Art X Lagos was created with the aim of showcasing the best and most innovative contemporary art from the African continent and diaspora, and to widen Nigeria’s connection to the art scene across the world. Sponsored by Access Bank Plc., the event, which started in 2016 has, each year, selected an upcoming artist as winner of the ‘Art X Prize’ to recognise their achievements and help them grow in their careers. The winner of the 2017 edition, Habeeb Andu, in this interview with ANTHONY ADA ABRAHAM, speaks on his journey and the impact of winning the prize over a year ago.
How did you come to learn about the Art X Competition?
Believe it or not, I learned about the competition on Instagram. Quite frankly, I didn’t think much of it. I had tried to participate the previous year so I submitted my work, only to get a call that I wasn’t selected. When I saw another opening the following year, I decided to have another go at it. I chose to submit my work titled ‘Blacklist,’ which depicts the poor electricity in our country. I entered the competition for fun and was surprised to learn that my work was being considered.
How did your art journey begin?
My love for art is innate. My late father saw it in me before I did. This love drove me to start drawing at an early age and I was constantly acknowledged as the best art student back in my primary school days. Unfortunately, my mum did not share the same view. She would always count my notebooks to ensure pages were not torn out for sketches with an accompanying threat of a good beating if there were missing pages. At this point, the love I had for arts, started to fade. I had planned to study medicine after secondary school, but my dad encouraged me to rediscover my passion and I followed that passion to Auchi Polytechnic, Edo State, where I studied Creative and General Arts.
What is your take on the notion that artistes’ are starving
Some people believe that artistes live in penury, I believe there is money in art. First, you should have the passion, it’s not magic. Just keep at it and remain dedicated and faithful to yourself.
How did it feel being announced as the winner?
I felt like I was dreaming. I didn’t think I would come out as the best. So I didn’t know whether to prostrate or kneel at the announcement. My aim was not to have a plaque in my house but to create art that told the Nigerian narrative to the world.
Can you tell us a bit about the projects you are currently working on?
I’ll have a zonal exhibition later in the year with my management. I can’t go into details now, but it will be one of my best works yet.
Can you give a background to some of the works you displayed during the Art X Lagos exhibitions?
The previous exhibition I did with Art X Lagos was all about illegal migrants from different parts of Africa who felt when they get to Europe, things will be better for them. Sadly, that’s not always the case. What inspired me to do the project was a gathering of ants I saw one time. The ants had gathered to look for their own means of survival. I sat and thought of how it related so much to illegal migrants and a story was born.
Who inspires you as an artiste?
The first person that inspired me as an artiste was the late Ben Osaghae. I interned with him for a year and in that time, the knowledge he shared with me helped carve and mould my young mind. I absorbed most of his teaching and applied them on my own. Most of his works were usually about happenings around him and the best way for him to project this was through his work. Other artistes who have inspired me include Ayoola Gbolahan and Stanley Dudu.”
What kind of artiste are you?
I’m a mixed media artiste. I also paint and mould sculptures. My works are all about social commentary. I absorb the pain and stories – things such as slave trade, drug abuse, incompetence, and lack of infrastructure, a lot of things that we feel pain for, and share them with the world.
What advice would you give to up-coming artistes who are trying to make a name for themselves in this field?
I would advise them to keep doing what they do and be unique. They also need to be sincere and always strive to be the best, and the sky will be the limit.
What are your thoughts on Access Bank’s involvement in Art in Nigeria?
I am happy that people in Nigeria are getting more interested in arts. Access Bank, through its ‘Born in Africa Initiative,’ has been able to partner with Art X, which is the first of its kind here in Nigeria, to showcase both raw and refined African talents in the arts industry. They deserve some accolades for that.
More competitions like this, with Access Bank and Art X Lagos should be encouraged. It creates a platform for young artistes to express themselves, be seen and heard, while inspiring them to think beyond the ordinary.”
What impact has the competition had on your career?
Although I was working and exhibiting before Art X, winning became the trigger that exposed me to the world. It gave me a platform for people to know who I am as an artiste.”
What do you have to say to the organisers of the Art X Prize?
I want to say a big thank you to Access Bank Plc. and Art X for this great platform, giving artistes like myself and many others an opportunity to showcase our works and be recognised, and for our voices to be heard through our craft.”
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