amazing works by great artists like Kelvin Okafor and Chuck Close. They piqued my interest in art and pushed me to expand my creative process. Inspired by iconic American contemporary art figures like Kehinde Wiley, Toyin Ojih Odutola, and Kerry James Marshal, I found more conceptual ways to represent my stories and a beautiful number of techniques. Since then, I have created art that opened up opportunities for me to discover something new, inspire many, and have socio-political conversations.

What are the central themes in your work and how have you told the story this time around?

My art is inspired by my real-life experiences, and those of my friends. My work exposes things happening around us and I use that to question socio-political norms with the purpose of bringing important conversations governing our everyday lives to light. With this, I’m able to invite viewers to ponder and critically examine societal structures in the present day.

For this exhibition, “A Different Perspective”, I'm tackling the single story that people have about Lagos, and Nigeria as a country. This new series of paintings talk about the social life of Nigerians; how we live, love, and survive in the midst of our struggling society. It also explores the intricacies of African migration and how it could inspire individual growth but also affect the development of Africa.

Can you talk about your use of color and accessories in this project?

Colors have always been emotional and symbolic to me. My use of color comes from an intentional decision to connect a feeling or an emotion to a story. So in many of my paintings, they become highly symbolic, representing different areas of life and addressing black identity. I always love to revitalize my creative approach and find many conceptual ways to tell our stories. This is the reason why I have adopted the use of cardboard boxes as a metaphor for African Migrants and their experiences. These new forms of representation that I explore continue to expand the perspective and meaning of my art.

What inspired you to delve into the world of NFTs?

I think it was the excitement to start something new -- I’ve always been drawn to animation and digital art. The idea that the digital space can function as an ‘art world’ in its own right, has given artists like me a platform to show and be appreciated for the work we create.

How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

The pandemic gave me some time to pause and reconsider things that were valuable to me, and to then put some research into them. I started to paint fully during the pandemic because I believed it opened up an opportunity for me to experiment and further experience art through different mediums. This became my therapy and kept me away from depression during this period.

I believe anything can fuel creativity; good times or bad, consciously or subconsciously. That is why I never take any experience for granted. It is during these times that many ideas are born.